After the exertions of the previous day, enjoyable as they were, the 12th was given over entirely to sitting about the hostel drinking excellent Dutch beer from the very tidy and well-stocked bar, eating yet more pickled herring (I really do love them) and trying desperately to keep this journal up which I really was finding difficult to do.
I had tried blogging before when I was also writing my tips on the Virtual Tourist website and I really do struggle with juggling the two as I always like to research my tips / reviews fully. I would say that a single review of a hotel / hostel / bar / restaurant or whatever would rarely take me much less than an hour and often considerably longer so the time really did mount up. Add on top of that the writing required for the journal entries and it probably explains why I ended up beginning to write this entry on a train between Metz and Nancy in France exactly a fortnight after the events described. I finished it in a delightful art deco brasserie in Nancy later still. Hopefully this new format of having my own site where I do everything in one place will assist me in keeping vaguely up to date.
For some obscure reason I did try to get a bit arty again with my little compact camera and a most wonderful moon. Not easy and certainly does not convey how atmospheric it was but these are the best two of my efforts and hopefully they will give you an idea.
As this entry was pretty meagre I shall pass straight on to the next day.
The day of the 13th April began in ridiculous fashion with me waking up at some unnatural hour in the morning. I am normally thrown out of a room by the chambermaid or the manager as I have long overslept the check-out time but on this particular day I was up, dressed and sitting having a smoke in the gorgeous garden area of the hostel having a fairly one-sided conversation with the equally gorgeous hostel cat by about 0700.
I know, I know but yes, I talk to cats or dogs or just about anything because I just talk all the bloody time! I suspect my early rising was to do with my requirement for nicotine being in inverse proportion to my bladder capacity, but enough of that, I was up and about. After a couple of cans of breakfast and packing up it was time for the off.
My plan, such as it was for the day, was to go to a place called Beauraing for no better reasons than I had never been there and I liked the name. Yes, really, that is the way this particular little excursion was going. As I shall explain, I singularly failed to get anywhere close but it was an interesting day all the same. I should have liked to stay another night in that wonderful hostel as I felt really comfortable there and I was thoroughly enjoying Rotterdam but, as explained earlier in this journal, it was school holidays and the place was completely booked out for that night.
As I have noted previously here I am travelling extremely light and so humping the kit around really is not a problem as I don’t have that much of it. My increasingly frantic search for a launderette later on in this journal will attest to just how light I was travelling!
With my ability to wander about more or less freely, I decided to go for another walk around the centre of the city which is very compact and do a bit more happy snapping on my trusty little camera which is about as compact as Rotterdam. As an aside here, I do recommend the Canon Ixus as a cheap and reliable compact, I love mine.
Whilst I did get productive with the camera as some of the fairly amateur efforts here indicate, it almost inevitably degenerated into a bit of a pub crawl and the Premiere Brasserie and Cafe Plein do stand out in the memory. Let me tell you about them.
The reason I picked the Premiere Brasserie over the many other bars in the area was simply that I happened to be passing it at the time. It looked clean and tidy so why not?
Walking past the numerous tables outside, which would have been lovely in summer but a bit chilly in early April, I walked into a spacious and virtually empty bar. I went to the bar and enquired of the young lady if they were open and she informed me that they were.
I knew I had a bit of a journey in front of me so I wanted something pretty weak and Heineken fits that bill precisely. A later perusal of the beer menu shows that they do have an extensive selection here which is as good an excuse as any to return at some point.
Although I did not eat there I did have a look at the menu outside when I went for a smoke later on and it appeared to be as extensive as that of the beer with separate offerings for lunch and dinner and even a daily special.
I had taken up my usual post at the bar and was chatting to the very friendly barmaid but a look round showed that it appeared to be very comfortable and when I went to use the “facilities” they were immaculate.
There is very little else to say about the Premiere really other than I can find no fault with it and it is certainly central if you fancy a break from a hard day’s sightseeing or retail therapy.
Having torn myself away from the Premiere it was time for a little more sightseeing and a few more images and one sight of particular note is the rather cumbersomely named Herdenkingsmonument which you can see above.
On my various travels in the Netherlands I have noticed that the Dutch are extremely fond of statuary and Rotterdam is no exception to this rule. My favourite of the many statues I saw in the city, for execution and most certainly not for what it represents, is the Herdenkingsmonument which literally translates simply as Commemoration Monument and stands appropriately in Plein 1940. It is the work of the sculptor Ossip Zadkine who seems to have specialised in war memorials.
The statue was unveiled in 1953 a mere eight years after the end of the Second World War which it commemorates and when memories must still have been fresh and raw of the virtual destruction of central Rotterdam by the German Luftwaffe. Apart from it’s obvious artistic merit I think it makes a very powerful statement.
Obviously everyone will have their own taste in such things but I would suggest that if the traveller specifically seeks out one statue of the many on offer that they make it this one.
Well, it had been a while since the last beer so I was ready for another and I decided on the Cafe Plein although there were certainly enough bars to choose from. A man should never go thirsty in this fine city.
There were a few people sitting outside although I have no idea either how or why as it was freezing. Perhaps I am just not hardy enough to be Dutch. Hypothermia was not on the day’s agenda and so I wimpishly went inside (which was completely empty) and in the hope of perhaps warming up just a little, ordered my beer and the result was as you can see in the images, there was actually frost on the outside of the glass. Perhaps a Jamaican coffee would have been a better bet. Still, I don’t mind cold beer, it is warm beer I don’t like.
The barman appeared to be busy doing all sorts behind the bar and so I contented myself with watching chef working hard in the semi-open kitchen to the rear of the bar. I am not surprised he was busy as he has a very extensive menu to contend with.
