Not at first sight, but it happened

22nd July 2003, Comments 0 comments

Pip Farquharson went in search of Rotterdam. What she found was an intriguing city filled with diverse architectural styles, great nightlife and a host of restaurants. But it was not love at first sight.


The first thing I did after stepping off the train at Centraal Station was to insult a Rotterdammer.

"I mean, it really is a bit of a boring place," I said.

I immediately encountered fact number one about Rotterdammers: they are indeed fiercely proud of their city.

And, just a few hours into exploring Rotterdam, my own initial view was being seriously challenged.

Once past the sprawling suburban — and subterranean — shopping malls that is Rotterdam central (shopaholic heaven to some) the city is delightfully embracing.

Often described as "an architect's playground", the buildings are an intriguing mishmash of styles - the majority of them were built after relentless German bombing raids levelled the city on 14 May 1940.

But the city was rebuilt and its modern skyline is quite impressive.

Highlights are the hallucinogenic Kijk-Kubus (Overblaak 70), the result of a 1970-80s Piet Bloem housing project consisting of 39 cube-shaped homes - each tilted and seemingly balancing on one corner. Nearby, Metro Station Blaak gives the impression - especially at night - that a UFO has landed in the city and spanning the Nieuw Maas and an infinitely better way to connect north with south than a metro line is the Erasmusbrug. After a few early hiccups - such as the odd cable snapping and a distinct wobble - the Erasmus Bridge (named after the great 15th century humanist who lived here until he was four) is literally a breathtaking sight. Even Peter Greenaway, perpetually fond of Rotterdam, made a short film about the 1996 Ben van Berkel addition to the city. Greenway's film was screened one year at the International Film Festival Rotterdam.

For a fabulous view across the city, go up the tallest building in the Netherlands, the 185m high Euromast, which is located in The Park.

Although a discernably modern city, Rotterdam is not without history. The charming Delfshaven dates back to 1389. It was originally the old port of the city of Delft and is where the Pilgrim Fathers set off for the American colonies in 1620 and being one of the busiest ports in the world, Rotterdam has an endless wealth of seafaring tales and history.

Interestingly, this is where Abram Icek Tuschinski made his home. Leaving his native Poland he arrived in Rotterdam in 1903 with the intention of emigrating to the US on the famous Holland-Amerikalijn, but ended up staying in Rotterdam. There, in 1909, the tailor fulfilled his dream of opening a cinema - the Thalia. This was the start of a chain of 13 cinemas in Rotterdam and beyond, including Amsterdam's world famous Tuschinski and the Roxy (more commonly known as the city's premiere nightclub until it burnt down a few years ago). Tragically, while living in Rotterdam's Rochussenstraat, this incredible pioneer of early cinema was betrayed to the Nazis. In 1942 he and his wife Mariem Ehrlich were gassed at Auschwitz.

Hotel New York (Koninginnenhoofd 1) and Rotterdam (Wilhelminakade 699) are both housed in the former buildings of the Holland-Amerikalijn and neither should be missed for that sense of nostalgia.

For the ultimate decadent experience, take Hotel New York's water taxi and sail across the Nieuwe Maas from either Veerhaven or Leuvehaven. The art nouveau hotel is perfect for either brunch or afternoon tea and it also has an excellent oyster bar. It's the ultimate place to spend the night, but be sure to book a room with a view across the water. Similarly, if you visit nearby grand-café Rotterdam be sure to reserve a table on the 2nd floor for amazing night views of "Manhattan on the Maas".

If you must shop, however, Rotterdam has the perfect place to rest those shopped-out feet. Named after the city's famous architect, grand-café/patisserie Dudok (Meent 88) serves a wicked apple pie. Charming and rustic French café Z&M (Van Oldenbarneveldstraat 126b) is well worth a visit for its organic (or even orgasmic) quiches and don't forget to pick up a takeaway from their downstairs delicatessen. For people-watching, try media haunt Westerpavijloen (Mathenesseriaan 155). Or do lunch in the exotic surroundings of Bazar (Witte de Withstraat 16) with an equally exotic menu to match or try the healthy and organic food at café De Groene Passage (Mariniersweg 1-31), located within a unique environmentally-friendly shopping centre.

For dinner, Rotterdam has an astounding choice of restaurants. At one crossroads alone you can choose between posh nosh, noodles or nightlife: Café EDD (Nieuwe Binnenweg 142) is a stylish retro 1960s-70s lounge bar and has the perfect concept; EDD equals Eat Drink Dance. Across the road you can chow down at hip noodle bar Tampopo ('s Gravendijkwal 128), sample the no-nonsense fodder from celebrity chef Herman den Blijker at Foody's (Nieuwe Binnenweg 151) or pop nextdoor and simply "eat" at upmarket fish-fusion restaurant Eten (Nieuwe Binneweg 153).

Alternatively, make the trip to Angelo Betti's (Schiekade 6a) for kitsch pizzas and the best gelati in town, but be prepared to wait. And The Blue Mekong (Proveniersstraat 29a) should not be missed for the experience and bookings are essential. Rijstafels are served in two sittings in truly Thai, non-westernised surroundings complete with Singha Beer, Thai smokes, the obligatory TV in the corner playing the karaoke and the lethal (traditionally spelled) Mekhong whiskey to round off the meal.

And Rotterdam has just the places to work off that gelato.

Just a short walk from Centraal Station is the Nightown (West Kruiskade 26-28), the city's most popular club with a feel similar to that of Amsterdam's Melkweg.

Some of the country's top DJs play at Nightown - as do many Dutch bands. It has an Italian restaurant and the café is open until 6am every day. The Ahoy (Ahoy-weg 10) has all the international bands and singers that bypass Amsterdam. Now & Wow (Lloydstraat 30), located in two old warehouses in the Delfshaven, is the latest hip-as-hell addition to the city. And for an unusual, quirky experience, there is also seafood restaurant De Blauwe Vis (Weena-Zuid 33). Located in a 53m long former pedestrian tunnel beneath the Meent, it turns into one cool club when the tables are cleared.

And unlike Amsterdam, the city of Rotterdam doesn't appear to sleep when an attack of the late night munchies or the need for another drink kicks in.

If you get a little post-party peckish in Rotterdam there are several restaurants still open in the small hours, notably Cong's Corner (Witte de Withstraat 93) and the nearby Hung Kee (Witte de Withstraat 61, open daily until 6am).

Or if you simply want to carry on drinking, then head for the Oude Tramhuys. Almost 90 years old, the former tram waiting room actually resembles an old tram carriage abandoned in the middle of the Eendrachtsplein. All-night revellers are turned out at 7am when the cleaners arrive and can return in just an hour and a half. Luckily it's a straight line back to Rotterdam Centraal Station.

Finally, the choice of Rotterdam for this year's Cultural Capital of Europe is well deserved - not only because of the variety of performances that take place there, its cutting-edge art galleries or fine art museums - but also because the city is so culturally integrated, it hurts.

Just an hour's train ride away, don't let a few sad old gabbers walking around looking for trouble put you off. Rotterdam is a great city and even better, it doesn't have roadworks.

Subject: Exploring Rotterdam

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