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Trip to Amsterdam made richer by new friends.
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BY EDIE GROSS
AMSTERDAM--We'd been in Amsterdam three days when my best friend glanced down at her chirping BlackBerry, then looked up with a grin usually reserved for those who've just won the lottery.
"Oh my God, Newsha's in town," she said. "Our trip just changed dramatically."
Our weeklong trip in April was a mix of business and pleasure. Stephanie Sinclair, my best friend since college, was in town to do some work for Human Rights Watch and to pick up the 2012 World Press Photo award for best contemporary issues story for her National Geographic piece on child brides.
Since her husband was neck-deep in law school exams, I went along as the proud family member, figuring I'd do touristy things between official events.
I'd never met Newsha Tavakolian, but she and Steph got to know each other years ago while covering the war in Iraq. Born and raised in Iran, Newsha, a photographer, lives in Tehran with her husband, Thomas Erdbrink, a Dutch journalist and chief of The New York Times bureau there.
It was a fluke that she was passing through Amsterdam while we were there and an incredible stroke of luck for Steph and me.
There are many things to love about Amsterdam: world-class museums, charming houseboats, canal-front architecture, bicycle-friendly streets, live-and-let-live attitude. But the most wonderful element--and I suppose you could say this about most places--is the people, a facet that's often inaccessible to tourists during short visits.
Thanks to Newsha, a gregarious soul with an infectious smile, we went from tourists to welcome guests in about 10 seconds.
I'd brought along a colorful travel guide and had set a conservative goal for myself: Before leaving the Netherlands, I wanted to visit Anne Frank's hiding spot, cruise Amsterdam's canals and see tulips.
As you can imagine, the Frank family's attic annex, where they hid from the Nazis for two years, was incredibly moving. Hundreds of us waited in the rain outside the building at 263 Prinsengracht for a chance to see the spot, concealed behind a swinging bookcase, where Anne Frank penned her famous diary before she, her parents, sister and four others were deported to concentration camps.
Most of the new friends I made in Amsterdam are artists or photographers. To see their work, check out:WorldPressPhoto.org features work by some of the world's most incredible photographers. Winners of this year's awards were recognized at a ceremony in Amsterdam in April. StephanieSinclair.com is photographer Stephanie Sinclair's website. You can also view her award-winning project on child brides at National Geographic.com.
Iranian photographer Newsha Tavakolian displays her work at NewshaTavakolian.com.
Sander Goudswaard's latest project, bringing the world together through photography, can be viewed at ADay.org.
Russian-born painter and art restorer Wassily Khudyakov hosts a site at Conservart.nl.JanDirk.com features work by Dutch photographer Jan-Dirk van der Burg, whose book "Olifanten Paadjes" is my new favorite. TOURIST TIPS Moeders.com: For an amazing meal in Amsterdam, do not miss Moeders Restaurant. A reservation is recommended. Ambassade-hotel.nl: Ten 17th-century canal-front homes were linked to form this beautiful hotel in the heart of the canal district. Charming rooms, friendly staff. Keukenhof.nl: A short train ride from Amsterdam, this 80-acre public garden is a treat for the senses. Lovers.nl: Several companies offer canal cruises in Amsterdam, but we enjoyed an afternoon trip with this company. Transportation: You can reach every major city in Holland by train from Schiphol Airport. The trip to Centraal Station in Amsterdam takes about 20 minutes. Once in Amsterdam, we found the tram system very easy to use, especially if you pick up a week's pass at an office conveniently located just outside the train station. Visitors can also rent bicycles, Amsterdam's main form of transportation. Importing flowers: You can bring Dutch bulbs back with you, but be sure the bags you buy carry a special stamp indicating they've been preapproved for import to the United States or they'll be confiscated. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the bulbs must have "a certificate bearing a serial number, the scientific name of the bulb, the country of its origin and a date on which the special certificate expires," which is usually six weeks from the date of issue.