23. Amazing Rotterdam

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May 26th, 2011
23. Amazing Rotterdam

Thursday 25 May – We say sad farewells to our French family who have been so kind, generous and hospitable. Eve takes us and our too-heavy suitcases in her car to the Gare du Nord (45 mins thru central Paris). We board the train to Rotterdam. This is a modern, comfortable one and it speeds smoothly along past Brussels and Antwerp, the countryside subtly shifting in character as we leave behind French and Belgian fields and cross into Dutch territory. We arrive shortly after 3 pm, and a taxi which seems to take a very long way round through the city, drops us at our hotel, right on the bank of the Meuse river.

We were on the top floor of the Tulip Inn, with river panorama

Our room is on the top floor of the hotel, and has a spectacular view directly over the river and the beautiful ErasmusBrug suspension bridge, which locals call ‘The Swan’, but which I think resembles a giant stringed instrument, a modernistic and colossal harp. The river is a watery highway, busy with continuous traffic in both directions – lumbering barges, cruise boats, and cheeky high-speed yellow and black water taxis. The surrounding architecture is modern, the spaces open and full of light.
We go out for a walk asap, even though it is overcast and there is a spattering of rain. First impressions are of many many bicycles; all the roads have a bike track and they are being used full-on by people hurrying home from work. Here and there are canals and stretches of water as one would expect in a Dutch port city, but all the buildings seem to be quite modern. Where are all those charming old Dutch narrow houses and picturesque canals? Reading the guide leaflets later, we find that there are none, because the Nazis blitzed the city of Rotterdam to smithereens during WW2 and the city has been completely rebuilt since then. The citizens, once recovered from their trauma, decided to build a city which retained all of the best old features and combined them with all of the best modern ideas. Resulting in a practical city full of art and humour and light and space.

Rotterdam cityscape

First order of biz is to find a café with free WiFi so that we can send off some work we have been doing on the train. A few streets away we find the Seaman’s Centre and pub, order a Heineken (the most popular local brew), and send off, collect etc. emails and get various downloads in the very quiet lounge.
After that, we head back to the hotel for a quick change as the weather has turned chilly with gusty wind. But it starts to rain and being without brolly or mac, and carrying computers, we run for shelter, ducking into the nearest pub/restaurant, which glories in the name of The Jungle – with appropriate decor! Apes, crocodiles, jungle vegetation and all. I look around for a Tarzan-clad waiter but it is not to be.

We find ourselves in The Jungle

Instead, the friendly and perfectly normally-dressed barmaid serves us more Heineken draft, along with the Dutch version of tapas – Krokets, Frikadels and other delicious hot, deep fried savoury things. Back at the hotel the view from our window has changed into a magical vista of water and city lights, backlit against the clear deep blue of an early summer evening sky. Directly below our window is the ‘Spido’ dock from where two large and sleek river cruisers operate, offering tours through the huge Rotterdam port complex. There is also the number 7 tram stop right in front of the hotel. Handy or what… Finally we venture out to find supper. Being ‘strange’ and unable to read Dutch menus, we are baffled and plump for pizza, in a very very busy and probably trendy pizza place. We will do better tomorrow, having had time to absorb the tourist info and get a feel for the local cuisine!

No building shall be ordinary - that's the rule in Rotterdam

Friday – today must be a working day, so we purchase a day’s internet connectivity from the hotel Wifi – not here long enough to justify organising a wireless contract of any kind. We are finding that the way to go with a mobile office is WiFi, never mind what the wireless operators boast they can offer.
The weather seems to be clearing, there is lots of blue sky and fluffy clouds, so maybe the sunshine we have been so lucky with since Florence, has decided to follow us north.
The tourist booklet I pick up in the lobby at breakfast (good coffee – we are v impressed with the automatic cappuccino maker) indicates that there will be a free World Music Festival on in a park round the corner, on 30th May. Aha…..!
Rotterdam looks like a place we will enjoy. Some of the things we would like to see are the Maritime Museum, the miniature Dutch city, the art galleries, architectural walking tour, and maybe a boat trip up the river to see the 19-windmills canal. We could hire bikes or take a go-as-you-please public transport ticket. The 3-day go as you please transport ticket wins, as it also gives you an entire booklet of vouchers with 25% off entrance fees to many tours and museums.

A levitating tree - of course.

A short walk in any direction takes you past open spaces adorned with whimsical, beautiful, but mostly downright weird sculpture, gardens and lawns and trees, and everywhere, benches to sit on.

I am even impressed with the traffic lights, which have ‘toc-toc-toc’ audio signals for blind pedestrians. Sections of four-lane highways are apt to suddenly rear up vertically to let a boat pass underneath. All of it is astonishingly clean and graffiti- free. Modern trams trundle about, and there is also a Metro (must have a system of watertight tunnels?) and buses. In fact there is no excuse to own a car! Take your pick of easy public transport. Or get on yer bike!

Vintage river boat in foreground, the Cube Houses in background

In the afternoon we take a wander along the river bank directly in front of the hotel, a stretch of waterfront adorned with the national flags of every country in the world. Rotterdam prides itself on being an international port, welcoming ships from all over the globe. We see the astonishing Cube Houses, a famous architectural sleight of hand, literally taking a house and standing it on its head.
Nearby we stumble across the Oude Haven, an inner city harbour which not only has vintage barges of the most interesting kind, but a series of vibey restaurants, including a Mexican restaurant called the Popocatepetl which we cannot resist. We are rewarded with insanely good food.

Mexican Tacos from heaven

1 Comment

  • Connie

    20 Jun 2011
    Reply

    Very much enjoying the blog – a real treat, as I was able to read several posts one after the other due to being out of internet range for the last month! Let’s have the next one soon, please….xx

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