The great hotel key mystery...
My trip started on Wednesday evening. Myself, Brendan and Stevie Round flew out of Leeds-Bradford with Jet2, touching down in Amsterdam less than an hour later. We wasted no time in heading for the 'Botel' to dump our bags and hopefully catch up with the other Yorkshire Mags who'd travelled out earlier in the day (or earlier in the week in the Doc's case). No sooner had we walked off the boat than we bumped into Gordon, Paul Blacky, Dennis and Big Issue. BI's legs had clearly stopped functioning and the other three were virtually carrying him back to put him to bed. His condition might have had something to do with the fact that he'd been p!ssed when he'd got up at 4 and had been topping up ever since. He later claimed that his brain was still working ok, but that a bit of wacky backy had gone straight to his legs. It didn't look quite that way to me.
After several phone calls to Steady (who was by now in possession of Big Issue's mobile for some reason) we managed to meet up with him and a few of the other lads in a bar near the red light district. It was immediately obvious that Alan J was nearly as far gone as Big Issue, although purely alcohol induced. At one point we looked on amazed, trying to work out why Alan was buying himself a half only seconds after someone had handed him a freshly bought pint. He probably knew exactly what he was doing though as a couple of minutes later he staggered into the table that the still full pint was on and sent it flying. Shortly after this we decided to move on. Some people were interested in seeing what attractions were on offer, most of us though just wanted to get a few more beers down our necks. As we wandered through the streets it was clear that the place was teeming with Toon fans, a lot of them p!ssed and most of them without match tickets.
There were some interesting local characters in the next bar, including someone who claimed to be Ruud Van Nistelrooy's nephew. Stevie ended up chatting and drinking some lethal looking schnapps type things with some of them. At some point we were joined by Tom and Jude who'd sensibly been for a meal somewhere. Not long after this Aarrrooonna informed us that he was heading back to the Botel. "Are you sure know where you're going?" Tom asked him as he headed for the door. "Aye", came the reply from Aaaarrrrooona just before he headed off in totally the wrong direction. So we weren't surprised to find out the next day that he ended up having to get a taxi back.
Some time later, around half one I'd guess but I wasn't really aware of too much by this time, most of us were ready for our beds. We left the bar and set off back. We hadn't gone far at all when we passed another bar that was looking quite lively. Some of the group decided to call in for a nightcap. Even though he could hardly stand up, Alan J was one of them. We tried to drag him away but he was insistent. He's a grown lad so we left him to it.
After getting back the next thing I recall was Brendan shouting at me to wake up. Stevie was banging on the room door because he couldn't get it open with his key. As I staggered to the door to let him in I noticed that it was 20 past 6! He proceeded to tell us all about his colourful adventures which had culminated in him trying to walk back to the Botel, but he didn't have a clue where it was and so he'd had to fork out 20 euros for a taxi.
A couple of hours later and it was time to get up and get packed. About half the Yorkshire Mags were staying in Amsterdam for the whole trip (and so could stay in bed for a few more hours if they wanted!), but the rest of us were moving on to a second base not far from Heerenveen and so had to check out of the Botel. As we got together at breakfast some stories started to surface. We heard from Brendan about how Alan J, when he finally made it back to the boat, climbed the steps to the first floor then rolled all the way down again. Alan had no recollection of this whatsoever. Then Paul McK told us how he'd woken up to find that his mattress was soaking wet, even though his underpants were bone dry. He couldn't work it out but thought that he must have been sweating a lot. This wasn't how the hotel management saw it. I'm not sure if we'll ever know exactly what happened, but we have our suspicions!
It was a couple of hours and a bit on the train to Leeuwarden, which is about 20 miles the other side of Heerenveen. It was no surprise to anyone that Steve slept the whole way. Leeuwarden turned out to be a cracking little place, with a picturesque town centre built on canals . Like a miniature Amsterdam, but without the stag parties and tackiness. As we checked into our hotel ('t Anker - more of a pub with rooms really) they went to great lengths to tell us to take our keys with us when we went to the match as they'd be closing at 1 or half past and without our keys we wouldn't get back in. I was thinking that they were wasting their breath as we'd easily be back by then.....
