Today was my first full day in Rotterdam and I had a lot of things I wanted to tick off the list. Firstly, I had to tip toe my way up and down from my top bunk bed several times, around a dorm of people all waking up one by one, as we each waited patiently for our turn to pounce on the vacant bathroom. Downstairs I filled my water bottle and tried desperately to minimise conversation with a man who was really trying to talk to me, before I was off for the day.
My first stop was Bas Bakt round the corner, for breakfast, and I had to run there in the pouring rain. I was going to treat myself and fill my veins with caffeine and sugar. One velvety latte and TWO pastries. I was splashing out. One was a Danish pastry with pistachio, cranberry and chocolate cream and to follow was a giant amaretti-like block of marzipan and almond, sticky like taffy. I tried to tell myself numerous times, I’d definitely made the right decision on that second pastry.
I had about half an hour to kill before I could get into the first of the many local art galleries I wanted to check out, so I wondered around purposeless, clutching onto my broken umbrella and staring longingly at shop windows, even occasionally popping back into the hostel to just sit in reception. I was counting down the minutes on my phone, eager to get back to the momentum of my day. As soon as it hit 11am, it was like pressing play on a DVD; we were back into the action of the itinerary.
I wondered round the first art gallery (called TENT) taking everything in, but I mostly spent the time mulling over whether or not to regret my purchase, having not bought the more expensive ticket which let me access the galleries upstairs. I was also being steadily followed around by a school who seemed to be on my tail at all times. I felt out of place, not only in the gallery but also in life. It was a stark reminder that it was the middle of a working week; people were going on school trips; my colleagues were at work; I was walking around Rotterdam by myself.
My next two galleries were a walk away but it was a route I’d covered the day before, so I was familiar with the journey and already felt like I knew Rotterdam a little bit more. Het Nieuwe Instituut was brilliant but also confusing – I felt like I was walking round a gallery that was half open, with exhibitions mid-way through construction because it was a Wednesday. I walked down some steps, thinking I was going to the ground level of the exhibition but instead ended up in an empty basement. At another point, I got caught on the stairs by someone questioning what I was doing – “trying to find the rest of the exhibition?” I asked.
The third spot was not a gallery but instead, one of those National Trust-like houses called Sonneveld which I walked around with a headset and blue shower caps on my shoes. Taking a tour of someone’s old house, listening to their story, imagining their life and also overlapping with a group of very old ladies enjoying their visit back in time to re-visit past memories – as I stepped out of that exhibition I felt another wave of complete loneliness wash over me.
My final destination for the day was Fenix Food Factory but I wanted to squeeze one more place in before. My incredibly long walk to Delfshaven (did I mention I did this entire trip around Rotterdam on foot?) was one of those Luchtsingel moments whereby I assumed a historic district with a windmill would be packed. En route, I’d already gotten lost numerous times and had various bouts of full on power walking, breaking a nervous sweat whenever I found myself alone on a street or worried someone was going to clock that I had no idea what I was doing. Delfshaven is where you go to get your Amsterdam-fix in Rotterdam, with the classic-looking, tall buildings lining the canal and Wind Korenmolen de Distilleerkete which sells freshly baked goods made using flour from the mill. I did occasionally cross paths with one or two people but they would also then disappear in an instant and suddenly I’d be alone again. Everything seemed to be closed but I did catch a few glimpses through the front windows of some very chic looking homes and decided I could imagine myself living here.
Fenix Food Factory was all the way across the Erasmus Bridge, past Foodhallen, on another pier called, Katendrecht. To say I battled the elements on this (what felt like) five hour walk, is an understatement. It didn’t help that my umbrella was half broken. I was soaking and my hands were red raw and shaking from the cold bitter wind that swept across all these bridges and piers. But once again, similar to how I felt walking into Markthal, there was something about walking into Fenix that felt like I was literally stepping back into Leeds and I was home – set in a disused warehouse, it’s filled with a rotation of street food traders and stalls selling fresh produce, a cider bar, a wine bottle shop, an on-site brewery and even a bookshop. I spent the entire afternoon walking around every stall individually and even getting out my book again, to read it by candlelight, perched on an empty barrel-cum-table with a pint in the brewery. Fenix is very community led and all the traders regularly walk around checking in with one another to chat and eat each other’s food and all the dishes you can sit down to eat are an accumulation of various different collaborations.
Fenix Food Factory
At Fa Bijten, I knew what I had to get. A warm, spicy chilli con carne was the perfect antidote to walking for hours in the wind and rain. Served with creme fraiche, tangy, aged cheese from their neighbours Booij Kaasmakers and ‘corn bread’ from Jordy’s Bakery who are located near the entrance of Fenix.
I could now feel my fingers again, and around 80% of the rainwater had evaporated out of my coat, so it was time to browse all the wine, cheese, fruit and veg and choose a dessert: stroopwafel. When I was in Amsterdam, we ventured to Albert Cuyp Market and watched freshly made thin waffles and gooey caramel come together in front of our very eyes within seconds and eating it was heaven. I knew I had to have this experience again. At Stroop in Fenix, there were lots of pairings to choose from, including lavender, spices, orange and lemon. I went for rosemary which I thought might be slightly overpowering but it wasn’t at all, it was very subtle and absolutely wonderful. The kind of restorative fragrance that conjures up images of hot baths and hearty Sunday roasts.
Chilli con carne, Fa Bijten
Rosemary stroopwafel, Stroop
There is one part of this trip that I have not mentioned yet and that is my love of Tony’s Chocolonely. I first spotted Tony’s in Amsterdam airport and when my decision to travel to Rotterdam was confirmed, I knew I was heading back to the home of Tony’s – and that it would be everywhere. After an afternoon of food and walking, I was back on Witte de Withstraat where I probably walked back and forth several times between the hostel and a mini supermarket before telling myself, “Right, I’m doing it”. Having already done a reccie the day before, I headed straight for the giant table displaying stacks of Tony’s. I probably spent a good 45 minutes browsing, cross-checking translations of different flavours on my phone, picking up a few, then swapping them for a few others like I was playing a game of cards with myself, trying to decide how much chocolate was too much chocolate – it was all very serious. When I finally settled on four bars, I made my way to the counter and sheepishly placed them by the till, feeling like I’d just been caught shoplifting and trying not to think too much about how people were seriously judging me right now. Once I’d paid and left the shop, that feeling quickly vanished and I walked back to the hostel smiling, secretly, extremely elated about what I was now carrying in my rucksack.
Bas Bakt, TENT, Het Nieuwe Instituut, Sonneveld, Fenix Food Factory, Delfshaven and Wind Korenmolen de Distilleerkete.