Rotterdam was lots of fun, though rather rushed. My coworkers and I flew out of Warsaw Sunday night, and arrived at our Airbnb around 10pm. We worked the next three days, and then left Thursday morning.
The Airbnb was very sweet; a charming Dutch home with lots of eco-friendly touches, a cozy living room nook, steep stairs, and several bedrooms. There was even a back patio, but it was quite cold while we were there, and we often weren’t back until after dark.
One thing that was interesting to compare between Dutch and American culture is that Dutch shops are often not open after 5pm, and many restaurants are not open until lunch time (especially on Monay morning). We figured we might find a restaurant in that morning to grab a snack before work (we hadn't had dinner the night before), but nothing was open. I kind of like this - it means the people who are staffing these places are not expected to get to work super early, or stay late after normal business hours.
Though it did make it hard for me to go on a mission to find the Harry Potter series in Dutch :D I ended up ducking out during lunch on Wednesday to find a book shop. I had also hoped to find Chris a Virgil van Dijk national jersey (he plays for Liverpool FC), but it was tricky to find a shop that sold jerseys that was open after work. I did get the books, but not the jersey. I’ll have to write a separate post about my growing multilingual Harry Potter library.
On Monday night, we went to an excellent restaurant close to work called Mangiare (we’re in Groothandelsgabouw, next to Centraal Station). They don’t have menus, and just share what they’re making given the ingredients that are in season and available. I immediately was taken by this mouth-watering process being done over and over: putting freshly cooked pasta onto a giant wheel of cheese, swirling it around to absorb the cheese, and then serving it. I did not hesitate with my order. We also got a vegetable appetizer, wine, and I had a chocolate lava cake for dessert.
On Wednesday morning, I also went for an early morning walk to the kubuswoningen (cube houses) and Markthal (Market Hall), which was a refreshing way to start the day. I was able to get a few photos of the architecture not at night. I am also flummoxed by the cube houses. It seems like there must be a lot of underutilized space along the sloping walls? But it still seems really neat all the same. Like, you could attach a chunk of wood at the base of a wall that is sloping outward, and stack/lean books along the wall (until you get to a point that is out of reach).
That evening, we explored the interior of Market Hall and had dinner, interestingly at an American restaurant. My coworkers are Polish, and the server happened to be Polish as well, but a lot of things around us were in Dutch, and I was heading to France the following day, so I was very disoriented.
On Thursday morning, we left our Airbnb and carried our luggage to Cafe Booon, where we had pastries before hopping a train to Amsterdam. We were very down to the wire with timing, and just barely made it onto a train in time to still check in and make our flights. I got on the train very sweaty and uncomfortable and irritable, but a nice ride through the Dutch countryside, passing windmills and farmland, was helpful in cooling me down.
I parted ways with my coworkers after checking in (they were flying back to Warsaw), and picked up a couple of souvenirs for my niece at one of the airport shops. I actually almost missed the flight because I got distracted writing work emails and only heard them calling my name over the speakers as they were closing the gate. Oops. We had a really time-sensitive interview process happening back in the States, and I was putting some finishing touches on that before the US team arrived at work.
I did some drawing on the plane, and then when I arrived in Paris, got pretty turned around. I have a terrible sense of direction, and although I had brought my Navigo card (reloadable train pass), I couldn’t get it to register at the airport kiosk, so I just purchased paper tickets. It’s always a bummer when you feel like you should know something by now, a local sees you struggling, and then helps you. (This is what happened.) I think it’s less the language barrier, and more that I am terrible with trains and maps. I’ve definitely gotten lost in NYC and Boston and Warsaw, not just Paris...
I got off at Gare du Nord, and let me tell you, if you’ve never felt the panic of feeling trapped *inside* a train station, then you haven’t known panic. This would only happen to me, mind you. I did several laps of the entire shopping area, trying to find a kiosk to buy tickets for the regular train, but kept running up against the turnstiles that require you to validate a pass before passing through. I was ready to hop something and make a run for the street level, and just lug my terribly heavy luggage a couple miles to Bastille (where I'm staying), when I made a breakthrough. Really I just discovered an escalator that led to a ticket kiosk.
I had also remembered that Parisian train stations almost never have escalators. While this shows how old the city is, it is not accessible to people with different levels of mobility. Another fun note: I was wearing heeled boots and a giant sweater and coat because my suitcase was so filled with books by this point that I could no longer fit my clothes. It was also a beautiful spring day, about 70 degrees. So by the time I had lugged my luggage up and down and up again (btw it was rush hour at this point), I was extremely sweaty and miserable.
When I arrived at my hotel, the person at the reception desk could not find my name in the reservations, and I had a moment of further panic where I thought I didn’t even have a place to stay. But luckily, with me trying to explain the best I could in my rusty French, we located what was needed. The key wasn’t ready, but I was able to conduct a successful conversation with the manager on the phone later on (second languages get way harder when you’re problem solving) and get one set up. PHEW!
I’ll leave the rest of the Paris trip for another post, but figured the split Rotterdam/Paris day was a bit of a blend so that should stay together.
Hannah Dunscombe is a painter and portrait artist based out of Brookline, MA.