We were sitting at the dining room table in Luton, England surrounded by all of Richard’s brothers and their children. Suddenly his niece looked at me and said “When you go to Amsterdam, Richard should buy you the biggest diamond engagement ring he can find.”
I took that to mean that I hadn’t wasted all those frequent flyer miles on meeting the relies (Brit-speak for getting the thumbs up from the family), and practicing the royal wave and the stiff upper lip
So we took her tip!
Diamonds are forever
Whether you’re getting engaged or topping up points on the commitment meter, the neat thing about buying a diamond in Amsterdam is that they throw in a gem education for free. Even if you can’t buy the Hope diamond, the factory tour will give you the necessary sophistication to feel that what you buy is worth the price. Marilyn certainly knew what she was talking about.
Amsterdam’s probably the only city you’ll ever visit that will give you an education and a certificate both in diamonds and in pot. Whether or not you’re actually a fan of Mary Jane or just curious, put a stop at the Cannabis College high on your list. Volunteers will clue you in on how much to pay for weed, and indicate their favorite coffee shops on a map of the city. That’s probably a smart move both because the number of coffee shops have decreased under pressure from the EU, and getting a local’s high-five on where to get high is good quality control. The college sells a variety of cannabis related books and souvenirs, but not the good stuff. Downstairs you can get a cannabis education about how weed is grown; then come upstairs and take a 10-question quiz. Pass, and collected the only certificate in cannabis you’ll probably ever earn! First hint-don’t confuse coffeehouses with coffee shops. The first sells espresso; the second sells the substance that heightens its taste.
Even more retail therapy
Bet you didn’t know that there’s more then love for sale in the Red Light District (aka De Wallen). In 2008, Amsterdam launched Project 1012 (the district’s zip code) to clean up prostitution, legal since 1810, although brothels weren’t legit until almost 200 years later. The project’s goal is to move out some of the girls and move-in fashion designers (by giving them low cost living and workshop space) and art galleries. Ultimately, the district might be as arty as some of its architecture. If successful, sex workers will be transitioned from the Oudekerksplein to the Oude Nieuwstraat and the Oudezjds Achterburgwal in order to cut prostitution-related crime.
Get your fashion on
No one else at home will be wearing the “finds” found in Amsterdam’s Nine Streets. Named after the nine streets connecting the main canals, the neighborhood has everything from vintage, recycled to designer stores for guys and gals. If you fit into junior sizes or are shopping for someone who can, don’t miss Zipper, which specializes in transforming vintage pieces from America into something distinctively their own. Prices are equally tiny – everything in the shop is under €50.
Wander around and you’ll discover indie boutiques where the owner makes dresses with a fifties look from whimsical fabric – some have a Mickey Mouse design!- for €100; no additional charge for alterations.
Fashion is in the bag at the Museum of Bags and Purses. Don’t think the collection is just a chick thing, or geared only to high maintenance men sporting the latest Gucci. Here you’ll learn how handbags evolved from the Middle Ages, becoming a necessity for men and women before inside pockets were invented. From bags that were used as love letters –open this 18th century treasure to find the passionate invitation “He burns for you” to a 16th century merchant’s wallet with 18 compartments to organize all world currencies, this 4000 piece collection is the largest museum of its kind in the world. For your final act of indulgence, check out the museum shop where indispensables for men and women by up-and-coming designers showing in the museum are on offer.
To Dine For
Get a real taste of dining Amsterdam style. At Brasserie Harkema, the entire ceiling is made of skylights, and one wall has been transformed into a huge wine rack stacked with rows and rows of bottles. This theme of the restaurant is black and white. Waiters dress in white T-shirts, while the runners, who bring and bus your order are in black.
Dutch food marches to a different flavor – bland. Croquettes are a particularly popular appetizer with variations in every restaurant. Harkema’s are crispy on the outside like an egg roll but mushy inside with a strong after taste of shrimp. Meats are well-prepared but unsurprising. After devouring a Blondie of white chocolate and macadamia nuts served unusually with freshly churned blood orange ice cream, all that’s left is a passion for more.
Concierges at NH Amsterdam Centre Hotel, a centrally located, affordably priced hotel convenient to trams, canal boats and restaurants, really know their stuff. Book one of their spacious rooms furnished IKEA style, and let them work their magic making reservations, giving directions and pointing out the sights so you have uninterrupted time to fall in love with Amsterdam.
When You Go
Museum of Bags and Purses, http://www.museumofbagsandpurses.com; Herengracht 573.
The Nine Streets, www.TheNineStreets.com
Harkema Brasserie, www.brasserieharkema.nl.
Puri Mas, http://www.purimas.nl
Cannabis College, www.cannabiscollege.com
Everything else you need to know at www.iamsterdam.com
Words by Sheila Sobell; Photography by Richard N. Every. Visit these professional worldwide travel photojournalists at www.writersobell.com.
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