IMG_0580As a child, I often visited family in Rotterdam. And of course I was familiar with the horrid stories of how Rotterdam had suffered in WWII. It’s heart had been bombed heavily – entire parts of the city had burned and been destroyed.

Having lived most of my life away from The Netherlands, I didn’t know the new city that had grown in its place. So during a recent visit to Holland, we decided to visit and explore Rotterdam. As with Amsterdam, ‘dam’ is the same word as in English. Each city’s name refers to the spot where the river was dammed and the city grew: Amsterdam on the river Amstel. Rotterdam on the Rotte river.

A ring of beautiful old houses remains along the Meuse and Rhine, an ornate hotel, an art-deco yachtclub. These old buildings lean comfortably against ultra-modern buildings. Rotterdam is Europe’s busiest port. Large ships daily bring cargo from all over the world, must as sail ships did a few hundred years ago.

IMG_0743A futuristic Market Hall towers above market stalls. You can now buy sushi and falafel here as well as eat Dutch poffertjes. Chruch bells ring among buildings of gleaming steel and glass.




Swan Bridge and The Rotterdam Building

The Swan is a bridge spanning the river Meuse. Its official name is Erasmus Bridge, named after a Renaissance humanist, Catholic priest and social critic from 1400’s Rotterdam. The bridge is 800 meters long and has a 139 meter high pylon and is an eye catcher in the centre of the city.

Across the water is The Rotterdam, a building that resembles blocks placed upon each other by a toddler. They seem to wobble and balance as if they can tumble down at any moment. However, this largest building in Europe is solid and houses offices, homes, shops and much more. In this port city, it also resembled stacked shipping containers.

IMG_0717We visited the famous cube homes: houses that are titled on one point, and seem to have been juggled into place, landing on their sides. You can visit a show home, climb the narrow Dutch stairs as see how slanted walls and triangular windows form these cube homes into small condos. Not for anyone who feels claustrophobic.


A state-of-the-art Central Station welcomes visitors that come by train. Its huge gleaming hall seems more like an airport than a train station and houses shops and restaurants. IMG_0780

One of our favorite discoveries is the ‘water bus’. This ferry picks up passengers much like a bus but the trip down the river is much more fun. For a few euros it will take you to nearby cities, including Dordrecht. It also stops in Kinderdijk – the world famous dike lined with 19 historic windmills. You can disembark here to do some sightseeing and take a later water bus back to the city. You can even bring your (rented) bike on the ferry.


The view from our Rotterdam Air BnB

We opted to stay in an Air BnB here. There is much opposition to Air BnB accommodations in The Netherlands, especially by hotels. But I think it’s a bit like comparing apples and oranges. I stay in hotels when I travel for business, to attend a conference or for a short overnight. When I stay longer I’d rather have a place to myself, including a kitchen to make meals. We found an amazing condo on the river – small but very clean and comfortable for a reasonable price. We thoroughly enjoyed getting to know this multifaceted city and highly recommend a visit next time you are in The Netherlands.

Dutch National Parks

IMG_0537National Park Hoge Veluwe, Netherlands

We grew up in The Netherlands, left for Canada more than 40 years ago, but now come back often because of the fabulous hiking. The Netherlands has more than 10,000 KM of hiking trails – most of which are well maintained, well marked, good surfaces, relatively level and with affordable accommodations. (See our earlier blog:

This time, through Air BnB, we booked a cottage in the woods at a stone’s throw distance from the entrance gates to Hoge Veluwe, one of the Netherlands’ most well known national parks. You can buy different entrance tickets: one to walk in, or one to drive in. Being budget travelers, we parked outside the park and walked in. 100 meters from the gate, the park offers free bicycles. The bikes are basic without gears and with back pedal brakes rather than hand brakes, but that in itself is a fun Dutch experience for you. All bikes have a child’s seat on the back. You can leave them at a different gate or return to the same spot after a long day of riding the many trails. It’s a great way to see this beautiful wilderness area in the heart of the country. Trails will take you through forests, across heather fields (moors) and along large windblown sand fields with a lone tree clinging to the soil.


The Dutch take anything on bikes, even doggies.

If you visit on a week day outside the peak season, changes are that you’ll rarely see another person. But don’t visit this park on a sunny weekend: there will be thousands of others with the same plan.

Bring lunch and have a picnic halfway, at one of several picnic tables. Or there are restaurants near the gates or at the park’s hub. That is also where Kröller-Muller Museum is located. This famous museum hosts an extensive art collection including Van Gogh’s and Picasso’s. To visit the museum requires another ticket or you can get in with an annual Museum Card.

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Surrounding the national park are many beautiful wilderness areas. You don’t need to pay admission to experience a good hike across heather fields. Check out towns like Otterlo and Hoederloo. National forests here offer a myriad of trails to hike for a day or for many days.


Palace ‘t Loo (Low)

We also added a visit to Palace het Loo (pronounced ‘Low’ not ‘loo’…:


Entrance to the palace grounds

Paleis Het Loo is located in the heart of the Netherlands, on the outskirts of Apeldoon.  Dating back to 1684, this former royal palace has been open to the public since 1984. The furnished rooms and chambers show how the Royal Family of Orange lived and worked here for 300 years. The baroque gardens have a symmetrical design, taking the garden of the 17th century as an example, and are unique in the Netherlands. The painted ceilings, period furnishings and interesting artifacts make for a great tour. Don’t skip the stables with horse paraphernalia as well as antique sleds, carriages and cars.