Dutch Apples and Pancakes
A Day in Delft
“So is it Holland or the Netherlands?” I ask the Dutch man seated beside me on the flight from Hong Kong to Amsterdam. We’ve been chatting for the past half hour of a 13-hour flight.
“We prefer the Netherlands, Holland is just a nickname,” he replies with a smile. “And no, we don’t go around wearing clogs anymore, although it’s still a great part of our culture. I keep my clogs for gardening. They keep my feet warm.”
Netherlands stands for “lowlands” — half of the country is below sea level, reclaimed from the sea and rivers. The Netherlands is divided into North and South Holland, and is also Europe’s most densely populated country. Today, my Bin and I are in Rotterdam located in the province of South Holland, the second largest municipality in the Netherlands. He’s here for a meeting in one of the two headquarters of the company he works for, while I’m here to soak in the sights and more importantly, the food.
In the Netherlands, bicycles rule. The Dutch average four bikes per family. (!) I’m not used to looking both ways before crossing a street to avoid getting run over by cyclists in their high heels and business suits. I see a person texting while biking, another holding a loaf of bread, and even a mother biking with her baby strapped in the back. There are small roads made specifically for bikes complete with their own stoplights at every major intersection ”“ unreal, for this SUV-driving girl from Manila.
Before we can even begin to eat, my Bin and I decide to do some sightseeing. There’s plenty to take in. Rotterdam is home to Europe’s largest port and was until recently the world’s busiest port, a position that has since been taken by Singapore and Shanghai. We decide to take the Spido cruise, a 90-minute ride with an audio guide of what we’ll see.
The Rotterdam harbor functions as an important transit point for transporting bulk and other goods between the European continent and other parts of the world. Goods are transported by ship, river barge, train or road. A fast cargo railway from Rotterdam to Germany called the Betuweroute is under construction. Large oil refineries are located west of the city. The rivers Meuse and Rhine also provide excellent access to the hinterland. I can’t help but wonder if this is what my food products go through when they’re imported to the Philippines, especially when I see this large container containing citrus fruit.
Cruising along, we gape at the harbor’s shipyards, the docks, and the hyper-modern trans-shipping of thousands of containers. I watch dumbstruck as I see heavy machinery effortlessly but carefully lift a container and place it perfectly atop another container. Ships that are as large as what I imagine the Titanic must’ve been pass us by, their massive bodies cutting an expanse of white froth on the water.
Occupying an almost landmark position on the river is the Erasmusbrug, Rotterdam’s great piece of symbolic architecture. Also known as the Erasmus bridge, this cable-stay bridge links the northern and southern parts of the city with a 2,600-foot span. The bridge deck is supported by steel cables slung over a pylon that is bent to counter the forces of tension. Traffic passes underneath the 456-foot pylon as it straddles the roadway. Called “the Swan” by locals because of its graceful posture over the water, the Erasmus Bridge is such a dramatic departure in bridge building that it has even become part of the city’s official logo.
Once our Spido cruise is over, my Bin and I head over to the Euromast, a 607-foot high tower that provides a spectacular view of Rotterdam. Designed in 1960, it was for many years the Netherlands’ tallest building.
We take the elevator up to the panoramic deck, our ears pop as we ascend to 315 feet at 13 feet per second. Once we get up there, I’m thankful for this clear day. We can see as far as 30 kilometers (or so the pamphlet says). I take this opportunity to snap some photos. What an awesome city Rotterdam is.
As my Bin and I use the stairs to get to the next viewing deck, I begin to feel light-headed, and even more so when the stairs begin to literally sway beneath me. I’m terrified of heights, but I really thought I could do this. Suddenly I see the ground hundreds of feet below come swooping up towards me; my heart is ready to detonate out of my chest. My clammy hands grab the railing desperately and I scream, “Bin! I can’t do this! I’m scared of heights!”
My Bin’s head pops out from behind the turn. My Mr. Macho-I’m-not-afraid-of-heights-husband has gone ahead of me. His face displays a mixture of amusement and surprise. “You’re scared of heights?” He asks, advancing towards me and taking my hand. He guides me down the few stairs we’ve climbed. I hear a rush, like waves crashing upon a shore, which only subsides when we step into the elevator. “My goodness, even after nine years of marriage, the things you don’t know about your partner…” my Bin murmurs as the elevator glides down.
We stop at the Euromast’s brasserie, way up high at 108 feet. I’m grateful for the hot chocolate and coffee that we imbibe, the heat a salve to my acrophobic soul. “I guess we can’t spend a night at their hotel suite, huh?” My Bin asks me jokingly. I reply by sticking my tongue out and giving him a mighty thwack on the arm. Situated 315 feet above, I don’t think I want to risk spending a night up there, terrific view be damned. Besides, even my fear of heights can’t spoil my appetite. I want to eat.
Up next: Dutch food and a Dutch treat.