You know that sometimes, when so much happens in very little time, you just don’t know where to start, when it’s time to tell it. Well, that time has come.
Last month was one of the most intense times of my life, not only because I almost always travelled alone but also because I never knew what to expect.
I adore being organized and prepared for life (whatever it may bring me) but this time I left thinking – more or less – “whatever happens will be ok”.
And, you know, I ended up thinking that it is exactly when expectations are not clearly defined that we can be really surprised – such a surprise that makes your belly ache.
I will remember this autumn as one of the most difficult of my life, not only for all the trips I am going to tell you about and for the new portfolio I have published, but also for some personal happenings that have pierced my stomach as a lance. I will not add anything else, this is all I have been able to do and say lately and, although it is still very painful, I only want to jump backwards to tell you about the wonderful places I was so lucky to visit.
I was invited by NBTC HollandMarketing, the Dutch Tourism promotional department, to join a trip to discover the city of Rotterdam and its attractions and places of interest concerning food.
After reading my post about my last trip to The Netherlands last year, you already know that this is undoubtedly the land of inspiration for me. There’re no better place in the world where one can admire – through the Dutch painters’ masterpieces – an immense knowledge of painting and composition.
Besides this, though, I’m fond of this country because one of my dearest friend, Ingrid Hofstra, lives there and if I have to thank someone for the chance to be back again, for sure she’s the first one who comes to my mind.
In fact, my trip cold be split into two parts, the first one is about Rotterdam, where I spent some days in the company of a small and varied group of photographers / bloggers / instagramers, while the second part (coming in a few days) about the time I spent with Ingrid in Amsterdam and around.
As always, this is not a travel guide, but my way to bring you around with me and share with you part of what I discovered and experienced.
Thanks to my recent wandering, I’ve lost count of how many hotels I’ve seen over the last two months, but I surely cannot forget the huge hotel-cruise SS Rotterdam, where I spent the first night once I arrived in town. The steamship Rotterdam is the largest ocean-going steamer ever built in The Netherlands; after its launch in 1959, it became the flagship of the Holland America Line and sailed to many parts of the world. The ship is now permanently moored in Rotterdam’s Maashaven (Meuse Harbour) near Katendrecht and today it has become an amazing hotel with 1950s style interiors, where it is also possible to have lunch at the Lido Terrace, on the deck, with a beautiful view over Rotterdam.
The afternoon of the first day was great, we were accompanied to visit a cheese farm named Booij in Streefkerk, a town in the Dutch province of South Holland, about 20 kilometers east of Rotterdam.
After just less than 30 minutes by car, across the wonderful countryside with its green fields, the mills and hundreds of cows… we were welcomed at the cheese heaven to visit the farm and taste several types of Gouda cheese.
Once back in Rotterdam, Fenix Food Factory has been our second stop and for sure one of the places I enjoyed most. The Fenix Food Factory is a food market by seven Rotterdam entrapreneurs. This small-scale food hub is located in the Fenixloods, a former warehouse, at the Katendrecht peninsula.
Here you can enjoy handmade food and products, among others the Kaapse Brouwers brewery, Booij Kaasmakers cheese, the Firma Bijten butchers, Jordy’s Bakery and Rechtstreex fruit and vegetables. The Kaapse Kitchen serves affordable dishes from different Rotterdam chefs that vary weekly.
There are benches on the adjacent quay that offer the best views of the Rotterdam skyline where it is nice to sit and eat or drink a beer.
Ayla, instead, is the name of the restaurant at the 153 of Kruisplein street where we had dinner in the late evening. I like that place very much for the delicious food we ate and also for its interior which is an eclectic mix of cultures and styles from Casablanca, Beirut, New York and Barcelona.
The following morning, a little rainy and lazy, started with an amazing American breakfast at By Jaramush, the newest breakfast bar in Rotterdam inspired by the American diner culture.
The eggs are served to order, the acas bowls are topped with fresh seasonal fruit and you can have the really best fluffy pancakes.
In the building next to Jaramush we visited Het Industriegebouw, which is home to several design shops, restaurants and the office of MVRDV architecture firm, the same of the famous Markthal, the biggest indoor market hall of The Netherlands.
