In Rotterdam, Tweaking a Tauck Trip

Posted by Mary-Frances Walsh on 12/13/2013
Posted in: Tauck’s Travelogue
Tags: Art Travel, Europe, Museums, River Cruise

I recently joined a Tauck crew charged with working out changes to our Belgium & Holland in Spring river cruise itinerary for the year ahead. A portion of the trip has been “tweaked” to forge a path that is exclusively Tauck: enriching the Lowlands experience to go beyond the major tourist sites, to add more opportunities to experience life outside the big cities, and to gain a better understanding of the dramatic histories of the Dutch and Belgian peoples.

Our group included staff members from Tauck’s Basel Office, a Tauck Cruise Director and four Tauck tour leaders. First stop was Rotterdam, the Netherlands’ second largest city and Europe’s largest seaport. Here’s what I learned about what to see in Rotterdam…

rotterdam panoramic

Due to extensive bombing damage during WWII, the face of Rotterdam today is a modern one. This is often symbolized by the city’s stylish Erasmus Bridge, known as “The Swan;” it rises over the Maas River amongst the city’s (and the Benelux region’s) tallest buildings. Although sometimes referred to as “Manhattan on the Maas,” Rotterdam’s high-rise skyline might be better compared to Brooklyn’s. You can take an interesting look from your pick of city rooftops at www.dakvanrotterdam.nl

Rotterdam’s aesthetics seem to go hand-in-hand with the uniquely Dutch approach of anything goes. As Oliver Wainwright of The Guardian writes, “There are buildings shaped like sharpened pencils, forests of floating cubes, towers dressed in bright red pinstripes and blue harlequin chequers, odd lumps and improbable cantilevers thrust in all directions.”

cube housesBuilding notables include the city-center cube-shaped houses built to tilt; a high-rise college in the shape of a Number 1 and a building whose sloped façade was designed to lean as much as the Tower of Pisa. Latest on the scene is a surreal aluminum-clad complex designed by Rem Koolhaas, the country’s most celebrated architect.

Heading into the city’s neighborhoods, you’ll find a city of medium-rise apartment blocks: it’s a working-class city that boasts the country’s most diverse ethnic make-up. Its compact, walkable Museumpark also boasts several top-shelf institutions, a choice of which will be newly featured for guests on this tour.

museumparkAmong the best known are the Kunsthal Rotterdam and Museum Boijmans van Beuningen. The former, designed by Koolhaas, encompasses an immense exhibition space – a destination on its own that houses “all kinds of cultural exhibitions: old, new and experimental art, photography, design and anything else you can image.”

Museum Boijmans will “make your head spin,” and mine certainly did – with its surprisingly close-up access to drawings and paintings that include an amazing breadth of historic works by artists like Bruegel the Elder, Rembrandt and Leonardo da Vinci, Impressionists like van Gogh and Monet, and surrealists like Magritte and Dalí – to name a very few.

boijmans museumFitting for this port city, I was fascinated by the multimedia exhibit, Sex & The Sea at the Maritime Museum. Co-created with the British film director, Peter Greenaway, visitors are made to feel as if they have stepped into the shoes of sailors at sea. The feelings of homesickness, the angst of being confined on ship for months on end, and the escape offered by exotic ports are artistically captured. Accompanying mermaids, tattoos, voluptuous figureheads and much more further the story in frank Dutch style.

The Netherlands Architectural Institute (NAI), where we enjoyed lunch in its svelte café, has one of the largest collections of architectural sketches, journals, models and photographs in the world – but is likely to appeal most to those with a specific interest in the field, although I do recommend the food!

Finally, a pleasant walk through the surrounding Museum Quarter on and around Witte de Withstraat led us through a leafy neighborhood of trendy galleries, design shops, cafés and restaurants.

But back to my original purpose here: what goes into tweaking a Tauck trip? The crew talked through a best approach to sharing a city like Rotterdam – missing the instant visual appeal of a historic city like Amsterdam, but offering a unique opportunity for those interested in the arts and real-life urban Europe.

What do you think? Share your comments at facebook.com/taucktravel
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