I'm not a big city fan -- I prefer smaller cities and towns, or big cities that think they are small towns (like Munich). When I go to big cities, I tend to expect more dirt and trash, more crowds, more boring glass and steel architecture, and more of a cold big-city attitude towards strangers. I found Rotterdam, a major port city, to be none of the above. It's a big city alright, but it is clean, friendly, and picturesque in many ways (some very positively, some very eccentrically).
Rotterdam is a sprawling metropolis, built around several islands on the massive Maas River, seen in the first photo. The Maas is massive, much wider than the Rhein. It is so big that by afternoon it seems almost as rough as the sea. There are over a dozen ports (havens) along the river, and large canals run inland toward the city center. The row of buildings along the right edge of the photo is of an island (Nord... Island).
The Rotterdam Centraal train station is at the north edge of downtown, and upon leaving it, you are immediately immersed in the shopping district. This district was a good eight city blocks big, and I combed just about all of it. Most of the buildings are new, with something unique in the architecture. The second photo shows the Schouwburgplein, a major shopping mall and concert ground. (The four red structures look like lamps, but I have to imagine additional lighting would be used for any night events.) I found the aluminum flooring of this square amusing, until I got tired of sounding like I was walking on old stadium steps.
The strip malls are unique and colorful, like the Beurstaverse in the third photo. This one is called "The Trench" according to the city's own website because it is built below street level -- the road is above the photo to the right. The Beurstraverse is a whole block long and connects together several other shopping centers.
It's not all newness in the downtown. In fact, there's quite a number of old buildings that have been preserved that add a degree of color. The Stadthuis borders the shopping district to the East, and has a beautiful market square loaded with restaurants and cafés. Not far from it is the Binnenrote, which was hosting its traditional Sunday market while I was there -- it was huge, probably about a full block huge, with thousands of people there. Bordering around the shopping district were several residential streets with plenty of 17th and 18th century red-brick architecture.
Closer to the water is the Wijnhaven, fourth photo, which is probably Rotterdam's best-known hangout. The Wijnhaven is home to Rotterdam's maritime museum, and the harbor is filled with old relics, all surrounded by the area's trendiest bars and clubs. The Old Harbor, Oudehaven, is off the photo to the left, and is a regular marina for the locals. The area was pretty quiet when I went by because the majority of people populate the shopping district by day, then shift over to the Wijnhaven at night.
The tall red structures you see in the distance is one of Rotterdam's bridges, the Willemsbrug -- it is the same bridge you see from the side in the first photo. The Willemsbrug was where I started a walkabout of the industrial zone and the museum quarter. The industrial zone was interesting because of the sheer size of it, plus some of its more interesting structures. One was the huge crane (the " ") that straddles the Mass on the southern canal and dominates the landscape. It also hosts series of newfangled hydraulic drawbridges that are different that any I've seen. Finally, there's the Dutch telecom building that is built at a couple degree lean, with its front being a massive green LED billboard that was constantly going.
The other part of that walkabout that fascinated me was the wacky artwork. Rotterdam is home to several massive, interesting metal sculptures. One of them decorates the grounds of Rotterdam's Architectural Institute, and is shown in the fifth photo. (No, I had no idea what it represented, I just knew that I'd think twice before I elect to hire one their students to build my house.) A similar sculpture sits base of the Willemsbrug. Meanwhile, across the street from the Institute is the Museumpark with Rotterdam's art museums. Several of the artworks on display outside these buildings and in the surrounding area were rather interesting -- like an automobile mounted on four legs, a collection of six twenty-meter turd-shaped objects painted in pastels, and a statue of a man hanging from a flagpole erected forty meters above ground. Ya, whatever.
The Museumpark and Het Park next to it were beautiful parks with more traditional scenery -- sculptures of famous locals, quiet ponds populated with ducks and geese, and pleasant walking trails.
Het Park hosts the EuroMast, a very high observation deck with several levels -- the highest being 180m above ground. The sixth and final photo in this travelogue was taken from the middle level, 112m high. The park directly below was Het Park, the Erasmusbrug was the white structure in the upper left, and the telecom building was the rounding building in the upper center. I would warn that the three lower observation decks and their connecting staircases are outside, which may not appeal to the acrophobic among you.
I was pleasantly surprised. I expected to see a lot of new -- but not so much character in such a big city. I rather enjoyed my trip there, and can see why it is a popular place for big-city-oriented foreigners.
Trip taken 20 October 2002 -- Page last updated 01 September 2006 -- (C) 2002 Tom Galvin