It's wedding season
My mid twenties have coincided with a large number of my friends beginning to settle down and get married, and where there are weddings there are stag do's. Depending on the friend, and the friendship group, this can range from stag do's in English cities, European cities and further afield, however this post will concentrate on just trips to Europe.
The one thing that England and Panjab have in common is a big drinking culture but this post will not glorify drinking in any manner. I have seen the damage alcohol can do, especially in English and Panjabi families. The UK suffers from approximately 10,000 alcohol related deaths per year while Panjab has one of the highest per capita alcohol consumption rates in the world.
There are certain things that straddle the line of good and bad, for me, alcohol is one of the most dangerous and addictive substances on the planet. That being said I spent 3 years working in a club during my university years and me giving a long winded lecture is a little hypocritical. I am a firm believer that you can have fun without drinking alcohol and this extends to stag do's too.
Airport Rating *****
Reception of locals *****
I have been to Barcelona twice, once with a group of brown friends, the other time with a group of white friends. For anyone that has good friends from both cultures, you will know that although pretty much 95% of stag do's with the two groups are the same, there are small differences which can mean you have different experiences.
My white friends care less about image and more about just having as much fun for as cheap as possible and that is reflected in the apartments we stay in and activities we do. They are also more open about crazy experiences which means I end up in places I might not always be comfortable in (from a moral standpoint or even a brown guy surrounded by a hundred white guys perspective).
On the other hand, my brown friends are more about the image and they want to have as much fun as possible, no matter what the price tag. This is reflected in the expensive hotels and expensive nights out. Whilst my white friends are happy to do to a cheap bar, my brown friends always go VIP. This means I also end up in places I might not always agree with (expensive rooms, expensive clubs, expensive everything).
Barcelona catered to both of my friendship groups - the city can be as expensive or as cheap as you would like it to be. I have been to VIP experiences in clubs that are the equivalent of prices you would spend in cities such as Manchester, Liverpool or Birmingham and other clubs where you can get away with spending very little.
The same is also true about food. The cuisine is nice and moderately priced, and there are also the usual suspects of fast food restaurants if thats what you want.
Flights to and from Barcelona, if booked in advance are cheaper than a train ticket from Birmingham to London and trips are definitely affordable. Accommodation is also the same; ranging from cheap (but good) hostels to mid priced apartments an of course, expensive hotels.
Barcelona is one of the few cities that offers both the convenience and culture of a large city and the fun and relaxed feel of a beach. This means there are also a lot of activities you can do. From the fun of the beach to seeing the Catalan way of life in the city, there is always something to do.
Barcelona is famous for its football team and a famous motorsport heritage. During my trips to Barcelona, we took in a game at the Nou Camp and also spent a few hours doing go karting. Both activities are fantastic for a stag do, and help add variety to a trip that is usually centred on clubbing.
Barcelona has clubs and bars in both the city and also the beach side. These can range from small cheap bars, to expensive VIP experiences in large clubs. The smaller clubs have one or two rooms that, depending on the location will play a specific genre of the music. The larger clubs, meanwhile, have a number of rooms that play everything from hiphop to Spanish music and, with enough money and pressure, bhangra too.
Reception of locals
Barcelona is very much a tourist city and you will see people from all over the world. In fact during my first trip, I was approached by a group of people who recognised me from the club I was working at in Birmingham. Small world. The locals are very friendly and I was never treated in a manner different from my white friends. In a large brown group, people don't treat you differently for other reasons. Whatever works, I guess.
Barcelona Stag Rating: 9/10
Airport Rating *****
Reception of local ***
Amsterdam is another city I have been to twice for two different stag do's, although the experiences on both occasions were broadly similar.
The city is very surreal, with many things that are unique to Amsterdam and there is no-where quite like it in the world. In proximity to England means there are also a lot of English tourists, many also on stag or hen do's.
Northern European cities tend to be more expensive than their southern European counterparts, and, barring a few anomalies, capital cities are more expensive than other cities. All this means that Amsterdam is a relatively expensive place to have a stag do.
Food is quite expensive (unless you opt for a fast food restaurant, which lets be honest, is what most people eat on stag do's).
Its proximity to England means that travel to the Dutch capital is extremely cheap, in fact you can get there for under GBP 50 and the flight itself is very short, with planes flying from many different UK airports.
Amsterdam is famous for its canals, and boat trips down the waterways are an incredibly fun and popular activity. It certainly adds something different to the usual 3/4 day stag do's and I had a lot of fun seeing the city in a different way.
The city also has cultural exhibits (although these aren't really a popular choice of activity on stag do's). The Grand Centraal Station is a particularly impressive building in the centre of the city, but places like Dam square are also good places to spend the day, seeing something new.
The city is home to Ajax, one of the most successful European clubs with a proud history and a trip to Amsterdam Arena is very much worth your while. Unlike in Barcelona, where I took in a game, at Ajax I did a normal stadium tour and it was great to see the history of this famous club.
