Friday, 6 November 2015

The Amazing Race 27, Episode 7

Paris (France) - Rotterdam (Netherlands) - The Hague (Netherlands)

[River traffic under the bridges of central Rotterdam.]

At the mouth of the Rhine River, Rotterdam is the second largest city in the Netherlands and the busiest port in Europe. But like many “second cities”, it’s largely overlooked by tourists. One of the teams in this episode of The Amazing Race 27 passed through Rotterdam Central Station on a train from Brussels to Amsterdam before realizing that Rotterdam was not, as they had thought, simply another name for Amsterdam. They had to get off at the next stop, at Schiphol Airport, and wait for another train back to Rotterdam. Another team of racers remained convinced, even after they got to Rotterdam, that they were in Germany.

The closest most foreign tourists get to Rotterdam, other than passing through by train or arriving or departing on one of the ferries to Harwich or Hull (good routes between the Continent and England or Scotland, if you want to avoid London), are the antique windmills at Kinderdijk, a fixture on every If It’s Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium bus tour of Europe.

We bicycled past the Kinderdijk windmills a year ago on our way from Utrecht (another very different but also very pleasant provincial Dutch city where we had rendezvoused with some friends) to Rotterdam to catch the ferry to England, where we visited more friends in Leeds and watched the start of the Tour de France.

As the racers found out, the windmills are strung out for some distance along the canal. It’s easier to explore them on a bicycle than on foot, and Kinderdijk would make a pleasant day trip by bike from central Rotterdam.

You can also get to and from Kinderdijk by way of the Lek River, one of the many branches of the mouths of the Rhine. We took this ferry across the river from Kinderdijk, and continued through central Rotterdam along the north bank of the river:

[Ferry landing at Kinderdijk. Water taxis dock at the end of the smaller pier at the right.]

The racers had to take water taxis — faster but much more expensive, obviously — which dock at this smaller pier adjacent to the Kinderdijk ferry landing:

[Water taxi landing at Kinderdijk]

One of the racers’ other tasks in Rotterdam was a session in a simulator like a flight simulator used for training pilots who guide ships in and out of the port. The port made Rotterdam a strategic target that was almost totally destroyed in World War II. Today, Rotterdam is a modern-looking city known for adventurous architecture. The port also makes Rotterdam — like other international ports —- vastly more cosmopolitan than would otherwise be typical of a city its size.

The port serves ocean-going ships from around the world, as well as large riverboats from as far up the Rhine and its tributaries as Basel, Switzerland. Port facilities stretch from downtown Rotterdam east to the sea at the Hook of Holland, along several channels separated by spits of land — also enjoyably explored by bicycle — occupied by a mix of industry, parkland — and of course, this being Holland, more windmills:

[New windmills along the ship channels of the Europort west of downtown Rotterdam]

Since we were on our way to the ferry and were as interested in the port itself as in anything else in Rotterdam, we stayed at the extremely comfortable Delta Hotel built out over the water on a pier in Vlaardingen, a suburb half way between central Rotterdam and the Europort ferry terminal.

The restaurant at the Delta Hotel is expensive and there are few other tourist services in the immediate neighborhood. The hotel is surrounded mainly by port services and related offices, and most of its guests are on port-related business. But the riverfront suites, great value for luxury at about US$150 a night if the hotel isn’t full and you haggle a bit, have the best close-up views of ocean and river traffic of any hotel rooms I’ve ever seen, including at high-rise hotels I’ve stayed in overlooking the ports of Hong Kong and Singapore. The only place you could hope for better port views might be in Shanghai, which has surpassed Rotterdam as the world’s busiest port but where comparable rooms would be much more expensive.

[View across the main ship channel from our suite at the Delta Hotel in Vlaardingen.]

It was a splurge for us, but worth it. We could have spent days without leaving our room, just watching the ships go by.

The only rooms worth bothering with at the Delta Hotel in Vlaardingen are the riverfront rooms or suites, especially the riverfront corner suites with wraparound balconies. So be extremely careful about exactly which room category you are being promised when you make your reservation.

We had a (typically) bad experience booking our first night at this hotel through Expedia, which had the lowest price for what was supposed to be the room type we wanted. Expedia described our room as river-view but refused to do anything when we were assigned a land-side room. The next night, we showed the room description and price on the Expedia Web site to the front desk manager. Seeing the Expedia price, they offered to match the Expedia price and guarantee us the riverfront suite we wanted if we booked directly with the hotel, which we did.

Link | Posted by Edward on Friday, 6 November 2015, 23:59 (11:59 PM)

That is a killer view! Rotterdam also has an excellent museum, the Boijmans van Beuningen. I wasn't quite as impressed by the modern architecture as Lonely Planet's guidebook writer, but I was there on a cold, damp day. I did enjoy the rather surreal experience of visiting one of the Overblaak apartments - shaped like a cube but tipped on the point.

Posted by: Kathy, 16 November 2015, 07:05 ( 7:05 AM)
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