RotterdamMay 30, 2015 in the Netherlands ⋅ ⛅ 14 °C
The ferry was great. The sea was smooth, and I have to admit it, the band were good too. Really good, in fact. I think I may have witnessed the next Beatles. OK, not really, but they did know what they were doing.
I went to bed around 12 and slept like a baby. That was, until, the captain (who liked the sound of his own voice, it must be said) came on the tanoi at about 6am to inform everyone that breakfast was now being served on level 8, should anyone be feeling hungry. Well I wasn’t feeling hungry, and so I went back to sleep. I slept from about another hour before rousing myself, and making my way out to the lounge.
What a pleasant surprise to look out the window and see blue skies. Given that we had set off from Hull under a dark, black cloud, I was fully expecting it to be raining in the Netherlands too. Far from it. The sun was gleaning of the barely rippling sea. Rotterdam is a huge port - by the far the largest in Europe. Up until 2006 -- when China finally woke from a 600 year sleep -- it was the largest port in the world. And as we sailed along at a languid pace, the shoreline was nothing but miles of containers. There were hundreds of pristine white wind turbines, all in a perfectly straight line, like poplar trees lining a French road.
I wanted to stand and watch for longer, but I had to go and change the last 30 quid I had in my pocket into Euros. Man did I get ripped off. 30 pounds, on a P&O ferry, gets you 27.30 Euros. That is called getting stung. Then (again!) the captain came on the tanoi; this time he was asking all car drivers to return to their vehicles. I did, and twenty minutes later I was driving the Up off the pride of Hull.
I showed my passport to a security guard and hit the road. I didn’t know what to expect driving on the right hand side of the road, but everything seemed to be intuitive and natural. That was until I got to a roundabout. Roundabouts are squeaky bum time, very confusing. Anyway, I was soon on a motorway, heading towards to Rotterdam and all was well. The Dutch roads are silky-smooth, like a baby’s bum. It was easy.
Five minutes down the road, halfway across a bridge, there was a traffic light on red, instructing me to stop. I stopped, and down came a barrier. Then the middle section of the large, four-laned bridge started to rise, vertically. The whole of it, even the lampposts. It crawled up vertically, and a huge cargo ship -- stacked high with crates -- passed through the gap. What an impressive sight - it was the first time I’d been glad to get stuck at a red light for as long as I can remember. The whole thing took about 15 minutes, then I was off again.
Just as I was getting the hang of driving on the right hand side of the road, I came to a barrier with a ticket machine on, of course, the left hand side of the car. Normally, you’d simply wind the window down, press a button and be on your way. Obviously I couldn’t; I had to get out the car, walk round to the machine and start faffing about with it. For whatever, reason it wasn’t working. It wanted 4 Euros off me, but didn’t like my card. An elderly Dutch couple stopped their car and came over to help me (the Dutch are super friendly). After a minute or two, the three of us had figured out, and the barrier raised. I had to run, through, quickly round to the other side of the car, climb in and head on before the barrier came back down.
Why was there a barrier in the first place? My sat-nav showed a river ahead, and I presumed it was for a toll bridge. However, when I got to the shore, it was obvious that there wasn’t a bridge. This was a river crossing by boat (another ferry!). There was myself, a tractor with a trailer full of hay and a few other cars. We sat waiting for the ferry to return. And, as we were doing so, I noticed we were parked next to a cafe. As soon as I saw the cafe, I felt a pang of hunger. It was breakfast time. I decided that once I’d crossed the river, I’d find a place to stop and eat.
Lucky for me, then, that on the other side of a river was the beautiful little town of Maassluis. As soon as I drove off the boat I was greeted with a picture of utter Dutchness: canals, bikes, windmills, bridges, boats and men with moustaches. I parked up and went in search of a cafe or a pub or anywhere where I could sit down, drink a coffee and eat a bit of food.
The first place I found was a pub alongside a canal on what I think was called the Havenstraat (harbour street?). I entered and everything, suddenly, went dark. Outside was bright, inside wasn’t, and my eyes found it hard to adjust. I could just about make out a snooker table in the far corner and a bar to my left.
‘Hello, sorry, spreekt u Engels?’ I asked what I thought looked like a human figure.
‘A little,’ came the response.
My eyes came round, and in front of me (behind the bar) was a middle aged woman. I ordered a cheese and ham toastie and a cappuccino. The bar was lined with brown, green and clear liquor bottles, and the decor of the rest of the pub was a dark, varnished wood; wood decor in the quintessentially Dutch style. This town -- this whole town -- was Dutcher than a Dutch place. The toastie came and I wolfed it down. The woman asked me where I was from. Manchester, I told her.
‘Oh yeah,’ she said. ‘I’ve been to the UK before, to Middlesbrough.’
‘Oh really,’ I said, ‘have you been anywhere else in the UK? London, for example?’
‘London? Oh no, I’ve never been to London. Just to Middlesbrough.’
Fair enough I guess.
I finished my cappuccino and felt a million dollars. I was in tune with the place. I left the pub and wondered about the canals, taking pictures of the boats, the wooden sail boats, the windmills. There is no such thing as Europe, I thought to myself, if, as is the case, people wander languidly alongside the canals of Maassluis while at the same time Putin shells the streets of Donetsk.
I couldn’t believe a town so quaint could be just 12 miles from Rotterdam, but it was. After exploring it for about two hours, I made my way back to my car and left. Maassluis, what a beautiful town.
I was in tourist mood now. I hadn’t been on the road for more than another 15 minutes, when I saw a cluster of red eye symbols on my sat-nav (red eye’s mean there is something of interesting to see). I couldn’t let the opportunity pass me by, so I took the next turn off and head towards, what I came to find out, a town called ..dam.
..dam is larger than Maassluis, so not as quaint, but equally as beautiful. It’s windmill galore - I think I counted six or seven of them. The canals were wider than Maassluis’, but architecturally the buildings were of the same 17th century style. I spent another wandering them, until I felt canaled-out. What a beautiful place small town Holland is.
So: after 18 miles, four hours, one boat trip, and two excursions later, I’ve finally made it to Rotterdam. Check in is at 2pm, and here it is currently 20 past one, so I’m sat in the lobby. And what a posh lobby it is, too. Far too posh for me. I have a suspicion that I smell like cheese. And given that I’m wearing yesterday’s clothes, I don’t think that’s an altogether unjustified suspicion.
Now, I’m just writing a quick blog, waiting for 2pm to come around. And when it does, I’ll check in, shower, and head off out to Rotterdam zentrum.
P.S. My sat-nav and I haven’t always seen eye-to-eye, but so far it has been more than impressive. A nice touch was that, after turning it on, it proceeded to tell me all about the quirks of Dutch motoring; what the drink drive limit is, the various speed limits, etc. Top marks VW.Read more