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Rotterdam by Boat and by Bike

Rotterdam by Boat and by Bike

Georges Rouzeau - 2010-07-02

The Tour de France Prologue in Rotterdam must have made you want to visit this town with its skyscrapers, bridges and sweeping views. Take a guided tour!

Discovering Rotterdam by boat: an absolute must!
 
Whatever you do, don’t deprive yourself the pleasure of a boat trip under the snobbish pretext that this kind of thing should be left to “Tourists.” It is in fact the best way to discover the port of Rotterdam (and even the town itself) which is one of the three or four largest ports in the world. With its origins in the 14th century this huge monster of a port has stretched its tentacles so that it now reaches the North Sea, over 20 miles away.  
You cannot help but feel fascinated or even afraid of this interminable, gigantic, inhuman industrial universe. Quite rapidly you pull away from the town’s last areas of housing to glimpse the sight of the first super tankers, these steel Leviathans with their bellies loaded full of mountains of containers. Then there are miles and miles of quays, hangars, cranes, warehouses and naval construction sites. A few ant-like figures can be seen bustling about this metallic jungle.
The statistics gleaned by the recorded commentary given on board the boat are dizzying. For example, did you know that 90% of concentrated orange juice consumed in Europe arrives directly from Brazil in a giant tanker from the port of Rotterdam? Have you heard of the roll on/roll off technique*? Did you know that the emergence of the container, which is capable of transporting solids, liquids and even frozen goods, represented a revolution in the history of 20th century transport? Every year the cargo ships unload nearly 420 million tonnes of merchandise including 90% of the refined hydrocarbons in Europe! Relying on a transport network that links train, roads, canals and pipelines, the port of Rotterdam can distribute goods in less than 48 hours to 160 million consumers throughout Western Europe! It makes you wonder if in future our tiny markets of organic producers will be able to compete on this scale.
 
Discover the architecture of Rotterdam by bicycle
 
This is an ideal complement to the boat trip. This town of contrasts sees huge office blocks, apartments and fast highways for cars alternating with cycle paths, canals, rivers, pedestrian streets and idyllic, quiet little areas.  Thanks to the immense network of protected cycle ways, cycling is a pleasurable breeze, especially when you are also following the actual circuit of the Tour de France’s prologue.
Around 90% of the town was destroyed by the German bombing raids in 1940 which meant that Rotterdam has, in the second part of the 20th century, become a experimental site for modern architecture. It is now filled with skyscrapers that have earned it the nickname of “Manhattan on the Maas”. The town has received contributions from some of the greatest names in architecture from Álvaro Siza to Norman Foster and includes local talent such as Rem Koolhas. The most surprising thing about Rotterdam is that whole districts are still being built with the port infrastructures disappearing as recently as the 1990s.
These days the Wilheminaplein peninsula trembles with the thud of industrial sledgehammers. In an area which was already dominated by Francine Houben’s Montevideo tower, Sir Norman Foster’s World Port Centre and the Maastoren by the Dam & Partners architectural firm, the district is now witnessing the noisy birth of a new tower created by Rem Koolhas.  Despite being an area under development Wilheminaplein already houses some well frequented establishments such as the Nederlands Foto Instituut, Café Rotterdam (situated at the boat cruise terminal, an incredible example of 1970s architecture) or the popular Las Palmas restaurant.
At the end of the peninsular, a sort of neo-gothic manor house has managed to survive between two modern towers. This is the office of the transatlantic Holland-America company which took hundreds of thousands of emigrants to the United States. The building has now become the Hotel Café Restaurant New York with a terrace that bathes in the sunlight and enjoys a superb view over the Maas and the dance of the barges ahead.
Whilst the Wilhelminaplein peninsula still resembles a building site, nearly everything remains to be done in the Katendrecht area which had long been a red light district of ill repute. Today there are numerous greyish looking warehouses waiting for their patron, but the town is already offering plots to future owners for audacious architectural projects. One very popular establishment here is the Restaurant Jonge de Jong (Delistraat, 52) which already attracts large crowds.
 
The charming places of Rotterdam!
 
