Amsterdam

Amsterdam is a mess of countless H&M's, sneaker shops and luxury resellers. Breaking this thick crust is difficult, but will reveal a mild city with fine bakeries, fun local designers and unique small shops. Despite the preponderance of disembodied facades and the scarcity of intact historic buildings, your disappointment melts away when you discover places such as those listed below.

Visitors to Jordino will surely remember the marzipan Louis Vuitton purses and chocolate Louboutin pumps. My most precious memory of Jordino is the marzipan I bought from there. When I was a little boy I enjoyed my first piece of marzipan and relished the way it melted in my mouth so softly. In the years since I have only encountered dry, brittle and flavorless marzipan suitable only as a construction material.

I purchased Jordino's roll consisting of mousse in the center, pistachio-almond marzipan around it and a thin soft chocolate covering around the entirety. When I bit into the treat, the marzipan melted in my mouth and the mousse spread across my palate. What I expected to be a sweet snack was in fact a complete desert experience. My only regret was not to stay longer and enjoy so much more. This is a place to which I will certainly return and write some more.

De Drie Graefjes is a self-proclaimed American bakery near the Royal Palace. I asked the attendant what makes it American, and she remarked that she is not American but the chef is. When I pressed her, she listed the offerings as proof of the bakery's Americanness: carrot cake, New York style cheesecake, muffins and cupcakes. I wondered if she realized the humor in an Amsterdam bakery replicating the cuisine of a former Dutch colony. She also mentioned a few traditional Dutch items, noting that their absence lent the bakery its credibility as distinctly American.

I asked for the most American item and she tried to sell me carrot cake, but I politely declined when it was revealed to be from the afternoon prior. Eventually I bought the freshest item, a raspberry cream cheese muffin. I sat down to enjoy it with a cup of Sri Lankan ceylon black tea with lychee flavor, served with a small chocolate cookie. The Four Tops' Fill Me Up Buttercup played on the radio.

The muffin was filled with moist landmines of individual raspberries, all contained in a fluffy dough that left a sweet lingering aftertaste. For the first time in the week I had spent in Amsterdam, I felt like I could sit down and relax here. I wrote several reflective postcards and departed with the warm flavor of the muffin and tea still on my taste buds.

The Pancake Bakery is a tourist hotspot, but its prices are reasonable and its menu is inventive. I ordered the Swedish Pancake, a €12.85 curiosity described as, "Pancake with deer in a game marinate of coriander and thyme with onions, carrot and cabbage. Served with stewed pears and cranberry sauce." I was not disappointed.

So far as arts and design, Ont Front is a local designer with unpractical delights conceived in Amsterdam, made in China and sold near Frederik Hedrikplantsoen. Another highlight is Totalitarian Art Gallery.

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