I’m going to be describing my relationship with this city and the last day out I had in it when the world was normal.
In my post about my Amsterdam quarantine and my increasing affection for the Netherlands, read it here, I mentioned that it was used to be just a place of study and I didn’t feel like I had much to write about. I also had an excessively self-conscious fear of not doing the Netherlands justice as an ignorant foreigner and then being shunned by my Dutch friends. But of course, such is ridiculous. Now, I find myself wanting to write about my experiences not only because I am stuck here but also because it seems odd to go so long living in a new country and to only write one post about it. (Read the ‘Settling Blues’ from 2018 here)
In my Amsterdam post, I also spoke about how I knew Amsterdam better than I thought. I realised this may also be true for Rotterdam. This week, I’m going to take you through my experiences of Rotterdam, what some would call Amsterdam’s rival, or its polar opposite.
I regularly go to Rotterdam to meet friends there and also just for a change of scenery. I like it because it has a different feel and aesthetic to the rest of the Netherlands, the centre of the city had large screens, billboards and towering skyscrapers… It also feels quite wide, open and modern compared to Leiden where I live. This difference is often attributed to WWII bombings and the city being very industrial (both in history and currently).
Frankly, I’m not as aware of Rotterdam as I should be. I was planning to rectify that. But a ‘small’ thing called a global pandemic happened. Things have been gradually opening up in the Netherlands since June began but it’s still not fully the same so I may just have to wait until my third year. Though, I do remember joking that I would rush to see and do things in the Netherlands in my third year because only then will it not be possible to do it ‘some other time’. I still haven’t seen Anne Frank Huis, Rijksmuseum, the Van Gogh Museum (all iconic Amsterdams attractions) or the famous tulips, so watch me write blog posts about me seeing those and many other things a few months from now.
The first time I visited Rotterdam, I remember walking out of the central station, seeing skyscrapers and feeling so at home. It’s odd, but I love tall buildings. I love massive bustling cities and feeling like a small spec in a massive, densely packed, constantly moving urban environment. I wouldn’t consider Rotterdam a massive city but it gives me that feel I crave and can’t get living in Leiden.
I always took time to take some walks before or after visiting friends, just to enjoy the big-city feeling and try and know the city I was visiting outside of my relationships in it. I would sometimes browse shops, sometimes get food, go to spots my friends told me about, sometimes just walk and get lost and use maps to find my way back to a station.
One day, a friend told me she was feeling a change of scenery. I proposed she come to Rotterdam with me and that we could explore together. She was delighted at the idea and so we both rushed to the train station after class. We chatted on the train there, observing commuters in the busy train (oh wow! remember when those were a thing). And then, as I often do, we walked. At first, I decided to really try and see it. I googled some things to do and one of them was the Luchtsingel. As we walked towards it, I realised I’d actually walked near it many times and that it was closer than I knew. It was fun to see something famous, a thing to cross off the list.
From there, I was about to check more maps to find our next destination…..except I looked up and thought ‘this looks kind of familiar’, I realised that I knew where I wanted to take her. I realised I didn’t have to check maps to take her to the Markthal (market hall) to get bubble tea because I’d done it dozens of times by now. I realised I knew many roads better than I thought.
Something my friend remarked was that she loved hearing my commentary as we walked along. Not that of a tour guide who knew the history behind a particular wall or street, though that would have been cool, but of my memories. I’d walk past a spot and say, ‘oh that’s where I met this person the first time I came’, ‘oh that’s where my brother and I had a meal and then we went there and bought headphones’, ‘Oh this is where I danced in the rain and got weird looks from passersby.’ She told me that seeing my emotion and hearing these small anecdotes gave the place a little extra character. She also told me she’d been to Rotterdam once with her family but that it was years ago, so she enjoyed comparing the two times. They were different, but both nice.
We didn’t really do all of the Rotterdam bucket list. The point of the day was to just go with the flow, do what we wanted and relish in the feeling of changing our surroundings and feeling like we’re in a big city. We spent a lot of time in the famous Markthal and ate some lovely snacks. We smelt some lovely teas. I showed her some Indian food, we enjoyed some turkish breads and finally an array of sweets! It was fun to just amble.
We also spent some time in the Rotterdam Library. By ‘some time’, I mean around two hours looking through floors and floors of books. We were so engrossed, I didn’t even remember to take pictures. We found all sorts, from painting to avant-garde photography, from German, Dutch and French novels to funny self-help books… We also found ‘Rotterdam books’, from the early 1900s to now. I couldn’t read them but I could see dates and some mention of different events and I thought that was a cool thing to have. I think they were an official series recording happenings and changes in the city. The library also has a cool movie area. Definitely worth a visit if you’re a bookworm or the kind of person who lives in libraries when not impeded my viruses.
This was in February so when we left, even though it was still the afternoon, it was almost dark. We sat on a bench outside the library to simply sit for a while, only for it to start to rain. As everyone else scuttled inside, we gave each other a look and then just continued to walk. It felt reminiscent of the first time I came as I walked through the city with wet hair then too.
We then walked to Leuvehaven. I pointed out a place I went to a party and told her funny stories from that night. We took some time to take in the lights reflecting on the water and talked about our uni experiences this year.
As we walked further and crossed the Erasmusbrug (Erasmus bridge), it was cool to see Rotterdam from both sides, as well as the boats and the people around us as we walked across. I’d actually not walked across it before. I’d been on it otherwise, via public transport to meet people, but never walked on the bridge. Adding another piece to the puzzle, crossing off another thing to do…
Once we crossed it, we looked at the city lights and just talked about this and that, sitting on some damp rocks. We sat there for perhaps an hour or so just enjoying each other’s company and stories. We crossed it back again and then went on home.
As I have been sitting like a potato these past few days, my prime quarantine experience, I realised that that had been one of my last days out. In the sense, I’d been in class the whole morning and then touring on my feet until 9pm. Of course, part of me wishes I’d known that it was one of my last full days out while the world was normal but really it’s better that way. My friend who came with me has since gone home to Mexico and I’m just mostly carrying on sitting potato style. We still treasure the memory of this day.