This is part 11 in a series about my summer 2017 trip, which took me to Norway, the Netherlands, and Malta. You can read an overview of the trip here.
Of the three countries I visited on this trip, the Netherlands was the only one I’d been to before, and the only one I didn’t really have a great experience. My arrival on KLM certainly got me in a bad mood, and I also had a bad experience at one of my hotels in Amsterdam, which I’ll get to. But I also didn’t really see anything beautiful like in Norway and Malta. That being said, of the two cities I visited- Rotterdam and Amsterdam- I found Rotterdam more interesting, and more enjoyable.
I kind of ended up in the Netherlands randomly. As in, when planning my Norway trip, I thought, “Hmm, I haven’t been to the Netherlands in a long time, why don’t I try and spend some time there on the way back from Norway.” Having been to Amsterdam twice before (granted for 1 day in January 2012, and for a few days in college), I figured I should try and explore another part of the Netherlands. It’s a small country, but there are quite a few places worth exploring. I was torn between the Hague and Rotterdam, which are actually quite close to each other (about 25 minutes) and are a combined metro area. Rotterdam is the larger city, and is a bit more bustling, so I went with that.
Rotterdam was largely destroyed in World War II, so it’s largely rebuilt since then. One thing that is very cool about the city is that a lot of the new building has been experimental and Modernist, leading to some really interesting architecture.
On my first afternoon in the city, I mostly just wandered around. From the Holiday Inn Express on the northern part of the city center, I made my way through the major shopping area, which was pretty bustling and similar to any other big European city. I vaguely had a destination in mind, but made some wrong turns before reaching Witte de Withstraat, a shopping street with a lot of bars and cafes. I grabbed a gelato and kept walking, before making an eastward loop towards the harbor. It was getting to be close to rush hour so I got to experience the commute home. It being the Netherlands, that meant one thing for sure: bicycles!
It definitely took me a while to get used to the fact that there were protected bike lanes on nearly every street, and they were packed. As a bike commuter back home in DC, I was jealous. I had a cool view of Erasmusbrug – the Erasmus Bridge – a stunning bridge built in 1996.
From there, I walked along the harbor and got to take in a bit more of the views of the city, before looping back up to the hotel for a little rest. In the evening, I had dinner at Brasserie Pierre, a neighborhood-y joint about 15 minutes from my hotel, which was crowded with locals dining outside. My evening turned out to be a bit of a fail, because after dinner and a rest I took a tram over to some of the gay bars of Rotterdam, which were absolutely dead on a Tuesday night. Ah, well. I had a big day planned for Wednesday.
My morning plan was to head to Kinderdijk, a village and UNESCO World Heritage Site, about ten miles east of Rotterdam, and home to the largest collection of old windmills in the Netherlands. You can take either a bus or a waterbus to get there from the city. The waterbus is much quicker, but less frequent – every two hours for a direct trip, and every 30 minutes there’s a trip that involves transferring from a large boat to a smaller boat. A note to the wise – I made a mistake and had bought a transit day pass for 7 EUR from the tourist office in town, but that did not include the waterbus or regional bus – though the “Tourist Day Ticket” for 13,50 does, as it covers the whole Hague/Rotterdam region.
The trip started with a tram ride from right in front of the hotel. You have to swipe your contact card both on your way on and off the tram, and it’s mostly on the honor system. Of course, there was a fare inspector on my morning trip. But the tram system is very easy for navigating the city, and there are announcements in English and Dutch.
It was a ten-minute ride to Willemskade, where the Waterbus departs from, and I had to wait twenty minutes for the Waterbus. There was a cool view of the water while waiting of both Erasmusbrug and some of the sights of the harbor. There were also lots of tourist river boats, and a large cruise ship. The waterbus is enclosed and goes quickly. Not great for photos, and it got warm. I was able to pay the 4 EUR fare in cash on boat. The ride takes about 30 minutes, and there were plenty of seats for the 7 mile ride down Nieue Mass, a channel of the Rhine.
Unfortunately, it was a cloudy day when I got to Kinderdijk. The site is pretty cool, but a lot of walking. It’s free to walk around, but to go inside any of the mills or the museums, it’s 8 EUR – though you can save 1,50 if you buy your ticket online. I started with the small museum at the Wisboom Pumping Station visitor center, which had a cool 11-minute film that explored the history of the mills. From there I just walked the length of the site, entering the two windmill museums. In one, you can climb all the way to the top. Unfortunately, I was stuck behind a large Viking River Cruise group. Yes, there was an older Jewish woman screaming at her husband Morty as they navigated the steep staircases.
For the ride back to the city, I took the bus. It was also 4 EUR, and took 50 minutes, followed by a 15-minute ride on the metro back to the hotel. It definitely was cool to see so many windmills, and on a sunny less humid day, I imagine it could be beautiful. I’m not sure if it was the best use of my time, though, as it took a huge chunk of the day – I left the city at 9:30am and was back at 2:15pm.
I still took advantage of the rest of the day, and after a quick freshening up at the hotel, I headed to the Markthal, a huge indoor food hall inside a modern residential and office building built in 2014. It was very similar to places like Union Market in DC, or Chelsea Market in New York. I was kid the Chelsea Food Hall in New York. I was kind of overwhelmed by the choices, and didn’t want to have a full sit-down lunch, so ordered poorly. I ended up with a paper cone of chicken from a butcher for 3,50 EUR, and an iced coffee for 4 EUR.
Right across the plaza from the Markthal are the famed Cube Houses- a compound of 40 apartment houses designed by Piet Blom, that are each a cube rotated 45 degrees. One of the home owners has converted his cube into a show house- the Kijk-Kubus. It’s not much to see, and not sure it’s worth the 2,50 EUR entrance fee. It took me about 5 minutes to walk the three floors. While conceptually cool, not sure I’d be very comfortable living there – not great for a tall person!
From the Cube Houses, I took the metro south to check out the Hotel New York – the former head office of Holland America Line on the South Bank of the river. It was a bit of a schlep from the metro, past a huge cruise ship terminal and a ton of new construction through a currently sleepy neighborhood. The hotel is iconic from the outside, with a large outdoor bar and restaurant. There’s also a “lawn” in front, with paved walkways labeled with the names of New York streets. On a nicer weather day, it probably would have been nice to sit on one of the lawn chairs. Unfortunately, you can’t go very far inside the hotel before big signs saying “Hotel Guests Only Beyond This Point.”
From there, I headed back to the hotel, where I ended up staying the rest of the night.
There was a lot of Rotterdam I didn’t get to see in my day and a half – not to mention the surrounding cities of the Hague and Delft. It was an interesting city, and it could be a great place to explore, but I don’t feel I really got to know the culture of the city on my short cloudy stay.