The nightlife in Amsterdam is as varied as the city itself. The most famous spot is the red light district. Although at first I found the experience uncomfortable, the area is filled with tourists of all ages from all around the world. It's a very, very strange place, unlike anything else I have ever seen and I understand why it is so famous, its just so different. My friends decided to take a guided tour which also talks about its history and importance in the local economy. At first I felt weird, here I was representing Sikhs, but walking through a morally questionable place, but these are people that earn a lot of money and the area is important to the economy of the city. Most importantly, and unlike some of the group, I was more than happy to keep myself to myself, others wanted to really make sure they had the full experience. I'm not one to judge, but I did.
The city is also famous for its cafes that sell everything from joints to space cakes. Smoking is something frowned upon, not only in Sikhi but wider Panjabi culture, however, cannabis has an important place in Sikh history and culture, especially in the Nihang traditions. The cafes are very popular, especially with tourists and they are a nice place to relax and unwind. I would avoid the tourist traps that are the Bulldog Cafes as these tend to be overpriced.
Reception of locals
Amsterdam is one of a growing list of European cities that have seen a rise in the Far Right. I always find this difficult to understand. This is a country that went and colonised the world. They actually went and stole people lands, enslaved large numbers, sucked their resources dry and killed their rulers, but these people are scared because they perceive that its happening to their country? I don't see enslaved Dutch people, I don't see a foreign Head of State, and instead of cleaning out their resources, immigrants are actually paying in more taxes. Ridiculous. On the back of this, I got some stares and a few comments here and there. I'm lucky that I have worked hard in the gym and the ring to be able to defend myself, so I don't fear these interactions, they do however disappoint me. A few people asked if I was Muslim and I always responded with no, but what if I was.
On the whole, you don't get too much trouble though, its always a minority, as it tends to be in a number of cities, primarily in the north of Europe or the north of America, who ironically are the only people who have actually gone out and colonised other countries. But, as my large group of white friends always point out, there are idiot minorities in every country, which is also true.
Amsterdam Stag Rating: 6/10
Airport Rating *****
Reception of locals ****
I'll be honest, I wasn't sure that I would enjoy Ibiza. I'm not a big fan of house music (although working as a bar tender I was exposed to it a fair bit) and as I entered my mid-twenties, going out to clubs also lost a lot of its lustre.
However, I found Ibiza genuinely a very enjoyable experience. The island has more to it than just partying (although I didn't get to see much of anything else) and there is something special about it that makes it so famous globally.
The big black mark against Ibiza is the cost. It was easily the most expensive place I went on a stag do. Everything to do with clubbing is almost prohibitively expensive, from entrance fees to prices to buy drinks (even water costs the equivalent of GBP 5 in some of the larger clubs).
Food is more reasonably priced, but again, it doesn't come cheap and flights to Ibiza are more expensive than those to the Spanish mainland. During peak season, hotels, hostels and apartments are extremely expensive, although the place I stayed was very nice, with its own private access to the beach as well a pool
The Ibiza that I saw is geared around parties. In the day time its pool or beach parties and in the night its all about the bars and clubs.
Boat parties are another thing very popular on this island, and the only non-house music related experience I had was on a three hour boat trip that takes you out to the sea and plays music on the deck. As soon as I heard Dr Dre, I knew I was going to have fun. The boat stops a few miles out at sea and everyone jumps into the water and has a swim. It's a lot of fun, but a word of warning, bring extra sun cream as there is no shade above deck and the sun can be unforgiving.
I am reliably told that Ibiza has a lot more to offer, unfortunately, despite spending almost a week, I didn't actually get to explore this other side. I did take a walk to a local police station with my friend to report his missing phone which took us through some residential area's that were much quieter than the resorts and area's in San Antonio and Playa d'en Bossa.
This is where Ibiza comes into its own. The city is the European capital of nightlife and the clubs here are absolutely huge and very busy. Yes, they are expensive, but the experience is unlike anything else. I went to a few places, with my favourite being Pacha where David Guetta had a residency while I was there.
Different clubs such as Space and Amnesia have different feels, but you can never escape the house music. It's odd, I came into Ibiza not a fan of house music at all, but I ended up enjoying it and when I got back I actually missed it so downloaded a few albums. It was just a phase though.
Reception of locals
I don't remember seeing any locals to be fair, just a lot of English and German tourists. I had no issues at all during my stay there, both countries have populations of Sikhs so to many it wasn't anything unusual. Playa d'en Bossa seemed to be a little more expensive and the people staying there also seemed a bit more pretentious, whilst San Antonio was the polar opposite of this. There didn't seem to be a happy middle ground.
Ibiza Stag Rating: 7/10
Prague, Czech Republic
Airport Rating *****
Reception of locals ***
There seems to be an imaginary line running down the middle of Europe, corresponding roughly with the Iron Curtain that separates countries where brown people feel safe walking down the street and countries where you'd probably think twice about going. Prague straddles the middle of that line and was an interesting place to go with about 15 Singhs and Panjabis.
If there's one thing Prague is famed for, its cheap prices, and believe me, its incredibly cheap to both fly out there and also to eat and drink. Obviously, the earlier you book flights, the cheaper it is, but even last minute deals are less than triple figures.
