Travel Club: Rotterdam

Discover one of Europe’s most modern cities with Victor Bijl!

Something unfortunate.

A period of time.

The limits of a city or geographic area.

A great achievement.

To give a home to; to host.

Renovated and updated.

Dark and poorly lit.

Self-contained and independent.

Don't worry.

Very small branches with leaves.

By Victor Bijl

When people think about the Netherlands, they picture wooden shoes and tulips, bicycle friendly towns and the art of the Dutch masters. There, two cities that stand out from the rest: Amsterdam and Rotterdam.
Of course, Amsterdam you have heard of; it’s the city everybody desires to travel to. It’s one of the most visited cities in the world, famous for its versatile attractions such as the Red Light District, Madame Tussauds, the canals and the increasingly unique pot cafes. Amsterdam; famous for the saying “I AmSterdam”, priding itself on its soccer team “Ajax”.
Don’t get me wrong; it’s a beautiful city. Its architecture timeless and its center, of course, very popular.

My guess is that you have probably never heard of Rotterdam, and if you had, it wouldn’t be much. Which is a real pity, because Rotterdam is the best city the country has to offer. Being able to call myself a Rotterdammer is quite the honor, in my eyes. I will tell you why.

Rotterdam is one of a kind, and a lot of things at once. To start with, it’s very multicultural; it had major race issues and had to face many obstacles while moving into the age of immigration, but things have changed a lot since then! Rotterdam has had a Muslim mayor since 2009, Mayor Ahmed Aboutaleb, and is home to 170 different nationalities, all 630.000 people living together.

This isn’t the only way Rotterdam has progressed; it has grown to be an architectural wonderland.

In 1940, the German Luftwaffe bombed the city, almost completely destroying it. But Rotterdam didn’t sit and wait for someone to fix it; it was rebuilt over the span of decades. And what a city it has been transformed into! Architects were invited to push the boundaries of architecture and modernize the city. The effects of the Second World War left the Dutch port city in ruins after heavy bombing, but now the city is unrecognizable, surpassing its former glory.

I’ll give you an example: In October 2014, the Markthall was officially opened by queen Maxima Zorreguieta. This landmark has radically changed architecture as a whole. See, this isn’t just a place to shop. Aside from being an indoor market, it hosts 4,600 square meter of shopping space, 1,600 square meter of restaurants and a parking garage for more than 1,000 cars! And that’s not all! 228 apartments were built into the market. One of the astonishing facts about this great feat of architecture is how the walls were built. The plates against said wall were designed to minimize sound travelling up and down the horse-shoe shaped building. The artwork on the wall, created by Arno Coenen and Iris Roskam, is 11,000 square meters – that’s the size of two football fields.

Other landmarks? The 139 meter high, 803 meter long Erasmus Bridge, also known as ‘the swan’. The Cube Houses; yellow, cube shaped houses designed to look like a forest. The free outdoor art galleries. The area literally known as the ‘Cool district’, a vibrant cityscape, harbouring many innovative startups in a city that actively motivates entrepreneurs to start a business.
And the red light district in Rotterdam? The ‘Katendrecht” district? It has been completely revamped to house an initiative dubbed ‘Fenix Food Factory’. It is a closed down warehouse now selling local foods and drinks, which was transformed from a gloomy place to a venue hosting live jazz sessions on Fridays and Sundays.

Maybe the best thing about Rotterdam is that it’s Dutch through and through, in every sense of the word. It is not only a tax-paradise for the wealthy—it’s an immigrant paradise. The ethnic diversity is shown in both the shops and on the street. For many a year the Dutch slogan has been “tolerance”. This means that if you need safety, you are safe. Another thing you will only find in Rotterdam, and nowhere else without paying a lot for a plane ticket, is the Surinamese restaurants. The delicious Surinamese Saoto Soup is but one of the many ready to go to quick-serve public demand.
Museums are everywhere. Rotterdam’s Museumpark has large, wide open green spaces which make the best of the sunny weather. Aside from the free outdoor art galleries, the museum Boijmans van Beuningen houses some of the world’s best artworks from the minds of Vincent van Gogh and Piet Mondrian and other amazing painters.

But there’s even more… Rotterdam is also the birthplace of gin. Specifically in Schiedam, which once was a standalone town but is now included as a stop on the Rotterdam subway. You can go to Schiedam to visit old distilleries and see where Ketel got its start. Known for its Vodka, it started as one of the world’s first gin distilleries. But don’t fret! You don’t have to leave the grandeur of Rotterdam as it has a whole gin and tonic thing happening. Forget about what may be happening in Barcelona and London, it is just better here because this is where gin comes from.

Do you need some extra convincing? Simply go down to the street called Witte de With, a club—bar—restaurant—hipster part of town which has impossible-to-miss outdoor art. While you’re at it, get a seat at The Ballroom, where they boast 50 different kinds of mixed drinks, prepared with house-made tonics, local gins, and garnishes from grapefruit to sprigs of rosemary. I can promise you this: you’ll never be able to drink the Schweppes version again. Once you visit Rotterdam, there is no other city in the Netherlands which will match up to it. Rotterdam; the 010; the ‘Geen woorden maar daden’ (no words, but actions).

About Victor Bijl
I was born and raised in Rotterdam. After having a very enjoyable career as an illustrator I divided my attention between education in art and freelance illustrator. While still enjoying the fruits of art, I moved to Madrid to follow an interesting hunch and became a teacher of English. My two greatest passions, art and teaching, blend perfectly together. Other things I enjoy? Apart from drawing I thoroughly enjoy writing, reading, speaking and hiking.

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