Tuesday, 20 October 2015
Magical markets, golden galleries and lavish liners: The six MUST visit attractions in Rotterdam
Holland's second city continues to excite through its big, bold architecture.
It has been winning plaudits as one of Europe’s newest and liveliest short-stay destinations.
Gareth Huw Davies sleeps on a transatlantic liner-turned-hotel, and sees one of the world’s finest market halls and the city’s version of the Leaning Tower of Pisa.
The Markthal was opened in November - in addition to the stalls it has 230 apartments in a horseshoe shape
The Rail Deal
Direct trains will link London with Holland before too long. In the meantime, passengers have to change at Brussels, as I did, but my trip was still stress-free.
Rotterdam is one of the easiest cities in which to get about. At Central Station I linked into the city’s abundant and user-friendly RET public transport system.
Metro trains, trams, buses and ferries buzz around one of the world’s busiest ports – and they are all clean, smart and efficient. Buy a travel card (three days costs €17.50, or £13) at Central Station.
Rotterdam can’t compete on history with its near-neighbour, Amsterdam – it’s medieval core was flattened by German bombs in 1940.
But it has been rebuilding itself ever since with style and ambition. Instead of tiny old churches and ancient, narrow ways, Rotterdam offers sunken, pedestrianised shopping streets and striking high-rise buildings.
Armed with the tourist board’s Roaming Rotterdam booklet, I connected some of the 70 examples of imposing architecture, sculpture and dramatic city sites.
They include earlier masterpieces such as the Laurenskerk – this church is the only survivor from the medieval city – and Europe’s earliest skyscraper, the Witte Huis. The seven-mile route takes a day to complete on foot, or just a few hours by bicycle.
I doubt anyone has built an indoor market so huge, spacious and fabulously decorated since Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar.
The Markthal was opened in November 2014 and, in addition to the stalls displaying produce from all over the world, it has 230 apartments built into its horseshoe-shaped roof. The ceiling itself is decorated with a clever and complex illustration.
But the Horn Of Plenty, by Arno Coenen, is no mere painting. It is based on film studios’ 3D animation software, and combines market produce falling out of the sky, alongside details from the city’s history. I’ve never seen anything like it outside the movies.
Pictured: Two girls one riding side saddle on a bicycle Rotterdam Holland The Netherlands
The Boijmans Van Beuningen museum contains one of Holland’s most distinguished art collections.
But any illusion of stuffiness the 1930s exterior might give is dispelled in the entrance hall, when you place your coat on a hanger and hoist it on a carousel high above your head for safe-keeping, in a novel break from cloakroom convention.
Curators have gone beyond the normal staid presentation of old works, and provide refreshingly helpful commentaries on paintings and artists.
On display are some fine Rembrandts, as well as works by Picasso, Magritte, Hockney, Van Gogh and Dali.
One self-portrait stood out to me – it was Carel Fabritius, the Dutch artist whose painting Goldfinch plays a big part in the hit novel of the same name.
Walking On Water
Another of the city’s proud new structures is the half-mile-long Erasmus Bridge, which opened in 1998.
I couldn’t decide whether the elegant white tower supporting the bridge on a lattice of cables resembled a kneeling man, or a swan reaching for the sky.
I walked across the bridge in the dedicated pedestrian lane (you can also take a tram or cycle across) and got a great view of Toren op Zuid – built in 2001 with a six-degree lean to match the Tower of Pisa.
The SS Rotterdam was one of the last great transatlantic liners, built in 1959 for the crossing to New York. She was converted into a stationary hotel and meeting centre in 2008, and is now moored on a quiet dockside in her namesake city.
To sleep aboard her was pleasure – the silence broken only by the occasional Rhine-going barge sliding by. Frank Sinatra performed on this vessel and, appropriately, he dominates the playlist on the piped music.
The owners have kept as much as possible of the original decor and furniture. My favourite part was a ceramic relief in the Odyssey Room, telling Homer’s epic story of Odysseus.