One of the great things about Europe is that everything is so close. The problem with Australia, and Asia to an extent, is that to get anywhere pretty much requires you to dedicate an entire day. Even a simple trip from Sydney to Melbourne requires more than just the hour and a half on the aeroplane – you have to go to the airport, check your bags in, wait for the plane, wait while everybody boards, fly to your destination, wait for everybody to get off, collect your bags, and then make your way home from the airport. Thus while the flight itself takes a little more than an hour, the messing about at either end has the potential to add an extra three to four hours to the trek (okay, I’m exaggerating a little). Needless to say that you have to book as well (you simply can’t just turn up and hop on)
This wasn’t the case in Europe. Even though we had planned to travel from Amsterdam to Antwerp, we were not only able to spend a couple of hours catching a few other sights around Amsterdam (such as the Nieuwe Kerk and a canal cruise), but we were also able to jump off the train at Rotterdam and have a look around. Originally I had planned on going to The Hague, however that might have been too much to do in one day, and I doubt we would have arrived in Antwerp at a reasonable hour. However Rotterdam was at around the halfway mark, so we decided to jump off there. Mind you, the other thing is that we didn’t need to book a seat on the train, having a Eurail pass simply meant that we jumped on the next train heading towards Rotterdam, and then the next train from Rotterdam to Antwerp.
Anyway, before I continue here is a map of the city, thanks to our good friends at Google:
A Modern Surprise
I’m not sure if I can actually say what I expected to find in Rotterdam, though I can say for sure that what I was expecting was an old city surrounded, or even punctured by, modernity. However, the first thing I noticed as I stepped off the train was that the Rotterdam railway station was certainly nothing like the Amsterdam Railway Station. The railway station in Amsterdam is aboslutely gorgeous, in the way that the people of yesteryear would basically turn a building into a work of art. I even remember standing in the plaza one time just staring at the railway station, simply overcome with how awesome it actually was.
However, that isn’t the case when it comes to Rotterdam. In fact Rotterdam is completely the opposite – where Amsterdam Centraal maintains it’s 19th century charm. Rotterdam Centraal is a modern abomination. Okay, maybe abomination isn’t the best word to use, particularly since some forms of modern art are actually quite clever. Yet Rotterdam Centraal isn’t art nouveau, or art deco, or anything like that, it is basically a modern piece of architecture where practicality is the key, and the sharp angles, and the high spires, are simply there to basically tell the world how modern they are. Mind you, with this hipster movement going on with all the retro feel, maybe some hipster will get into a position in the Rotterdam government, knock the whole railway station down, and then rebuild it in some retro style – ahh, the dreams.
Well, we got off the train, dumped our bags in a locker room, and then walked outside. While we probably could have made a mental note of when the train to Antwerp left, the rail system in Europe is so effective, and organised, that if you miss one, another will be along within an hour or so. Okay, maybe that isn’t the case in France or Italy (or Spain for that matter, but I’ve never been to Spain so I really can’t comment), but this isn’t the case in the Netherlands – it’s not like the transport union will call a strike simply because the government wants to shave a minute off their break times, like France, or just completely disorganised that people don’t actually know how to form a line, like Italy. Yeah, that may be cultural stereotypes, but until you have actually been to France, and spoken with the French, that is all they are going to be, that is until you realise that there can actually be a lot of truth behind these stereotypes.
Oh, here is a tram departing Centraal Station:
A Rotterdam Pub Crawl
Well, as usual, I decided to tap into Yelp and find out where the best beer bar was, and proceeded to visit it. However, after leaving the station I saw the trams going past, so I spent some time taking a video of them, before heading down the road towards one of the pubs that I intended on visiting. However, as I looked around I noticed that everything was modern – very, very modern. Sure, there were a few older buildings around, but they were few and far between. Well, it seemed like the old city wasn’t in the direction I was heading, but the beer bars voted by the Yelpers of Rotterdam were, so I continued in that direction (I should say we, but my brother tends to follow me wherever I go as it is, though there is still a limit as to the number of pubs he will willingly visit).
So, we found one of the bars (Boca’s) and so we stepped inside and grabbed a quick bite to eat as well as a beer (well, a beer for myself since my brother doesn’t drink alcohol) and then continued on. I still tried to look for some older buildings, and even wondered off of our designated route, but still we couldn’t really find any. So, we decided to head towards the ‘cool’ district (yes, it is actually called the ‘cool district’). On our way there I passed a coffeeshop. That was a little odd because a part of me only relates coffeeshops with Amsterdam, not with any other part of the country. However, this legalised marijuana isn’t just in Amsterdam, it is all over the Netherlands. Yet, if you are a tourist, don’t expect to be able to walk into this coffeeshop and start smoking – it is for Dutch citizens only – if you are a foreigner and want to smoke weed, well unfortunately the only place you can do that is in Amsterdam.
Anyway, we turned down a street and suddenly realised (or at least I did because I really don’t know what my brother is thinking at times – he is so, well, neutral, though when he likes something you really know that he likes something) why they called this part of Rotterdam the Cool District – it is really, really cool. Unfortunately the bar that I wanted to go to was closed, however the was one next door called ‘De Witte Aap‘ (otherwise known as the white ape) was open and I have to admit that this bar was nothing short of being absolutely fantastic. The bartender was a character, and the logo, a white ape listening to headphones, has been burnt into my brain for the rest of my life (which is a good thing by the way). Also their outdoor area on the streets were some really, really comfortable couches. Sitting out there with a beer was magnificent. However, as is always the case, it was time to go.
The Truth about Rotterdam
Well, I soon found out why there isn’t an Old City in Rotterdam. We turned down another road and approached another bar, Cafe LaBru. Mind you, sometime I wonder whether Yelp actually alerts the business owner when a Yelper (particularly a Yelp Elite) is approaching because sometimes upon seeing me they suddenly put on their best behaviour. However, maybe it had something to do with me taking a photograph of the bar that indicated to him that it was my intention to sit down at one of his tables and order a drink. Mind you, the rating that it got from Yelp was one of the main reasons I ended up sitting at the table.
Anyway, it turned out that not only was he really friendly, but he also revealed to me the msyeru of Rotterdam. I asked him where the old city was located to which he replied that there wasn’t one. The reason for this was that during World War II, when Germany invaded the Netherlands, it turned out that the Dutch were much more ferocious than originally anticipated, so Goering basically ordered Rotterdam to be leveled, and if the Dutch didn’t surrender then Urticht would be next. Needless to say that after seeing Rotterdam absolutely flattened by the Luftwaffe, the Dutch basically surrendered.
So, after the war had concluded the decision came down to how Rotterdam was going to be rebuilt – do they restore the city of old or do they go for something completely new. They decided on the second option, and thus we have the modern city that we now see. Anyway, the mystery was solved, and it was clear that I wasn’t going to find any really old houses, or any beautiful market place, and since we only had a really limited time here we decided to head back to the railway station. Unfortunately my brother insisted on walking as opposed to catching the Metro (which I have to admit is odd because he loves the Paris Metro and the London Underground, but doesn’t seem to particularly care about the Metro systems elsewhere), though it did mean that we got to see more of the city.