Rotterdam is a city in the Netherlands in South Holland. It’s also the next big city compared to Amsterdam. What makes Rotterdam different is the architecture. During the Nazi takeover the entire city center was ruined and destroyed. When the war was over the city was rebuilt with modern buildings (far ahead of their time) and wider streets. The town of Delft is what’s left of old Rotterdam. Only fifty percent of the population in Rotterdam are Dutch, the other half are foreigners from other countries.
Getting right into the food, Rotterdam is a perfect place to try different Dutch specialities at places visited mostly by local residents. The plan was to try as many different native Dutch dishes even if they didn’t seem appetizing at first sight. Let’s start with the finger foods.
Krokalf is a fried meat appetizer with a crispy seasoned shell around a seasoned meat paste. The inside looks like a meat marshmallow but the flavor was really good. It taste like a warm seasoned stuffing. A similar Dutch appetizer is called Bitterballen which has a seasoned inside with or without meat and a crunchy nugget outside.
Dutch style ribs are some of the best ribs I’ve had. It’s surprising these are the best ribs coming from the Netherlands. The ribs here are cooked in a Dutch oven and that makes all the difference in the taste. A Dutch oven is a large pot with a lid. Dutch ovens are usually made of cast iron and also available in ceramic. I’ve seen them in all sizes here in the Netherlands.
Back to the ribs, the outside has a crust like crisp while the bright pink meat falls off the bone. The best place to get these is the butcher himself, we went to De Groene Passage. We bought a rack of ribs made on the premises for 1/4 of the price a restaurant would charge. Many customers were doing the same so we knew they were good. After heating for 15 minutes in the oven we had a delicious Dutch dinner at home accompanied by Dutch cheeses and crackers. The rib rack is the sparerib of the pig making the ribs smaller and full of meat. We ordered these almost daily. At the market a butcher De Groene Weg they featured ribs, bacon, sausage and fried meat in a cone. I couldn’t resist the ribs and they were just as delicious. I wanted to try the bacon in a cone but couldn’t pull myself to pass up the ribs.
A few Dutch desserts made the top of my list. The first dessert – Boterkake. Boterkake translates to butter cake in English. This is pastry is made from pure butter, sugar, egg and a touch of flour to make it a dough. The dough is flash baked under high heat leaving the inside thick and soft. It’s so rich but worth it. It reminds me of thick raw pie dough covered in butter. I couldn’t stop eating it. I appeared daily at Van Beek Specker bakery asking for the middle pieces only.
Weesper Moppen (Almond-paste cookies) are a popular Dutch cookie that has a very thick soft consistency on the inside. This cookie is made from almond paste, sugar and an egg — that’s all. It’s baked just long enough to hold it together and when you bite inside it’s like biting into an extra extra sweet Mounds coconut bar (without the coconut). The sugar overpowers the almond taste and they were rich. Great late night snack before bed.
Holland is a great place to try different cheeses. Some cheesemakers have been in business over 300 years here in Rotterdam. Oud (means old) cheese is the most common cheese, its dry and has a strong taste like parmesan. I like brie cheese and found a few here that are like brie but taste even better.
Another popular cheese in the Netherlands is fenugreek cheese. The fenugreek seeds give the cheese a nutty flavor. Several cheese shops featured their own fenugreek cheese in addition to the oud (old) cheese. Vacherin and Boerenbrie were two cheeses similar to brie but creamier.
One thing I noticed about food stores in Rotterdam is that people use their hands for things that Americans normally wouldn’t except. For example, giving a free sample using their bare hands and then passing it to you. This doesn’t go over well in America but it happens there too.
Rotterdam has coffee shops that sell marijuana just like Amsterdam. The difference is the prices are lower, the locations are sparse and most of them are walk up order windows rather than sit down coffee shops.
Marijuana is against the law essentially but tolerated in small personal doses. The police accept and tolerate the legalized coffee shops in those controlled environments. In other words, it’s not okay to walk down the street or sit at an outdoor cafe and light up a joint. If you chose to smoke in the privacy of your home or inside a designated coffee shop then it’s perfectly all right.