Most of the bars in city centres in the Netherlands seem to follow this pattern of being cafe / bars with huge menus during the day and morphing into clubs at night. Cafe Plein fits this pattern exactly and is no better nor worse than any of the rest of them. Service was prompt and polite, the bar was comfortable and the “facilities” spotless.
I have mentioned a couple of times about how bitingly cold it was here in April although it was thankfully dry and quite bright most days but my meagre wardrobe wasn’t up to the task and I knew that something warm was the order of the day. I had a look in a few shop windows but everything seemed very expensive, at least comparable to London prices if not higher. I am no clothes horse and so style wasn’t a big issue, I just wanted something to keep out the chill. Thankfully I stumbled upon the clothes shop you can see here which were offering good bargains. It was called Scamm but it really was not a scam as I got a really warm jumper for a knockdown price and it was to stand me in good stead for the rest of my trip.
Here are another few images from my day of wandering round this lovely city.
I had read about a mode of public transport in Rotterdam called the Waterbus which is exactly what the name implies. My thinking was that I could get that as far as Dordrecht and then catch a connecting train to Beauraing.
I had made enquiries at the station in Rotterdam and been told that this was perfectly feasible. As you shall see shortly, this was not to be the case. The first part of the journey was no problem and I found the jetty and boarded for a very enjoyable hour or so “cruise” on the Nieuwe Maas, alighting in good order in the lovely town of Dordrecht. Let me tell you about the trip which was great fun.
It is well-known that the Netherlands is famous amongst other things for it’s waterways both natural and man-made and this is hardly surprising as so much of the country is reclaimed land and below sea level. Although I had seen plenty I had not been on the water on this trip to the country and so the waterbus to Dordrecht to continue my journey onwards was a bit of a foregone conclusion.
I knew I needed the number 20 line and found the quay easily enough as it is adjacent to the large new bridge. There was a clean and tidy waiting area which should have been welcome on a bitingly cold day but I was doing my tourist thing on the quay taking images, some of which accompany this entry.
The boats leave every half hour and take just about an hour to reach Dordrecht with five intermediate stops. I was able to buy my ticket onboard from the conductor in a pretty comfortable salon complete with a large plasma TV although I was busy watching the passing scenery on the Nieuwe Maas which was fascinating.
I had the inside almost to myself as my few fellow passengers seemed content to stand out on the back deck with their bicycles. Bicycles on a riverboat, how quintissentially Dutch.
I realise that this is predominantly a local standard mode of transport rather than designed for tourists but I do recommend it as an alternative to the train for a slightly different view of the area. It is not exactly scenic but it offers a great insight into to the hinterland of what is one of the busiest seaports in the world.
I did take some video footage of the journey which I will post here if I work out how. Another step on the learning curve but I shall persevere until I work it out.
Once in Dordrecht I made my way quickly to the train station stopping only briefly for a few photos and it was here that, as my old school friend and excellent musician Andy White puts it in one of his songs, things start to unwind.
Then another option occurred to me as I found out I could get a train to Namur which at least was going in the right direction so I jumped on that, alighting there a short time later. Well, what was I going to do next?
As always, when in doubt, resort to the pub which is what I did. I could not access the internet there and so I asked the barman, a large and slightly rough-looking sort of a bloke who turned out to be absolutely charming, if he had any suggestions. At this point a lady sitting at the bar enters the equation. It was later to transpire that she was the barman’s partner but I did not know that then. There was a decent amount of English spoken and she understood enough to get on her mobile ‘phone and do a search for me although I had not even asked. Just yet another example of the numerous small kindnesses I seem to get on the road all the time. Certainly many very strange things happen to me but the vast majority of them are incredibly positive. The lady had seen that I was in a bit of a predicament and took it upon herself to assist. I have no contact details for her and I doubt she will ever read this but I do thank her most sincerely.
The result of the good lady’s research was to find out that the best deal in town was literally across the road from there, the Grand Hotel de Flandre (most of the images were taken next day). I suspect it has been “Grande” in it’s day and still carries the marks of an old style railway hotel with a most beautiful staircase but it now boasts decent modern rooms with all the accoutrements required by the 21st century traveller. Whlst it was a bit above what I normally budget for, it was very comfortable and literally across the road from the station so it suited nicely. Let me tell you a bit about the hotel.
I suspect it has been “Grande” in it’s day and still carries the hallmarks of an old style railway hotel with a most beautiful staircase but it now boasts decent modern rooms with all the accoutrements required by the 21st century traveller. Whlst it was a bit above what I normally budget for, it was very comfortable and literally across the road from the station so the location suited nicely.
The room was en-suite oviously, even boasting a bath which regrettably would have been far too short for my lanky frame but it was nice to have the option. I had a twin room facing the road but it was not a problem with road noise as the town was pretty deserted by the time I got there. The single bed in a twin room was comfortable and the room warm enough on what was a fairly chilly night.
I cannot comment on the facilities in the hotel other than the room itself as I literally slept and bathed there before moving on but all in all it was a pleasant experience.
With my kit dumped fairly unceremoniously, it was totally incumbent upon me to return to the little bar and at least buy the lady a drink which I duly did. Truth be told, we had several, including a couple on the house from the barman when he had “closed”. It was a most convivial evening and yet another example of the reason I travel.
I was pretty hungry by then and the only place that appeared to be open was a kebab shop but that suits nicely after a bellyful of beer and so it was a doner washed down with a final beer for supper. It was a very content Fergy that slumped into a comfortable bed for a great night’s sleep. OK, I was in entirely the wrong place but I have spent most of my life being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
I promise I get to Beauraing tomorrow (i.e. the next journal entry) so stay tuned and spread the word.