Thanks to the 4th of July holiday on Thursday, a day of leave on Friday and my first furlough day (courtesy of Uncle Sam) on Monday, I had a 5-day weekend and we used the time off to take a drive to The Netherlands. 

We had already been to Amsterdam a couple of times so we decided to visit Rotterdam and some surrounding areas on this trip.  As a bonus, my cousin Mary and her husband Charlie, who are from and live in England, were able to join us on Saturday morning for 2 nights. 

Some things you may not have known about Rotterdam and/or The Netherlands:  The Netherlands are often referred to as Holland, but North Holland and South Holland are only 2 of its 12 provinces. There are about a million (not an exaggeration) more bicycles than people in The Netherlands. The German Air Force bombed Rotterdam on May 14, 1940 and almost the entire historic city center was destroyed.  Rotterdam is the largest port in Europe and one of the largest in the world.  It was the world’s largest at one time, but now that honor belongs to…..I dunno, somewhere in Asia.  It’s hard to pin down because apparently “largest port” is measured in so many ways that the leader is always changing.  The top 10 include 9 ports in Asia, though, so I think it’s safe to say the largest is somewhere in Asia.  Rotterdam is the only European port on the top 10 list.  Seattle, WA is one of Rotterdam’s sister ports.  (We moved to Germany from the Seattle area so that caught my eye.) Because so much of Rotterdam was destroyed in World War II, a lot of the buildings are new. There is still a lot of new construction going on.  This makes for some interesting architecture and public art, as you will see by the photos (and there are going to be a lot in this post!). 

We took the car to Rotterdam because it’s only about a 4-hour (give or take) drive from our home in Germany.  When I was checking out the route on Google Maps, I saw that there was a town called Monster close to Rotterdam so of course we had to make a detour there.  This actually worked out well because we hit some horrendous traffic that probably would have caused us a 2-hour delay, but the detour to Monster allowed us to avoid that. 

You would think a town called Monster would capitalize on that, right?  Like they’d have businesses named Monster Beauty Salon or The Monster Bar or even the Monster School?  No such luck.  We walked around the town – which was lovely – but didn’t find any Monster businesses.  So, this road sign is the all I could find to show that we were in Monster.  Yeah, this is my best monster impression.

Our next destination after Monster was a quick stop at Scheveningen, a beach on the North Sea.  It was a fairly chilly, windy and cloudy day despite being July 4th. It was not what you would call ideal beach weather, but there were still several hardy souls playing volleyball, building sand sculptures, swimming and fishing, and there were also a lot of people kitesurfing. 

One thing I did not expect to see on a beach in The Netherlands was a business called Aloha Surfschool.

We finally arrived in Rotterdam and checked into the hotel.  We were very close to Rotterdam Centraal, the central train station.  Although we knew the Tourist Information (TI) office at the station would be closed, we thought we’d look for it anyway so we’d know where to go in the morning to get our sightseeing needs fulfilled.  The station is currently under construction and despite seeing numerous signs for the TI, we never did find the office.  Oh well. 

The station has stores and restaurants inside and is also  surrounded by them outside.  We had dinner at a place just outside the station and then headed back to the hotel by walking through the station. 

I mentioned above that Rotterdam has some unusual public art, and the train station is not immune.  This is a piece called The Heads Claudia & Hermann, made by Rotterdam artist Joep van Lieshout in 2005.

Back at the hotel, we noticed this sign.  Don’t use those stairs, it’s a trap!
Obviously the word “trap” is Dutch for “stairway”.  I just love language.

The next morning we headed back to the train station and guess what?  The Head Claudia is, in fact, the TI office.  Of course in the morning they have the TI flags and the information sign out to make it obvious.  We must have walked past those damn heads 10 times the previous evening looking for the office.

After purchasing some 3-day transit passes and a Rotterdam map and getting directions, we headed off by bus to the nearby town of Delft.  That town will be covered in a separate blog post. 
After we got back from Delft we decided to check out the Euromast, an observation tower that is the tallest building in The Netherlands.  There are a couple of observation decks and also a rotating crow’s nest platform that goes up to the top.  If you look at this photo, you can see the black, round thing towards the top and that’s the crow’s nest.  We went sort of late in the evening, around 9:00 p.m., and there were only 3 people on the crow’s nest including me and Sean.  It was a nice, clear day so we could see The Hague in the distance in one direction as well as Antwerp, Belgium in the distance in another direction. 

