If there is one thing I hate about "Tourist Guides" it is the way they never give you a chance to explore the place you visit and experience it in the same way as the locals do.
Rotterdam is a perfect case in point. Even though I am only technically half-Dutch through my Mum being born within the city limits of Rotterdam - you could say I was born within the "24 Hours of Rotterdam" (to paraphrase that song "24 hours in Tulsa" - more commonly known to me as "24 Toasters From Tooting" after an advert on British TV a few years ago). I was born on 31 October - which, when you write it in numbers, is 31 10 (the International Dialling Code for Rotterdam).
My parents met and got married in Rotterdam. Up until I was 20 years old my parents and I used to go at least once a year to visit my Oma (and a few other relations). Even though my Mum died 8 years ago my Dad and I still go over to Holland when we can.
I suppose that - as a result of my trips - the Rotterdam I know and love would not feature on any Tourist Trail or in any Guidebook. In some instances - "the Rotterdam I know and love" has turned into the Rotterdam I knew and loved due to the constantly changing face of the city. More about that as we go along though.
One thing which has never changed about my beloved city though is the welcome I feel whenever I am there. As the Mayor of Rotterdam says in "Kom Mee Met Mij" (Or "Come Along With Me" - the promotional song for Rotterdam) - "Here is the city with arms wide open" (English translation of "Hier is de stad met armen wijd open").
In order to experience the "True" Rotterdam which I know and love you really need to give Schiphol a miss and arrive by ferry into Hoek van Holland. (I am sorry but I refuse to call it by the English name because it is a mistranslation. "Hoek" is corner in Dutch - so, instead of "Hook of Holland" it should be "Corner of Holland".)
You could drive between Hoek van Holland and the centre of Rotterdam itself but I really would not advise it - unless you like driving on the edge of your seat. It is not for the fainthearted.
Dutch Public Transport is cheap compared to English prices. It is also clean, reliable (more reliable than the English version anyway), and comfortable.
Catch a "Sprinter" train from Hoek van Holland to Rotterdam Centraal Station (or Rotterdam Central Station). It passes through some rather interestingly named places - Maasluis, Vlaardingen, and Schiedam (the station "Schiedam Centraal" was formerly known as "Rotterdam Schiedam") on its way to Rotterdam.
One of the drawbacks of the safety concious times we live in is that they have changed the announcements which came over the address system when the trains reached their ultimate destination. The announcement no longer says "the next station is Rotterdam Central Station - this is the end of the train" (trust me - that is the exact translation of the announcement whenever Rotterdam Centrsl Station was the last stop on the journey).
Another thing which has changed about Rotterdam is the Central Station itself - it was rebuilt. I found the spaciousness of the new station with its shops, etc, difficult to get used to. Yes - the old station would have needed lifts to the Platforms anyway - but I actually missed feeling like a sardine as I walked (in some cases it felt like I was being carried by the sheer volume of the crowd) along the "tunnel" to and from the platforms - with other sardines coming and going as they either went to a platform or came down from it. And the word "tunnel" is not as much of an exaggeration as you might think it is - the back of the station opens out into a suburb of Rotterdam.
I suppose I felt that - by putting shops in Rotterdam Centraal Station (particularly in what would have been the "tunnel" if it wasn't so bright and spacious) - they were ripping its soul out. Now it seems like every other identikit station I have ever been in. The cafe above the new Ticket Office is a nice relaxing place - pity I cannot say the same about the Ticket Office itself - that needs a lot more seats in it.
On leaving the Central Station you have three choices of Public Transport - bus, tram, or "Metro" (pronounced "May-tro") the Rotterdam Underground system. All three of these are easily accessible from the station. In fact, the tramlines used to be in front of it but now they are tidied away to the left as you leave the ticket barriers.
If you cross over the tramlines and keep going straight on you will find yourself in front of the "Nationale Nederland" building. In this building you will find what could be classified as the "Dutch Costa Coffee" but in reverse - the "Douwe Egbert" Cafe. I say "in reverse" because - unlike "Costa Coffee" "Douwe Egbert" primarily exists to sell coffee in dry, powdered format (ground or instant). "Douwe Egbert" seem to use their cafes not only to serve coffee (and tea) in liquid form - they also seem to use them to showcase and sell their range of utensils to serve coffee (and cakes). I saw a cake plate, with a useful looking dent in it to store your cakefork, for sale.
Only in Rotterdam would you expect to watch a football match in a "tub" and go shopping in a "Drain" without anyone batting an eyelid. Don't believe me??? Feyenoord play in a stadium known to the locals as "De Kuip" - or "The Tub" in English. If you are looking for the doubledecker shopping street which passes through the "Beurs" Metro station the signs will direct you to the "Beurs Traverse" - your friendly Rotterdammer, however, will direct you to the "Koopgoot" (nearest English pronunciation - "Cope-goat") or "Sale Drain".
