I have to admit, I have a crazy huge advantage over most travelers who are thinking of visiting Rotterdam. My boyfriend not only speaks Dutch, but he grew up half an hour from Rotterdam and went to college at the Maritime school there. He also has a motorcycle. So yeah, we generally have a really good time exploring his hometown and the surrounding areas.
But even without all of the perks of having an expert tour guide with a motorcycle who you also really like spending time with, Rotterdam is a damn cool place to be. And I’m even going to throw it out there that it’s even cooler than Amsterdam. Is it more scenic? No, probably not. Is the nightlife as hip? Definitely not. Are the people as stylish? Are there as many tourist attractions? Is there a cafe where I can smoke weed on every single freakin’ corner? Nope. But even after considering all of that, I’m still fully convinced that it’s just cooler.
And I think that’s because of the people. They’re a little more rough, a little less refined, a little more real. Amsterdam is the prom king, the football the star, the one that everyone loves. Rotterdam is your best friend, who skips class with you and drinks with you behind the bleachers at the football games on Fridays. Maybe you want to be seen with Amsterdam, and take pictures with him, but who would you rather hang out with really? Just admit it, you know you’re going to have more fun with Rotterdam.
You’d think that Rotterdam and Amsterdam, being about the same age, would both have tons of equally historic and beautiful areas of town. But you would be wrong. Because for whatever reason, that sliver-lipped psychopath Hitler decided to bomb the hell out of Rotterdam during WWII and left Amsterdam’s infrastructure fairly intact. So you’ll actually see quite a bit of modern (and sometimes strange) architecture throughout Rotterdam. There’s still little pockets to discover, however, that the Nazis somehow missed on their destructive rampage. One of those is the neighborhood of Delfshaven.
We pulled up to this gorgeous little brick-lined street, parked the motorcycle, and walked around the corner towards the water. Shops, cafes and bars line the walkway that runs along the water. There’s a big windmill at the end of the street, and these amazing old ships parked in the canal. I looked around and knew I wanted to admire this place for a little longer so we stopped for a drink.
We went to an older bar, which Rob informed me is called a brown cafe in Dutch. We tried for a while to think of the American equivalent. I thought it seemed like a dive bar, or pub, or something like that but he was convinced that those were not good comparisons. It’s just a brown cafe, there is apparently no comparison.
But you’ve got all the usual suspects of a pub in there. The guys that have been in there since they opened, heckling the lady behind the bar because they know she’ll come back with an even more hilarious and clever response. That hammered guy who’s famous for this or for that around the neighborhood, and do you want to see the book he wrote? The guy who isn’t sitting with anyone but will sporadically crack up at something one of the other guys says.
And let me tell you, after five years of working in almost exactly this kind of environment, these are my people. This is my drinking atmosphere. This is where I want to have a beer. Give me a brown cafe over a hipster bar or trendy club in Amsterdam any damn day of the week (I mean that, I will go drinking with you on a Monday afternoon, don’t threaten me with a good time).
We also found another bar like this, in the Noordereiland neighborhood on a different day. It’s surrounded by water, so it’s a little secluded from the rest of the city. Everyone seemed to know everyone (or was comfortable enough to act like they did), and if it weren’t for us walking in right before they started a three hour BINGO tournament we probably would have stayed for more drinks there too.
After a couple beers in Delfshaven and the realization that Rob could no longer translate for me because the guy talking to us was slurring so much, we decided to hop back on the bike and move on.
The weather was gorgeous, so Rob told me that although it was a little out of the way, he really wanted to take me to Kralingse Plas. After a few wrong turns we finally made it to this lake just outside the city center. We found a park bench right near the water and sat and relaxed, watching the various birds there. We both agreed the birds there were hella active. The ducks were repeatedly diving under the water, the swans kept doing this thing where they would stick their heads and necks under water and their butts in the air, the geese were doing this crazy water skiing thing, it was awesome. Now whenever something is crazy, we use that as a measure of just how crazy it was.
We also got the chance to be in the city for the ever important Feyenoord (Rotterdam’s team) vs Ajax (Amsterdam’s team) soccer match. This rivalry is not a joke. Feyenoord are the underdogs. The scrappy, blue collar team with a heart of gold that you always cheer for in the movies. At least that’s what I was led to believe by a bunch of Feyenoord fans 😉
The game was taking place in Amsterdam, but because of previous riots and fights between these two teams, all Feyenoord fans have been banned from going to the Ajax stadium. That was fine for us, we were headed to the Biergarten anyways.
This place is awesome. If you ever find yourself in Rotterdam during a major sporting event check out if they’ll be showing it at the Biergarten and go watch it there. I found the website for the venue and I believe it’s also open every Friday (I’m guessing weather permitting) and man, that would be such a fun place to spend a Friday night during the summer too! Here’s a link to the website if you want more info.
We met up with Rob’s buddy from school a couple times during our visit and I’m now fully convinced that all Dutch dudes are hilarious and funny and just all around really nice. And tall. They’re all also really tall.
We had so much fun! Unfortunately the match was terrible, Feyenoord lost and did not clinch the championship title that day (although they still might!). So we sulked over a few beers afterwards to drown our sorrows and went to bed before the sun did because we’re amateurs and we were tired and we had no fight left in us.
One of the last things Rob and I got to do together before he *sigh* had to head back to the ship was visit one of the city’s markets. This is a great place to check out that you might not read about on other travel blogs, and a serious money saver so listen the hell up.
We went to the Markthal on Tuesday. The Markthal (or Market Hall translated to English) is this big fancy new market recently built in Rotterdam near the Cube Houses pictured above. Ok, I’ve totally heard of the Markthal and it’s not even that cheap. Yes, but right behind it is the real market. The Binnenrote market (open on Tuesdays and Saturdays) was there long before the Markthal, and it offers the excellent prices that a traveler might be more used to seeing at an outdoor market. It may actually be even less expensive than what you would expect.
Here’s a few of the things we bought to give you an idea of how cheap it really is: eight avocados for one euro, three whole smoked mackerel fish filets for five euros, an entire wooden crate of strawberries (maybe like four normal cartons from the store) for two and a half euros. This place is awesome. Even if you don’t need groceries, there’s tons of vendors selling huge fish filets or different types of smoked fish for dirt cheap so just go there for lunch!
There’s food vendors, clothing vendors, guys selling electronics and phone chargers, people selling their antiques, a guy selling turkish rugs. Everything. And added bonus, you get to surround yourself with all those rad South Holland vibes I’ve been telling you about.
Don’t sleep on Rotterdam people! I know Amsterdam is great but you’re missing out on a whole different side of Dutch culture that’s just as amazing if not more. It has it’s own identity, that doesn’t have to bend or strain itself to please the masses. A blue collar port city with a deep history, and at the same time a forward thinking community sprinkled with modern architecture. A place with a strong sense of community, where the locals can still afford to live and don’t mind welcoming a stranger into their world.
If you do find yourself in Rotterdam, remember what I’ve told you about how charming they are. Because if you aren’t careful, you might find yourself having quit your job, on the back of a motorcycle, in a foreign country having the time of your life.