High time in Holland

Anna Rockall takes the Midnight Express to Amsterdam
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The Independent Travel
Nestled in the pages of Viz, along with the adverts for "legal highs", T-shirts emblazoned with the familiar seven-pointed leaf, and indoor growing cabinets for the horticulturally-minded, a company called Midnight Express advertises a "Smoker's Weekend" in Amsterdam. A coach takes you overnight to this watery city, drops you off at 9 in the morning on Saturday, and picks you up at 1.30 that night. The intended benefit of two consecutive nights trying to sleep on a coach being, presumably, that you have no accommodation costs.

Prior to embarking on this masochistic venture, I couldn't think of a purer hell than being dumped in a strange city after an uncomfortable, sleepless night and being expected to take soporific drugs all day. That was before I discovered who I was to be travelling with. About half the bus was filled with a mixture of perfectly ordinary looking people - couples, a few ageing hippies, and groups of friends off for a fun weekend. But they were overshadowed by the lads at the back of the bus; drunk, stoned, noisy, abusive and sexist, to name just a few of their sins - they sported skinheads and a bad attitude. A Dutch friend tells me that it is these men that the infamous Amsterdam prostitutes dislike the most, because of the way they burp and fart at inopportune moments.

The company's introductory description of its trips, so to speak, says: "We want you to feel that you are in Amsterdam the moment you step aboard our coach, and just like in the Amsterdam coffee shops, we play music..." And just like in the Amsterdam coffee shops, dope is smoked whilst on board. Within two minutes of getting on the coach, the first wreaths of perfumed smoke drifted over. Although the introduction does not mention drugs, it does ask "that you are considerate to other passengers when you smoke, so if the people sitting near you are not smoking, you should at least offer them some!"

Going through UK formalities on to the ferry was surprisingly trouble- free considering the coach reeked of illegal substances, but we were let through unhindered. Having crossed the Channel, most people tried to get some sleep, their heads balanced uncomfortably on anything that offered support until we were woken-up, stiff-necked and cold, just outside Amsterdam.

As we stumbled out of the bus and stood in a daze on the street, wondering which direction to head in, the highly motivated lager louts - or in this case ganja louts - jumped out and looked at us mockingly. "What the fook are you standin' about for? Goin' to do some fookin' sightseeing?" With deepest scorn.

Then they goose-stepped off, no doubt to the nearest den of iniquity. The rest of us also went to a nearby coffee shop, where for some reason everybody apart from myself thought the best antidote to a sleepless night and a strong desire to go to bed for 24 hours was several large spliffs.

Not being a smoker on a grand scale, I had decided to hold out until the evening but despite my best intentions, I succumbed to a few drags of Super Skunk. Although this sounds like a social disease, I have to admit it was rather delightful. It made me feel slightly comatose, but I didn't take much so was still able to articulate when asked a simple and direct question. In fact, it led to some rather interesting effects at the Van Gogh museum, which was my next port of call.

The Van Gogh museum is a wonderful gem of a gallery - not overwhelmingly big, like the Rijksmuseum - and it is beautifully laid out in three large rooms. These are mainly devoted, of course, to Van Gogh but also exhibiting some other paintings of the same period. Which brings me to the interesting effect of the couple of puffs I had before going. There is a lifesize bronze statue in the museum - Farmer by Jules Galou - which from a distance is was everything you would expect of a bronze statue: still. But close up, I could have sworn it was breathing.

After a full day of debauchery, the day trippers all met up, somewhat the worse for wear, and piled unwillingly on to the coach for the return journey. This time, nearly everybody - and certainly the lads at the back - went straight to sleep after a quick joint.

We didn't wake up until we reached the ferry. We passed customs without any problems, and there was a widespread lighting-up of joints as soon as we were through - still in sight of the customs building. Perhaps it was a celebration of safe passage, perhaps it was simply to help us get back to sleep again, but it seemed to me like a big V-sign to an, arguably, out-dated law.

The Midnight Express (01282 696363) coach to Amsterdam leaves every Friday evening from Manchester and London, price pounds 38. The next available date is 1 November.

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