About two years ago, I went to Amsterdam with my sister and her kids as part of my crazy European tour. We almost didn’t visit Amsterdam actually — something about red light district and little kids not mixing. Eventually my sister was convinced that visiting Amsterdam with kids for the day would be alright, as long as we avoided ‘certain areas’.
I was fine with that. I just wanted to visit Amsterdam so I could take a picture with the famous I am sterdam sign and visit the Anne Frank house (still haven’t read or watched The Diary of Anne Frank, but I get the general gist- not ready for such an overwhelming amount of tears just yet) because it looked so cool in The Fault in Our Stars (AWESOME movie by the way!).
We (I) did absolutely no research, except for train times to Amsterdam and back from Den Haag (The Hague), where we were staying. Amsterdam is about an hour from Den Haag so perfect for a day trip. I kept wondering what we would do when we got there but I figured we’d sort ourselves out. My backup plan was to get on a hop-on-hop-off bus. Surely, they’d have one. Most big/tourist cities had them and it had worked so well in Paris a few days earlier.
The train had free wifi so I was stoked to be able to keep up with my instagram and Facebook and WhatsApp. Free wifi when I’m out of the country is like birthday presents because I [almost] never pay for roaming. When I got tired of that, I decided to pick up a newspaper and pretend to read it, like I did when I was like 5 years old or something. I was amused to discover that Game of Thrones was a thing there and they had interest in Hilary Clinton!
When we got off the train, we took a few minutes to marvel at the sheer beauty of the exterior of the huge train station. And then we directed our attention to the other beautiful buildings and millions of bicycles parked neatly in rows. There was also water everywhere– well, in the canals.
We quickly discovered that there weren’t any tour buses in the vicinity so we opted for the next best thing – hop on hop off boat! While waiting for the next boat to arrive, we found an ‘I am sterdam’ sign and decided to snag a picture just in case we never came across the real one seeing as I had zero clue as to where it was even located.
The first stop on the route was called Gassan Diamonds. Hello, two female adults with the whole day to kill? Yes, please! We had no idea what happened at Gassan Diamonds but by golly we were going to find out. Turns out it is a museum-cum-diamond factory-cum jewelry store. When we got there, a group had just begun a tour so we were told we’d have to wait. Again, we had lots of time to kill so we waited. Quite conveniently, there was a rather expensive souvenir shop across the street so we went in.
Somehow we got convinced to get our pictures made and put on a ceramic tile and I bought a few t-shirts; then it was time for our tour. We went up an elevator and our group was shown into a locked room. I think it was also locked once we got in, I can’t remember. The tour guide was dressed very posh- nice suit and shiny shoes. He introduced himself and said there was absolutely no photography or videography allowed, much to my disappointment.
He opened a locked drawer and brought out a fancy case with all sorts of sizes and colors and cuts of diamonds in it as well as a chart that explained them. For the next half hour or so he schooled us on all there was to know about diamonds occasionally allowing us to touch some pieces and even wear them. I didn’t even dare to wear any, especially after he would casually throw around the worth of some of the pieces.
One of the most interesting things I remember from his talk was that they have diamond apprentices that work there. It is a 3(?) year program where you learn how to make (cut and polish, I guess) the diamond pieces. It was also a paid gig. So they teach you and they also pay you! I thought it was a sweet deal. Apparently, a lot of people think so too because he said there was a waiting list!
At the end, he asked if anyone had any questions and of course, they were was the usual/expected initial silence. But then my 7 year old nephew shot his hand up. I was internally panicking like ‘oh no, what’s he going to ask now??’ I was ready to apologize on his behalf in case it turned out to be a silly or embarrassing question. But would you know it, this boy made us proud! He asked where the first diamond was cut. I let out a sigh of relief. The guide said that was a great question and I could tell he meant it. He said he doesn’t usually get that question and he had to think for a bit– but he did give an answer and it seemed to satisfy my nephew.
There were a few more questions and then the tour guide ended with “Unfortunately, we only give out free diamond samples on Tuesday (I think that day was a Monday) so I can’t give you any today”. For a split second, I thought he was serious …then he started to smile. I was like I bet you say that every single day but switch up the days. lol. But maybe one day you’ll get lucky– so you should still go. At least you get a free tour!
After the presentation, we took a tour of the facility and saw people polishing diamonds. I asked one of the guys how long they polished for. He said it depended on the size of the stone but some could take days and others, weeks. Imagine if your job was to just polish diamonds- I think it would be really boring, but what do i know?
And as with every good tour, they make you pass through the gift shop on the way out.lol. As if we were ready to spend that kind of money. My nephew did make an attempt to engage the sales lady and ask her to bring out a piece and asked for the price though. A sign of days to come!
We got back on the boat and planned to get out at the Anne Frank House stop. On the way, we enjoyed the scenery and took in what the Amsterdam canals had to offer that day.
We got off at the Anne Frank House stop and immediately came upon a ridiculously long line. Of course!! It’s only one of the most famous places in the whole of Amsterdam. Apparently people who do their research [smart people], figure out to buy tickets online or in advance. It was pretty clear we weren’t going to stand in that line, especially as we were starting to get hungry and the weather was kind of chilly, and our departure train time was coming up shortly. So we made the best of the situation and got some pictures taken on the outside. Oh, and enjoyed about 90 seconds of free wifi as we walked around the corner in search of food!
So we walked and walked, in search of food. Again, if I had done some research, I would have found some ‘not to be missed’ restaurants or at least some restaurants. For the sake of time, we decided to enter the next restaurant/pub we saw. The food was ok– nothing traditional to Netherlands but we were just so happy to see food, we stuffed our faces and didn’t even take pictures of the food. I did however, get a picture of my nephew having some traditional Netherlands beer. I kid– it’s apple juice :).
After this we power walked back to the train station. We did end up walking by the red light district but we didn’t quickly realize it. I saw some girl through a window doing something but I couldn’t quite tell what it was. My sister must have seen it too because our eyes met, then realization dawned on us. Instinctively, we knew to walk faster.lol. Luckily the kids didn’t seem to notice– Emmanuel was chatting a mile a minute, as usual, and Isabel generally didn’t seem to even realize that she wasn’t in England. haha.
Overall, it was a fun day and I’m glad I got to explore some parts of Amsterdam. I’d love to go back one day and do a few tours and also visit museums, and of course, the Anne Frank House!
And get some free diamond samples, if they still have that offer going on ;).
For fun, see this cool list I found on the interwebs of things about Amsterdam :).
Till next time, friends!
Header Photo: Panorama on the streets of Amsterdam. Taken by O Thomas. April 2015.