A new bike rental system has been installed throughout Rotterdam called Obike. The company placed a whole fleet of yellow bikes throughout the city with electric locks on the back wheel. To use any bike at any time I downloaded the application and the company took a $79.00 deposit. Now I am free to use any bike that is around, there are no reservations or designated pick up or drop areas (except in a bike parking area). This sounded like the best idea and we were so excite to use the bikes. The first day we found two bike parked across the street, scanned the code on the handlebars and the electronic lock on the back tire unlocks. This is all down from the phone. The time starts when the lock is unlocked and ends when the bike is locked. The cost is $1.00 per 30 minutes. As a new customer, five free rides are included.
Once on the bike I realized quickly this was going to be hard. The bike felt like it was stuck in fifth gear and my thighs were burning after 15 minutes of riding. If your feet aren’t peddling the bike doesn’t move. It’s a great way to get around but there were times I had to pull over and thaw out my legs.
The bikes are available everywhere and can be returned anywhere as long as it’s in a bicycle parking area (everywhere in the city). I mentioned the gears in a feedback survey and they responded it was an ongoing problem they are aware of and were in the process of fixing the bikes throughout the city. After a couple of days of riding it wasn’t as bad as the first but still hard. None of the ones we rented were “fixed” into a lower gear.
Kinderboerderij de Kraal is a petting zoo and children’s farm open to the public. The petting area is in the forest surrounded by trees. A host of animals are there including cows, pigs, chickens and ducks, sheep, goats, rabbits, guinea pigs and a few peacocks. After riding the Obike in what seemed to be fifth gear all the way it was nice to get off and see wildlife. Peacocks and beautiful chickens were roaming free while the goats and cows were behind a small fence. Kids were working on the grounds and some kids were just there to look around. It was a fun stop and it just made me sad that America doesn’t have more free outdoor activities for kids like this. Too much liability involved in America.
The cube houses are a landmark in Rotterdam. These houses are owned and lived in by local residents. The houses are based on the concept of “living as an urban roof”: high density housing with sufficient space on the ground level, since its main purpose is to optimize the space inside.
The design meaning is a village within a city, and each house represents a tree, and all the houses together, a forest. The area is open for anyone and everyone to roam around despite them being lived in and occupied. For three euros each we were able to see the inside of a home. This is a “museum” house set up for the public to see. To me it was very boxy and the house has a solid core in the center making each room circular around the core. The staircase is very steep and winds all the way up. The novelty is beautiful though.
The Markthal is a residential and office building with a huge market hall selling food on the bottom main floor. Not only is it beautiful structurally the food inside is very good. The environment is lively and always busy. What’s really weird is people live here in the apartments and overlook the businesses and people from their windows. The opposite side windows in the apartments face the outside which is constantly buzzing with people and tourists. I couldn’t imagine going outside to sit on the patio and seeing thousands of people looking up and admiring the building.
We ate here often during the entire stay in Rotterdam. Ribs from the butcher, fresh fried donuts, Lebanese wraps, Middle Eastern vegetarian platters and best of all butter cake from the Van Beek Specker bakery. Sometimes we would just get an assortment of sliced cheeses from the cheesemakers stand and sliced meat from the sausage makerand fried meats served in a cone from the butcher. There is something for everyone here, even a full grocery store.
Crossing over the Erasmusbrug bridge took us to the other south side of town. This is the second largest bridge in the Netherlands. The bridge connects the northern and southern parts of Rotterdam.
The New York Hotel is another landmark of Rotterdam. The hotel is historical and still in business today. The style is very classic and dated but tastefully preserving the history of the high end hotel. The restaurant is Michelin rated and the rates are always high. It’s not my taste but I can see why people stay here.
SS Rotterdam “The Grande Dame,” is a former cruise ship now operating as a hotel. Once inside we felt like we were on the Titanic. The ship was dated but well taken care of giving it an old fashion feel. This exact ship crusied for the past forty-four years from 1959-2000. Today the ship is a hotel and museum anchored in one spot. Private tours are the only way to see the entire ship. We chose to walk around and spend time on the deck in the outdoor restaurant which is open to the public. It was fun to see a cruise ship on the inside. I think staying there would be a novelty but the location wasn’t close to shops or restaurants which would leave me feeling stranded. Thankfully our Obikes were still there when we left.
