As I exited the train station at Rotterdam, I was struck by two things: first, by the rain – it continued to rain heavily over the three days I was there, in sharp contrast to the beautiful weather I'd had in England over the past two months – and, second, by the sheer scale of construction going on. As my guide was explaining on a walking tour the following evening, Rotterdam has had to start building a second time: first, after the bombings of the Second World War that left all but three structures in rubble, and, second, as the hastily-constructed buildings from that period and up to the 70s started to fall apart (somewhat en masse, if I've understood her correctly).
Particularly in those first hours, and in the hustle between the hotel and the conference, I thought of the term concrete jungle often. I'd often hummed the Beautiful South's light tune Rotterdam (Or Anywhere) to myself upon learning about the trip, and the title took on a more derogatory tone when my companion unconsciously quoted it at one point during our walks. Happily, however, the rain let up for that guided walk one evening, and for an impromptu midday walk the following day, when I was able to see more of what is really a beautiful city, particularly around the canals of the old port – a new one was built some 12 kilometres away to accommodate the bigger ships – that now host a variety of living museums, I guess you could say.
Everyone was really so friendly and accommodating; honestly, it must be stressed. At times, I thought I was in England, their English was so good; but their dress was much different: smarter (as my companions would say), with more wraps, diagonal cuts, and wool, as well as the truly pervasive orange. And I can't forget the bicycles, of course.
So many, many bicycles. And, sturdy, heavy specimens at that, with large metal racks on front and back, and big curving handlebars. There's whole lanes for them, separated by other sidewalks, and woe betide the pedestrian who wanders into them. There is no cycling attire, either. Ladies in elaborate skirts – carrying umbrellas, no less! – ride beside gentlemen in full suits and kids in uniform; clustered together too. It isn't uncommon to see a tight grouping of half a dozen, that will then easily split to allow a motorized bike or scooter to fly up between them; it's organized chaos, really, when you add in the trams that run through the middle of the roads, presenting the befuddled newcomer with no less than five lanes of traffic running at different speeds. (Truly the best representation of Frogger I've ever seen.)