August/September 2015 brought with is a long overdue trip to The Netherlands with my husband, Mr Ginger Cat, courtesy of a competition win with Expedia to commemorate 125 years since the death of Van Gogh.
We were allowed to choose our destination and, on the advice of the lovely Zarina
, we decided to book a week at the 5* Mainport Hotel in Rotterdam.
After an early morning flight, we landed at Amsterdam Schipol Airport and jumped straight onto the train to Rotterdam. We were delighted to discover that public transportation in The Netherlands is extensive and very easy to use.
On our arrival at Rotterdam Centraal Station, we made quick use of the metro system to get us to Leuvehaven where the Mainport Hotel is located, close to the Erasmusbrug. The metro stop is directly across the road from the hotel, which was very convenient.
The Mainport Hotel, whilst looking fairly non-descript from the outside, is an example of the modern, stylish and funky design synonymous with Rotterdam, from the continental-designed floors to the chandelier in the lobby.
We were booked into a fourth floor (I think!) Waterfront Spa Room which was quite simply INCREDIBLE!
The huge (474 sq ft) room was beautifully designed, with floor to ceiling windows overlooking the harbour, and contained both a wooden sauna in the bathroom and a whirlpool Jacuzzi in front of the windows looking out onto the river Maas. Amenities included free Wi-Fi, flat screen TV, coffee and tea making facilities, bathrobes, Malin+Goetz toiletries and some additional extras in the form of bath salts for the Jacuzzi and essential oil for the sauna, not to mention a travel journal for guests to leave their tips for future guests to read. The bed itself was incredibly comfortable. I could not fault a single thing. I can honestly say that this was one of the best (if not THE best) hotel room that we have ever stayed in!
On arrival, after having spent half a day travelling, we first treated ourselves to a beer on the terrace overlooking the harbour whilst we looked at the map and got our bearings. It was a beautiful, hot day and we were happy for the rest. However, we started to feel a bit peckish and decided to walk towards the town centre, in the hope of finding some food. We stopped at Sijf, in the shopping district, where we enjoyed one of their tasty doorstop-sized sandwiches whilst watching the world go by. The rest of the afternoon was spent exploring, before pre-dinner drinks at Manzara followed by an early dinner at Il Faro Sardo. Our meal of pasta, bread, olives and red wine was delicious, however be warned that the menu is very limited. The evening was then spent relaxing and enjoying the facilities in our hotel room.
An early start to day 2 saw us making our way down to the famous Erasmusbrug (Erasmus Bridge). We took a walk over the bridge and explored the other side of the harbour, an area that I believe is referred to as Kop Van Zuid.
Returning back across the Erasmusbrug and made our way through the park to the Euromast, an ugly looking tower which apparently has great views across the city. We had intended to venture up the Euromast tower, however the queue was long and we were hungry, so we instead made our way back to Oude Binnenweg where we stopped at Melief Bender for a quick bite to eat.
Rotterdam, the second largest city in The Netherlands, was rebuilt after WWII bombings and from the moment you arrive in the city and walk out of Central Station, it is impossible to ignore the modern, geometrical architecture which makes the city so distinct. After lunch, we decided to walk over to Blaak to visited the famous Kubuswoningen or Cube Houses. Designed by Dutch architect Piet Blom, these striking cube-shaped houses are perched on top of hexagonal pylons and tilted so that all of the walls are angled. The three-storey houses are supposed to individually represent trees and collectively a forest. You are able to take a look around one of the houses, for a small price and we found it interesting from a design aspect but very claustrophobic inside.
After getting a bit overheated in the cube house, we walked over to the imposing archway-shaped Markthal to grab a drink. The Markthal is a large indoor market, filled to the brim with tasty delights. When entering the building, your eyes cannot help but be drawn to the incredible ceiling. Described on their website as the ‘Sistine Chapel of Rotterdam’, artist Arno Coenen has designed a brightly coloured mural which covers the entire 11,000 sq metre ceiling. I could have spent hours here – a truly wonderful place to visit!
Late afternoon/early evening was spent outside Rodin, with a few pre-dinner drinks whilst watching the many cyclists and shoppers passing by. Dinner that evening was Middle Eastern cuisine at Restaurant Bazar. The meal was reasonably priced and quite tasty, however we agreed that we probably would not revisit the restaurant during our stay.
The Netherlands has fantastic infrastructure for cyclists. Wherever you venture, you will see as many bicycles as you do cars. The bicycles themselves are largely a charming, upright style and despite not having been on a bicycle (other than an exercise bike) for years, I was determined to have a go! After some persuasion, my husband agreed to my plan to hire bicycles and then take the waterbus to Kinderdijk for the morning.
We picked up our bikes from hire shop under the Erasmusbrug and then got on the waterbus to Dordrecht, disembarking at Ridderkerk where we transferred onto the Driehoeksveer, a smaller ferry boat that took us to Kinderdijk. The waterferry ticket gives you a 10% discount on the entrance fee to Kinderdijk.