While walking around the pier to the SS Rotterdam, I noticed a few house boats with their personal cars parked on the boat. The boats are large barges and the owners live on the barge in a house portion of the ship. I looked like a small apartment on the top. I wondered how they got the cars off the boat.
While on this side of the bridge we stopped at the Fenix Food Factory. This small-scale food hub is located in a former warehouse.
We took a train to the city Delft. The train ride was only 20 minutes but the town looked hours away. Delft reminded me of Amsterdam before all the tourists. There are lots of old Dutch buildings, canals, street-side cafes, brick streets, brown stone buildings and bikes all over the town. I loved the flowers on the bridges of the canals. There wasn’t an Obike in sight to rent and get around. We didn’t need bikes anyway. The town is quiet and busy enough to walk around safely from traffic and in and out of stores.
Delft is another hidden city waiting to be discovered. I’m guessing the overflow of Amsterdam will eventually spill into Rotterdam and surrounding cities decades from now. Delft is on the list. The city had everything we loved minus all of the people and crowds. It’s also nice to see the Dutch living their lives and where they spend their time. Many people sit outdoors street side in cafes watching the world go by while drinking beer, wine or coffee. The streets are quiet and traffic is light if any.
Coffeeshops are in Delft and some of them have lounges to sit and smoke marijuana or hash while having a soda, tea or water. The Coffeeshops seem to be dominated by Middle Eastern owners. Most of the coffeeshops we stopped at had foreigners managing and huge bouncers outside of the doors checking id cards. Outside of tourists, the people in the coffeeshops are not the brightest citizens out there. People of all ages (mostly men) and sitting around smoking in the lounges on their phones or friends of the owner. I will admit would rather see a group of young men smoking pot than at a bar drinking alcohol and doing something they don’t remember that will affect their entire lives. But I know those aren’t options. Let’s just say the more responsible stoners aren’t spending time sitting around local coffeeshops smoking pot in the middle of the day.
Summer Carnival Street Parade was going on while we were here. There were tons of dancers and dance troupes performing in the parade.
Dancers of all ages were dressed up and dancing something to the tune of Latin and African drum beats. The skies got dark and we heading indoors to eat. Minutes later it poured rain and I wondered what became of the parade.
Overall Rotterdam was a great choice to explore Holland outside of tourists and foreigners in large droves of group tours in Amsterdam. Rotterdam doesn’t have seedy elements to the town. Surprisingly the population is predominantly immigrants from Africa and the Middle East. I’m surprised there aren’t more tourists flocking to Rotterdam. This city has everything it takes on it’s own.
The prices for accommodations are at least 30% less expensive than Amsterdam along with restaurants and shopping for souvenirs. Getting to Rotterdam is a short direct train ride from the airport. The apartment we stayed in was less than any Amsterdam hotel and we lived like locals during our visit. Living like locals means bringing food home to cook or prepare for breakfast and dinner and having a place to go back to in between sightseeing and/or bad weather. Even though its summer, it rained everyday. The rain only last several minutes before clearing up or stopping. It never deterred our plans.
One last thing I should mention is the Santa Claus statue. Made by an American artist named Paul McCarthy in 2001. Santa Claus is holding a bell in his left hand and what is supposed to be a Christmas tree in his right hand. Unfortunately the Christmas tree unintentionally resembles an anal sex toy known as the butt plug. The statue’s nickname is “Leprechaun Buttplug”. The locals weren’t happy with the outcome when the statue was unveiled. Originally the statue was planned to be placed in front of a busy concert and convention center but that was immediately scratched. The city is now stuck with this statue in what was supposed to be a tribute to the Christmas holiday. The statue has been moved around a few times since it was unveiled in 2005, finally resting in a famous square in the center of Rotterdam called the Eendrachtsplein.
Next stop is Ireland. I’m always sad to leave the Netherlands. We will be back in a few weeks as a stopover before Japan later in the travels. Ireland, I’m on my way.