Category Archives: Travel

A Green Day in Amsterdam

“Ah, tea time for you?”

The man behind the counter of Paradox, a very well recommended coffee shop in Amsterdam, spoke to my girlfriend from his lofty height as she chose from a pile of exotic teabags. He must have been about 6′ 10″. Black hair spewed from his head and was caught up in a scraggly ponytail. A bulging belly was ill-hidden behind a loose, grey T-shirt with something oddly phallic printed on it. Clearly a friendly chap, and with no qualms over selling one of several potent space cakes to two clueless tourists, “Tea Time For You” man helped make the whole experience memorable.

View of Westerkerk and canal

And what an experience.

From the outside, Paradox is partially obscured by a thick layer of creeper. It finds itself tucked away down Eerste Bloemdwarsstraat, seconds from the bustle of the city’s north-westerly quarter. In our haste and with swimmy vision from a semi-liquid lunch, my girlfriend and I – both with a bike between our legs – peddled the warren of back alleys and dead ends for ten minutes before realising that Paradox had been under our noses the whole time. An excited, “there it is!” from my better half ended our search; we parked up and nervously wandered over.

“You first.” She ushered me towards the door. The building’s navy-fronted framework displayed the shop’s name in quickly-written, graffiti-ish letters. Someone walked out as we walked in.

CanalsCrossing the threshold was like stepping into a room filled with cotton wool. The thick air, green and hazy, gave us a warm hug. We received stares from patrons. Not unfriendly. Unfamiliar. In one corner, a man sat on his own with a newspaper spread across the table, pipe in hand. In the middle, two younger guys were chatting in Dutch. In the other corner, a man and his girlfriend.

At the counter (it was kind of a counter and a bar at the same time), the friendly giant with the dodgy T-shirt. Three elderly chaps sat on stools smoking and laughing. We approached hesitantly.

IMG_2597Before we arrived in Amsterdam we’d heard rumours that coffee shops weren’t allowed to serve foreigners. With this in mind, I braced for a shameful rejection and jeers from the locals. Not the case. Our eyes fell on a plate of space cakes covered with a glass cloche. They were sprinkled with icing sugar, wrapped in cling film, and each displayed a note describing the effects, recommended dosage, and the amount of weed in each €6 slice: 1.25g.

“You’re only small; just have about a quarter” my girlfriend was told. We had half each.

We were told to wait two hours before the effects kicked in. It was 3:30pm when the last nibble past our lips and we headed off. The missus had already had two giggle fits in the space of fifteen minutes. I wasn’t feeling a thing.

IMG_2604The ride back to the hotel was fun. We were going out for dinner that night but needed to get back to hand our bikes in at reception. The small matter of having spent an hour in Paradox was yet to be dealt with.

We spent the entire bike ride giggling like schoolchildren with me dinging my bell unnecessarily loud and often at no one and everyone. I hate to think what the people walking and jogging round Vondelpark thought of us. We raced, weaving in and out of dog walkers and other cyclists, shouting and, basically, living up to the ‘Brits abroad’ stereotype.


By half past five, precisely two hours after we’d left Paradox, my eyelids felt like someone was hanging onto them and my vision was lagging when I turned my head. The missus could barely breathe for laughing at the merest thing. I could’ve handed her a cardboard box and she’d have been in stitches.

Needless to say, dinner and subsequent cocktails flashed past in a sea of giggles, rocking back and fourth in our seats, lots of delicious food, and ended with a couple of free tram rides – go figure! Amsterdam, we love you. And we’re coming back for more.


Biking in Wales

I did a lot of things for the first time on this trip: I took my bike somewhere other than the bike shop in the car. I visited another country without any parental – or other authoritative figure – supervision. I shaved my head completely bald. I went back to Wales for the first time after leaving university over two years ago.

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy myself. How could I not have? A long weekend spent with five of your mates, lots of beer, lots of food – which consisted mainly of crisps, nuts, biscuits, cakes, and energy bars – and some of the best scenery and mountain bike trails we could find.

The trails themselves ranged from easy (blue), intermediate (red), and difficult (black). The land owners advised us against the black run because of the recent motocross event which churned the trail beyond recognition. Naturally, his warning only got us all the more excited and the next day we were on it like riot police to innocent bystanders. Dismounts were made, punctures were repaired, our bikes and bodies were pushed to the limits but we managed it no sweat (metaphorically speaking).

The blue run became something of a warm-up before setting off for the day. “Just goin’ up to do the blue run, guys” someone would call out in the cottage, as if they were popping down the shops for some milk. It was a great trail, though; the initial ascent was short and easy and, from the top, you round a hairpin, bomb the following straight, meander your way through small pines, splash through a trickling stream, round another bend, up a ridge, and down a hill for a semi-circular skid stop. It probably took us a minute and a half. Bit like a rollercoaster.

Our cottage was perfect as well. There was a real fire, beam-striped ceilings, creaky stairs, wonky floors. We played drinking games every night, farted, burped, found out how to play free games of pool (which I’m not willing to divulge). It was a proper lads getaway. And, when we got so muddy you couldn’t tell where the ground stopped and our feet began, it was a trip to the river. Simply ride through it for instant results. And it didn’t matter if you fell in; you were probably in need of a bath at that point anyway.