Kinderdijk is a big tourist attraction and an iconic sight. This UNESCO world heritage site is a collection of 19 windmills spaced out along a canal. There is a visitor’s centre and a couple of the windmills are open as museums to show how they would have been used many years ago.
There is a boat which can take you on a tour along the canal, however it is the perfect place to cycle and we thoroughly enjoyed our day here.
After a few hours exploring the windmills, we took the waterbus back to Rotterdam and stopped at Grand Café-Restaurant Loos for a coffee and a slice of lemon meringue pie.
Afternoon was spent on a bit more exploration whilst enjoying the sunny weather, before dinner at American-style restaurant Hudson Bar & Kitchen where I enjoyed the most fantastic plate of ribs. A perfect meal to end a really fantastic day.
Day 4 got off to an early start as we jumped on the train to Amsterdam. We had booked a hotel for the night in order to give us plenty of time to explore the city. Amsterdam is a beautiful city, built around a network of canals lined by picturesque town houses. There are bicycles everywhere and I was surprised by the sheer amount of people on the streets.
After arriving in Amsterdam, we walked the short distance to the Inntel Hotel Amsterdam Centre. Whilst not luxurious, the hotel was clean, cheap and central – similar in style to a Holiday Inn or a Premier Inn.
After a quick drink at the Five Bells Bar, we decided to go exploring. We first walked over to Ann Frank’s house, only to be met by a huge queue. As such, we decided not to wait but to continue our exploration, first stopping for a spot of lunch at the nearby Bagel & Beans. I’m a huge bagel lover and I was so excited to see how popular they are in The Netherlands!
After lunch, we walked down through Dam, through the flower market and over to the Rijksmuseum, exploring all the little side roads as we went. Amsterdam is really a very charming city. We had intended to visit one of the museums, however after our meandering walking tour of Amsterdam, we arrived a half hour just before the museum’s closed and decided that did not leave us enough time for a visit.
We walked back up towards Amsterdam Centraal Railway Station, stopping for a couple of drinks on the way. As it grew dark, we decided to head towards the infamous Red Light District. During the day, the red light district is cloaked under a façade of charming buildings and beautiful canals. However, once sunset hits, it certainly is a unique and eye-opening experience there. The shop windows glow with red lights whilst scantily clad women wave to passers-by and beckon willing gentlemen through the doors. Whilst being undeniably seedy, it is an obvious tourist attraction with a great atmosphere and an experience that shouldn’t be missed when visiting the city.
Dinner was a pizza at Italian restaurant, Dolce, before a slow walk back to our hotel whilst taking in the sights and sounds of Amsterdam at night.
Dolce (unable to find online)
Day 5 was another day spent exploring the delights of Amsterdam.
After heading over to Anne Frank’s house and finding yet more queues, we decided to give up on the chance of seeing the house (if you plan to visit here, I would definitely advise you to book tickets in advance) and instead stopped for a breakfast of traditional mini Dutch pancakes (poffertjes) at Sara’s Pancake House.
As it was raining, we then headed towards the Van Gogh Museum before having a change of heart due to the long queues. We decided to detour to The Heineken Experience instead. This was Mr GC’s choice, however I was pleasantly surprised at how much there was to do there and we spent a good few hours learning about the brewing process and joining in on some silly but entertaining activities. I’m not a big beer drinker, so Mr GC made use of both his and my free drinks vouchers and was in a very good mood by the time we left!
After a quick drink at Carousel Pancake House, we made our way back towards the hotel, stopping at Myrabelle for a traditional lunch of bitterballen (meatballs) and kaasstengels (cheese sticks). After another pit stop at Café Wheels for a mug of traditional Dutch mint tea, we then headed back to the hotel to check out and caught the train back to Rotterdam, arriving back in time for room service and an evening making use of the Jacuzzi and sauna – a great fix for our weary legs.
I must say that whilst Amsterdam certainly has its charms, I am not a fan of crowds and it was just a too busy for me. I loved the look and feel of the city, with the canals and traditional architecture, however whilst I am happy that I have now visited and experienced the city, it is probably not somewhere that I would return to in a hurry.
We woke up to torrential rain on day 6 of our holiday which slightly scuppered our plans for the day. After a slow breakfast at the hotel, we decided to head to Rotterdam Zoo. This was not on our list of activities for the holiday, however options were limited due to the weather. Fortunately, the hotel provide umbrellas so we were able to stay somewhat dry on our walk to the Zoo.
After a bit of a trek to the Zoo, we were pleasantly surprised to find the attraction to be virtually deserted. We spent hours walking around and taking in all the attractions. Fortunately our route was well-planned and the weather seemed to clear up slightly for a few hours, except a couple of times when we, fortunately, we able to visit indoor exhibitions and stay dry.
