We arrived in Rotterdam last night and were immediately welcomed by my Mum’s cousin (P) and her family, including my great aunt and great uncle. This is the Indonesian side of my family and I am at once struck by the strength of the Indonesian culture of hospitality and good cooking. We visit Tante (Aunty) E for dinner and she has cooked up a serious storm. A storm that is enjoyed with lots of stories and laughter. It’s my second time meeting Ome (Uncle) C and Tante E but I can’t recall the first time – that was about 25 years ago at a party. It’s amazing to be surrounded by family including Mum’s cousins and their families who have also come for dinner.
By the time we wake on our final day in The Netherlands we are refreshed and ready to explore Rotterdam local style. P and her husband (M) have kindly taken time off work to show us around their city. We came to Rotterdam for a day last year but didn’t make it past the Maritime Museum and Market Hall so we are excited to see something more of this famous Dutch place.
The first thing that strikes me is just how important shipping is to this port city. P works at the port so she is a wealth of information. But even without that it’s obvious that the people of Rotterdam are closely tied to the sea. There’s all sorts of boats here from canal barges to luxury yachts. There’s even the obligatory sinking boats filled with water rotting away. And all of this right in the heart of the city, not tucked away out of sight in some industrial or seaside area.
Rotterdam is also obviously a city with a sense of humour. The Buttplug Gnome is actually meant to be a tribute to Santa Clause holding a festive bell. It may have caused outrage with the far right of Dutch politics but it is still standing with no indication it is going to be pulled down anytime soon. M proudly shows it to us with a Cheshire cat grin on his face waiting to capture our reactions. Only in The Netherlands …
We continue to explore the city on foot. P and M know all the prettiest places to walk. There’s some green space along a canal with older style mansions and churches on the opposite bank. I could walk here all day and can imagine it being lovely for picnics in the summer months. Make sure you picnic on the far side of the canal though because a tram track runs on the city side. I will miss the historic architecture of Europe when I return home.
M points out the Pauluskerk (Paul’s Church). This famous building is a place where people who are homeless or addicted to drugs can come for help. It is located almost in the heart of Rotterdam and has an architectural design that is impossible to ignore. I like the juxtaposition of this loud building with the way Western societies like to hide the reality of homelessness and drug addiction. It cannot be ignored when a place so linked with these circumstances is so clearly identifiable.
We walk past the casino. It looks like a modest building. I am struck by the lack of fanfare here at the entrance. And also by the museum pieces in the window. I rarely gamble putting maybe $30 a year through pokie (slot) machines a year and never buying myself a lottery or scratch-it ticket. My work colleagues jokingly tell me that this is because I am Dutch and don’t like to part with my money. P and M also joke that they do not really like to gamble either. The museum pieces are interesting though. Particularly for me as an Australian where pokie (slot) machines are a dangerous hobby that ruins many lives.
We continue our wanderings into the city centre past the impressive and imposing Stadhuis (Town Hall). There’s a statue outside of Hugo De Groot who we first met at Loeverstein Castle where we heard the story of his escape from imprisonment in a book chest. It’s an interesting to tie our second and our final days of this trip together. The city centre is like many city centres of the world: dedicated to shopping. It highlights for me one of the concerns I have about the world and our lives in the West. I watched a video some time back about how we all believe we have jobs as lawyers, business people, teachers, bank tellers, shop assistants, cleaners, nurses and what-not. But actually, our jobs are to shop. We are merely encouraged to work so that we feel good about spending because we earn money. Because the wealthiest one percent get rich off us buying “stuff” we don’t want or need just to keep up with the Joneses or to feel happy despite our imprisonment in jobs we hate. The dedication of so much street space to retail therapy around the world is only serving to prove the truth of this to me. And I wonder how we can escape it.
Like last year we browse again through the Market Hall with it’s gorgeously presented selection of foods. You can buy most things here from a massive assortment of cheese through to toffee apples. There’s food to take home and food to eat here. The choice is your’s. We’ve eaten lunch and know there is a repeat of last night’s massive dinner waiting for us at Tante E and Ome C’s house so just feast with our eyes.
It’s late afternoon now and we are almost back at the car park. Our final stop is the famous cube house complex. We saw it on our way along the canal this morning but are now walking through the complex. For three Euros you can enter one of the houses. Inside the houses are larger than they look from the outside. And, yes, the floors are flat, not sloping. The design is almost a perfect use of every centimeter of available space. While it’s certainly in the style of tiny house living, it’s not cramped. It’s quite incredible really how we are so used to a certain design of house that our minds take a little while to adjust to the concept of these cubes. But I certainly think they would make fantastic living spaces, particularly with the convenience of being in the city centre.
And so the sun sets on our adventures in The Netherlands and Belgium. We enjoy one final meal with P and M at Tante E and Ome C’s house. One final drive along the Dutch highway network to Schiphol to drop off the rental car. And a night at Citizen M Schiphol (word to the wise, check which location you have booked). Tomorrow we depart for home with a fifteen hour stop over in Guangzhou.
This trip has been brilliant. While we would have liked to stay longer, we do have some time restrictions due to us both working and wanting to earn enough to take two or three more trips this year. And we’d rather go somewhere new for two weeks than not go anywhere at all.