After two days of beer and fast food on a stag do in Antwerp, I was feeling guilty. So with a late flight home from Amsterdam, I had the perfect opportunity to get a bit of fresh air and exercise by exploring Rotterdam, which is halfway between Antwerp and Schiphol airport.
I arrived by train at Rotterdam Centraal station in brilliant afternoon sunshine armed with a map of the city and three hours to kill. The plan was to wander from the station, ogle at some of the renowned modern architecture along the Nieuwe Maas river, get back to the station and then train it to Schiphol in time for my 21:50 flight.
One thing I didn’t think about in my hungover state was just how big Rotterdam would be – with a population of 600,000 it’s the Netherlands’ second city and the largest port in Europe. It’s a 2.5km hike from the station to the riverbank – a bit of a struggle when pulling a trolley suitcase. My first impression of the city was that it’s not the prettiest city I’ve ever been to, but then again I’m from Coventry so everywhere looks good to me.
Rotterdam and Coventry have a bit in common – they were two of the most bombed cities in WWII, but that’s where the comparisons end. Whereas my hometown was rebuilt in an ugly ’60s architectural style and is now a dull-as-dishwater city, Rotterdam features futuristic skyscrapers and has a reputation as an exciting, ever-changing place to live in and visit.
Almost an hour after leaving the station, I reached the iconic Erasmusbrug suspension bridge which links the city centre to the redeveloped docks on the river’s south bank. Locals call the bridge The Swan for its graceful white angled pylon that supports the cables holding the bridge up.
There are separate sections for cars, trams, cyclists and pedestrians, so off I set across the bridge towards the area known as Kop van Zuid. It’s a long walk across the bridge and it’s also deceptively high, giving the opportunity to admire the skyline in all directions.
To my right was the Euromast – an observation tower with hotel, restaurant and abseiling centre at the top. I love a tall building, but didn’t have the time (or the head for heights) for a visit today, so moved on to dry land.
I soon crossed another bridge onto Noordereiland, a small island in the Nieuwe Maas from where I had a good view of The Bridge. This is not a bridge at all, but a 133m skyscraper lying on its side on stilts above a margarine factory.
It was time to head back to the city centre now and cross my third bridge of the day, Willemsbrug. This is the best place to take photos of Erasmusbrug, but I realised I didn’t have any photos of this particular bridge which I thought was quite nice – see photo below, which I have taken from wikipedia.
Walking back over Willemsbrug, the hangover was beginning to kick in and coupled with dragging that bloody case around for the last two hours I fancied a sit down. I found a pavement cafe and relaxed with an ice-cold Coke while soaking up the early-April sunshine – it was almost t-shirt weather and I could definitely have done with my sunglasses.
Refreshed and relaxed, I moved on to see my final Rotterdam sight, the crazy Cube Houses, which look like giant upturned sugar cubes. 40 of these yellow and grey houses were built in the ’80s as part of a drive to get more people to live in the city centre. One resident opens his house to the public to look around for a few euros – I was running out of time, so had to give this a miss.
I liked what I saw in my pitifully brief time in Rotterdam – it may not be anywhere near as beautiful as Amsterdam, and you won’t find any canals or old buildings. But I’d like to come back again for a long weekend to do it justice, experience the city at night (I bet it looks amazing with the skyscrapers and bridges all lit up) and to leave that bloody suitcase in the hotel.