I tend to be a bit wary of zoos as I hate to see animals cooped up away from the wild. However, I was pleasantly surprised by the facilities at Rotterdam Zoo. The park is very large and wide variety of animals look to be well cared for and living in good conditions. We absolutely loved seeing the friendly and inquisitive Prairie Dogs – they were definitely my favourite of the animals, although seeing the Gorilla up close was definitely an impressive moment. I certainly would not like my chances against one of them in the wild!
After the hours spent at the zoo, we were starving upon leaving. However, being so close to dinnertime we made do with a quick stop at Steak En Bier for an afternoon snack of bitterballen and kaasstengels before meandering back to the hotel.
Dinner that evening was at Mexicano, where I had the chicken fajitas. This was undoubtedly one of the best meals we had during our holiday.
Day 7 was our last full day in The Netherlands and we really wanted to see a little bit more of the country. The weather was still pretty awful, so we decided to jump on a train to nearby Delf, the birthplace of artist Johannes Vermeer (The Girl with the Pearl Earring) and the origin of the traditional blue and white Delftware pottery.
Delft is a picturesque medieval town built around a network of canals and is just how I imagined Amsterdam would be. It was quiet, beautiful and idyllic, a true gem.
On our arrival, we were walking from the station to the town centre when the rain started up again with a vengeance! We ran down a narrow street and into the first café we saw, the Stads-Koffyhuis. What a delightful experience, with friendly staff, great coffee and cake and lovely décor.
From the café window, we noticed a church spire not too far in the distance and as soon as the rain eased off, we made our way across the canal to the Oude Kerk (‘old church’) where we bought tickets to allow us to look around both the old and new church.
The Oude Kerk was built in 1240 and has a beautiful interior full of striking stained glass windows. It is a beautiful building to visit and, whilst there, you must take a look for Vermeer’s gravestone.
After visiting the old church, we made our way over to the Markt Square where the Nieuwe Kerk (‘new church’) is located, stopping at a few of the charming little shops on the way.
The Nieuwe Kerk was completed in 1496 and is an ornate gothic building. Whilst both the new and old churches have their own charms from the outside, the interior of the new church is not, in my opinion, nearly as striking as the old church but is still just as interesting historically. The church tower is the second highest in The Netherlands and our main purpose was to walk up the tower in order to see the views over the town – this is certainly not for the faint-hearted! The tower consists of a very narrow seemingly-unending spiral staircase with a few doorways that you can step into if you hear people approaching from the opposite direction. You can walk to the top of the tower (which we did) or stop on one of the levels part way up. I must warn you that the climb would be difficult for anyone overweight or unfit. We had to stop for a rest several times and even discussed whether to turn around and go back down! On reaching the parapet, the bad weather meant that it was extremely windy and with the narrow walkway, I found the entire experience quite terrifying, even though I’m not really scared of heights. After a quick look, we went down to one of the lower levels and I found the wider walkways felt much safer.
On leaving the church, the rain was pouring down once again, so we ran over the square to Het Konings Huys for a spot of lunch whilst watching people run around the square trying to keep out of the rain.
After lunch, we treated ourselves to a little stroll around the shops before heading back to Rotterdam. We stopped at De Beurs for a quick drink (pink beer for me!) before heading back to the hotel to warm up in the sauna before dinner.
For dinner, the weather was too bad to venture far, so we headed back to Witte de Withstraat to try another of the numerous restaurants. We chose Italian restaurant, Gusto, where both myself and Mr GC enjoyed a bottle of wine and a pizza each. Whilst the food was not anything spectacular, it was nice and the atmosphere in the restaurant was good.
Our flight was late afternoon on the Saturday, so we did not have to leave Rotterdam until after lunch. This gave us one last morning to spend in the city. Fortunately for us, the Wereldhavendagen or World Port Festival was starting that day in the harbour outside our hotel.
We spent a lovely couple of hours walking along the side of the harbour, watching men carrying out traditional crafts such as grinding mustard seeds and carving wooden clogs. We got to have a look around some of the boats, went on a tour of HMS Portland, watched a couple of demonstrations and listened to more than a couple of Dutch sea shanties whilst trying out a local beer or two. Overall, a perfect end to our holiday.
Bagel Bakery, Schilderstraat 57a/59a, 3011 ER, Rotterdam
Lunch was courtesy of the Bagel Bakery, after which we took a slow walk back to our hotel, collected our bags and started our journey back to Amsterdam Schipol Airport.
Overall, we had a fantastic holiday. I loved Rotterdam, Kinderdijk and Delf. Whilst I wasn’t so keen on Amsterdam, I am still happy that I have now had the chance to visit and experience the city. Mr GC and I both agree that the holiday was a complete success and we look forward to visiting The Netherlands again in the future in order to explore a bit further afield.