(A word about Rotterdam's annoying station and bus stop naming "system". If you are on Public Transport be very careful if you are in the city centre. The different stops and stations may have the same name but be in slightly different places. "Beurs" is a perfect example of this. The "Metro" will stop in the "Beursplein" itself - however, if you are on a tram or a bus, the stop marked "Beurs" is outside the old Rotterdam "Beurs" building itself. "Beurs" is Dutch for "Stock Exchange".)
If you go to the "Beurs" Metro Station and walk along one of the platforms, go up an escalator and walk on to another platform you will find yourself in another bit of the station (this part used to be called "Churchillplein" (or "Churchill Square"). Look on the map for a station called "Blaak" and catch a train to it. When you come out of the station look to your left and you will see the Cube Houses. (This and the nearby Market Hall are the only two "Tourist trap" buildings I like in the centre of Rotterdam.
There is a building in Rotterdam city centre which I used to love when I was at school. Unfortunately, the Dutch developers got their paws on it and wrecked it. In its original format this building (which is still on the Binnenwegplein) was a luxurious department store (along the lines of Fenwicks or Rackhams in the UK) called "Ter Meulen" - I remember having a sundae in the cafe on the top floor of the original building. There are now some small shops in the ground floor but it is nothing like it was.
Another old store I could spend hours in when I was younger (usually trying to find my way out of it) was a large department store called "Vroom & Dreesman" (or "V&D" for short). Both the shop and the building were still there when I went in June this year - I am not sure how long the shop will last for though. "V&D" seem to be going through some financial troubles.
If you are looking for somewhere to stay in Rotterdam you could stay in "Hotel Rotterdam Oost" which is part of the "Campanile" chain. It is not a million miles away from Rotterdam Alexander Metro Station - and the "Alexandrium" Shopping Centre (or - as I know it - the "Oosterhof"). For a true and accurate description of the shopping centre try something like a Westfield Shopping Centre but keep it all one one level accessible only by escalators.
You could say I have a family connection with that hotel. Well, not the hotel exactly, more the ground it is standing on. Before that hotel was built there was a farm complete with farmhouse (and little summerhouse) on that land. How do I know this??? The lady who was turfed out of the farmhouse - and put in a flat overlooking the demolition of her former home - was my Oma's next oldest sister (Tante Jannie).
If you get the Metro back from Rotterdam Alexander into Rotterdam Centraal Station you will go past a personal landmark for me. It is a circular block of flats with multicoloured vertical stripes. Now - this block of flats doesn't feature in any guidebook but it used to be almost the centre point of an imaginary compass with most of my Mum's family living at various points on it.
If you can get to Rotterdam in September - and you like ships - I would highly recommend a visit to the "World Harbour Day". This is when Europoort is open to the public - they will even let you roam on some of the ships.
If you don't mind going off the beaten track a little more - take a train from Plstform 16 of Rotterdam Central and disembark at a station called "Nieuwerkerk aan den Ijssel". Congratulations - you are now in the lowest part of the entire Netherlands.
I could reel off a list of Tourist trap destinations - like Gouda, Delft, The Hague, etc. However, there is a place which I mentioned very near the beginning of this blog post where I would highly recommend you visit.
Schiedam probably doesn't mean very much to you. However, I can guarantee you can name one of the things it exports an alarming amount of. A clue - it is a horrible yellow colour, consistency of very thick custard, usually drunk (or should that read "eaten") around Christmastime. (I have tried it once - never again!)
Yes - I am talking about "Advocaat". This is made by Warninks (who were bought by "De Kuyper"). De Kuyper have a distillery in this picturesque little town. You can go on a tour of the distillery - and I dare you to try a "Schiedams Koffie" whilst you are there (but definitely not if you are driving anywhere afterwards). From what I remember of this drink it was like Irish Coffee but with the alcoholic component replaced by what seemed like half a bottle of brandy - It was very strong (and I don't mean the caffeine content either).
Before I finish I want to leave you with two more ideas which may sound slightly strange to you.
The first one is take the Metro from Rotterdam Central Station to Schiedam Central Station (or take the train there and the Metro back). When you get out of the Centre of Rotterdam you will notice something strange about the Metro system - it spends most of its life above ground level. In the case of the bit between Rotterdam and Schiedam it is literally above ground level. The Metro comes in at a higher platform than the conventional trains - so if you are on a train pulling out of Rotterdam Central Station and you suddenly see a silver train going up a ramp looking like it is going to take off - you are near Schiedam Central Station.
The final suggestion I have for you involves buses. If you time your buses right you can have an enjoyable scenic tour to Delft and back by service bus. Jump on the 40 to Delft Station (Or "Station Delft"). When you arrive get off that bus - maybe have a walk around Delft - then get a 174 to Rotterdam Noord Station before getting a train or a tram to Rotterdam Central Station.
Sometimes you can see more when you travel by bus.
I hope this has given you some ideas.
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