I expected that there would be hardly any, if any, Toon fans stopping in Leeuwarden, so I was surprised to see that there were quite a few in our hotel. One group of 6 didn't have a ticket between them, and they told us they were just going to watch the game in a bar Leeuwarden rather than going through to Heerenveen. The ticketless Aarrrrooonna announced that he was going to do the same, but we persuaded him that he should come to Heerenveen for the crack and the outside chance of getting a ticket. So after a swift one in the hotel we set off in search of food and beer. We got both in a quite fancy café/restaurant place where the staff made us dead welcome. One of the waitresses pointed us in the direction of a street with loads of bar and told us how Thursday night was really lively as it was student night. She wasn't wrong as it turned out. On our way from the restaurant to the bar area Brendan, who had been really hyper all trip, just had to climb onto this statue of a horse that we passed . I bet the locals were really impressed. About the first bar we came to was Syb's . Someone immediately decided that it had to be a gay bar because the bloke in charge looked a bit gay and was too friendly. I'm pretty sure it's not a gay bar at all, but the tag stuck. We'd been told back at the hotel that they wouldn't be serving alcohol in Heerenveen, so we toyed with the idea of staying in Leeuwarden until the last minute, but we decided that the story was probably a load of b0llocks and so set off to catch something like the half 5 train. And sure enough, the first bar we came to in Heerenveen was serving beer and was only to happy to have Toon fans in. Unlike Leeuwarden, Heerenveen isn't a place you'd want to spend any length of time in. It's just a small modern town, with one pedestrianised shopping street that had the odd bar/café dotted along it. We didn't actually get any further than the first bar though. We had no need to as it was lively without ever getting too busy. I'd guess about two thirds of the people in their were Toon fans, and there was good banter between us and their fans, with the usual scarf-swapping. At some Big Issue arrived, bringing with him a couple of tickets for the home end. One was already earmarked for Stevie, Aarroooonnaa snapped up the other one.
All too soon we had to drag ourselves off to the match. It was weird walking to the ground and seeing loads of their fans heading there on bikes. You had to keep watching for them coming up behind and potentially taking you out, especially if you were having trouble walking straight. Once we got to the ground Steve and Aaarrrrrooonnaa tried to sneak into our end, but there were Toon stewards there checking tickets and they got nowhere. Once inside it was incredible to see some of the people in our section. These were supposedly the 'top' 700 fans that had applied for tickets, yet there were loads of people there that looked like they'd never been to a game before in their life. The bloke stood next to me with his son was Dutch, although he looked a lot like Kluivert and so might have got his tickets from him. It was nice to see a few Breda fans in our end, but again, how the hell did they get their tickets!!
At the end of the game we were kept in for a few minutes, then made to walk on a detour across a patch of muddy grass and through the coach park. This all meant that we couldn't catch the 'early' (10.57) train back to Leeuwarden. What a shame, we had to go back to the bar for a celebratory beer. It was some time before Steve and Aaarrroooonnna turned up though. One of them (guess which one!) had initially set off from the ground taking them in completely the wrong direction. The next train was 11.35, but we had a long cold wait on the platform as it didn't turn up until after 10 to 12. We arrived back in Leeuwarden to find loads of Toon fans in the bars and wandering the streets. Obviously none of them had been to the game (otherwise they would have been on the same train back as us, and they weren't!), but they looked like they were enjoying themselves anyway. With it being pretty late by now we headed straight back to 'the gay bar'. Tom and Jude thought it looked a bit busy so they wandered off for (as we found out next morning) a takeaway, a quick drink and an early night. The rest of us got stuck into the beer. Stevie tried chatting up two lasses. He got nowhere, so he concluded that they must have been lesbians, and so it HAD to be a gay bar. Aaarrrroonnaa was drinking cognac at one point, and apparently anyone drinking cognac in a gay bar must be gay, so Aaaarrroooonna is now officially gay. After a couple of hours I decided to turn in and set off back to the hotel. I was really glad it was only a few minutes away as it was absolutely freezing walking the streets.
Next morning there was only Tom and me made it down to breakfast before they were supposed to stop serving at half 9. Tom told me how he'd got a phone call at 25 past 3 from Paul who was outside the hotel and couldn't get in. It turns out that Aaarrrooonna, who Paul was sharing with, had left the bar before him with the one key that they had. So when Paul got back he obviously couldn't get in. He'd spent 20 minutes stood outside in the cold phoning Tom, me (as I found out when I checked my missed calls) and Aaarrroooonnna, before he'd managed to get Tom. Later on when the others surfaced we heard how Brendan and Steve had left Alan J (once again well wrecked by this time) in the bar on his own. All three of them were sharing, and Brendan and Steve had the one key. Yet next morning Alan was in the room! None of them has a clue how he got back into the hotel. The favourite theory is that he climbed in through a window. Possibly he took his coat off to do so, because he was certainly missing his coat next morning!
Our flight back from Schiphol wasn't until quarter to nine at night, so we had loads of time to kill. The nice warm train back to Amsterdam didn't take nearly long enough and before we knew it we were turfed off into the cold. We didn't really fancy wandering the streets being blasted by an arctic wind, or walking round museums. So after a meal in a dodgy Italian restaurant so we did what you'd expect us to do - we settled down in a bar with a few beers. We certainly didn't bump into Big Issue at any point. If we had we would have seen that he was sky high. According to Steady, who was looking after him, he was dead lucky to get on their flight back to Liverpool. Scandalous behaviour!
Our flight back to Leeds-Bradford was a bit late, but you don't care so much when you've only get a few miles to do when you get back (all of us except Brendan). After we landed and were taxiing to the terminal the stewardess did the usual "Welcome to Leeds-Bradford, thank you for flying with us, hope to see you again soon, blah blah" bit, but she tagged on the end (put up to it by Alan J apparently) "And the Yorkshire Magazines would like to thank Travel Manager Mal Clark for another hassle free trip". Well she nearly got it right!