This is the Erasmus Bridge, also called “The Swan”, as seen from one of the Euromast’s observation platforms.  The bridge opened in 1996.

Prior to this trip, the only thing I knew about Erasmus was that there was an Erasmus High School in New York City (Brooklyn, specifically) where I was born and raised.  Now, though, I know that Erasmus was Dutch, and even though you see references and monuments to him all over Rotterdam, he lived there for only 4 years.  When I was attending Brooklyn College, I had at one point decided that I might want to be a teacher (I later changed my mind) and I went to Erasmus High School one day to be a student observer.  This was clearly a long time ago because I just looked up the high school and it closed in 1994.  I had no idea.  What I did know is that both Barbra Streisand and Neil Diamond graduated from that high school.  What I didn’t know is that the school boasts other famous alumni including Mae West, Beverly Sills and Marky Ramone of The Ramones.  Huh.  But I digress.
This next photo was also taken from an observation deck at the Euromast and the building with the clocks is the former headquarters of the Holland America cruise line.  The cruise line is now headquartered in Seattle and I learned another new thing – they are also now a British-owned company.

If you go back up to the photo of the Euromast, you will see a field of grass in the foreground.  We walked across this field and there were about a bazillion rabbits running all around it, including some white ones.  All those dots you see in the photo below are rabbits.  If you enlarge the photo, you will see at least 30 of them in this one little section.  There were also magpies in the field and they were chasing the rabbits all over the place.  It was interesting to watch for a bit but of course you couldn’t get anywhere near any of them.

Back at the train station, Sean decided he wanted a little bite to eat.  We saw this automat-type of place so he got a bacon burger from them.  If you’ve never heard of an automat, you can read about them here. This is Sean retrieving his food after he put the money in the slot to open the door.

Automats are another thing I remember from NY.  Horn and Hardart had a chain of them there but sadly the last one closed in 1991. 

The next morning, Cousin Mary and Charlie arrived, much to Sean’s surprise as I hadn’t told him they’d be joining us.  We spent the day in The Hague, which will also be covered in a separate post. 

That evening we went out for some drinks and a bite to eat.  The first two places we went to seemed ok at first, but started turning into nightclubs for 20-somethings as the night went on. It wasn’t really our cup of tea so we found an Irish pub instead.  Although I’m not big on going to Irish pubs in Europe (outside of Ireland, that is), this place was on our way back to the hotel and was fairly quiet.  The lovely waiter, who turned out to be from Cornwall in England, took our photo for us.

On Sunday, we stuck to Rotterdam for sightseeing.  First up on the list was the famous cube houses, built in the 1970s.  I took several photos of the outside of them but will post only one.  More information about and photos of the cube houses can be found by clicking the link.

What you see in the photo is 4 whole cube houses in the middle and parts of 2 others on the ends.  All the houses are connected to each other.  They are about 100 square meters, which is just over 1,000 square feet, and they have 3 floors.  Each floor is very tiny, especially the top floor, and the stairs are steep, winding and narrow.  Regular furniture will not fit in here, so all the furniture has to be custom made according to the owner’s imagination.  We each paid 2.50 Euro to go inside the “show cube”, and the woman working there said when an owner moves, the furniture is left behind because it can’t be put in a regular house.  So, if you buy a cube and don’t like the furniture I guess you have to rip it out yourself and get rid of it to make room for your own custom-built stuff.  She also told us it’s less than 200,000 Euro to buy a cube in today’s market.  If you’re into staying in hostels and are ever in Rotterdam and would like to stay in a cube, you can do that because one of the cubes is a hostel. 

Below is a photo of the living room area of the show cube.  You’ll have noticed from the photo showing the outside of the cubes that the walls are quite tilted, so you can see in this photo that the backs of the couches are tilted as well.

Our next stop was the Witte Huis or White House, completed in 1898.  It doesn’t look very big to us now, but at the time it was built it was the tallest office building in Europe.  It luckily escaped the 1940 bombing of Rotterdam. 

