Rotterdam is curiously cool.
If you like new and glossy buildings, cosmopolitan communities, a unique architectural aesthetic and all things maritime; you will love this city. Rotterdam is so glam, it boasts the world’s most classy MacDonalds, complete with cushy leather sofas, floor-to-ceiling windows, a white staircase and a restaurant that glows gold at night.
Rotterdam is the second largest city in the Netherlands, but it draws mixed responses from residents and non-residents alike, and clearly is a city one either loves or hates. It is a stark contrast to European old towns, so you will not walk on cobbled streets, or behold art nouveau styles or gasp in awe of rococo architecture. Instead you will stumble onto a concrete jungle, with skyscrapers looming tall over you, an abundance of foodie markets, a huge harbor and the winding River Maas.
Rotterdam has reason for her non-medieaval facade. The city was flattened during World War Two and in the decades that followed, rapidly transformed herself, emerging from the rubble to become a world class city that has a little something for everyone.
The Rotterdam skyline is constantly evolving with buildings always sprouting up or refurbishments taking place. Look out for the cube houses just outside the Blaak metro stop. These iconic structures were designed in 1984 by architect Piet Blom and represent tree houses tilted to an angle of 45 degrees. The Erasmus bridge is another landmark typically associated with Rotterdam and featured on many brochures and postcards. The bridge rises to a height of 139m and spans a width of 802m over the River Maas. On top are two sidewalks, two cycle tracks, tram rails and two vehicle carriageways. Below the traffic deck, there are shops, restaurants and underground parking. You cannot miss the Market Hall adjacent to the cube houses. Shaped like a giant horse shoe, this architectural gem has as its roof an arch of 228 apartments. The Rotterdam located at the Wilhemina Pier on the River Maas, is designed as an entire city within a city with three transparent towers standing 150 meters tall on a pedestal of cafes, restaurants, a hotel and fitness centers. The Euromast, the highest observation tower in the Netherlands, was constructed in 1960 by Rotterdam architect H.A Maaskant to mark the second Floriade gardening extravaganza. Take the lift and in just 30 seconds you will reach a height of 100 metres, where there is an observation deck and brasserie restaurant. There is a 360° view over Rotterdam and its surroundings, and the euroscope revolving lift takes people to a height of 185 metres. For the bold, there is a possibility of abseiling to the ground under the watchful eyes of a professional.
The multi-ethnic demographic
Rotterdam is a cosmopolis, passing off as the most multicultural city in the Netherlands, with over 160 nationalities that call it home. There is a large presence of people from Morrocco, Turkey and former Dutch colonies like Indonesia, the Dutch Antilles and Suriname. Along West-Kruiskade street, you have China town with an abundance of Asian eateries and toko shops specializing in Caribbean and African exotic foodstuff, wigs, hair and body oils, and even garments. Scattered around the city, you find a variety of restaurants, food courts, street markets that sell fresh fruits, vegetables, fish, flowers, cheese and items of clothing every other day. Festivals take place in Rotterdam throughout the year. During summer, there is a weekend set aside for Rotterdam’s carnival where thousands of costumed dancers go through the streets in a singing procession on floats. The uniformed bands drum up exciting beats and the trumpeters bring the city to life with music. There is plenty of exotic caribbean food and drink on offer to ensure the weekend is enjoyed by all.
Rotterdam is one of the largest logistic and industrial hubs of Europe, and the third busiest port in the world, coming closely behind Singapore in second place and China in first. The port of Rotterdam is the gateway to a European market of more than 350 million consumers. The 40-kilometer facility deals with an annual cargo load of 450 million tonnes. It features prominently in the region, and is of value to the rest of Europe. If you’d like to understand the workings of the port, the history of shipping and the role it plays, it would be worthwhile to visit the Maritime museum.
Centre for sports and education
Sports aficionados will find Rotterdam an ideal city; from Feyenoord Rotterdam, a popular and successful dutch football club to equestrian activities at Kralingse Bos, and cycling, the city is a sports magnet. In July this year, Tour de France will do its first leg through Rotterdam. Rotterdam is home to one of Europe’s biggest and most recognized universities: Erasmus University and a number of colleges and smaller universities, making it an education hub.
(I took the Spido and Euromast combination tour for this report)