A modern city of The Netherlands – Rotterdam

ROTTERDAM, THE NETHERLANDS: Rotterdam is a big and spread-out city, nothing like Amsterdam where most of the tourist spots are concentrated near Dam Square. You have to know where you are going here and what you want to do here, otherwise you will just keep wandering around the city not finding the real place to have fun. I am warning you, this is not a traditional Dutch village/city where you will see an old church, a decorative town hall, or big squares with statues of famous people. This is a spontaneous city with big and shiny architectures and busy life-style. It’s a highly diverse city unlike some of its neighboring small villages…people from everywhere are here.

City center of Rotterdam, The Netherlands

After spending some time on where to park, we were a bit confused as in what to do and where to go exactly. Although we had our to-do list for Rotterdam and asked some locals, nothing really helped us to give us some directions. Then we saw the World-Trade Center and the underground mall near it. It was a relief to finally see some crowds and shops there…phew, I thought to myself, if we can’t find anything, the least we can do is spend some time on shopping 😉 So, that was our starting point to explore Rotterdam and as we kept walking following the long stretch of long pedestrian zone, we were exactly where we wanted to be in the beginning.

TIME OF TRAVELING: My parents visited Belgium in May 2012. The Netherlands was our first destination and Rotterdam was our second city there (after Gouda) to get some ultra-modern taste of Holland. The weather was fantastic and we were energetic to explore this not-so-typical Dutch city.

OUR HOTEL: We stayed in Holiday Inn in Leiden, a very nice, big, and spacious place to accommodate you with free parking and play areas for children. The location was great, because Leiden is about half an hour drive from other Dutch cities like Rotterdam, Gouda, the Hague, Utrecht, and Delft. All of these places are perfect to experience real Dutch culture and people.

WHAT TO EAT AND BUY IN ROTTERDAM: There are lots of open-air markets near the World-Trade Center of Rotterdam or the Cubic houses. This is a perfect place to do shopping and taste some traditional Dutch knickknacks, like raw herring sandwich or fried whole fish/fillet with white sauce. I saw lots of natural cosmetics and bath supplies stores in the underground mall, if you are into these stuffs.

Fried fish in open market of Rotterdam on Hoogstraat, The Netherlands

PLACES WE’VE VISITED: We spent about a day, may be a little less, in Rotterdam. We lost some time in finding a proper parking garage and the hot spots where locals actually go.

1) UNDERGROUND MALL BEURSPLEIN or KOOPGOOT: Koopgoot means “Shopping Gutter” in Dutch and it is very close to Rotterdam City Hall and right beside World-Trade Center. The design of this marketplace is very unique and a must-see in Rotterdam. This is a pedestrian area and is very crowded in weekends. Go down the stairs to go to Beurspleain underground shops.  The whole Buersplein is a combination of indoor and outdoor shopping center, probably one of the liveliest places of the city. If you keep walking straight, keeping the shopping center behind, you will see the pedestrian path stretches long way to some more open-air markets (I think it’s called Korte Hoogstraat). This whole area is a lovely place to do shopping, to take a stroll, or just to stop and do people watching.

Beursplein underground market in the center of Rotterdam, The Netherlands

2) GROTE OF SINT LAURENSKERK (GREAT or SAINT LAWRENCE CHURCH): The church is standing here since 1449. The late-Gothic design of this building looked really nice from outside but unfortunately we couldn’t go inside since it is closed on Sundays, like any other Dutch churches. It is a historical landmark of Rotterdam city center, not too far from the Cubic houses or the World-Trade Center.

3) CUBIC HOUSES (KIJK-KUBUS): The yellow Cubic houses are something very unique and original of Rotterdam. Architecture Piet Blom designed these “playful” buildings in 1970s to give a different look to the city when Rotterdam was booming with many of these architectural evolutions. The apartment complex which features these cubical shaped houses is very close to the National Library and metro station Blaak.

Cubic houses in Rotterdam, The Netherlands

There are tenants inside these apartments, but you can visit its museum by going to the courtyard and following the sign. The tight spaces inside these cubes are just fine for students, single tenant, or may be a couple. But you definitely should check-out the life-style and how it is decorated with contemporary furniture inside these apartments. It is 2.50 euros per person to go inside. The display apartment is open until 5 pm in weekdays and 6 pm in weekends.

Inside a cube house in Rotterdam, The Netherlands

A Flemish city in Belgium – Brugge

BRUGGE, BELGIUM: Brugge is the 2nd most visited city of Belgium after Brussels. We really didn’t see the charming side of Brugge in our first short visit of the city. But this time it was a great day-trip and saw a lot more than the last time. It is a Flemish city of Belgium and a nice one too. It is very similar to Gent (another Flemish city in Belgium and my most favorite one among all the Belgian cities I’ve been to so far) with old guild houses, small canals, old town etc.

Old town of Brugge, Belgium

TIME OF TRAVELING: My uncle-in-law was in town in the 1st week of September, 2012. He has been in Europe many times for his work purposes. He lived in the Netherlands for 2 years and visited Brugge from there few times before. So, he wanted to visit the city again and walk down the memory lane while visiting us in Belgium. It was less than an hour drive from our place and made a great day-trip for us all. The sky was blue and clear and the weather was sunny and golden…just perfect to have some quality family time.

