Where I feel good, I’m at home. – Erasmus
A quick train ride in a sun-drenched morning and soon the naked trees and rural countryside gave way to the city of Rotterdam. From the slick, modern Centraal Station, I took my first steps into the city, feeling much like I had finally arrived home after a very long journey. The city’s personality put me right at ease. It was a short, straight shot down Endrachtsweg to the quaint 19th century B & B I’d reserved for my stay. Anno 1867 was as lovely as my hosts, Agnes and Anton, and exceeded all my expectations. Agnes had a wonderful laugh and easy spirit. She made me feel welcome from the first ‘hello’ and gave me a tour of the charming, multi-level house built in (can you guess?) 1867. Original wood floors, classic décor, tall, bright windows and all the creature comforts one could need set the backdrop for a cozy home base. Out of the two available rooms, I chose the Rode Kamer (the red room). Check it out here: http://www.anno1867.nl/red_room.php. Warm, clean, and comfortable with an updated bathroom, it became one of those places that I could have easily stayed for weeks or months. But sadly, my first stay would be my last. The house had been sold a few weeks earlier and Agnes and Anton would be handing over the keys at the end of March to explore a new adventure in Italy. I hope they set up another B & B there!
Agnes also accommodated me with colorful vegan breakfasts presented on beautiful floral porcelain ware. Fresh cut fruit with soy yogurt and nuts. Unique blends of smoothies in a fine glass goblet and paper straw. And every morning she’d prepare me for my outings with a snack bar or package of trail mix, a choice from the tea box, and hot water for my thermos. I’d step out the front door with a flask of tea steaming in the cold February air, belly warm and full, and begin my trek of the city. It was glorious.
Rotterdam was the Netherlands I came for. It must have been my home in another life. How else can I explain the familiarity and joy I feel in this fantastic city? There’s graffiti and a few city corners gathering rubbish, but streets are relatively clean and green spaces are well-kept. Museums for every interest dapple downtown. Rustic houseboats float in canals just beyond the busy street curbs. Eclectic architecture rises up like modern memorials. There’s even growing cuisine options for the vegan-minded, as I discovered on a visit to Green Delight on Nieuwe Binnenweg. And French fries. Oh, the French fries. Yes, I think I must have lived here before, but, seeing as my spoken Dutch is still horrendous after nearly a year of personal study, I conclude I was probably a happy foreigner getting by on exaggerated hand gestures and the occasional ja, nee, and dank u wel.
Space separates the bodies, not the minds. – Erasmus
There’s a wonderful mix of cultures and ethnicities here. The fantastic eats around the city are tasty evidence enough. Delicious Vietnamese pho soup on West-Kruiskade. Fabulous Panang curry at Hua Hin near the sleepy, picturesque neighborhood of Kralingen. I even found a Japanese restaurant with my beloved iced boba tea – no matter if I froze the tips of my fingers right off drinking it in twenty-eight-degree weather.
Rotterdam brings in a diverse body of students as well with Erasmus University just around the corner. It feels like a city full of tradespeople and families. The vibe here is quintessentially Dutch. Not so much in a traditional sense, like Delft, but it is a general sense of well-being and progressive respect for oneself and the public. It’s easy-going, laid back and there seems to be no agenda except for efficiency and self-expression.
While the calm hum of Dutch humanity plays out, there is an unspoken, non-judgmental air; a motto of ‘live and let live’ here. Rotterdammers have embraced Desiderius Erasmus as their patron scholar, along with his tempered approach to the religious zeal of the Christian Reformation. He was a Dutch humanist in the late 15th and early 16th century that encouraged a free will, Via Media (middle road) line of thinking, especially when it came to church teachings. His poetic quotes are painted all throughout the city – sentiments of open-mindedness, cultural acceptance, and autonomous thought. What novel ideas.
This type of thinking promotes a potent culture of common sense and decency, especially on the roads. Respect for cyclists and pedestrians were quite the revelation for me. Coming from Florida, where vehicles are used as tools of intimidation, it’s a refreshing respite to have drivers deliberately stop for people in crosswalks. The first time it happened, I was stunned. I had to fight against my natural instincts and cross in front of a waiting car. I forced my feet forward, thinking,
“Move! Walk! Someone is actually waiting for you!”
Dutch cyclists, however, will threaten to run right over your toes if you step in their lane. But there’s no better way to zoom around a city without leaving a carbon footprint and it warms my green, little heart to see so many people not driving a car. I think it’s an even trade-off. I never felt uneasy or unsafe in my travels around the city. I crossed the Erasmus Bridge and throughout surrounding neighborhoods as well. (Being that I was a solo female, I was also smart about the time of day I ventured about and sharply aware of my surroundings. Let’s not throw out common sense here and label it ‘innocent naivety’.)
To be brutally honest, I feel a lot safer in Europe than I do living in the US. America is relatively isolated in its egotistical bubble and suffers a lack of understanding and compassion because of it. In Europe, the cultures are so closely packed and borders are so frequently crossed that the declaration of a mother country is seen as a conversation starter rather than a battle cry to exercise exclusion.
And I get it. No place is perfect. There’s a crisis going on in Europe as I write this. Countries are bickering over who should take the next wave of refugees as people struggle to find a safe place in society. But as a majority, and especially in Rotterdam, the mingling of so many different ethnicities is considered enrichment of the city, not a detriment.
One of the highlights of my stay was a free walking tour offered by a highly knowledgeable, cheerful guide. A group of passionate locals decided to start the Free Walking Tour of Rotterdam, offering a detailed history of the major sites in the city. Anyone interested in tagging along has simply to show up at 13:30 pm in front of the famous Markthal. To my surprise, about sixty eager tourists turned out! Our guides wisely split us up into to two tour groups and off we went. We hit the Maritime Museum, the Cube Houses, Zadkine’s sculpture/memorial to honor the destroyed heart of the city in WWII. Then a quick stop in a favorite hot spot for bitterballen. Bitterballen are basically a Dutch version of meat ‘hushpuppies’. Many people said they were delicious but I decided on a cone-full of hot, crispy fries instead. Wow! Draw a big green circle on your map around “Ter Marsch & Co.” on Witte de Withstraat. (You’ll also find the world famous “De Witte Aap” bar just a few steps away!) We saw an old church riddled with bullet holes from the war (sometimes it doubles as a rave party venue), and ended at Erasmus’ birthplace. In all, the tour took just under two hours and it was a fantastic way to spend the afternoon.
Tips are not expected, but they are a nice gesture to show your guide your appreciation. If you visit Rotterdam, do not miss this!
Check out Part 3 of my Rotterdam travels next Tuesday!
By: Erica Ruhe