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Luxe Amsterdam

Amsterdam has quite the reputation. It has long been rumored to be the wild, vice-indulging center of the western world. Legal prostitution and marijuana coupled with the Heineken brewery - it's like a year round bachelor party, right? Wrong.

By Sarah Spigelman

Getting There

Don't focus on flying directly to Amsterdam from the East coast - there are far more flights from JFK to Heathrow. American Airlines' new first class flagship service has upped its game tremendously. The seats recline 180 degrees, the food service is consistent and high quality, and there is high end champagne (that's right, not just sparkling wine, but actually champagne) offered at your chair. The cabin is spacious and the crew is one of the best in the air, of any airline. Of course, if your miles allow, British Airlines's always excellent first class service is still the epitome of British hospitality with afternoon tea service, real china at the seats, and unique at seat programming. Once you land in Heathrow, freshen up at an airport lounge or spend the night at the excellent Sofitel Heathrow (be sure to order the chicken tikka masala pizza at the hotel's restaurant Vivre for a before bedtime snack), and hop a quick 2-hour flight to Amsterdam the next morning. 

Sleeping

The gold standard of Amsterdam hotels is The Sofitel Grand Legend. This is the first hotel of the ultra-luxe Legend brand of Sofitel hotels, and it took over the Grand in 2010. Since then, it has brought the oldest hotel in Amsterdam, where the Dutch royalty used to house its guests, into a modern-meets-historic hotel. The sprawling hotel is smack in the center of town, within walking distance from Dam Square and the Jordaan district. It has whimsical touches like standing bathtubs, bright, turquoise velvet furnishings and in room coffee makers. It has modern touches like air conditioning, free wifi, and a full service spa. And it has one of the best restaurants in town. 

Seven Bridges offers fresh, modern takes on Dutch food, primarily featuring seafood. It is particularly delightful at breakfast, when it is filled with mostly members of the hotel. The extensive buffet, loaded with exotic fruits, a plethora of meats and cheeses, and a smoothie bar, also comes with options for a hot entree. Just one bite of the fluorescent orange yolks in the perfectly soft boiled eggs will make you forget that any other egg ever existed.  
If you want more of a boutique feel, head to The Pulitzer. This hotel, made up of a row of canal houses, features all the modern amenities to which you are used (luxurious bedding, air conditioning, and high end dining) combined with historic architecture and an old world feel. 

To Shop/Do

A visit to the Anne Frank House, the Rijksmuseum, and the Van Gogh museum is necessary for any traveler. These suggestions are popular because, well - could you visit Paris without seeing the Eiffel Tower? but, off the beaten path, there are a few sights worth seeing. 

Be sure to check out

The Hermitage Museum - this tiny museum, a sister to Russia's gigantic Hermitage museum, often hosts just one exhibit at a time and it is small enough to do in about an hour. A recent exhibit, on Peter The great, featured many of the tsar's personal items, clothing, and paintings. There are audio tours and a world class gift shop with trinkets ranging from 5 Euro pencils to imitation Faberge eggs worth hundreds of dollars. 

The Museum of Bags and Purses - the perfect place for a lover of all things Carrie Bradshaw. This niche museum hosts a number of rare and vintage handbags. Expect everything from Versace's lines from the 1990's to bags made from goat's skin in the 1500's. This will turn your idea of boring museums on its ear. 

The Nine Streets - this lovely section in the Jordaan features many independently owned shops and restaurants. It's the equivalent to SoHo in nine neat little streets. Hand made leather goods, modern furniture, and small cafes dot the streets. Spend the afternoon wandering and ducking into unique shops - anything you buy here surely won't be in your hometown superstore anytime soon. 

The Spiegelkwartier - one of the best antique districts in Europe. This section of town hosts many antique shops with everything from rare books to entire sets of silver. If you look carefully, you might even find some antique delftware This isn't the place to haggle - it's not your local fleamarket.  If you want to do that, head to Albert Cuyp Market, the portobello road of Amsterdam, with tons of stalls of food and drink. \

Speaking of food and drink...

Eating and Drinking

Tempoe Doeloe - The best aftereffect of Dutch imperialism wasn't leaning about porcelain that would eventually lead to Delftware. It is the Indonesian food that permeates the city. This food, that is like - but then, not like! - Thai food, with its use of aromatic spices like lemongrass, ginger, and lip-searing chiles. Go to the casually elegant Tempoe Doeloe for traditional Indonesian food that will surprise you at every turn. Don't even look at the menu - just order the largest rijstaffel on the menu and marvel as dozens of tiny dishes turn up at your table. Chile-heads will love the daging rendanc, an incendiary blend of chiles spread over tender short ribs. Your nose will be running but you will be in heaven. 

Vleminckx Friteshuis - Who says that all delicious experiences have to be pricey? This tiny hole in the wall eatery has no seats, no plates, and paper napkins. But it also has, unequivocally, the best fries in Europe. Fresh cut, fried to order, and served with any number of sauces from the standard (rich, eggy mayonnaise) to the outlandish (sweet and 1950's style Hawaiian sauce?). Get the largest size there is and find a nearby stoop on which you can sit, swig ice cold soda, and eat the best fries you have ever had. 

In de Waag - the perfect place to stop for a lazy lunch or cocktail hour. Sit outside this ancient building in one of Amsterdam's oldest, most popular squares, and people watch as you enjoy any number of interesting European wines that are hard to find in America. Indulge in some bitterballen, the popular Dutch croquette made of potatoes and meat as you relax and watch the world go by. 

Of course, you can still go to a cheap hostel and indulge in every vice imaginable, but Amsterdam has another side. A softer side. A totally luxe, elegant, and cultured side. Recent years have brought elegant hotels, world class eateries, and shopping that rivals that in New York City. If you decide to go to Amsterdam, here are a few tips that will show you that this lovely city, with more canals than Venice, has more to offer than tulips. 

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