The Netherlands Diary #01: Rotterdam – Ten Things that i’ve found surprising here

Thanks to Sam’s job, this is my 3rd time following him to Rotterdam.

I’ve often spoken of the Netherlands with much admiration and love. It’s no secret that i love being in the Netherlands. Although i speak mainly from my experience of visiting Rotterdam and nearby towns, my views speak in general for the country itself.

Few things that have shocked me since i first stepped foot onto land of the Dutch:

  1.  This is a land of giants!!

God i’m only 156cm. Schoolmates used to make fun of me when i was in school in Singapore that i’m a midget (yeah they were mean) even though the average height of women in Singapore is 160cm. I’m not THAT far off being an average. Here, i am definitely a midget when standing next to these blond haired giants. In a report released in 2016, it’s confirmed that Dutch men are the tallest in the world. The average height of a Dutch man is 183cm, and average height of a Dutch women at 170cm.  They had literally increased about 20cm by height since 1914. How did they get so tall and why? I don’t think anyone has the answer. Maybe eating lots of cheese help? But that wouldn’t be able t o explain why French are not as tall (average French man, 175cm)? Or maybe the cycling actually makes people grow taller?

2. What a big thing cycling is here

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Cycling is a national activity. You get everywhere by cycling. I’m amazed at just how well they do this. They do almost everything with a bike here. Going to the supermarket for groceries, sending the children to school etc. There’s no need to worry about parking your bike at all unlike using a car.

I’ve seen literally everything here, that it’s possible for friends riding side by side to chat with each other, couples riding next to each other with their arms around each other’s waist, people TEXTing on their handphone while cycling, people who actually fold their arms around their chest and cycle without the use of their hands. Parents sending their kids to school on their Bakfiet (see picture below) or with a toddler sitting behind or even behind the front of the bike.

ANYTHING is seriously possible with a bike here. It’s also possible because of the excellent cycling path planning.

I have trouble with the bikes as they are too tall for my feet to touch the ground while the bike is at rest. However I’ve seen many petite Asians, some even more petite than myself, able to ride the average bicycles with no issues. So all i can say is, it comes down to practice.

Image result for netherland bikes with kids

Children on board!
school-run
( picture courtesy from: https://bicycledutch.wordpress.com/2015/03/08/women-cycling-make-it-happen/%5D
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Have you ever wondered how bicycles are parked?This is a parking station outside one of the metro stations.

3. How flat this country is ..

Everything we read in school’s textbooks is real. 25% of the land are indeed below sea level and this country is mostly flat land.

In French, we call this country Les Pays-Bas, which literally translates to The Low lands. The highest point in this country is 355m, 1053ft. That’s just twice the height of our highest ‘mountain’ (a hill really) in Singapore which is 164m.

When you take the train/car and passes by the country side, you can see how flat the lands are, really very different from landscape in France.

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4. First class transport system

This is a shock only because i got used to how inconvenient it can be to travel around in France without a car. Although France is a much bigger country and our TGV trains are pretty fantastic, but sometimes it’s not just about all that. It’s about service, about how easy it is to find information and how to get to different places in the fastest, convenient, comfortable manner.

I cannot emphasize HOW easy it is to move around in the Netherlands. Everything is just straightforward. The highspeed train connects passengers easily around the country. I could travel to Amsterdam from Rotterdam within 40 mins. Within Rotterdam itself, there are trams, metros and the city is well connected. Transport maps are easy to read and figure out, there is option of English on the self service ticket machines. Conductors are always on the tram, they are also friendly to ask questions to.

20170319_123208Rotterdam Central station
20170319_124036Me in March 17, taking the train to Delft. Taken within 10 mins of reaching the Rotterdam Central station, getting our tickets, locating the train we are supposed to take, take it, and within 10 mins we were in Delft. How Incredible!?

5. There are such a thing as watertaxi and bicycle taxi!!

Image result for water taxi in rotterdam

It makes sense to have water taxis in this country, after all, water canals are an essential part of living in Netherlands.

Bicycle taxis – why not?! and they are cute too!

