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culture,  travels

Zuid Holland: Rotterdam

“She is free in her wildness, she is a wanderess, a drop of free water. She knows nothing of borders and cares nothing for rules or customs. ‘Time’ for her isn’t something to fight against. Her life flows clean, with passion, like fresh water.” — Roman Payne

When I woke up this morning, I noticed that it was cloudy and gray. Still, I figured I would continue with my plans and explore Rotterdam. I made sure to bundle up the best as I could, but it wasn’t until I was halfway to Centraal station that I realized I had forgotten my umbrella. “I hope it doesn’t rain,” I said to myself. Getting on the train was a breeze. What kept me warm was a nice cup of coffee and what kept me awake was the promise of a new city and adventures. Plenty of people kept telling me to go to Rotterdam, but I didn’t understand really why. It wasn’t until I did my research before my trip to the Netherlands that I completely understood the significance of the city. Rotterdam was one of the devastated cities in the Netherlands by the second world war, and by many almost entirely demolished. What you see now is the courage and resiliency through its modern architecture and iconic skyline.

Like most train rides through Europe, it did not disappoint.  Still, I couldn’t help but to be upset with myself for leaving the umbrella I left back home.  You know the one I hauled across the Atlantic specifically for this type of situation. The rhythm of the raindrops against my window became the soundtrack of my journey. Experiencing rain in other parts of the world has come with its set of memories.  In Florida, I remember driving down a country road. It was already pitch black when all of the sudden a sheet of water came down. Here, I have the luxury of letting enjoying some stewed coffee beans while I anticipate the taste of fresh stroopwafels and the sight of cube houses.

Centraal Station, Rotterdam
On the tram, snapping away these cool buildings!

As my train pulls up to Centraal Rotterdam, the frigid wind smacks me right in the face which resonates to the rest of my body and my bones gently remind me that I’m no spring chicken. I put on my gloves and march straight into the station where I find myself surrounded by retail stores, a souvenir shop, and a café.  My interaction with cafe workers was less than chipper as one of them accused me of lying when attempting to grab a hot chocolate from the counter; however, remedied by flashing the receipt. The confusion was only mad worse by the umbrella I had just picked up and had yet to purchase. Nonetheless, I thanked them for making my way to the information booth to sort out change.

The set up is similar to Centraal Station Amsterdam and have no problem finding the ticket vending machines.  After several failed attempts with a credit card, I head over to the souvenir shop as the ticket vending machine only takes cards and coins.  Here I purchase postcards and a bottle of water. Trams arrive and depart to the station often, and on a cold day, it is a godsend. I can feel the raindrops on my face, and I can’t wait to get inside of a tram. While taking the tram ride, many aspects are familiar: canals, bikes, brogues, and trench coats. The buildings have a more contemporary look. A new take on architecture, I’m just as intrigued by these buildings as the tall wooden ones near the central canal in Amsterdam.

My walking tour of Rotterdam begins at Erasmusbrug (Erasmus Bridge) and in the middle of what appears to be a speedboat race. An older gentleman comes up to me and starts to talk to me about the weather and how he is there on business. He offers to take my picture as he could obviously see I am having a difficult time trying to get a good photograph of myself in front of the bridge. We walk towards the pier together, and I learn he’s from Spain. I didn’t catch his name, but I was a bit taken aback when he offered to pay for a ticket on the ferry touring the harbor. After gracefully declining, we go our separate ways.

That moment when you can’t believe you’re in Rotterdam.
Erasmusbrug and De Rotterdam building

Luckily I am not afraid of heights, and something about bridges makes me want to go straight to the middle and take in the scenery no matter what it may be. The speedboat race is still going strong down one river, while the other is occupied by what appears to be like small fishing boats. The wind is tossing me around, but I firmly stand my ground and continue to admire Rotterdam in all its glory.  Slowly making my way across the bridge, the sounds and scents of Rotterdam stand on their own.  That is, I cannot compare them to anything. It’s a good thing because it will leave a nice little imprint in the catalog of memories. My phone rings, and it’s a friend back in the States.  I take a knee and watch the drawbridge go up. Impossible to hold a conversation with the wind whistling in my ear and giving me a new hairstyle, I cut the phone call short.

Overwhelmed by the architecture, I almost get flattened by a car running a red. I can’t even yell obscenities in Dutch, so I yell at them in French. On the sidewalk lies a marker from Le Tour de France.

Rotterdam’s Floating Pavilion and Bobbing Forest

Brisk and tumultuous, the elements are not being kind and have to seek refuge near a hotel for a few minutes before I start to feel like a creeper. I take out a snack pack from STACH and begin to throw dried figs into my mouth as I walk along the marina coming across a floating garden (actually it’s called a Bobbing Forest). I stare at it intensely while ignoring a drunk man’s cat calls. From afar I see a tram station and immediately pick up the pace.

Like most transit systems, it is color coded so it would be quite difficult to get lost, but what I didn’t count on was the maze at Blaak station. I ended up taking two trains when walking would have sufficed. As I’m admiring the cube houses, it begins to rain hard and I, along with hundreds of people from the farmer’s market on the other side of the station, squeeze underneath the awnings. I am not content having to fight with the weather like this.  Wet and cold, hungry, and tired, I wait for roughly 15 minutes and everyone around me seems to resume their activities.  I make my way up to the cube houses to see them up close. Many folks passing me by do not know what to make of them. I snap a few pictures and make my way to the swarm of people gathering in the middle of the plaza.  One fisherman is seen putting on a show, chopping up herring and offering oyster samples. Under normal circumstances, I would be buying the man a pint, but I didn’t want to take my chances and risk feeling woozy on a train back to Amsterdam.  I kept walking through this bazaar when the smell of pastries reeled me into a small pop-up shop where a man was making stroopwafels with perfect accuracy and timing. I had seen stroopwafels at Albert Heijn, but was advised by many to get a freshly made one here. I’m not a huge fan of caramel, yet somehow this was satisfying. Perhaps it was the fact that I didn’t feel as if my teeth were going to fall out. I grabbed a seat on a concrete bench and enjoyed my little piece of gooey heaven.

Markthal (market hall) in Rotterdam Centrum
Piet Blom’s Kubuswoningen (Cube Houses)
You’re going to have to pry this out of my cold dead hands!

On my way back to the train station, I was stopped by a music and food festival, eccentric street art juxtaposed with modern architecture and a multitude of exuberant personalities.

This city feels like home.


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