Naturally after seeing two tourist sights it was time to stop for liquid refreshments.  Here is the Snow White Cousin Mary drinking a – what else? – Snow White.  This drink is also called a shandy in England and a radler in Germany.  It’s basically a beer with some non-alcoholic beverage mixed in, usually a 7-Up or a Sprite.  Why anyone would want to ruin a perfectly good beer like that is beyond me, but people seem to like it and find it refreshing.  Sean has even started buying bottles of radler (you can buy them pre-mixed) here in the summer time.

After being refreshed we headed over to the St. Lawrence church.  It unfortunately was closed but it looked nice from the outside.

The church was built between 1449 and 1525 and was the first stone building in Rotterdam.  It was heavily damaged during the 1940 bombing but was not destroyed and is the only remaining building in Rotterdam from medieval times. 

You gotta love the internet.  We saw this interesting thing not far from the church and had no idea what it was.  Did a little Googling today and discovered it’s the Marten Toonder monument.  Nope, I never heard of him either but he was a famous Dutch cartoonist.  Seems he was most well-known for his comic strips Tom Puss and Oliver B. Bumble.  Still not quite sure who this particular character on the monument is, but there you have it.

We then hopped back on the tram and headed over to the Delfshaven section of Rotterdam.  This section was spared during the 1940 bombing so is older than the rest of the city.  Leaving the area of the cube houses and other modern buildings and then going to Delfshaven, it feels like you are seeing two completely different cities.

Once again I learned something new.  There was a sign at this spot that said this: “On August 1, 1620, the Pilgrims began their journey to America from this harbour.”  Well I’ll be damned.  I don’t know if my education is lacking or if I knew this fact at one time and forgot it, but I seriously always thought the Pilgrims just hopped on The Mayflower in England and headed to America. This is partially true.  Turns out there was a group that left England and moved to The Netherlands somewhere around 1607. When they finally decided to leave The Netherlands in 1620 and go to America, they left from Delfshaven on a ship called the Speedwell.  They then went to England and met up with The Mayflower in Southampton.  The Speedwell never ended up making it past Plymouth, England though, because it was leaking.  The leaking was later discovered to be the result of sabotage by some crew members because they did not want to honor their year-long commitment.  So, the Mayflower sailed on alone.

Unlike the town of Monster, Delfshaven at least tries to market itself a little with some pilgrim-related stuff.  The church is called Pelgrimskerk or Pilgrim Fathers Church, and there’s a restaurant right near the church called De Pelgrim.

As we were walking along the canal, we saw this boy swimming in it.  The canals all looked pretty filthy to me with actual garbage floating around in them, but he wasn’t the only one we saw swimming so maybe they know something we don’t.

We also saw this mama sitting on her nest.

And this nice little outdoor seating area at a Lebanese restaurant.

By now you’re probably thinking okay, you’re in The Netherlands and you’ve posted all these photos – where the hell is the one of a windmill?  Here you go.  You’re welcome.

As you saw at the beginning of this post, there are more bicycles than people in The Netherlands.  You actually have to worry more about being hit by a bicycle than a car when you’re walking around – no joke.  The Dutch people seem to have devised some ingenious ways to tote their kids around on their bikes.  This is one of them.  Yes, really.  We ate lunch outside in Delfshaven and a woman came by on this bike with her two kids in that wooden “basket”.  She then parked the bike and went on inside.

On our way out of Delfshaven, we noticed these houses.  Look how tall and thin they are.  You are seeing 7 different houses in the foreground of this photo.

Later that evening, we went back out to check out some sculptures we’d passed on our tram rides around the city getting to all these other sights.  One of the sculptures was near the Maritime Museum.  The museum was closed by the time we got there but we saw this ship, the HNLMS Buffel, which is an outdoor exhibit during opening hours.
It’s an iron-clad ram ship (just what it sounds like – it was made to ram the hulls of other ships) and was built in 1868.
And here is another ship that was outside the Maritime Museum.  Sean is doing his best Kate Winslet impression with Charlie at the helm.
As you can imagine I was laughing my ass off trying to take that photo.
On a more serious note, this is the first sculpture we had ventured back out to see.  It’s called The Destroyed City and is a memorial to the destruction caused by the 1940 bombing.

The next sculpture we went to see is called Cascade.  It’s made of polyester and is a bunch of dripping oil drums.  The oil drips look like people.  According to this website “It is left to the viewer whether to see the sculpture as a contemporary image of the decline of the human race, or as an ode to the resilience of the individual who manages to rise above all difficulties.”  Okey dokey.

