Last July, my friend – we’ll call him Chris, because that is his name – and I took a quite spontaneous trip to Amsterdam.
The city is one of the most beautiful I’ve visited. The weather was incredible, the people were some of the friendliest I’ve ever met and the company was frantic and excitable. The whole trip was one of my favourite holidays to date, with the most memorable experience being – as you’ve inevitably guessed – completely legal, utterly magical and insanely eye-opening.
After a sober first night exploring the area, the second evening was spent consuming hash brownies, cookies and muffins. We scoffed down the treats and proceeded to flail around the city like buffoons, darting on and off of tramlines and running away from ‘scary chips’ in kebab shops.
I feel like I should add at this point: our daytimes, by comparison, were filled with culture, great food and enough walking to cripple us by the time the sun set each night. We may have had some interesting comedowns the mornings after, but that didn’t stop us from getting up and appreciating our surroundings. If anything, they made sightseeing a lot more compelling.
On the third night into our trip, and after much online research, we decided to hunt down a ‘smart shop’ in search of truffles (a ‘lighter’ version of magic mushrooms). I can’t begin to describe how easily you could unknowingly walk past one of these establishments… because we did. A few times. Even on second glance, you would assume the place to be some kind of phone repair shop or somewhere to refill your E-cigarette with liquid peaches and cream. Giddy and greedy, like two kids in a sweetshop on a Friday afternoon splurge, we gawped at the shelves, taking in everything and nothing at the same time. A slightly less enthusiastic, cooler-than-cool woman with dreadlocks and stretchers guided us through the different options from behind her counter of goodies. There were several different strengths which would have different effects. So, after a lot of deliberation, we each bought a box of shrivelled little mushrooms and a ‘stopper’. The trip could last up to six hours so, if we weren’t loving life or were tired of whatever was going on, we could take said stopper at any time. They somehow balance out the PH levels in your body and cancel out the truffles’ effects. These were a reassuring purchase.
After a confusing dinner at ‘the upside-down restaurant’, we ran back to the hotel and mentally prepared ourselves – but there was no cap on the possibilities these liberty caps held for the night ahead.
We sat on our beds and each reluctantly chowed down two thirds of a box of the most foul-tasting fungi you’ll ever encounter. You can’t escape the flavour as they only release their full potential once you’ve extensively chewed on them to the point of disintegration. The taste is near indescribable. Perhaps ‘fermented mud’ is the only possible likeness, although I can’t say I’ve ever eaten mud – fresh or otherwise. I thought I was going to vomit and couldn’t stop myself from gagging slightly whilst making noises which were probably not dissimilar to those of an ostrich being strangled.
Unsure of what to do until they kicked in, we pottered about and wrote in Chris’ summer journal. Then the walls started swirling around and turning green. This was our first indicator that the truffles were working.
We got up and I decided to take a video of Chris attempting to walk across the room. I’ve transcribed our conversation below:
L: I don’t know… just… aghhhhhh!
L: The walls aren’t SQUARE. Nothing is making sennnnse.
C: This is really weeeeird…
L: OOH, this is so weird. Ok. We’re in the room.
C: Ok. My legs. This is really funny.
L: I’M SO GLAD WE STAYED IN THE ROOM.
C: My legs keep going down like this…
L: My hands are shaking. Ah. AH. We shouldn’t have anymoooore. Everything I’m saying is shaking. I feel like this is the first time I’ve seen myself before.
C: Yeah, it said in the thing, “expect to see more about yourself, blah blah blah blah”.
L: Yeaaaaaah… but, like, I feel like I’ve never heard my own voice
C: And now you are
L: And now I feel like I hear what other people hear… but on a different level. Oh MAN this is soweird. I don’t want to take a video anymo-
“WE SHOULD WATCH ADVENTURE TIME,” I shrieked, and Chris obliged. The internet in our room wasn’t exactly fibre-optic so the connection wasn’t great. It wasn’t until after what felt like 30 seconds – but was probably nearer to 20 minutes in realtime – that we realised the episode had frozen on the title sequence and that what we’d been watching was in fact a still image. Laying there like dead fish, eyes wide in disbelief and palms sweaty from excitement (and the afore-mentioned Class As), we carried on watching nonetheless.
After discovering that looking at ourselves in the mirror was an extremely worthwhile activity, I was stood under the bright lights of the hotel bathroom, inspecting every part of my body and personality in minute detail. The lighting was much brighter and warmer than it was in the bedroom, the wall tiles were vibrant scarlet and the floor was a glimmering checkers board. All of this, paired with the colourful, patterned clothes I was wearing, allowed my kaleidoscopic eyes to be drawn to the bog-room like a moth to a flame.
