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If you have the occasion to travel round Holland and its splendid cities, you’ll realise that they’re all similar: canals, tall narrow houses, daredevil cyclists and unreliable weather. But Rotterdam is different.
In Rotterdam, the typical Dutch features fuse with the characteristics of the great European metropolises.
It’s youthful and lively like Amsterdam, but far less chaotic, and its charm lies not in the typical crooked houses reflected in the still waters of the canals, but rather in its constantly changing skyline, where cranes are part of the scenery.
This city gets going early in the morning: the Dutch don’t like to waste time.
Go to King Kong in Witte de Withstraat, order a coffee and a muffin. Don’t ask for an espresso; the americano is much better. The guy at the next table is concentrating on his computer, two couples are laughing and ordering fresh orange juice, the waitress is friendly and speaks perfect English.
Hire a bicycle and set off on an adventure. You need a bike to visit Rotterdam - not because it’s too big to explore on foot, but because that’s how the Dutch do it.
The first stop is the Markthal, Holland’s number one indoor market, opened in October 2014. It’s near the Blaak station and a stone’s throw from the square where the open-air fruit and vegetable market is held each week. The glass and steel arch at the entrance is merely the prelude to an amazingly colourful world of culinary delights. You’ll soon come across a fresh fish stand: order a herring roll, you won’t regret it.
Get back on your bike and head towards the sea. Rotterdam port is enormous, the largest in Europe. Sit on a bench and enjoy the view. The Erasmus Bridge is big enough to hide the sky, and cars zoom from one side to the other. If you want to make the most of the views of the city, take a water taxi. You can take your bike with you!
If you prefer to admire the city from above, go to the De Rotterdam Hotel, a magnificent skyscraper. Pretend to be a guest, take the lift and go up to the thirteenth floor: you’ll find a bar with a terrace and breathtaking views. Order a coffee, take a seat and marvel at the city.
The Bojimans is one of Holland’s most wonderful museums. You absolutely must drop in! From the Middle Ages to the twenty-first century, works by international artists and Dutch designers are on display in one of the city’s most delightful historic buildings. In the permanent collection you’ll find Rembrandt and Van Gogh, Dalí and Cattelan. But the very first surprise is at the entrance: the Merry-Go-Round Coat Rack, designed by Wieki Somers, where you can hang up your jacket and then hoist it up to the ceiling by a system of pulleys. It's a lovely thing that immediately engages you in a work of art and puts you in a good mood.
Time for an aperitif. Back to Witte de Withstraat, and after a stroll among the trendy shops, colours, scents and people from every part of the world, take a seat at De Witte Aap - rated as one of the best bars in the city - and order a beer and some bitterballen: delicious croquettes with a meaty filling.
On the other side of the street you’ll see some writing on the wall: In the future, everyone will be famous for 15 minutes. Thanks, Andy Warhol, for the good wishes.
For dinner you can stay in the same street; there’s no shortage of restaurants. For a hamburger, go to Ter Marsh & Co, and remember to order the truffle mayonnaise as a garnish. But if you feel like losing yourself in the flavours and scents of the East, head for the Bazar.
Rotterdam never sleeps: don’t give in to tiredness, make an evening of it. You can go to the Biergarten and wander among the stands selling beer and local specialities, or sit on the steps and watch the young Dutch doing their evening thing. The motto? Enjoy a beer with your friends!
If you still haven’t had enough of Holland, get up early the next day, take your bike and head for Delft, the city of Vermeer. It’s a long ride, but it’s worthwhile.
Goodbye Rotterdam, it’s been a pleasure - I’ve left a piece of my heart with you.