Friday, November 19, 2010

New City: Rotterdam

We arrived in Rotterdam Centraal, after taking a 30 minute train from Den Haag Centraal. The former is under massive reconstruction; the latter was dull and so, uninteresting. 

Rotterdam is very new - and unlike the other places we have been in the Netherlands. Exiting Centraal's tarp and scaffolding, a set of sleek towers rear up. We'd seen them at Madurodam but only with a 1:25 scale. In Rotterdam, they're just a part of the modern skyline.a During the 1940 Nazi bombing(which forced the Dutch to surrender) the centre of the city was demolished. Aerial photographs show how few buildings remained inside the fire boundary. Astute civil planning afterwards has grown into a spacious, navigable, aesthetic, busy place. Especially after coming from Den Haag.  

The Grand Central Hotel, our base of operations, is haggard though. It was built in 1917, furnished in 1950s future modern, and cleaned last when Hendrix stayed. It would have been gorgeous in its prime. But not now. The bathroom tile is painted seafoam green; the shelf toilet is hand primed flush; and the sink was both cracked and clogged - allowing it to overflow until it leaked out the sides. The bedroom has three built in    closets, two stylin' red chairs (in vinyl!), and a floating writing desk. The supplied fridge is neither plugged in, nor openable. The carpet is blue, and has some stuck on feathers and white paint decorating it. Outside, the elevator is non-functional, and doesn't have a door. The stairs sport a melted iron mark, and go at up at least 5 floors - 'cause that's where our room was.

The hotel sits within the fire boundary, and is surrounded by newly constructed pedestrian retail (yes, again!), clubs and cafes. Unlike the other areas, a block away are also large office complexes, casinos and parkland. The first day, we wandered around the area closet to the hotel, as usual. We found an excellent cafe off one of the main shopping routes. The amazing thing about all the places we've been is the lack of cars. Every city has had a pedestrianized area of town - generally dedicated to the art of retail therapy. These areas aren't the size of the Eaton Centre - but several times larger. Because it's outside, the atmosphere is more enjoyable, regardless of weather.  

Day two, we walked around the northern and eastern sections of the fire boundary. It was interesting to see roads on which one side were "typical Dutch" row houses and the other side modern architecture and buildings. We made it down to the waterfront, and sat near the Marine Corps memorial. Past the Admiralty, a few giant clubs, the Willemsbrug, and to a small port that had sailing boats being refitted in dry dock. We then headed back up towards the hotel, and ran straight into the cube houses and a street market. We tried getting a room in the cube houses, but the hostel was fully booked. After going through the cheese, sweatpants and fries of the market, we saw the Laurenskerk. It's under restoration again, as it was heavily damaged during the Rotterdam bombing and probably needs some more TLC. Much of Rotterdam is under construction. The city plans set out during WW2 allowed for both immediate building, as well as future expansion. Intelligent, considering that Rotterdam is one of the largest ports in the world, second only to Shanghai - and that only recently.    

In respect to Rotterdam's position, day three saw us walking towards the main port of Rotterdam. Our route took us across the Erasamusbrug, and along the length of the Wilhelminapier. At the end of the pier was the original Holland America Line building, an art installation and a kids park. Walking back, we encountered the Niewe Luxor Theater - entertaining as the hotel is next to the Oude Luxor Theater. We also walked along part of the 2010 Tour de France opening route. Then past the defunct De Hefbrug, and over the Willemsbrug. Heading back to the train station to look into some financial options, we stumbled across the mini-world Railz. That was about two horus of out life wandering through an underground basement of miles of model trains. Superman, Batman, Robin and some naked people were hanging about too. There was also a man carrying a cow. Someone had a great sense of humour. 

Rotterdam was not a favourite. That may have been travel weariness, or due to familiarity of the modern skyline. Things were left unseen - such as the National Architecture Institute, and several museums and art galleries. Gives a reason to come back though, doesn't it.

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