Heather and Gary in Europe - Spring 2014 travel blog

A view of the central garden in the Begijnhof surrounded by its...

The Royal Palace in Dam Square; the square is being set up...

The War Memorial being prepared the the Remembrance Day ceremonies this evening.

A worker polishing a diamond at the Gasson Diamond facility.

Afternoon coffee with a special treat -- waffles!

A very typical view on every bridge over every canal in Amsterdam!

The 'Mynt Tour', a former defensive structure; later converted to a lock...

Viewed from our canal tour boat, here is the Anna Antal all...

Sunday May 4

We had a relaxed start to the day and did not head out for breakfast till 9:30. It was a sunny day and our day to begin to really explore Amsterdam. We did not walk too far and stopped in Leidseplein where we had an omelette breakfast; had we known the size we would probably have shared one as there must have been at least four eggs in each! We then walked to the Begijnhof. The Beguines were pious women who did not take vows to become nuns but who did good works for the poor of the city. The settlement began in 1346. In the 15th century the original wooden houses were destroyed by fire. The houses were subsequently rebuilt of stone and brick. The last Beguine passed away in 1971. Today the Beginhof is operated as a foundation and still rents the houses to women, 93 occupy the enclosed courtyard garden area today.

Next we walked to the Dam Square as we wanted to visit the Royal Palace. We were thwarted again in our plans. The Palace is usually open to the public except when the royal family is in residence. We did not know that today is the Dutch Remembrance Day for WWII and this evening the King and Queen will be laying a wreath on the war memorial which is opposite the Palace. The Dam Square was being prepared with barricades while we walked across. No visit to the Palace today. Tomorrow is May 5th, another holiday for Liberation Day.

We decided to hop on the City Sight Seeing Amsterdam bus which is a hop-on, hop-off bus that tours the city and stops at the key locations. The ticket is good for 24 hours, so by the time we boarded, the bus it was close to 2:00pm and the ticket was verified for us until 4:00 pm tomorrow as all buses have to stop 2 hours early today for Remembrance Day. We did the tour for a while and finally decided to get off the bus at Gassan Diamonds.

Diamonds have been cut in Amsterdam for over 400 years. The tour was free and it was quite interesting. It began with an overview of the four qualities that determine a diamond: carat, colour, clarity and cut. The brilliant diamond has 58 cuts, while a Gassan diamond has 121 cuts. We watched a woman painstakingly polish some of the facets of one stone. We then went into a showroom where our guide showed us four diamonds of different size and quality: the most expensive that we were shown was a single Gassan 1.5 carats that was a high quality colour and clarity and it was priced at over 6,000 euros. We were then presented with a number of boxes of pre-set stones. We don't think anyone in our little group bought anything, though others did as they were collecting their purchases from the reception on the way out.

All very interesting. We boarded the tour bus again and hopped off near the Rijksmuseum. It was near closing time so we decided we would return tomorrow. Instead we each had a hot waffle and a coffee in the park at the back of the museum before walking back to our hotel for a rest and to watch the Remembrance Day ceremony on the TV; it was very crowded in the Dam Square and we saw more on television.

Later in the evening we walked over to the Irish Aran Pub where we had a simple meal over a pint of Murphy's beer.

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