XTNDSTY: One Month in Rotterdam

With life on hold, due to the chaos causing novel coronavirus, T and I temporarily packed up our lives and made the temporary “move” to Rotterdam, NL.

Me, I can work anywhere. As a marketer and communications director all I really need to do my job is a laptop, smart phone, stable internet, Microsoft word, and Adobe creative suite. For T, with the resort closed due to the Canadian Border closure, he seized the opportunity to get out of dodge. We booked our flights, we research our neighborhood, we rented an apartment, we organized a car, and most importantly we secured a bicycle built for two for the month of August, 2020. As we knew we would have to quarantine on our return to Canada both T and I were determined to live our best lives in Holland.

We’d be living in a ground floor apartment in west central Rotterdam. Our flat for the month was located just a few hundred meters away from Eendrachtsplein Square (home to the cities famous But Plug Gnome, aptly titled Santa Clause). From Eendrachtsplein Square, it’s a quick walk to the Lijnbaan (the outdoor mall), central station, and de Witte de Withstraat (the bar street).

Catching up with family, and a wedding where T was the best man was the catalyst for our month long trip. As I was not in the wedding party, I had plenty of time to read, to enjoy catching up with T’s family and to explore the city both on my own and accompanied by T. The hosts of our AirBnB offered a collection of Dutch Books, and books about the country. Including a english book that promised to explain why the dutch are different. Aptly titled “Why The Dutch are Different.”

In an effort to immerse my self into the city’s culture, I found a fitness studio (PLTS) walking distance from our flat, wondered the isles of Albert Heijn, learned how to order an oat (haver) milk latte, and familiarized myself with the city’s attractions. From museums to monuments, trains to food halls, cube houses to giant flower pots, coffee shops to boutiques I took my time getting to know the city.

Rotterdam is not your typical Dutch city. Before I started dating T, when I thought of a Dutch city the stereotypical image of Holland populated my mind. You know the one – Windmill, canals, townhomes, cheese and tulips. While many Dutch cities still embrace their historical elements Rotterdam was forced to reinvent itself.

On May 14th, 1940 the Nazi’s attacked the city of Rotterdam to gain control of the Port of Rotterdam (Europe’s largest port). While the air raid itself was over with in an hour, the city burned for five days. The air raid ravaged the city destroying much of the inner city. Only a handful of buildings in the inner city survived the fire. Today, the city has memorized the trauma of its bombing with lights that represent the ring of fire that consumed the city.

Prior to WW2, The city of Rotterdam used to look more like Amsterdam with beautiful canals, traditional town homes, and of course windmills. After WW2, the cities rubble and debris was pushed into the canals to allow for a quick rebuild. Today the city of Rotterdam is a mixed medium collage of architecture that beautifully mixes modern day sky scrapers with the surviving historic pre-war monuments. If your interested in learning more about the city of Rotterdam, and the devastation WW2 had on the city visit Museum Rotterdam. (As a Canadian, I especially enjoyed hearing what a big role the Canadians played in liberating the country.)

In true Netherlander fashion, we biked everywhere. As I’m not Dutch, I have not mastered the art of riding a bike quite like the Dutch. I can not, and probably will never be able to, ride a bike while holding an umbrella, smoking a cigarette, and wheeling a rolling bag (all at the same time). To the Dutch a bicycle (fiets) is a tool- not a toy. Cycling is a mode of transportation, not a leisurely recreation activity. A mistake I made once, and will likely never live down riding to the grocery store with my mother in law – but I digress.

On our bicycle built for two, we rode kilometer after kilometer as we did some sightseeing, caught up with friends, and of course grocery shopped. One particularly sunny day, we took our tandum bike out for a 50 km stroll as we rode from Rotterdam to the Hook of Holland and back. (For you engineers, the Hook of Holland is an egineering feat that was built to prevent flooding.)

As the entire country of the Netherlands fits between Calgary and Edmonton, we bounced around the country – spending time in Amsterdam, Haarlem, Delft, Fijnart and Friesland. In Amsterdam, we cruised the canals and sipped champagne. In Delft we perused fine Delft Blauw, and paid our respect to past royals at Nieuwe Kerk. In Haarlem, we shopped and snacked on vegetarian bitterballs, and in Friesland we braved stereotypical dutch weather to sail the locals waters.

On our last weekend in Holland, I savoured the sweet smell of rain as we enjoyed our remaining hours in the country. For our last family dinner, we had mustard soup – which left me feeling strangely nauseous. As I pushed my soup away, and discreetly made my way to a toilet, my sister in law winked at me and whispered, “you’re pregnant.”

While I laughed it off in the moment, I couldn’t help but wonder if we’d be taking home a very wanted souvenir from our month in Rotterdam. (And yes, our sweet boy was born in May – 9 months later.)