When you are out there, its very easy to eat a full meal for less than the equivalent of GBP 5 and nights out are incredibly cheap as well if you stay away from the larger more commercialised places.
I found the city very similar to Amsterdam in terms of activities available and thats what makes it such a famous stag destination. Although famed for its cheap nightlife, the city also has other activities, my favourite was taking a segway tour of the city which was a quick way to see some of the most famous sights the city has to offer.
You can play bubble football, do go-karting or just relax in one of the cities many rooftop bars.
There is a seedy side to the city, especially in the evening and night, so be prepared to be repeatedly approached by different people ready to sell absolutely everything.
Although its a city famed for its nightlife, I was a little underwhelmed. Nights out, although cheap, aren't as unique as places such as Ibiza, Barcelona or Valencia. You can, however, buy stag packages, just as with Amsterdam, to get free entry into certain places.
There are also a lot of plain clothes police officers that like to mingle in with the crowd, so watch what you buy and who you buy it off (not that I would recommend it anyway).
Just like most other places, you will have people promoting their nights out and giving you special offers, its quite easy to haggle with these guys. In fact, in terms of European cities, its one where you can haggle significantly and pretty much on most things.
Reception of locals
You definitely get a lot of looks walking around the streets of Prague, however these are mostly curious and there doesn't seem to be many issues. Everywhere we ate, people thought we were muslims and would tell us whether food is halaal, which is kind of funny considering eating halaal meat is a bujjar karehet (major sin) in Sikhi. In a way it helped because we definitely knew which food to avoid.
At night some of the looks changed from curious to a bit more threatening. The thing I have found anywhere I go, 9/10 times people will give you looks and thats pretty much it, it doesn't go any further than that and thats exactly what it was like here. We didnt have any issues getting into places in a group of 15 brown guys and we didnt face any open or aggressive racism during our stay.
Prague Stag Rating: 6/10
Airport Rating ****
Reception of locals *****
Valencia seems to be the destination of choice for many stag parties, in fact, in 2016 alone I have visited the city on two different occasions on two different stag do's. Both friendship groups were majority brown which is always a good way of finding out how welcoming a city is.
I thought the cost of Valencia was more than reasonable. Its not as cheap as Prague, but it definitely beats the likes of Amsterdam, Barcelona and Ibiza in terms of cost.
Food is relatively cheap and tasty, although vegetarian options can be slightly difficult to find in Valencia (and Spain more generally). Apartments are incredibly cheap, more so in the old city than the beach area.
The only negative thing is the cost of flying to Valencia can be significantly more expensive than flights to other parts of Spain, and not all airports will have direct flights to the city. The growth of a local tourism industry, however, should change this.
One of those rare cities like Rio and Barcelona that seem to get the beach and city life spot on. A lot of locals and tourists head to the beach to relax. Just off the back of the beach is a lively strip that operates as restaurants in the day and different bars at night.
The centre of the city has exactly what you would expect from a Mediterranean city that has foundations that date back over two thousand years. Fantastic architecture and narrow streets give this city a great character and there are a lot of sights to see.
It doesn't quite have the amount of activities that other larger cities may have, but you can definitely find enough to do over a long weekend.
Both of my visits to Valencia coincided with some unique activities or events. The festival of Las Fallas takes place in the second week of March and is nothing short of incredible , while my second visit coincided with the Valencia night marathon which, like Las Fallas had thousands of attendees, in fact it felt like most of the population of the city.
The nightlife centres around the impressive city of arts and sciences. Built just over a decade ago, the area is a cultural hub by day and a collection of bars and a large club at night and when I say large, I mean as big as any of the large clubs in Ibiza.
VIP is reasonable, costing anywhere between 35 and 45 EUR per person depending on the level you choose. The music is modern and good (hiphop/r'n'b/house/latin) and the crowd is young and friendly. The outdoor area also doubles as a venue for concerts and music festivals.
There is no doubt that the city of arts and sciences is the centre of Valencian nightlife, but there are smaller bars and clubs dotted around the city, each with, in my personal opinion, more charm than the bars in Prague.
Reception of locals
Unlike England, there is not a large Sikh population in Valencia, in fact, I dont think there is even a small population. This means that chances are people will think you are either Arab or Hindu, which isnt actually that bad because no one seems to have too much of a problem. I have highlighted Spain's problem with low-intensity racism, and maybe it was because my stay was short on both occasions that I visited, but, nor the large groups with me, experienced any form of discrimination.
The locals were very friendly and sometimes curious, but there was never a moment I felt unsafe, even walking through residential neighbourhoods after dark. I did get my salai confiscated by airport security, but the attendant couldnt have been more apologetic, and to me he seemed quite sincere too.
I was a big fan of Valencia as a stag destination, and as of summer 2016, its been my favourite destination to celebrate my friends getting married.
Valencia Stag Rating: 10/10
British Sikh, born in the Midlands, based in London, travelling the world seeing new cultures.