Markthal includes a huge market on the ground floor under an arch of apartments. Its shape, its colorful interior and its height turns Markthal into a unique place.
The intense program for the afternoon took us via water taxi (a beautiful, quick and inexpensive trip to enjoy the view of the River Maas!) to Schiedam, Jenever capital and gin-city with an old-Dutch city centre and the tallest windmills in the world.
Here, at less than ten minutes from Rotterdam, you can find many gin distilleries, romantic canals, historic warehouses and characteristic drawbridges. I really liked this little city, the area around Lange Haven is like Amsterdam in miniature.
In Schiedam, you can smell, taste and see gin everywhere. Many buildings in the historic city centre are reminders of the time Schiedam was the international heart of the gin industry.
Because of its gin history, today the historical city centre is an attraction in its own right. Many warehouses and distilleries have been transformed into homes, shops, museums and galleries. We visited the Jenever Museum and we have been introduced by the founder Jan van Stigt Thans to Loopuyt, distillery and the old 1850 warehouse on the Tuinlaan in Schiedam. I tasted gin, I got drunk and afterwards I was carried to feed myself of chocolate at Bonte Koe chocolate shop and factory at the chocolate festival inside the Havenkerk, the church! We enjoyed the dj-set under the church apse, pink neon lights and chocolate falls… We really had a taste of the very best of Schiedam!
Among the many attraction of this small city I suggest also a short visit to the Stedelijk Museum, which is dedicated to modern and contemporary Dutch Post-war Art.
In the evening we stopped at Hotel-Restaurant Unicum Elzenhagen, a new 4* hotel located in the heart of Westland in the Dutch province of South Holland, where we also had an unforgettable long and delicious dinner. I tasted lobster for the first time in my life and I am still in shock: too good!
When I woke up at the feeble early morning light, I looked out of the window and realized that the landscape was “at the edge of reality”: a neverending series of greenhouses, some of which floodlit. I was informed afterwards that 80% of Westland is devoted to agriculture and that the fields are repaired by the most innovative greenhouses. Almost half of Dutch fruit and vegetable production and 90% of European orchids come from this region! Did you know it? I didn’t!
Riding in three beautiful and clourful Citroen 2CV we toured this area – you cannot imagine it until you see it! – among narrow country roads lined by endless lines of greenhouses, until we reached a kind of cape by the seaside where we could admire this unique and – in my opinion – a bit disturbing landscape.
Then we dropped the cars and continued by bicycle (Dutch bikes, of course!) with a fruit box in front and the breaks on the pedals! We toured the area along the small canals and visited Ter Laak Orchids, located in Wateringen, in Westland. More than 6 million of orchids grow there EVERY YEAR and there is a 125,000 m2 production area which is spread over two modern, sustainable sites. Just impressive!
The next step was just as impressive: De Bakker Westland, a huge company with a 60.000 m2 greenhouse where more than 37 million tomatoes grow each year!!
In this amazing scenery, where bunches of red tomatoes grow on very tall plants – strong as lianes – we were offered a deliciuos banquet consisting of organic food, fresh smoothies and tapas, organized by NON pop-up catering.
Eating in the warm greenhouse with hundreds of bumblebees – so important for pollination – harmlessly buzzing around us was really idyllic.
Then we went back to Rotterdam for the last stop of this trip at RotterdamKost, a culinary music festival located at The Kralingse Bos, a nice recreation park that includes a large lake: Kralingse Plas.
There I met Ingrid. We ate Poffertjes, a typical Dutch treat like very small and fluffy pancakes, and enjoyed a couple of hours of warm sun.
This wonderful part of the adventure ends here but there will be much more about this magical land in the next post! (Spoiler: Broek in Waterland aka, one of my favourite place in the world!)
Special thanks go to Jasper Broekhuis and Anne Klapmuts, from the NBTC Holland Marketing, for taking us everywhere and for being the best guides during this trip, and to Alessio Pogliani, my Italian NBTC contact.
I also thank my travel mates Elise, Kym, Devan and Luke, and of course Ingrid and all the loving people who warmly welcomed us.