Amsterdam, The Netherlands 

I decided that I wanted to surprise Miles and take him away for his 25th birthday and after a little research I decided that Amsterdam was the place to go – it had been on both our radars and we had heard nothing but positive things from friends who had been there in the past.

I organised the flights and accommodation, liaised with his boss and secured his time off  work- the only thing left , how would I break the surprise!?

Miles’ birthday was a normal working day that year and the evening he got home from work I presented him with a vintage suitcase wrapped in brown paper. ‘Gellukkige Verjaardag’ (happy birthday) was blazoned across the inside of the case and I had wrapped up numerous clues. I’d included, a copy of Anne Frank’s Diary, A Van Gogh book, wooden clog (charity shop treasure!), a plastic windmill, a bunch of tulips, a bottle of Heineken and a slab of Edam cheese. The final package in the box was a note confirming that we were jetting off in the morning and heading to the Netherlands!

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The next morning we headed to Amsterdam, via the shortest 1 hour flight, you’ve literally landed before you know it.

I had booked us into the Art Gallery Hotel which was right on the river in a really central location – it was perfect for what we needed.

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We dumped our stuff, grabbed a quick lunch out on one of the city’s squares and began exploring for the day. One of our first stops was at the Stedelijk museum to view their renowned collection of modern and contemporary art and design. Whenever we go on city breaks Miles always drags me around museums and it normally ends with me sitting on a chair – bored – whinging ‘can we please go get a drink now’. But I must admit that I really enjoyed this particular museum, some of the pieces were beautiful – we spent a couple of hours at least wandering the exhibits.

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Our cultural quota for the day filled, we wandered again through the streets before popping back to the hotel for a drink and a change of outfit. That evening we ate at the most gorgeous restaurant, Café Van Kerkwijk, located just behind Dam Square. Although this restaurant is right in the middle of the main tourist hub, it’s hidden off a small backstreet and therefore completely off the normal visitors ramblings. We were the only non-Dutch diners in the whole place which can only be a good sign. The restaurant is tiny, with only three people working at one time (two waiters and one chef). There’s no menu, you’re simply told by your server what’s on offer that evening. Miles had a steak with goats cheese and a strawberry jus, I had a gorgeous peanutty thai dish. The food was delicious and absolutely one of our highlights of the trip.

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Suitably filled we left the restaurant and wandered into the neighbouring district of Die Walle. As you might be aware, Die Walle is the official name of the famous red light district area of the city. The was a part of the city that I couldn’t wait to see, completely out of perverse fascination of something being so blatant that is normally so hidden, backstreet and ultimately taboo. I’d never seen anything like it  – it was crazy!

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I understand that some people we know who have visited the area found this section of the city to be seedy and didn’t like it – I’m not saying I ‘liked it’ I just enjoyed walking down and people watching. It was beyond anything I’ve ever witnessed to see the girls advertising themselves standing in the red lit windows, but even more so it was the people crowding round the windows, the men darting out from behind the curtains enquiring as to prices; it was the pundits who really interested me. It was just so barefaced and shameless.

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Miles didn’t really enjoy the area, and I do understand why – it’s definitely different for men here. Miles was constantly approached by club workers and touts repeatedly – I found it particularly bonkers that people tried to get Miles into ‘bars’ when he was clearly with his girlfriend!

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Apart from the sex shops, peep shows, ‘coffee’ shops, and sex workers on the main street, there’s also the back alleys which specialise in different – erm – tastes. It’s well worth a visit but perhaps not the place to hang around in for too long!

The next morning we woke up early and made our way over the our first stop of the day – The Anne Frank Haus. I grew up learning about the story of Anne Frank, I read her diary at school and found the TV adaptations fascinating. I knew therefore that this was the main thing I wanted to see in Amsterdam. Luckily, even though there was a long queue, we were able to buy tickets there and then. I know that in the peak months the tickets sell out well in advance.

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The tour starts off leading you through the warehouses where Otto Frank’s companies were operating out of followed by rooms that were used as office spaces. You then proceed up a hallway which, at the end, stands the famous moveable bookcase which hid the entrance to the annex where the family hid for two years before being captured by the Nazi regime. It was crazy seeing the actual bookcase in real life.

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When in the annex you venture through Otto, Edith, and Margot Frank’s room and then Anne Frank’s and Fritz Pfeffer’s room is next.  It really is surreal, the bedrooms haven’t been changed since the day the family were captured, there’s still posters and drawings on the wall – it’s like a time capsule.

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Once you’ve been through the annex you enter a room where there’s exhibits about the family and where the actual diary is displayed. The whole experience is very moving and quite surreal. The annex is small and they do let a lot of visitors in at once. Because of this it can seem a little crowded which perhaps takes away from the experience. Regardless however, I think for anyone who is familiar with Anne Frank, paying a visit to the annex is definitely a must do.

