Amsterdam Diamonds – Why Amsterdam Sparkles As a City Break Gem

Amsterdam hardly ever makes the grade in anyone’s hit list of Europe’s top romantic cities. Paris, Rome, Venice – even London – are likely to leave the Dutch capital in the shade. Some frown on Amsterdam’s links with red light sleaze and its drug smoking ‘coffee shops’. Others may think Amsterdam just a little too dull for a decent city break. Whatever the reasons, when a romantic weekend city break is on the cards, Amsterdam rarely turns up trumps.

What a pity! Despite what you may hear, Amsterdam is not all cannabis and carnality. Amsterdam also turns out to be a gem of a city break destination that could win the heart of the one you love. And what gives this city a romantic gloss?   Amsterdam, in fact, is one the the diamond capitals of Europe. And what surer way to win her heart than a glitzy tour of its diamond workshops? It’s a glittering jewel in this tourist city’s crown. And what’s more – it’s free! One of Amsterdam’s most popular attractions is the diamond factory tour.  

The Gassan diamond-polishing factory in the city centre is itself considered a jewel in the city’s tourist crown. Factory tours are free – but you should book in advance to be sure of a place. You get to see where diamonds are found, how they are classified, cut and polished. You can even watch the polishers at their craft and wonder how they resist the temptation to drop the odd stone into a pockets. Visitors agree that the tours are every bit as sparkling as the gems themselves.   About 340.000 visitors come to see Coster Diamonds craftsmen at work every year in the heart of the Museum District.

During free guided tours, which are available in more than 25 languages, the process of cutting and polishing a diamond is explained in detail by an efficient and accommodating staff. Costa is the firm that re-cut the 5,000-year-old Koh-i-noor diamond which sits in the British Royal Crown in the Tower of London. As an added treat you can admire their impressive diamond and jewellery collection – a brilliant experience you will not forget in a hurry.   Amstel Diamonds Limited, one of the oldest diamond factories of Amsterdam. They have been polishing gems here since 1876. The factory is found on the Amstel river in an old canal house in the very heart of historic Amsterdam and factory tours are free.   It all makes buying diamonds in Amsterdam a very special occasion for any visitor. This city has been a world centre for the diamond trade since the 16th century. It all began when Jews fleeing the Spanish Inquisition sought the safety of a tolerant and welcoming Amsterdam.

Many jewelers brought the diamond trade with them and, when diamonds were discovered in the Dutch-colonised parts of southern Africa, the diamond trade boomed   Many rough diamonds have been handed over to the expert tradesmen at the factories and workshops of Amsterdam for polishing and processing. The trade flourished until the Nazis occupied the city in the Second World War and the Jewish community was almost wiped out.   Much of the Amsterdam diamond trade moved to Antwerp in the wake of Nazi atrocities.

But the Amsterdam diamond trade has prospered again in recent years thanks to the city’s large and growing tourist trade, in particular its rising popularity as a weekend city breaks destination.   OK, classy diamonds may be a trifle too expensive for most pockets but there is nothing like window shopping and even trying on some of the most dazzling jewellery to be found in the world. What better way to dazzle that special person in your life with a city break trip that has that extra sparkle?

Independent Travelers – An Exceptional Dining Experience in Pulignano a Mare, Puglia, Southern Italy

“Honey, I still don’t see any action in the restaurant!”

We were sitting on the balcony of our hotel high above the Adriatic with a view directly into a large, empty, open air restaurant built in a cave which was also high above the crashing surf. For experienced independent travelers we were getting a little concerned. Did we just make a big leap of faith on a good friend’s recommendation to go to this isolated location for an exceptional dining experience?

The Journey of Faith and a Twinge of Adventure

After a 3 ½ hour long, uneventful drive from Positano on the west coast of Italy to Pulignano a Mare on the east coast of Italy we arrived at this ancient village located several miles below Bari. We rarely plan a one night visit as it is against the ‘mantra of slow travel” but this was a very special restaurant and hotel highly recommended by our friend who lives in Milan. With adventure in mind, we made the exception.

We arrived in the middle of “riposo”, or “nap time”, so this small town was literally closed up for a quiet period. One of the telltale clues were the single chairs in front of the doorways. In this southern part of Italy the chair’s orientation sends the message of ‘do not disturb’ if their backs face the street and If their backs face the doorway, then a guest is welcomed… simple but effective.

We had time to spend since our room was not available so we toured this very old fishing village and came across a World War II Memorial that had fresh flowers and an American flag! The town still remembers the American Troops that helped to liberate it back in the day.

The Hotel and Restaurant

Pulignano a Mare was settled in prehistoric times and is believed to be the site of the ancient Greek city of Neapolis of Apulia. Today one of the main attraction is the Hotel Ristorante Grotta Palazzese which is considered one of the most romantic in the world. It has 25 rooms of quality and uniqueness with spacious, arched ceiling accommodations built into the solid limestone rock. The beautiful dining area has been hosting the local nobility since the 700’s and the fortunate visitors since.

Our room would soon be ready so we parked the car and went in search of a wine merchant to buy a bottle of local wine to enjoy in our room before dinner… it is one of our traditions. That would not happen. Nothing was open.

We returned to the hotel and explained to the hotel manager, in our best Italian, that we had been out looking for a nice bottle of wine and he was puzzled… “Why would anyone search for a bottle of wine outside the hotel if we have wine here that we would be happy to deliver?” Well, OK, that was logical and in a few minutes a bottle of sparkling wine, in an ice bucket, with two glasses arrived on a silver tray. So we sat on our stone balcony watching the waves crash 100 feet below on the side of the hotel, anticipating a fabulous dining experience.

