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Het Withstraat Dagboek: Herinnering aan Holland

Inside the Africa room at Bizar, Rotterdam.
Thinking of Holland, I see broad rivers ever-flowing towards the sea. I hear the low rumble of a Humber barge beating a hasty retreat to the sea, or the rattle of a tram trundling over the points at a junction. I feel the brisk February air tingling against my frozen white skin.

It's October 2013 and I find myself in Rotterdam, without any students. My girlfriend, perhaps seeing that I need to practice my Dutch, decided to book a semi-surprise trip to Rotterdam, a place she's heard a lot about, but never actually visited.

After a brief stop in Brussels to switch from the Eurostar to the Thalys train, discovering in the process a lovely health food shop selling Belgian-style gluten free chocolate biscuits, my first major input into the trip was to book a room at the Bazar Rotterdam.

In typical fashion, and without any encouragement from me, the hotel have placed me in one of their 'Africa' rooms, much to the annoyance of my proudly Caribbean girlfriend who doesn't want everyone to put two and two together and get 'African'.

The room is brightly decorated and the bed, set into a recess in the raised floor, is big enough to fit extras - although that's not my kind of holiday! Being used to the arty nature of Witte de Withstraat is perhaps little preparation for the very kitsch nature of the Bazar's accommodation, but after a quick midday nap and watching Streetcrime UK with a Dutch voiceover, the refulgent colour scheme grows on you.

A mid-afternoon shower hits Rotterdam and the streets clear of people and quickly darken. The small glimmers of autumnal light get lost in the raindrops as we walk to Loos on Westplein, opposite Veerhaven. 

In amongst the throng of after-work drinkers we find a table adjacent to a reading table where three middle-aged men study every last word in the day's papers. Remembering my faux pas of saying 'ik wil [I want]' instead of the more polite 'mag ik [may I]' last time I was in Loos, I stumble through an order of a bottle of wine and a plate of eyeball-tickling cheese served with mustard.

After an hour or so the rain has lifted slightly, and after a loop around towards the Nieuwe Maas, we walk along a sodden Scheepstimmermanslaan, over the junction to Eendrachtsweg, before turning back up into the trendiness that is Witte de Withstraat. With very little deliberation, we head into Bazar for a massive sharing platter of food before retiring upstairs for sleep.

❦ 

Ships moored in the Havenmuseum, Rotterdam.
The next morning, the rain has kept itself locked up in the heavens. After the healthy option breakfast of fruits and thick set Turkish yoghurt, we head out walking towards the city centre. With it being a quiet Wednesday morning, the city seems really sleepy, and we eventually start walking in the direction of Erasmusbrug.

The light is cutting through the sky at an angle that is typical for this time of year, resulting in a faint haze filling the air. From beneath the mist appears a range of old working ships moored at the Havenmuseum in Leuvehaven, displaying a good deal of Rotterdam's old maritime history. In the quiet of the morning, only the sounds of two old men tinkering with bits of old engine can be heard. 

A walk along the side of Scheepmakershaven brings us to the small Wijnbrug, which is slowly rising to let a small maintenance boat pass by. Passing under the road, but remaining alongside Wijnhaven, eventually we reach Oudehaven.

Here you are momentarily taken away from the spacious modernity of Rotterdam and a fusion of old and new takes place in a small, cosy space similar to parts of Amsterdam. Although, it is worth saying, that the Kubuswoningen [lit: cube houses], give the area the unmistakable feel of Rotterdam.

Later that evening, after getting a call from Ilse, one of the partner teachers from the WMSF-Einstein Lyceum Project, we head over to Charlois at the end of the number 2 tramline. By now the autumnal evening has drawn in and darkness has fallen over the grassy Kromme Zandweg tram stop. In one direction the outline of an illuminated windmoelen; from the other direction, out of the darkness, appear Ilse and her partner Jaap.

We discover that the accommodation that Jaap has arranged for us that evening is in one of his artists’ spaces. In this instance it is a small prefabricated building dating from after World War II, adjacent to the tram stop. The house is one of many lined up in uniform lines like squat little soldiers standing to attention on a military parade.

After dropping our possessions off, and bringing the ancient heater to life, we head out along Boergoensevliet. Jaap, in his distinctly un-Rotterdam accent, tells us about the diversity of people living in Charlois and it reminds me of a more sedate Walthamstow. Turning left onto Wolphaertsbocht, we find the quiet Spanish/Portuguese restaurant called Quinta.

Here, we chat and eat mountain of food. We discuss the differences between rents, work and everyday life in Walthamstow and Charlois, and, although our hosts can be occasionally a little derisory about their area, I feel that I quite like it here. I am also acutely aware of the fact that I fall in love with nearly everywhere I go. 

In amongst the courses, we chat to the waitress who is too shy to speak in English. 'Mijn Engels is heel slecht,' she points out. Ilse manages to convince her that the reason my Dutch replies sound so strange is because I’m really only fluent in Afrikaans and therefore my grammar is different.

This sets the tone for the rest of the night as we are joined by two of Ilse and Jaap’s friends, and, after paying the bill and confessing about not being an Afrikaner, we head round the corner for a little more wine and conversation until late.


Rotterdam, simply put, is perhaps never going to match Venice or Paris as a holiday destination, but for a short break it is a great little getaway. Furthermore, if you are desperately in need of expanding your Dutch vocabulary and testing it out on unwitting members of the public, it’s the perfect environment in which to do so, made all the better by great company.

Thinking back, now I realise that I just need to convince my new boss to let me bring a group of Year 11s here in 2015.


Denkend aan Holland
zie ik breede rivieren
traag door oneindig
laagland gaan...

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