November 08 2013
A walk in Rotterdam
Rotterdam is a port. The largest port in Europe!
This city – multicultural and open to the world – is therefore very well positioned to capture the emerging trends that arise from the fusion of cultures. Destroyed by the bombing during the Second World War, it has been rebuilt with design buildings that boldly encircle the few historic buildings still standing. An architectural laboratory, a gastronomic hotspot of urban responsibility – today, R’dam the worker can assert herself proudly over its perpetual rival, the always festive Amsterdam.
On your city break in Rotterdam, embark on its discovery by foot, by bike or by boat!
Nicknamed the “Manhattan of the Netherlands” due to its dynamic skyline, Rotterdam is brings together a range of architectural styles. But if it’s true that the second largest city in the Netherlands became the playground and experimentation of many of the world’s greatest architects, it is due to the fact that it was so badly affected by the bombing during the Second World War. Apart from the central post office, almost all the buildings in the city-center were left in total ruin. Instead of reconstructing the traditional houses of the country, the Dutch decided to look to the future and let the architects reinvent the city. Over the decades, they have provided, stroke by stroke, their tribute to what has become a kind of living museum of architecture. In addition, the Architectural Institute of the Netherlands (NAI) is installed in Rotterdam, which all but confirms its status as the architectural capital of the country. Walking through the streets, one passes by the small traditional Delfshaven canal with its old (and few) houses, facing a construction inspired by the Bauhaus, a Neo-Gothic building and several towers of glass and steel illuminated by the night.
One way to discover this varied city is by boarding a taxi boat to cruise the canals. You can pass under the spectacular Erasmus Bridge before disappearing into the harbor crammed with container ships and horizontal buildings, into a vertical city. This is an ideal way to discover the New York-esque skyline of R’dam. The alternative is to explore the city on foot or by bike. From the new central station where the Thalys (nicknamed “the shark” by the city’s inhabitants because of its dorsal fin!) arrives, one can start down the path paved with international sculptures that leads into the city center. In discovering the fifty sculptures, amongst which lies the sulfurous Santa Claus of Paul McCarthy, you can walk the streets where the buildings parade their eclectic style. A paradise for lovers of modern architecture…
Jim de Jong is a young chef who makes Rotterdam swing. He opened his first restaurant in 2013 in a former train station. The adventurous gourmets who flock there every night (no lunch service) rave about his cooking that makes the connection between Italian “slow food” and Dutch ecological responsibility. And so, it comes as no surprise to learn that the chef is one of the Dakakker’s best customers, which is the largest vegetable garden installed on a roof in Europe!
Just a few minutes’ walk from the restaurant is a ten story building where the roof is completely vegetated. A team of volunteers looks after the 1,000 m2 sky-high garden. They produce thirty varieties of vegetables, a dozen herbs and twenty edible flowers. Jim de Jong, who prepares two surprise menus (one of which is vegetarian) every day, receives an ultra-fresh delivery by bike every day.
A self-professed lover of plants, Jim should also quickly become a customer of two young environmentalist entrepreneurs who have just started growing mushrooms in the basement of an old abandoned pool! They gather coffee from the city’s cafés and grow succulent mushrooms on this prime ingredient that was otherwise destined for the trash. Urban gardening, recycling and eco-environmental responsibility make up the current wave of fresh air blowing through the culinary scene in Rotterdam. A trend that the largest port in Europe intends to export very soon!
On the Waterfront, there is a beautiful building that one could easily encounter in Manhattan. No wonder, therefore, that it is called the Hotel New York! The former headquarters of the transatlantic company that transported millions of migrants from the Old World to the New World is now a charming vintage hotel. Worthy of a movie, one is immediately transported when you pass through the heavy revolving door. It is no stretch to imagine immigrants waiting anxiously in the lobby with their luggage for the next boat to America.
The charming old-fashioned barber shop and the rooms decorated in an art deco style transport you to Soho. The huge dining room on the ground floor is as wide as those of the transatlantics of the 1950’s. There is still a passage in this enormous brasserie where the whole city seems to gather, wandering around the past of what has long been the first port in the world. The best way to enjoy this beautiful building is to indulge in a very generous afternoon tea in the restaurant, in order to soak in the unique atmosphere of this historic place…
Better than a treehouse: trees made of houses! That’s the crazy idea that ran through the head architect Piet Blom when he gave birth to these cubic houses. Located in the center of Rotterdam, near the future giant hall which will be star attraction of the city in a few months, the cubic houses form a kind of forest with forty units. Built in 1984, these cubes are inclined at an angle of 45° and offer a different way of life in the city. You can visit one of these homes to better understand the difficulties that people are having, trying to furnish these atypical and angular spaces! But also to enjoy the comfort of living with your head in the clouds, as though you were in a tree. Built in 1984, the houses were way ahead of their time. Today, even if the design is slightly outdated, they are still standing proud. And they single handedly illustrate the architectural creativity in a city where anything is possible!
Herman den Blijker is one of the most media-savvy and popular chefs in the Netherlands, especially since he has hosted several cooking shows on TV and is the author of several bestselling books. And despite his megalomaniac tendencies, the old boy is undeniably very gifted. His flagship restaurant, the Las Palmas – once adorned with a Michelin star – is a great place to discover his notorious talent. Arguably, Herman den Blijker invented the concept of a Dutch brasserie. When one enters the huge industrial loft, you are greeted by a window displaying pieces of hanging meat.
Something that might be surprising to those familiar with this address who have long been ordering nothing but fish from his menu! But Herman den Blijker knows how to evolve. And when he decides to cook meat dishes, he certainly doesn’t do it by half measures: the meat dishes on his menu have been perfected and finely tuned by him over a long period of long time. Las Palmas quickly became known as one of the places in Rotterdam where they serve the best meat, cooked in small ceramic barbeques…designed by Herman den Blijker himself! As soon as one tastes a piece of the Scottish Black Angus with truffle, which is totally flawless, we forgive the cult of personality that is Herman den Blijker.
Groos is the hot new concept store that the city was dreaming of. Born from the desire of Tjeer Hendriks to highlight the talents that emerge from this city every day, this shop only sells products made by young designers and artists living in Rotterdam. An eclectic shop, you can find pretty much anything here – but mainly clothing and fashion accessories, design objects, books and works of art. In short, all that the very lively community of creators and creatives in R’dam are able to produce. Even the music played in this mecca beloved by hipsters comes from local groups. Groos is an old Dutch word for “pride”. So it is with the same pride that Tjeer Hendriks highlights the talents of his city. This is where you will find an original gift that you can’t find anywhere else!
The Mainport Hotel opened in the summer of 2013, epitomizing the soul of this global and architectural laboratory of a city. This 4-star hotel located along the canals of the inner harbor houses rooms that reflect the wide world to which the Dutch explorers once set off for. Each floor of this glass building is dedicated to a continent: Africa, Asia, Oceania, Europe, North and South America…The room décor returns each time to the various cultures that are found in this city where more than 150 communities coexist and whose mayor was born in Morocco. The fact that the largest port in Europe adopts a Muslim mayor, born abroad but of a cosmopolitan city is not at all surprising here. The Mainport is thus the latest illustration of this Dutch “melting pot” that loves to combine cultures. Something to note is the rooftop pool and spacious sauna where they – not ones to fuss over rules – want us all to share in the joys of the steam baths together. After all, naked all men are equal!