The Dining Experience versus Anxiety

So, now it is close to our 9:00 pm reservation time. We are dressed and still looking towards a dark restaurant. This is silly… we are now really hungry and we know it would be all but impossible to find somewhere else to eat. We might have to dip into our road rations of Chez-its and Goldfish crackers!

We poured another glass of wine and began to feel a little anxious and discussed a Plan B (Snack Food and Asti Spumante). To the refrains of… “I’m sorry… I hope this doesn’t turn out to be a bust”.

At that moment we suddenly see a dark figure walking amongst the empty tables. A candle is lit, then another, and then another! Soft lights appear as do more waiters in white gloves and tuxedos adjusting table linens and silverware. There is LIFE!

At Last… Dinner in a Grotto

Having been ready for over an hour, we bolt out the door, walk around the entire hotel, finding the obscure entrance, hurrying down a narrow flight of stairs to beat the crowd just off an Italian tour bus and finding that our reservation was intact. The restaurant is in a cave. The ceilings and walls are rock. You can feel the fresh, salty air wafting in. It was truly magical.

We were led to a beautiful table on the side against a railing that was at least 100 ft above a surging ocean in the dramatically lit grotto.

And now dinner begins.

First we ordered a beautiful white Italian wine, Fiano de Avellino Fenli Disen Gregorio… and they started us with an appetizer of smoked, lightly breaded shrimp plus marinated cucumbers and radishes complimented it with a glass of Asti Spumonti.

The waiter spoke a bit of English but wanted to speak very fast Italian. He was rushing us and, in my best performance, I said, “scusi, lentamente per favore!” (slow down, please!) and we were good for the rest of the meal. Don’t let the servers rush the meal. They truly believe that Americans want to eat and run. Not us. We want to savor every bite.

And so we continue with Mare di Adriatico, (a seafood medley from the waters of the Adriatic), artichoke crab cakes, Sea Bass Carpaccio, Linguini a Mare, Ravioli a Mare, octopus in tomato sauce, each one better than the other. Every plate we ordered seemed to be delivered with a complimentary dish we did not order! And a never empty glass of the sparkling wine.

When it was time for the main dish, a beautiful whole sea bass, skinned and filleted at the table, we could only taste a small portion. There was simply no more room in our stomachs. Then they brought biscotti and lemon sorbet.

Basta Finito… Enough, we are FINISHED! A true dining experience in true Southern Italian style… the restaurant was still seating at midnight!

The next morning upon checking out we found that the meal was included in the price of the room… the wine was extra so our meal came to about $40.

We rank this exceptional meal as one of our TOP TEN dining experiences and It was certainly worth the drive across Italy… now we are off to Rome!

Buying a Travel Trailer – The Pros and Cons of New and Used Travel Trailers

Are you thinking about buying a travel trailer? There are so many decisions to make.

* Do you want a new or used trailer?

* Is this going to be a cash purchase or financed?

* What are you willing to spend?

* Should you get a 5th wheel, toy hauler or tongue pull travel trailer?

* What manufacturer are you interested in?

* What floor plan is best for your requirements?

If you are undecided, you should start out by considering the pros and the cons of buying used vs. buying new. Take your time when buying your travel trailer. Do your research and avoid spontaneous buys.

PROS of Buying a Used Travel Trailer

* More Bang for Your Buck. A used travel trailer will hold it’s worth longer than a new trailer. A used trailer is the way to go if you are on a looking to save money or don’t want to be stuck with making payments for 10 years. You could get a used 252 with all the bells and whistles cheaper than a NEW 202 plain jane travel trailer.

* Do Your Research. Visit travel trailer forums and read what owners are saying about particular travel trailers, both good and bad, this information could save you a bunch of future headaches. Remember the greater part of travel trailers that are purchased new rarely see any camping action, a large amount of trailers are either put in storage or parked at peoples houses. Its not unregular to find a used travel trailer in showroom condition, even older travel trailers from the 70’s can be found in great condition.

* Second-hand travel trailers hold their value! If you get a good quality bargain on a used travel trailer and decide to sell it a few years later you have a great chance of getting all your money back.

CONS of Purchasing a Used Travel

* Potential Problems. Buying a used travel trailer is a bit of a gamble, there could be minor problems or major problems and if you are lucky – no problems with the trailer. In most cases the warranty will have long ago expired, so expenses will be out of your pocket. Do your homework right so problems won’t be a surprise.

* Elbow Grease. You will need to give your new used trailer a good cleaning, no matter what condition it’s in.

* Less selection of ideal floor plans. Floor plans are limited by what’s currently for sale.

PROS of Buying a New Travel Trailer

* Nice & Sparkling. It’s new, fresh and all yours!

* Warranty. If there are problems, take the trailer back to your dealer and they’ll have to repair them for free!

* Maintenance Free. You do not have to be bothered with purchasing new tires, new battery, or any other part for at least a year or until the warranty has expired.

* Floor Plans. Lots of floor plans and interior colors to choose from.

CONS of Buying a New Travel Trailer

* New Trailers Depreciate Fast. A new travel trailer loses it’s value the moment you pull out of the dealers lot. If you financed with little or nothing down, you will be “upside down” owing more that the trailer is worth, for years! If you have to sell your travel trailer you will most likely owe more than what it’s worth and have to come up with the difference in cash.

* The Cost. If you are budget minded you almost certainly do not want to be trapped making monthly payments for the next 10 years on a travel trailer you will use at the most 8 months out of the year. Do the math, and figure out how much each camping trip will actually cost you per year, just factoring in the monthly payments. Ouch! If your payments are $350 a month x 12 months = $4,200. $4,200 can buy a fantastic used travel trailer and you won’t be stuck with payments!