So you see the world’s third largest port is not just a place of immense skyscrapers and business districts. A few quiet spots have survived the bombs and also the functionalist architecture which was favoured during the post-war years (and to which we are progressively returning.) Built in 1325, the old port (Oude Haven) has kept some attractive remnants of the past, with its old canals, traditional barges and two fine merchant sailing ships which are part of the open air maritime museum.  The café terraces allow you to take your time in these placid surroundings, in a place where you can see the White House (Witte Huis), the first skyscraper in Europe built at the end of the 19th century. Then, just behind you, modernity imposes itself once again with the famous cube houses by the architect Piet Blom: one of which can be visited.
Another tranquil spot is “The Park” (Het park is so-called because it is the only one in the centre of Rotterdam) which is like an immense green lung for the city. It is an English style park that is also a real haven of peace. In the summertime it is a place of festivals and where the locals have barbecues. At the bottom of the park is the Euromast one of Rotterdam’s emblems along with the Erasmus Bridge. This tower was built in 1960 to celebrate the first of the Floriades, a flower and garden festival which takes place every ten years in Holland.  A panoramic lift allows you to take in a view where you can see as far as Delft. In the tower there is also a restaurant and even two suites.
Another of the city’s green lungs is the Museum Park where you’ll find several cultural institutions such as the Kunsthall, the Natural History Museum and the Boijmans Van Beuningen Museum. The latter is very much worth a visit for its exceptional collection of old art (The Tower of Babel by Brueghel the elder) but also for its numerous works of modern and contemporary art, not to mention the gardens with their canals, fountains and ducks where you can take lunch in the sun before taking a nap.
The Kunsthall (the first edifice constructed by Rem Koolhas in Rotterdam) only organises temporary, quality exhibitions for the public at large such as “the Tour Experience” which recounts the story of the Tour de France from a Dutch point of view.  
 
Fashionable Rotterdam
 
Two trendy, animated streets caught our eye for their bars, café terraces, galleries and boutiques. Immediately adjacent to the Museum Park, the Witte de Withstraat defends with verve its reputation as Rotterdam’s main cultural street with a few contemporary art galleries (one of which is called Willem de Kooning, in homage to the American painter born in the town) and a contemporary art centre oriented towards the avant-garde. As far as cafés are concerned you are spoilt for choice, but take note that the Café De Witte Aap (at 78) was not long ago chosen as best bar of the year. Its excellent reputation packs in a large crowd that hurry there to take aperitifs.
Built between 1880 and 1910 the Nieuwe Binnenweg has preserved a large number of houses and apartment blocks made of brick that are of historical interest. There is an impressive number of cafés (like Vagabond at n°99) and clothes and accessories boutiques where a friendly crowd strolls around.
 
* Roll on/ roll off:  ships designed to carry rolling-stock cargo which does not require cranes loading or off-loading but is driven on and off the ship's decks.
 
USEFUL INFORMATION
 
Dutch Tourist Office – www.holland.com
Rotterdam Tourist Office www.rotterdam.info
Where to stay.
Inntels Hotel Rotterdam centre
A modern hotel with a very high level of comfort. Ask for a room on the higher floors (from the 11th upwards) so as to avoid the noise and to enjoy a spectacular view over the Maas and the Erasmus Bridge.
Places to eat.
The Euromast, Parkhaven 20 ; www.euromast.nl
Boat trip
Spido, Willemsplein 85. www.spido.nl
Bicycle Tour of the Town
Rotterdam ArchiGuides (architectural tour by bike)
Schiestraat 42/44, 3013 AH  Rotterdam (temporary address)
Museums
Kunsthal, Museum park
Westzeedijk 341, www.kunsthal.nl
Boijmans Van Beuningen Museum, Museumpark
 18-20, www.boijmans.nl
How to get there
UK flights direct to Rotterdam are only available from London airports – from Heathrow by KLM, from London City by VLM, and from Stansted by Transavia Holland.
The international train from Brussels (travel time 1:50 hrs) also stops at Rotterdam twice every hour, as does the Thalys high speed train from  Paris (travel time: 3:10 hrs.)
For more information: www.ns.nl

The Tour de France Prologue in Rotterdam must have made you want to visit this town with its skyscrapers, bridges and sweeping views. Take a guided tour!

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