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Having spent some time at the annex – we decided it was time to grab some lunch. We had heard that the Jordaan area of the city was well worth a visit with its trendy bars and café’s lining the canal. As is the case with most ‘cool’ areas in cities, the Jordaan was once a pretty run down, poor area of Amsterdam but nowadays it’s full of interesting shops, galleries, and of course quirky people. It’s well worth a trip. Miles and I sat out in the sun (ok it was freezing but still lovely and bright) and had delicious sandwiches, beer and mint tea.

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Suitably full we decided to wander back through the red light district. It’s completely different in the day; the prostitutes are still in the windows of course, but the area is filled with commuters, dog walkers and children on their way to school. It’s just so normalised here. We wandered up to the Sex Museum (sorry mum and dad!) for a little nose. Miles didn’t enjoy the visit here -I get it – it was a little seedy but an – erm – interesting way to spend an hour or so.

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After a little time in the sex museum, our eyes had officially glazed over so we decided to wander around the town a little more – it’s literally just to beautiful. We walked up past the flower market which is the world’s only floating flower market and took in the rows upon rows of beautiful tulips. We then took a quick pit stop at Die Bakkerswinkkle – a lovely coffee shop with the most amazing cakes.

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After another couple of hours or so wandering we headed back to the hotel for a change and a drink before heading out for the evening.

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We went to the most gorgeous restaurant that night – I couldn’t recommend it more – it’s called Pompstation and is a short bus journey away on the other side of town in East Amsterdam. The Pompstation is an old – you’ve guessed it – pump station, converted into a very swanky restaurant. It’s definitely not a budget restaurant but it was our little holiday treat. The restaurant’s main focus is meat – particularly steaks. I’m not a massive meat eater so went for a mushroom dish; Miles however went for Steak and said it was amazing. It was such a lovely evening eating gorgeous food in a beautiful setting with a live jazz band playing in front of us. It’s definitely worth a trip if you are ever in Amsterdam and fancy a treat.

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The next morning we headed to brunch at a lovely spot called Little Collins which had been recommended to us by one of my friend’s at law school. I literally couldn’t recommend this place more – we loved it so much we went there twice during our stay, and we’ve had two groups of friends visit there on our recommendation since. Both times we visitedI had the sweetcorn fritters served with bacon, salsa, rocket and crème fraiche – it was delicious! Miles had muffins served with ham, eggs, spinach and hollandaise the first visit and the mackerel kedgeree the second – we’ve both since tried to recreate the recipes back home in London. It really is the perfect brunch spot!

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Full and satisfied we decided to walk off our brunch by taking a stroll through the nearby Sarphatipark which was gorgeous. Just as we left the park it started to rain so we decided it was probably best to embark on some kind of indoor pursuit which lead us to the pearly doors of the Heineken Brewery. Ok – so this place is pretty touristy and we were a little reluctant at first, but it ended up being a fun afternoon learning about the brewing process and of course taking advantage of all the testers.

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When we stepped out of the Brewery, we couldn’t believe it. Gone was the heavy rain we had taken cover from, and in its place was a blanket of heavy snow was covering the road, pavement and bikes – it was crazy!

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That evening we decided to continue our run of being typical tourists and hopped on board a night time boat cruise around the canals. Amsterdam is obviously famous for its canal network lined with beautiful terraced houses and the best way to see these is definitely by boat. It really was lovely way to spend an hour or so – especially being at night time, although this did mean we have hardly any photographs!

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That evening, after a quick dinner we headed to Cafe Brecht where we sat and drank our weight in delicious mulled wine. The bar was a quirky place filled with all different types of furniture and it attracted a young crowd. We stayed there for a couple of hours at least before stumbling back to the hotel for our last night sleep in the city.

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The next morning, bright and early, we headed back across to Little Collins for brunch and coffee. Our next stop was at the city’s famous Vondel Park. We wandered all across the park which felt extremely festive with the snow just starting to settle.

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After wandering the park we headed to the main centre of the city to visit Dam Square, see the Royal Palace and take a nose around the big department stores. We wandered around the area for quite some time and managed to do quite a bit of shopping which was a bonus.

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We would have loved to have seen the Van Gogh museum whilst in Amsterdam however it was closed for renovations, we did however pay a visit to the city’s famous Rijks museum where we saw a Rembrandt painting which is supposedly the world’s most famous piece of art… (I would have at least guessed the Mona Lisa?!)

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After a nose around the museum we headed back to the canals where we sat out in a lovely café for coffee and the most delicious slice of traditional Dutch apple and cinnamon cake I have ever eaten. Unfortunately it was then time to head to the airport after what was probably our favourite European city break yet – I couldn’t recommend Amsterdam more.

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