`Sally MacLennane´- The Pogues
(We walked him to the station in the rain,
We kissed him as we put him on the train,
And we sang him a song of times long gone,
Though we knew that we'd be seeing him again.
Sad to say I must be on my way,
So buy me beer and whiskey cause I'm going far away,
I'd like to think of me returning when I can,
To the greatest little boozer and to Sally MacLennane.)
I had planned to ride the train up to Amsterdam just after lunch but instead stayed in bed in Brussels a little longer trying to recuperate and went early evening instead. I checked into my hotel just off Dam Square and joined Neil, Laura, Andyman, Niki and Russ in a small bar around the corner just about in time for the night's big sporting attraction. This attraction was, of course, the Olympian challenge to see who could flip the biggest pile of beermats from the table edge and catch them all. We had literally hundreds of these things on our table by the end, including new packs to open that the bar staff were handing us. I'm proud to say that my shaky state did not prevent me from registering a mighty best of thirty whilst the mere mortals could do no better than twenty. Oh, and Turkey continued their surprise progress in the European Championships with a surreal win over Croatia on penalties.
Vicky and her friend Stijn joined us around the end of both contests and we went on a tour of Amsterdam's seedier districts before finally settling on a coffee shop that Niki was so desperately craving for. It was nothing stronger than Chocomelk all night for me though and we headed back to our different hotels by 1am.
The next day we followed a flyer to "Waterworld" where we could apparently hire motorboats to ride around canals just ten minutes bus ride from the city centre. This proved to be twenty minutes on the bus which dropped us in the middle of nowhere. We then followed the modest sign posting further into nowhere until we found the little building that was Waterworld. After all this, the first question they asked us was "Have you booked?" The answer was "No", which meant five of us could squeeze into the one available boat with a motor whilst Niki, Neil & Laura volunteered to row what looked like a tin bath.
Both boats went at about walking pace as we followed the route through the rural canals for about an hour. Possibly it would have taken a lot less if we had been more proficient at keeping either boat in a straight line rather than bouncing from bank to bank via other moored boats and each other as we often did. Hours of fun (quite literally - I kept this up throughout the two hours in the boat) could be had for me by rocking the boat from side to side as much as possible so I could enjoy a wonderful view of Russ frantically grabbing hold of his seat and the side of the boat for dear life as he cried out "AARRGH!! AAAARRRGGGH!". If there is a funnier sight in the world, then I have yet to see it!
After an hour we stopped for some cracking food and drink at the tea cottage for an hour before retracing our steps to Waterwold.
In the evening we found a prime spot in a bar jam-packed with Dutch fans ready to watch their quarter-final against Russia. As we were about the only people in the bar not decked out in orange, someone even asked us at one point if we were Russian. It was a cracking game all the better for the atmosphere of where we were watching it. The roar when they got their late equaliser to force extra time was very impressive although ultimately in vain as they were deservedly beaten 3-1. From my point of view, this means I will get to be in Moscow when they play their semi-final later in the week. The Dutch fans were generally as boisterously noisy as the English would be in the same circumstances. The difference was that they took it on the chin when the game was over rather than the usual broken glasses and petty squables that usually accompany English defeats in big games.
After that it was into another bar for another couple of drinks as we filtered off to bed one by one. Niki did manage to convince the Belgians to go clubbing though and they apparently didn't find bed until around 5 or 6am.
Sunday was a trip to a museum showing a display of photographs from the city circa 1960 followed by shopping for snacks for the 38-hour train ride to Moscow. We had a final meal together before heading to the station. There was a brief heart-in-the-mouth moment when we couldn't find my train on any of the departure boards but it turned out that the time had been put back 13 minutes since I bought the ticket. Getting on the train when it finally arrived on the platform was the first scary moment thus far and after an interminable wait it finally slid out of the station bang on time. Everything in the trip to this point was with friends in familiar places. The parade lap, as it were. Now the lights on the real race had turned green...