FEATURE

Paris and Amsterdam, Together

When Erik Torkells told his sister, Molly, he'd take her anywhere in the world as a 40th-birthday present, she picked Las Vegas. Clearly, there was work to be done.

When it comes to food, buy local. But when it comes to souvenirs, buy what you love. One morning, walking around the Left Bank, we picked up a baguette at Gérard Mulot, cheese at Barthélemy (I managed to communicate that we needed cheeses that wouldn't require a knife), some of the heavenly macaroons from Ladurée, and apples and Evian from La Grande Epicerie at Le Bon Marché. We picnicked at Jardin du Luxembourg, a deeply satisfying lunch.

Our souvenirs, however, were from everywhere but Paris and Amsterdam: trifles from Japan-based Muji; Syrian soap from Semo, for our mom; a silver dog figurine that was probably cast in China; a South Korean pop-up birthday card from the Marais outpost of Bonton. In Amsterdam, we purchased Victorian paper masks from London at Mechanisch Speelgoed, a toy store, and, at some shop in Amsterdam's Nine Streets area, paper cups with noses printed on the sides--so when you drink, you appear to have a different nose. The cups were made in Rhode Island. It might be years before I get to Rhode Island.

Take time to just relax. I ran us hard; we moved like a presidential candidate in primary season. And looking back, I think that was a mistake. Some of our best times were when we just sat for a while--in our room at 't Hotel, listening to the birds chirp in the trees or a horse clip-clop down the street; at a canal-side table at Spanjer & Van Twist, watching a woman with long red hair drive off in a tiny car with a red rose in the antenna's spot; in Le Flore en L'Ile, on Île St.-Louis, waiting out a thunderstorm over espresso and Berthillon chocolate ice cream. When you have a job and a husband and two kids, maybe you don't want to run, run, run around a foreign city.

Accept your mistakes and move on. Every now and then I convinced myself that Molly needed to do things travelers are supposed to do, like eat pancakes in Holland. We should've turned around as soon as we heard "Hotel California" coming from the speakers. I wish we'd skipped Amsterdam's flower market, also a tourist trap. We should've eaten at one of the many Surinamese restaurants near Albert Cuypmarkt instead of the Indonesian place we ended up at. (I don't know what they eat in Suriname, but I'm curious.) I'm still not sure why we didn't take boat tours of both cities, and I wish I'd handed Molly a map and told her to spend a few hours exploring Paris on her own--because the best way to grow comfortable as a traveler is to go solo.

All you can do is promise yourself that you won't screw up the same way next time. When I asked Molly if there'd be a next time, she said, "Oh, yes. But it won't be as much fun without you." And then she laughed--in that way that only big sisters know how to do.

AMSTERDAM

Transportation

  • Bike City Bloemgracht 68-70, 011-31/20-626-3721, bikecity.nl, day rental from $14

Lodging

  • 't Hotel Lelie­gracht 18, 011-31/20-422-2741, thotel.nl, from $140

Food

  • Vlaams Frites Huis Voetboog­straat 33, 011-31/20-624-6075, fries $2.50
  • Eetsalon Van Dobben Korte Reguliers­dwarsstraat 5, 011-31/20-624-4200, sandwich $3
  • Da Portare Via Leliegracht 34, no phone, pizza from $11
  • Bordewijk Noordermarkt 7, 011-31/20-624-3899, bordewijk.nl, dinner menu $54
  • Spanjer & Van Twist Leliegracht 60, 011-31/20-639-0109, salad $11

Shopping

  • Mechanisch Speelgoed Westerstraat 67, 011-31/20-638-1680

Nightlife

  • Vyne Prinsengracht 411, 011-31/20-344-6408, vyne.nl, glass from $8
  • Café Brandon Keizersgracht 157, no phone, beer $3

Activities

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