Author: Dakota Kampmeier
Location: Rotterdam, Netherlands
Rotterdam is a city in the Netherlands full of funky architecture and packed food courts. I was told before visiting that the buildings are so unique because Rotterdam “got super bombed” during the war by the Germans. As it turns out, this bombing was a complete accident and the result of delayed communication. Leave it to the Dutch to find the silver lining, though, because they took their destroyed city as an opportunity to rebuild the infrastructure of Rotterdam. Only two buildings survived the bombings, a rectangular-looking building where the Germans held office and the fifteenth-century Grote of Sint-Laurenskerk church, which the Germans used as a lookout tower. Rotterdam is an alluring mix of old and new, skyscrapers that tower over cobblestone roads and traditional Turkish foods inside a modern all-glass food court. Exploring the city for a day with a local added an appreciation for the atmosphere.
My buddy Sam played tour guide for me and my friend Maddy, another American girl, and showed us all the good spots in his hometown. We ate fries in a cone called “Patatje Oorlog” and wandered the streets in a drizzle as Sam explained what the many statues that peppered the city represented (spoiler alert: they almost all serve as reminders of that time the Germans bombed the city in the forties). We wandered around the infamous cube houses, another testament to the architecture of the city. While they look tiled from the outside, apparently inside the homes are completely level. That sort of thing boggles my mind because I’ve never heard of someone living in a lopsided cube before, but they were cute and just enough of a tourist trap that I ended up buying a postcard with a photograph of the houses. As the rain came down a little harder, we ducked inside the Market Hall, a food court of sorts on the first floor of an apartment building. This building, too, was shaped oddly enough that if you looked straight up through the mural on the inside, you could see the window of someone’s bathroom about a hundred feet above your head. After purchasing some sought-after frozen yogurt, we wandered back outside and stood on the steps of the bustling market, seemingly ignorant to the fat rain drops that fell into my spoon.
Once all the yogurt was consumed, Sam pointed out a small bookstore beyond the market and we headed over to check it out. Inside was the most obscure collection of books I had ever seen. From two five-hundred page volumes about Belgium transport to a comic-type book series called “The Book of Bunny Suicides: Little Fluffy Rabbits Who Just Don’t Want to Live Anymore”, I can assure you that you’ve never read a single book in the store. Without meaning to, we spent almost an hour pouring over the strange titles and bending over in laughter at “The Hypnotic Power of Crop Circles”. By the time one of us checked our watch, it was time for us to catch the movie “1917” in an attempt to wait out the rain, which we did. The streets were slick with water when we exited the theater and the rest of our evening, though chilly, was dry.
The evening consisted mostly of finding a place to eat. 7pm is dinner rush hour, and every place Sam suggested had a line out the door. We finally found a German-chain Italian restaurant (do with that what you will) and ordered personal pizzas and glasses of wine to recap the day and get to know each other even better. After dinner, we took a half-hour stroll to the other side of town, passing through a forest of flags by the river, and we guessed (poorly) which countries they belonged to. Just over an industrial-looking bridge we found Hotel New York, a sweet building nestled along the water that used to be the harbor where ships would set off for America, carrying immigrants and all the hopes and dreams one could manage. We sat at the bar of the hotel and enjoyed drinks and good company before catching the metro back to the station for a late-night train ride into Utrecht.
Exploring Rotterdam, even just for twelve hours, was a pleasant surprise. Even though it was only a thirty-five minute train ride from Utrecht, it was unique in a way that made it feel like a completely different world. There was so much that we didn’t see, but still I returned to school with sore feet and a full camera roll. Sooner or later I’ll venture outside of the Netherlands and see the rest of Europe, but I can’t forget how much this tiny country has to offer, either.