Cities / Towns Visited: 11
Countries Visited: 5
Steps Taken Today: 21,259
Steps Taken Around the World: 676,288
Sometimes it doesn’t matter if you plan or not, things won’t always go your way. Today is a great example of that. We researched all of the information months in advance, but sudden changes to attractions meant we would not be able to visit. You still have to book your trip, knowing that eventually something will give and you’ll miss things you’d hoped to see. Today would be our day in Amsterdam, but we would miss the two main sights we were planning to visit: the Royal Palace was closed as the royal family would be in residence for an event, and Anne Frank’s House is undergoing restorations and so is booked out at least a month in advance, something that was not mentioned on the website at the time of our planning. Disappointments aside we hopped on the train and headed for the country’s capital.
It seems to be an ongoing theme that, unsurprisingly as we are introverts, we have enjoyed the smaller towns much more so than the major cities, and tumbling out of the train and into the sea of people kept that fact true enough. Out into the glaring city we wandered, and in accepting we could not go into the state rooms of the palace, we reasoned we would at least go and ogle the exterior. To be honest we walked past the back of it (which fronts right onto the street) without even noticing what it was. After checking the wonders of google maps we realised our oversight, and ventured into the main square where the front of the palace could be seen. It is rather understated as the residence of a rather longstanding monarchy, with a touch of gilding here and there, but nothing overtly gaudy. To be honest, you know you’re succeeding at being a low key country leader when your palace still has a street number beside the back door, like you couldn’t just write ‘to the Queen of the Netherlands’ and it wouldn’t find its way there.
From here we continued on, down a small street which, no word of a lie, the houses were tilting in every direction; I guess this is the risk you take when your foundations are reclaimed marshlands. After weaving through the old houses we found ourselves at the Begijnhof. Now this had the same principle as the Begijnhof in Bruge, except it was much less aesthetically pleasing. This is not surprising when you consider that at one point the Begijn women were forbidden from worshiping as catholics, as the protestants outlawed it. This didn’t stop these devout group of faithful ladies, and in spite of the ban, they knocked down the interior walls between two of their houses and built a secret chapel in order to continue with their prayers. The chapel still services the women of the community, and is also open for the public to visit and admire. You have to respect people who stay true to their beliefs, despite life’s hardships. Sticking it to the man is seemingly a tale as old as civilisation itself.
Next up we carried on to an attraction we’d put down as ‘if we have time’, but given our first and second preferences were a no go, we strolled happily into the Diamond Museum. For those of you who are unaware, Amsterdam is quite famous for diamonds, a fact (which I learnt on my visit) that is thanks to the purging of Jews from Spain in the 1400's, many of whom fled to the sanctuary of the Netherlands. They were not allowed to join any of the guilds, so many of them turned to the gold and diamond trade, honing their skills as independent diamond workers (cutting and polishing the stones in their homes). For a long time Amsterdam was the centre of trading as well, with the vast majority of the stones being bought and sold within the city. This now occurs more so in Antwerp, but Amsterdam still has many longstanding Diamond dealers who sell direct to the public. Another interesting, albeit rather irritating fact, is that with the boom of the diamond trade, the diamond traders agreed to set standard prices and only allow a limited number of licensed sellers, in order to stop, or at least reduce, the illegal trade of ‘blood diamonds’ (diamonds which are gathered during wars, or through violence). This all sounds great on the surface, but in the end its just caused systematic price fixing, allowing the dealers to keep the price of diamonds consistently high.
Moving right along though, the start of the exhibit shows a fascinating video on how diamonds are made, deep in the earth under extreme heat and pressure, and then are carried to the surface by liquid magma, and blasted out during volcanic eruptions, or are found underground in old volcanic pipes known as Kimberlite pipes. The next part of the exhibit goes into detail about how diamonds are weighed, graded, and cut. It was interesting to learn that the ‘carat’ measurement originates from diamonds originally being weighed comparatively to carob seeds, as they are almost impossibly consistent in their weight. From here they explain grading the impurities, and how diamonds have different colours dependent on the minerals present in the carbon structure. You are also shown the stages of the cutting and polishing process, as well as the most popular cuts used in jewellery.
After learning the basics you are delivered to a display cabinet with replicas of famous diamonds, including: the Cullinan diamonds (which we had previously seen in the crown jewels of England), and the Hope diamond (which was the inspiration for the blue diamond necklace in the Titanic movie). They had a room showing the timeline of the diamond trade, from Indian royalty wearing the uncut diamonds that could be found in their rivers, through the period where we figured out you could cut a diamond with another diamond, to the beginning of the production of man made diamonds, to the present day. Upstairs had a whole room filled with replica crowns, explaining the importance of diamonds, amongst other precious stones, in the show of wealth being passed down in monarchies around the world; as well as a room explaining the advances in modern testing to be able to differentiate real natural diamonds, from fakes and even man-made diamonds. Dotted along the way was a selection of bizarre things people felt the need to diamond encrust, like a gorilla skull, a tennis racquet, and a samurai sword. By the time we left we had learned a great deal about the much loved stone, but were well and truly done with diamonds.
By this point hunger was calling and we decided that, as we had managed to saved money by cooking at home for the last few days, we should give the traditional food of the country a go, so off we went to a restaurant we had researched the day before. We ordered bitterballen (Dutch beef croquettes); a dish with a trio of different flavoured mash potatoes (one with kale, one with beef and vegetable stew, and one with sauerkraut), all served with a smoked sausage; and an oven baked dish, similar to cottage pie, but the beef was mixed with curried onions, and the mash had pieces of cauliflower in it, it was then topped with Amsterdam cheese and cooked to melty goodness. We left more than satisfied with our delicious foray into Dutch delicacies, and headed on our way.
With our list of attractions we wished to visit spent, and no desire to spend an afternoon in a hash brownie haze, we decided to dodge our way through the seemingly endless barrage of cyclists, skirt round the winding canals, and pay the Vondelpark a visit. Don’t get too excited, its just a large park on the edge of the old town, but with the sun shining down, a series of lakes, and more than a few dogs running around, I was more than happy to kill a few hours within its vicinity. Sometimes I forget that a large portion of the world do not have easy access to sandy beaches, and thus it is quite confusing for me to see countless Dutch people in bathing suits, sunbaking on the grass. Australia really is the lucky country when it comes to beaches.
The sun was sinking into the west when we finally hopped on the train to make our way back for our final night at Peet’s, and as I watched the lush green expanses of Holland rush by the train window I let my thoughts drift back to the sparkling stones of this morning. I have never really fitted into the mould of girls my age, or what society says I should be. Consumerism says we should desire diamonds; that if our partners truly loved us they would spend a months worth of their wage to put a giant rock on our hands. I have never been big on owning diamonds, nor have I ever been one of those girls who believes love comes in a small overpriced box. Give me an old heirloom ring with semiprecious stones that actually means something (like they used to before the ‘diamonds are forever’ ad campaign ruined everything) any day of the week. I do not own a hairdryer or perfume; I do not enjoy shopping and absolutely despise having to find shoes; I only have my haircut once a year, and when it comes to make up I wear just enough mascara to make it look like I’ve slept sometime in the last decade; I can never imagine spending my partners money, nor expecting them to pay for me; I am not even that interested in the idea of children. In short, I am the opposite of almost every stereotype the world throws at me; society would say I am failing at being a woman. I’ve never fitted the mould, but that doesn’t make me any less of a person, nor does it any of the others like me. I’m at peace with being an unmaterialistic old soul, society can take its stereotypes and head right back out the door it came in as far as I’m concerned.