I’ve probably spent more time in Rotterdam than anywhere else in the Netherlands. Better known for its shipping industry and business life, it may not be the obvious choice for a city break. Admittedly my own reasons for going there in the first place were purely practical: the city was easy to get to without flying (you can read about that here: Rail-sail – for travel less complicated), accommodation was cheaper than in many more popular tourist destinations, and it provided great rail connections to the rest of the country.
What struck me first about Rotterdam was the architectural extravaganza. The city centre was heavily bombed in World War 2 and parts of it became, as the result of the reconstruction project, a dynamic galore of modern architecture with innovative, funky designs. I have to confess I wasn’t overly impressed at first as the result seemed almost too sterile, too much of a mismatch.
However, it didn’t take long for this quirky city to grow on me. Modern bridges, sky scrapers, and business headquarters now reside next to refurbished old warehouses and buildings like the cubic houses, which architect Piet Blom designed to represent trees in a wood, or a village within a city. A ‘show cube’ (Kijk-Kubus) is open to visitors so you have a chance to experience what it would be like to live inside a tilted cube!
Although I do some ‘proper sightseeing’ in famous and/or historical cities, I rarely have an itinerary or a specific purpose. Usually accompanied by my husband and our rucksacks, I tend to walk for miles, taking in what’s around me, exploring markets and meandering side streets, and climbing towers and hills for a great view. We stop for a coffee or lunch and do some people watching, or maybe grab picnic foods from a local shop and settle in a park. We rarely visit many attractions, especially with entrance fees. Rotterdam was no exception.
Having said that, there is one place we never miss, mainly because my husband is so keen to go: Miniworld Rotterdam is a detailed model of the city and recognizably Dutch landscapes with a miniature railway running through it. It even has a day-night cycle with dusk and dawn, and thousands of light bulbs are lit at nightfall like in a real city. You can watch and listen to a concert at the stadium, observe the ongoing work on the dock, admire the detail of the set – or simply see if any of the miniature characters have been positioned in comical or awkward situations! Although it may appeal most to fans of model railways, it’s worth a visit for others too, especially on a rainy day. Even I, being quite impatient, entertained myself there for a long while!
I rarely remember much of the hotels or B&Bs I’ve stayed in unless they are truly unique. Cherrycake & Chocolate, located in a restored house from 1886 on the island of Noordereiland in the middle of the river Maas, is definitely that! The rooms are on top of a (typically Dutch) steep and narrow staircase, all with a different theme and decorated with an eye for detail. We even had cherry cake and chocolates waiting when we first checked in!
The breakfast setting with beautifully decorated fruit and pastries, and eggs in cups with little hats on was like a work of art. Whilst sipping our cappuccino, we sometimes saw big river barges go by – particularly impressive when they appear through the fog! This kind of ‘pretty & romantic’ holiday accommodation is not really my style but the great location, fabulous service, and individuality made Cherrycake & Chocolate a perfect base for a few days.
As for the travels to other parts of the country, more Dutch tales will follow later.