Last week I took a day trip to Rotterdam. Rotterdam is in South Holland, just a one hour train ride from Amsterdam and is known for being the largest port in Europe. Most people have heard about it, but it’s not usually a city that many tourists would feel an overwhelming urge to visit. Whenever I expressed my interest in visiting the city to my Dutch friends, the general response was why? Why would you want to go there? It’s ugly. There’s nothing to do there. It’s too modern. It’s not Holland… (side note: it’s ok when the Dutch say Holland, however YOU must refer to it as the Netherlands!). My reply is always the same. My grandmother was from Rotterdam and lived there until her family narrowly escaped the devastation of World War II. Yes, I am very aware that it is not the same city she grew up in as 90% of the city was bombed. Yes, I know it’s not the most architecturally picturesque city, nor does it have the same character and charm as Amsterdam. But I’m not exploring the Netherlands to find duplicates of the capital city. This country is much more than just Amsterdam!
I arrived in Rotterdam before midday. The minute I stepped out of the station and into the street, I understood why Dutchies sometimes say Rotterdam is ‘not Holland’. Everything was modern. Very modern. I was greeted with a singular skyscraper style building towering in front of me as I tried to decipher which direction would take me to the Erasmus Bridge. I spun around and saw the triangular design of Rotterdam Centraal, from which I had just emerged. Most train stations in the Netherlands are housed in very pretty historical buildings. Already I could see that Rotterdam was very different to anywhere I had been in the Netherlands. The station was neither steeped in history nor pretty to look at, but it was clean, sharp and fit in rather well with the other buildings in the area. I can only imagine that on cloudy grey days, Rotterdam Centraal would just resemble a block of angular concrete, but I liked it! First impressions: we’re definitely not in Amsterdam anymore, Toto….
Google maps estimated that it would take me about 30 minutes to reach the Erasmus Bridge from the station. So off I went, putting all my faith into my iPhone to get me there without getting lost. Within minutes I had left the concrete jungle behind and I was in leafy suburbia! It actually reminded me a little of Ballsbridge in Dublin. This was definitely not the Rotterdam I was expecting. I looked down at my phone to make sure I was still heading in the right direction. Affirmative. Turn left for the city centre and tourist office. Continue straight for the Erasmus Bridge. Ik ga rechtdoor so…
The Erasmus Bridge is iconic to Rotterdam. It was built to connect Northern & Southern Rotterdam, and is, in my not-so-educated opinion, a masterpiece of engineering and modern architecture. Often referred to as De Zwaan (The Swan), it is 800 meters long and fits perfectly into the modern skyline. I have to admit that at first sight, it reminded me of the bridge the Luas goes over in Dundrum in Dublin (It’s called the William Dargan Bridge apparently.. Wikipedia is great!) I was advised by a friendly Dutch girl on Twitter to walk across the Erasmusbrug, and then to have tea at Hotel New York. As she was born and bred in Rotterdam, I was more than happy to take her advice. So back to Google Maps I went. Next stop: Hotel New York, Rotterdam!
I crossed the bridge. It was windy. So windy that my hair got stuck in my lipgloss and the bridge swayed beneath me. The few times I stopped for photos, I was half afraid that my phone would be blown out of my hand into the River Maas below. Those stops were worth it as the views of the city were absolutely BREATHTAKING! I was seriously smiling from the inside out as I stood in the centre of the bridge absorbing everything around me. I could see for miles. It was far from the narrow cobbled streets of Amsterdam I was now. Even the views from the Canal Cruise on the Amstel had nothing on this!
At the end of the bridge, I ran my fingers through my hair in an attempt to pull off a (very) windswept look. My friend Google maps told me to turn right and I found myself in a very built up industrial area. I was surrounded by the tallest buildings I have seen in the Netherlands yet. Hotel New York is located at the very end of this street. And when I say very end, I mean if you walk any further you will find yourself in the river! The hotel itself is the old HQ of the Holland America line. The building is full of old-world charm and character, in complete contrast to the skyscrapers towering around it!
I sat outside on the terrace and sipped some tea. It was a scorcher of a day for September and I happily watched the boats pass by, soaking in the busy but somehow relaxed atmosphere. I got chatting to a Belgian couple who had recently moved to Rotterdam for work, and they sold Belgium to me as my next adventure Bruges, I’m coming for you very very soon!! They also bought me a coffee ‘for good luck’. I just think they felt sorry for me as I was the only solo diner there!! 🙂
After lunch, I decided to explore the city a little bit more. The main shopping area was like a huge outdoor mall. This was probably my least favourite part of the day as all I wanted to do was be a tourist and soak up some culture. I popped into the tourist information office briefly which is housed in a semi-circular building and is every bit as modern and unique as the rest of the city! Then my Dad rang me, so I stepped outside to take the call and started walking.
I soon found myself in the Museumpark. It was hard to believe that this oasis was in the centre of the city. Because I have a Museumkaart which gives me free access to museums all over the Netherlands, I popped into the Natural History Museum for a quick look. It was tiny and probably the least impressive museum I have ever been to, but hey, at least I know that for future visits to Rotterdam!
I can say from experience that Rotterdam is definitely nothing like Amsterdam – thank you to everyone who repetitively told me this!!! While at first glance it appears modern, you cannot say that the city is not steeped in history. Rotterdam is a constant reminder of the catastrophic effects of war. An entire city, population, community, and thousands of lives were destroyed. The city is a reflection of hope, courage, hard work and opportunity. It was rebuilt from scratch and recovered extremely well economically after it was torn apart which is more than can be said about other towns and cities post WWII. I feel very happy that I have visited the hometown of my grandmother, even though it is essentially a completely different city than the one she left as a 13 year old on the 10th of May 1940. I have been researching the Rotterdam of old, pre WWII, and it looks like a wonderful place to live.
Leaving Rotterdam that day, I thought about everything I had seen. If I had learnt anything from my day wandering around this city, it is that Rotterdam proves that you can bounce back from hardship with a vengeance, that the possibilities of rebuilding, redefinition and growth are endless, and most importantly, you should never judge anything until you have experienced it for yourself.
Have you ever been to Rotterdam?