We got on the road early and had an uneventful drive to the border, save for a nasty incident bouncing over a short stretch of road that had been dug up but not repaired. ‘Snopper’, our sat-nav fell out of her stand, a wine glass smashed and Bertha’s oven and fridge jumped and slammed down as we bounced across the five yards of broken tarmac. Thankfully upon inspection the wine glass proved to be the only casualty.
With jangling nerves we crossed the border and drove the 50 miles or so to a remembered aire at Alblasserdam. Back in 2009 this was one of our first haunts in Bertha and we wondered if the Capitainerie would still be running the marina where we had to ask permission to stay. Not so. Instead we bowled into a sparkling new aire for 44 vans where the price had risen from 5 euros to 15 to stay the night but also included water, electricity and showers. We set up for lunch and within half an hour the site was full. Alblasserdam is now on the map!
It was blowy and dull so instead of cycling to the nearby windmills we gambled on a boat trip to Rotterdam. The fast ferry lived up to its name and sped breathlessly past farmland and canals before entering the industrial basin of Rotterdam and its many docks busy with military, merchant and maritime pleasure boats.
We drew breath passing beneath the only life sized wooden Noah’s Ark built by Johan Huibers and home to a pair of giant giraffes with plans to travel the world, including Rio for the summer Olympics. On the day that Dutch cyclist, Anna van der Breggen, won a gold medal it didn’t show much sign of moving. It caused us to pause in wonder at the vision of an American sponsored European artist determined to take the message of the Christian church sailing around the world.
Rotterdam was flattened during World War II and unlike some of its German counterparts it elected not to rebuild itself in its own image. Instead it gave license to modernist architects to create a bizarrely unique and challenging skyline of concave, convex, cylindrical, cubist and cantilevered constructions that defy belief.
The most incredible thing is that these are buildings that people live and work in, they are not statements by bankers, industrialists or hoteliers or government sponsored crowd-pullers. This is a living city on the North Sea with a unique identity. Could it really be ‘anywhere – Liverpool or Rome’?*
We climbed the steep staircase inside one of the iconic eighties cube houses. Impossible to imagine from the pavement below the interior was level, light and spacious.
Open plan, around a single ‘pole’, the three storey home circled 360 degrees and offered views of the old harbour, city square and quirky skyline. The interior walls were decorated in melamine shapes in orange and purple and the furniture was touchingly minimalist. A George Clooney-sponsored Nespresso coffee machine was a nod to modernity.
After an enjoyable (very expensive) ‘local beer’, whilst people-watching in the old jazz street of Oude Binnenweg which was decorated with tiled and painted reliefs of black music legends of the 1950s, we gave up on a game of ‘everyone is blonde and everyone is beautiful’* having agreed on just one couple, and caught the fast ferry home in the light rain.
Back at Bertha the sun came out and it was time to see if a fondly remembered Chinese restaurant was open. Indeed it was and on a summer’s Sunday evening it was full of families and friends enjoying huge banquets and the attentive service of the local sixth form school girls. With a Singapore rice in hand and a paddle sized prawn cracker balanced on the handle bars, we set back on our bikes for a tasty meal to end an unexpected and hugely enjoyable trip day.
* Apologies for borrowing heavily from the Beautiful South song, ‘Rotterdam’.
Listen to the song here…