Ive been having a particularly bad week even with my normal overly optimistic outlook and rose tinted glasses perspective, so for a little escapism I have decided to recall a very odd place I recently stayed.
Having achieved the highest accolade of the ICH Hotels loyalty program gaining points has somehow seemed to take a back seat and become far less exciting than they used to be, so to counteract this rather disappointing victory I decided to strike off on my own.
A trawl of the internet found an interesting website which basically sublets peoples accommodation on a trust basis.The website in question acting as the financial intermediary. This site opened the door to thousands of far more exciting prospects that the dull old Crowne Plaza, these included, aeroplanes, boats, caves even right across the world and at bargain prices.Amazing you may say, indeed, but remember these transactions are based purely on the good word of the person renting you their home/boat/cave etc and them not turning out to be a)a con merchant (best scenario) b) crazed serial killer. So with a certain amount of trepidation I booked a "houseboat" in Amsterdam, ready to test my theory as to whether I would actually survive there outside the comforts of a 5 star hotel and taxi for more than a few hours.
All went well, a very nice lady e mailed me all the details, I had to pass her selection process by giving a brief resume (again based purely on trust) which I duly did and I was all set. The day came and as I arrived at the bustling hub of Norwich International it dawned on me that a serial killer could easily have sent a nice e mail and picture of a normal non serial killer type lady with bicycle and be right now laying in wait at the said house boat along with all my travel plans which I had neglected to inform anyone else about. This led to a string of rather panic stricken e mails asking friends to please come and look for me at the following address if I had disappeared as I had probably been murdered, dismembered and by them dumped into a Dutch canal.
By the time I landed at Schipol I was convinced this was an elaborate scheme of a criminal mastermind who would at best murder me on sight. This was not helped when I arrived at the nearest bus stop to the "house boat" and found I needed to step over a homeless alcoholic cross a decididly dubious railway bridge and then make it past a string of graffitied lock ups. But still I carried on....on arrival things were looking up, there was no obvious serial killer, just a friendly couple that were looking after the keys for their friend,(but arent they all mean to look normal and thats the real danger??) I had made it this far..
From them on things took on a slightly surreal turn however. The houseboat was in reality far more a "floating portacabin", I think houseboat was rather the estate agent ease for it. But still, all fine, was floating, there was a canal, a windmill even in the distance. On entry however there was an overpowering smell of cannabis, why this surprised me I don't know given the circumstances, but in my happy little world anywhere I stay even in Amsterdam doesn't smell of cannabis, still fine...then I opened the fridge, partly full, more disturbingly partly full with "McSweens" Vegetarian Haggis, OK,little bit odd.
At this point many people would have hailed a cab and checked back into a nice comfy establishment of the 5* variety as quickly as possible, I won't deny this course of action was looking decidedly attractive but pride would not let me so off I went in search of cleaning products and air freshener, I would be FINE...
One thing that's a bit odd about Amsterdam well, one of many to be fair, is that even for a big city there aren't alot of shops open on a Sunday and for some time the only establishment I could find open was a cafe, of the brown variety, so not something that was going to help me on the house cleaning front or any other other unless I decided to take up smoking dope and it just didn't seem the right time.
Eventually I did find a branch of Albert Heine, the Dutch equivalent of Tescos which thankfully did think Sunday opening was a good idea, then to run the gautlet of the 2 very determined beggars who seemed to have immediately summed me up as a likely target and the elderly man slumped across the doorway with a large open carton of red wine. In my book none of these are neccesarily signs you are staying a "good neighbourhood", anyway, I had come this far and most certainly wasn't turning back now. The next challenge was what to buy, the Dutch seem to find it highly amusing to label things as incoherently as possible for those who don't speak Dutch so finding a multi purpose scented type of cleaning product was not a simple as you might initially suppose, but in the end I plumped for something that looked a bit like a bottle of Flash and vaguely looked in the right department and a scented candle.
Esconced back on the "boat" and having had a bit of a spring clean things looked alot better, that is until the sun went down and the flats opposite revealed the fact they were very much of the social housing variety and people had some quite varied jobs that neccesitated them working from home and wearing dressing gowns on the balcony, this coupled with the railway bridge that now ominously rattled every few minutes with the passing traffic wasnt making the whole thing look quite so appealing. Anyway, to cut a long story short after barricading the door with a chair and not setting foot outside after dark morning dawned on much more pleasant canalside scene more reminicent of a travel brochure.
I had made it thorough the night and not be murdered in my bed which at the time seemed quite momentous and certainly a pleasant surprise. Now time for a bit more of a look around my temporary home. Something odd about this subletting business via a website is that you just don't know if its a holiday home or someones house they have just vacated for a few days to get some cash, this definitely fell into the later category. The wardrobes, food cupboards, even washing machine were full of the mystery persons belongings. The whole thing had the feel of a cross between the Marie Celeste and Through the Keyhole. There was a horrible temptation to open cupboards and psychologically profile my mystery host, something I managed pretty successfully not to do. I am not sure this was actually for the best however as there were a number of very odd items on view with which to make up the oddest profile from and I don't just mean the Haggis.
A record player complete with records that wouldn't play, several cameras, photographs of various people around Amsterdam, a half smoked pipe with what didn't quite smell tobacco in, and a photograph of a half eaten dessert.You can see now it may actually have been better to raid the cupboards than dwell on these items. But still , I had got this far and wasnt wimping out now. I spent a pleasant day looking around the botanical gardens, going back to the supermarket (still the same clientele outside) and sitting on my balcony waving to the rather fetching policemen on the police boats.