Walking around Brugge, Belgium

WHAT TO BUY AND EAT IN BRUGGE: Belgian chocolates, tapestries, and laces are famous world-wide and Brugge has tons of stores selling these items. For a meal or drink cafes in Grote Markt is a nice place. We had lunch in one of the Italian restaurants there which also sells traditional Flemish dishes.

PLACES WE’VE VISITED: We spent about a whole day in Brugge. We really didn’t research on Brugge before going there. We just enjoyed and visited the place as they came along during our walk.

Beautiful Brugge, Belgium

1) SINT SALVATORSKATHEDRAAL: We entered this church without knowing much about it and just by looking at its grand outlook. It is free to enter the cathedral. It’s a big church with nicely decorated high altar, many over-sized old paintings, colorful stained-glass windows, beautiful Belgian tapestries, and detailed wood and marble carvings. The cathedral houses mausoleums of several saints from the late 1600s. Many well-to-do class citizens, the nobles, and the clergymen who could afford it have their resting-place inside the church. There are different types of stones from different places, like East Flanders, Brabant, Germany, and France, which were used to build this cathedral. The oldest bricks, from the 14th century, were made in the brickyards which were situated around Brugge.

High altar of Sint Salvatorskathedraal in Brugge, Belgium

2) GROTE MARKT: This is something similar to Brussels Grand Place/Grote Markt, may be a bit bigger square and has a statue in the middle of it. You will see all the cafes and restaurants lined up in one side of the market place with typical Flemish style guild houses. The old post office is also located here (orange and beige building) at one side of Belfry. This is also a good place to hire a horse-wagon ride to get a tour of the historic places of the city. It is a great place to just chill and enjoy the surrounding old architectures.

Typical Flemish style buildings and cafes in Grote Markt, Brugge, Belgium

Belfry in Grote Markt is part of an impressive 13th century building. In the Middle Ages the hall was used for storing and displaying different goods. The top, octagonal lantern tower in Brabant limestone was built between 1482 and 1486. This is a UNESCO World Heritage site to mainly draw attention to the symbolic significance of the belfries as testimonials of the prosperous and autonomous late-medieval cities in the region. Visitors can go to inner courtyard that contains some temporary museums and occasional outdoor concerts. This 83-meter high tower can be accessed from 9:30 am to 4:15 pm everyday by paying 8 euros per adult and 4 euros for kids 6 – 15 years of age. There are 366 steps to climb to go on the top.

Belfry of Grote Markt in Brugge, Belgium

3) DE BURG: De Burg is another little but beautiful square situated right beside Grote Markt or the Market Place. You can follow the narrow alley from Grote Markt on the left side when facing the Belfry. Brugge’s present City Hall and old city hall are both in this square. The architecture of old city hall and Basilica of the Holy Blood are simply beautiful. We didn’t go inside any of these buildings and not sure if the visitors are allowed to go in. There is a café here and some shops on the alley that connects De Burg and Grote Markt.

Buildings in De Burg in Brugge, Belgium

4) BOAT RIDE: Boat ride in Brugge canals costs 7.60 euros per adult and 3.40 euros for kids for a 30-minutes ride. The captain gives English tour along with French and Dutch. The boat takes you thru the old multi-colored houses, cafes, and bridges. You also get to see the skinniest building of the city the ride and one of the most romantic hotels of Europe. The ride is very pleasant, educational, and entertaining for the kids too.

Our boat ride in Brugge, Belgium

My 10 favorite travel quotes

We’ve travelled quite a bit in the past few years, especially last year after we moved to Belgium from U.S.A. Leaving comfort of your own home and heading towards a strange land do take some guts and an open mind. It’s sad but true that though we went to many cities and countries, quality of some of those trips weren’t as perfect as I’ve expected them to be. I would rather travel less and have higher quality of vacation. When I say “quality”, I don’t mean flying in First Class or staying in a 5-star hotel or eating in the fanciest restaurants. My vision of any great trip is to make good memories with my family. I may not remember all the details of all the places we went to during our visits but I always remember how I felt with my loved ones when I am in a new place. Pleasant feelings of being in a certain place are tied together with the people I am traveling with…for me that makes a perfect vacation.

 

I gathered some quotes on traveling that really speak my mind. Hope they inspire everyone to go out there and take the big challenge of going to a place where you don’t know the people, culture, language, food, and religion.

1) “Traveling is a brutality. It forces you to trust strangers and to lose sight of all that familiar comfort of home and friends. You are constantly off balance. Nothing is yours except the essential things – air, sleep, dreams, the sea, the sky – all things tending towards the eternal or what we imagine of it.” – Cesare Pavese

2) “One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” – Henry Miller

3) ″A traveler without observation is a bird without wings.” – Moslih Eddin Saadi

4) “All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware.” – Martin Buber

5) “If you reject the food, ignore the customs, fear the religion and avoid the people, you might better stay at home.” – James Michener

6) “I have found out that there ain’t no surer way to find out whether you like people or hate them than to travel with them.” – Mark Twain

7) “Like all great travelers, I have seen more than I remember, and remember more than I have seen.” – Benjamin Disraeli

8) “Travel makes one modest, you see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.”— Gustave Flaubert

9) “Our happiest moments as tourists always seem to come when we stumble upon one thing while in pursuit of something else.” — Lawrence Block

And finally, my MOST favorite one which many travelers forget when going to a new place

10) “When you travel, remember that a foreign country is not designed to make you comfortable. It is designed to make its own people comfortable.” – Clifton Fadiman

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