And finally, the pièce de résistance.  The one sculpture we all wanted to get a closer look at after having passed it a few times during the day on the tram.  (Warning: some adult content ahead.) 

At first we thought perhaps this was a giant garden gnome, but we weren’t quite sure what he was holding.  Cousin Mary was being nice with her guess of a soft-serve ice cream cone.  I said no, it kinda looks like a butt plug to me. 

When we got up close, we realized it wasn’t a gnome at all but was in fact Santa Claus.  Sean then guessed that he was supposed to be holding a Christmas tree in his hand.  I said nah, still kinda looks like a butt plug to me. 

In any case, after we all got our photos of the sculpture we headed down the street and sat outside a bar to have some drinks.  While talking to our very cute waiter (photo to follow later), we got to discussing Rotterdam’s architecture and art.  He said because of all the new construction, Rotterdam was an architect’s dream but also said the resulting buildings could be either really beautiful or really ugly depending on your point of view.  He then gestured down the street at this sculpture and said “Have you seen our ‘Dwarf With a Butt Plug’ statue?”  Ha!  I was right! 

He said it is supposed to be Santa and perhaps it is also supposed to be a Christmas tree he’s holding, but that everyone in Rotterdam calls it Dwarf With a Butt Plug. It’s actually by an American artist and apparently has been causing quite a stir the last few years in various locations. Like the website for the previous sculpture says, I will leave it to you, the viewer, to decide what it is.

Moving on from sculptures, I just love a city that offers free drinking water.  Most of the time it’s from a fountain but this one looks like a periscope, I think.

We finally settled in for the evening at the bar down the street from the Santa sculpture.  Sean, Charlie and I each had a nice, ice-cold Heineken while Mary ordered a rosé beer, which was fruity.  She didn’t order a second one, so I guess maybe it’s an acquired taste.

I am going to let my inner beer snob out here and tell you that the only place I will drink Heineken is in The Netherlands, where it’s brewed.  It just doesn’t taste the same anywhere else, and the bottles you get in the United States taste just downright BAD in my opinion. 

I noticed that the sign in the next photo said “oudste café van Rotterdam”.  I asked the waiter if that meant we were at the oldest cafe in Rotterdam and he confirmed that we were.  We didn’t know this before we sat down; it was just a lucky choice.  It only dates back to 1876, which is not that old, but they got the “oldest” title by default when the city was bombed and everything else was destroyed.  The waiter told us that this building narrowly missed getting destroyed as well.  Everything starting from 2 buildings down was bombed. 

The waiter also volunteered that the “High Beer” part of this sign is their take on High Tea.  I thought that was pretty funny.  You can choose from among 9 beers and taste between 3 and 5 of them.  The waiter gives you an explanation of each one as it’s served and each round of beer comes with a food pairing.  Very clever.
Here is Cousin Mary using my little spy binoculars to check out all the “fit” Dutch men, as she called them.  I have to say there are some damn fine-looking people in The Netherlands.

The waiter, who was named Vincent by the way, offered to take our photo.  Unfortunately you can’t really see poor Charlie though.  Also, when we asked Vincent his name, we were surprised when he said Vincent.  He looked like he belonged on a poster for Dutch tourism so we just assumed he had some very Dutch name like Pieter or Jan.  He good-naturedly went along with me calling him Pieter Vincent though.

And here at last is a photo of the famous Vincent.

I look a little out of place not wearing a white shirt, huh?  There’s Vincent right next to me.  Isn’t he cute?  He was even cuter in person.  And a good waiter to boot.  Now look at the other guy.  He was the bartender but I didn’t catch his name.  Check out the black and white photo just above his head on the outside of the bar.  Yup, that’s him!  I think he liked the fact that we noticed.

That was the end of our last night in Rotterdam.  We drove back home to Germany after breakfast at the hotel the next morning. 

Just one more photo because this was something I’d never seen before.  We stopped to put gas in the car.  Sean drives a car that takes diesel.  Here he is putting on a plastic glove provided by the gas station to protect your hand from spills while you pump your diesel.  Isn’t that nice of them?  I had never noticed that anywhere before and just thought it was so helpful.

All in all I really enjoyed Rotterdam and the more I see of The Netherlands the more I like the country.  Stay tuned for the post on Delft and The Hague.



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