As most of us do, whenever I usually see my reflection I only really see the aspects I wish I could change; smaller nose, fuller lips, whiter teeth. Tonight however, I was looking at this body, at this person I thought I had known for over two decades, with new eyes: and mentally gave myself a little pat on the back. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t exactly thinking, ‘I really am the new Cara Delevingne. But fitter. And funnier.’ Instead, I muttered to myself that I liked the fact that I’m naturally slightly olive-skinned, due to my Iraqi roots. I looked down, eyeballing my outfit choice, and reassured myself that I do love wearing bright clothes, no matter how odd or clashing each concoction may be. I felt like a “floaty tree woman”and that was, obviously, a good thing. At one point I saw myself as an old woman, staring back at me through the mirror. I remember feeling as if I had met my twin that night and that it was as if we had held hands.
Content with staring at the skin dancing around my knuckles, I sat on the bathroom floor for a while whilst Chris took his turn staring at himself. All of a sudden he said he felt a bit shaky, started sweating profusely and then fell on me. In between fleeting worries that his falling on me from such a height was going to crush me to death, I really thought he was going to die. Only for a moment, though. He later explained that he’d actually felt fine but he’d been unable to do anything but mumble and sweat at the time. Post-fall, we carried on talking about ourselves and how wonderful we were. Chris decided his appearance resembled a monkey, but that was ok “because monkeys are cool.”
At one point, we realised someone was shouting. A woman was banging on our door and screaming for us to “shut the fuck up and go to sleep,” and probably had been for a while. We hadn’t registered her voice for a long time, so she got angrier and louder. We didn’t know what was going on or what to do, so we sat with our backs against the thumping door and told her nobody was in. Eventually, she tired and vanished.
Chris had promised he’d write postcards to our friends Sasha and Ciaran, so, feeling slightly disheartened by our neighbour, we calmed down a bit and attempted to write them. Writing was sufficiently difficult so our penmanship was wobbly, illegible and nonsensical. I wrote to Ciaran that I understood him now because he was “twirly, like a ladder falling down some stairs” (cue diagram).
I started to feel a bit grim, a kind of all-over aching feeling, and mumbled about my head hurting a few times. Chris quietly thought that his friend and travel-companion was going to die but decided to keep his opinions to himself and carried on writing whilst I lay in the foetal position. I closed my eyes for a while, then aggressively told Chris to stop writing, because I didn’t like the scratching sound near my ear.
I briefly contemplated the option of taking the ‘stopper’ but this was quickly discussed and dismissed so I instead decided to nap for a while to recover from all the dying. As I drifted in and out of consciousness, the most vivid of my dreams occurred outside the cafe at Rose Bruford, the drama school from which I had just graduated and where Chris had just finished his second year. In this dream/hallucination, the wooden picnic benches would wait until everyone had gone home at the end of each day, then jump up and high-five each other. They were congratulating each other for doing a great job at being benches that day. Where their arms sprouted from I do not know, but I hope to be as happy as those benches some day.
I woke up at 7am to find that Chris was still writing. He had finished the postcards soon after I’d fallen asleep, then stayed up writing down ‘profound thoughts’ for around four hours, my favourite of which was: "It’s just me and me, and we make the best team."
Breakfast was a challenge. Feeling fragile, we ambled down to the cafe, put some cereal and fruit into bowls and tried to eat. The wallpaper looked like dragon scales so we got quite worried for a while that we were actually inside a dragon’s stomach. Curled up on my plastic chair, shoulders hunched over my bowl, I force-fed myself some cereal in slow-motion. I told Chris, worriedly, that I felt like an armadillo trying to eat blueberries with a spoon, while he calmly inhaled everything edible that the breakfast bar had to offer.
We agreed that it had been an incredible night and that we’d never felt more positive about ourselves, our appearances and our life choices. We’d essentially ignored each other for 8 hours, but hadn’t really realised or cared in the slightest. To the angry woman and you, dear readers, we probably sound like self-centred, vain, obnoxious arseholes… and we were. However, the whole night was by far one of the greatest, most self-assuring experiences I have ever had and for that I don’t mind sounding like a bit of a narcissistic twat.
It wasn’t the walls turning green or the picture-show my thighs were putting on while I sat on the toilet, unable to pee, which left the strongest impact. It was the feeling of being completely content with myself and my life choices that I’d never felt before, and that actually – as I kept mumbling to Chris, and myself, the whole night – “I love being Leila.”
Overall experience: 9/10; perfect, other than the few times we thought the other was going to die.