“I don’t think it’s working. I don’t feel any different.”, came the famous last words, as I leaned back into the depths of the arm chair and took in my surroundings.
The coffee shop – which wasn’t really a coffee shop – was a bizarre place, a strange meeting point between abstract art expo and Satis House. The only lighting came from a selection of sparsely placed lava lamps, which cast an ominous glow upon the artwork – a series of portraits based, if I was to hazard a guess, on Adam Ant. The furniture was an eclectic juxtaposition of plastic deck chairs and luxurious, moth-eaten sofas. It would be easy to forget which decade you were in, let alone the time of day – though I suppose that was the intention.
“I think we’ve been conned,” agreed my friend, after another attempt. “Shall we go?”
We gathered our belongings in silent agreement, and after nodding goodbye to the dreadlocked ‘barista’, made our way back out onto the street. As daylight hit, so too did the disappointment. What a cliché we now seemed; how very predictable to have wasted our first afternoon in Amsterdam indulging ourselves in such a way, and to no avail. Scolding ourselves, we decided unanimously to go and do something more cultural. We made it as far as the nearest cheese shop, where the words ‘Free Samples’ seemed to guide us in like a beacon of light.
“I didn’t know I was so hungry,” I mumbled, between mouthfuls of cheese and waffles.
Finally tearing ourselves away from the gorgonzola, we wandered without direction around the beautiful city, passing over a network of glistening canals and carefully dodging the fearless bikes that flew our way. Eventually, we found ourselves walking amidst a sea of people, and it was only upon noticing this that we realized we had no idea quite where we were. Perhaps sensing our disorientation, we were approached by a waitress, who invited us in to her café with the offer of cheap beer and other local ‘delicacies’.
Before we knew it, we had been given a table and out came our order – three Heineken and three very special brownies, each wrapped in its own little box.
“Are you supposed to eat the whole thing?” I asked the waitress, as she set the plate down in front of me.
“Sure. Why not? What’s the worst that can happen?” Her response. Somewhere in the distance, I swear I heard a man chuckle. The challenge was on; not wanting to look scared, but also not wanting to spend the night running away from imaginary pink elephants, I settled on eating half. Unsurprisingly, it tasted like soil.
An hour later, still feeling disappointingly unaffected, we found ourselves a city map and left the cafe to go and explore. Leaving my more capable pals to get our bearings, I wandered down the street a little and began checking out the shop windows. I found myself drawn to a window, where a girl dressed as a bunny rabbit came to life, and began blowing kisses at me from behind the glass. No sooner had I begun trying to interpret the meaning of this human art exhibition, than an arm was looped through my own and I was lead away by my pal. “Izzy,” she hissed in my ear, “I’m pretty sure you were just soliciting a prostitute.”
When the penny dropped, it well and truly dropped. Somehow, unintentionally, we had wandered into the red light district. The window displays, like this one, came to life; girls, some much younger than myself, some much older, posed seductively behind the glass, winking at passers-by and beckoning to men on the street. Shops which had once seemed innocent, I realised were actually stocked with bondage kit and all manner of torture devices. I was dumb struck; only minutes before we were discussing our plans to check out the Van Gogh museum – now, here we were, in the middle of a crowded street, staring at giant plastic knobs.
An hour later, curiosity having got the better of us, we found ourselves meandering wide-eyed through a sex museum. It was at this point that I began to feel pretty odd, as though slowly but surely, someone was turning a dial in my head. Colours which were once mute began to glow like neon. Whispers became shouts. My head felt hot and sweaty, yet my hands were stone cold. I began to worry that people were staring at me, their eyes following me like shadows across the ground. “I have to get out of here”, I panicked, and yet my feet could barely carry me.
Drunkenly, I stumbled through the museum until finally I found a room to myself. Little did I know, this was no ordinary room.
The walls were painted black, giving it a strange cave-like appearance. Bizarre, spiked instruments hung from rusty hooks. Somewhere from within the walls – hopefully from an audio tape – came the screams of a woman who sounded anything but pleasured. Frantically, I searched for the door only to find it had disappeared- camouflaged – in to the dark, grimy walls. The sounds which filled the air were becoming increasingly distorted; somewhere in the distance I heard my name being called, and two familiar faces wobbled in to view.