Two cinnamon bagels, a nap and several podcasts later, I’d arrived in Rotterdam. I disembarked the train (quick Passport, money, phone check) walked out of the ticket barriers and realised…I hadn’t really thought this far. I was actually in Rotterdam now. A city in Europe I’d never been to in my life and I was all by myself. All of a sudden, I didn’t want to leave the station. I felt safe here; the trains provided a connection to home. I didn’t know which way to go or how to get anywhere. After walking left then right a couple times I finally mustered up the courage to ask someone at the information desk, “which way to Luchtsingel?”
I’d done a google image search of Luchtsingel and it was a classic tourist spot in Rotterdam, full of people talking selfies. This place is going to be rammed, I reassured myself. But I arrived and there was not a soul. I got scared instantly and power walked up and down the bridge through the rain, taking obligatory photos speedily, making sure I covered most of the circumference to get the full experience and tick it off my list and finally when I stepped down and got back to road-level where there were people and cars, I’d never felt more relieved. The first spot on my list had felt like some task I needed to conquer and I’d done it: time for food.
I found out very quickly that my google map reading skills were abysmal. Many moments were spent walking round in circles but trying to style it out and not draw too much attention to myself as a lone, lost traveller, carrying all my possessions in my rucksack. I also mourned for my data which was draining by the minute.
I reached my lunch spot: Markthal and prior, did a lovely scenic walk around the famous Cube Houses and through an outdoor food market. Entering the glass dome that is Markthal I finally felt calmer. I was in my happy place: walking around a street food market taking in the sights and smells and choosing what to have for lunch. A slight issue was the fact that I needed the loo and was not willing to pay a euro to go so I tried push that to the back of my mind. I also couldn’t read half the menus which were in Dutch, as my translation skills weren’t very good.
Roma Gozleme, Ekmekci
I came across Ekmekci. Lured in by a free taster, they serve a Turkish delicacy of freshly-made yufka (dough) topped with ingredients, folded up like a tea towel, brushed with oil and grilled on a plancha. The thin dough subtly crisps up, preserving all the melted gooeyness inside and they’re served up in pizza boxes. I was craving comfort food, so I went for Roma Gozleme (tomato, mozzarella and basil) and it was literally heaven, I’d never felt so soothed by food before. I ran off with my pizza box forgetting to pick up anything that resembled forks and napkins and instead, ate half of my yufka standing up, awkwardly piling it into my mouth with my fingers and scalding myself with hot cheese before realising it was probably best to find somewhere to sit down. I nibbled away until I reached a ridiculous level of fullness, checked my phone a couple times, then once I’d finished, I just sat there and it hit me: I suddenly felt so lonely. I’d got to Rotterdam. I’d ticked off three spots. Eaten lunch. I still had two hours to kill until I could get into my hostel. Yet I’d never felt more alone…I genuinely almost started crying. I wanted to share this experience with someone else; I needed another person’s energy around me to soak it all in and revel in it together. I just wanted someone to chat to.
I took my pizza box to the bin, drudged upstairs to take an obligatory picture of the market seen from above, and left.
My next destinations ticked off were Witte Huis, the modern canal houses and walking around Pannekoekstraat. I also spent an abnormal amount of time looking at items in several concept stores like Keet, browsing cheese shops and bottle shops (where I even spotted a local Leeds beer) before my phone battery reached a worryingly low level and I made the executive decision that it was definitely time to march on over to the hostel. It was a lovely walk and Witte de Withstraat is a lovely street. Lined with a canopy of trees, art galleries, little shops and so many bars and restaurants that you can already imagine filling up at night, it looked like it would be an amazing hang out in the summer. My mood had peaked a little.
Entering my six person, bunk bed dorm room with fresh sheets and a banana they hand you when you check in, I felt like a young Harry Potter. Conversation with my fellow roommates didn’t get past ‘Hello’ and honestly I was ok with that, I think we all were. Coming back to our room was a sanctuary where we could all unwind, scroll through Instagram and watch Netflix in peace. It’s definitely what I needed after a day of almost having an existential crisis.
I was feeling ambitious and I thought I’d squeeze in a pre-dinner trip to Euromast to enjoy a panoramic view of Rotterdam. Again, I imagined myself joining Empire State Building-worthy queues to get to the top but instead, I just walked straight in. When I got to the top, it was breath-taking. Rotterdam is beautiful. It was glittering in all it’s glory with a sunset background and there were skyscrapers, there was water, there was a view that went on for miles. I couldn’t stop taking photos. I did venture up the final lift by myself to the very top of the spike but when the lift doors opened and the wind was literally howling I hit that down button repeatedly and got straight back to sweet, safe ground level.
Dinner tonight was going to be at Foodhallen but before that would be a long, long walk from Euromast over the Erasmus Bridge to Wilhelminakade. This is where you really feel the New York-ness of Rotterdam. This pier was great, it was buzzing and the Deloitte Skyscraper was shining and I was surrounded by what felt like Brooklyn apartments. Once I arrived at Foodhallen and walked inside, I breathed a sigh of relief. My Foodhallen experience prior to this, had been the one in Amsterdam and an enjoyable experience it was not. It was hot, rammed, so many queues, no where to sit, we ended up having to eat Dim Sum on top of a bin which ended in an argument. But Foodhallen Rotterdam was different. It was dimly lit with warm autumnal hues. It was calm, a happy buzz of people but not too busy.
Crispy Spring Rolls, Viet Yam
Bao Buns, Baomazing
I perused the collection of street food traders like I was walking round an art gallery. After much back and forth, I settled on crispy spring rolls from Viet Yam. I set up camp on a table with a glass of Foodhallen Noordt Zuydt beer and my book, though realised quickly that I couldn’t really live out my wholesome ‘I’m just drinking a beer by myself and reading my book’ fantasy when the lighting was too dark. I read a couple lines, enough to tick that off as an experience, then packed up all my belongings and headed off for my next course. Being by myself, I was so wary of my belongings, all the time. Only once did I leave my stuff for a brief moment to run and get another beer, turning around every two seconds, paying and running back. My next course was bao buns from Baomazing and a band had also started playing in the centre of the room. I listened for a while and finished off my beer, realising at this point I was quite merry. It was time to make the journey back to the hostel and I packed up all my stuff once more and headed out and over the bridge again, this time feeling so comfortable that I actually popped my iPod in.
I power walked home, the fastest tempo being down a dark, empty street I was only on briefly – but it took me straight back to Witte de Withstraat and to the evening buzz of that street that had just kicked in. Next door to my hostel was a bar called De Witte Aap, named by Lonely Planet as one of the best in the world. I had to experience this, I thought. So pre-bedtime I quickly popped in for one drink. It was a great bar, with a great soundtrack and being surrounded by groups of people having after-work drinks, I could also imagine myself being here with friends and staying for longer. But the reality was I was sitting at the bar, drinking by myself and I could definitely feel a few eyes on me. I scrolled through Instagram and drank my pint in large sips before heading back next door.
Luchtsingel, Markthal, Witte Huis, The Cube Houses, Pannekoekstraat, Witte de Withstraat, Euromast, Foodhallen and De Witte Aap.