Image result for bicycle taxi in rotterdam

I’ve not tried them, because i still prefer public transport to taxis no matter which mode it comes in, car, boat, bike, plane but didn’t stop me from being excited when i discovered them.

6. 1st class transport system comes with a price

1 single way ticket  valid for an hour in Rotterdam cost 3 euros. That’s alittle expensive to me. Compared toParis’ 1.90 euros single ticket and Le Havre’s 1.70 euros single ticket. Hence you can see why the prevalence of using own bicycles.

There is an option for a 1 day (up to 12 midnight) ticket for 7.50 euros. In the past, they used to have 2 days and 3 days ticket option with a little discount however this has been sneakily removed recently. Now you just have to purchase more 1 day tickets which doesn’t help you save any cost, OR go to the Tourist Centre at Beurs station or the Central station (Rotterdam Central) to request to buy 2 days or 3 days welcome pack ticket. it’s 16 euros for 2 days, and includes some discounts to museums, restuarants and touristic places if you flash the card.  They can be use unlimited on Metro, tram, buses.

For more information on the transport tickets, click here.

7. How green this country is

I mean environmentally green. First, there are more bicycles than human beings in this country. The cycling lane is amazing, well thought out, and well planned. Cyclists here are not like 3rd, 4th citizens, they are number 1. You can do anything using a bicycle, it’s convenient, it leaves much lesser carbon footprints and it’s clean.

Image result for charging points cars rotterdam

Second, If you absolutely have to drive and own a car, there more than 14000 charging points around in the Netherlands. Buying an electric car is common here.

We all ought to be like the Netherlands in using cleaner energy.  The Netherlands hopes to ban diesel and petrol cars by 2025 and meanwhile in France, Macron has pledged that by 2040, only electric cars be allowed in France.

8. They speak English!

You probably wondering when i’m going to talk about this! I know this shouldn’t be too shocking but coming from staying in France or awhile, being in a country where their native language is not English yet be able to converse in English almost like a native? I salute them.

In Le Havre, English is almost rarely spoken. In Paris, in recent years it’s getting better.

Most Dutch i’ve met, on the streets, in restaurants, basically anywhere, they are fluent in English. Maybe it’s got to do with their education system? Or maybe movies, and series are not just voiced over with Dutch? They sure play movies in their original langauges in the cinemas. It’s no doubt that Dutch has exposure to English.  Something France could do better with =)

9. Food culture, or the lack of it

I feel alittle bad saying this, but Netherlands don’t really have a very strong local food culture. Despite of that, the Netherlands have adopted well to every other country’s cuisine and you can find a good international range of cuisine.  I admit i’m not the best person to comment on Dutch cuisine, so I did some reading, and ok, i don’t know how true this is, but i read that Dutch cuisine is simple and straightforward, with lots of vegetables and little meat, lots of diary products as well (think Gouda cheese and milk).

I do admit that i am enjoying the international cuisine very much in Rotterdam because it’s so easy to find Italian, Spanish, Mexican, Greek, Chinese, Indonesian, Korean cuisine, whatever you want basically.

However do note that the restaurants can be a little pricey in Rotterdam (and Amsterdam of course) compared to, say France. In France a 15 euros can get you 2 or sometimes 3 course meal with fresh produce and really excellent cooking. In Rotterdam, in general we spend between 20 to 30 euros for a  main dish and a glass of wine.

A lot of times when we asked for water, we were also given a nice bottle of expensive looking water that looks like it cost 5 euros, instead of just tap water. In the past, restaurants might even reject providing tap water. There was a campagin in Netherlands to push for restaurants to provide tap water and now you just have to ask for it, make sure you ask explicitly that you would like tap water. I always forget to emphasize that it’s tap water i want, and felt a little too embarrassed to ask them to take the nice posh bottle of water back so i end up paying for them.

I also tend to find the food a little too salty here. Maybe it’s just me. If there’s any local cuisine i should really try, please let me know!!

10. Racial and cultural tolerance

I’ve noticed that people hang out together no matter what their race or religion are. It seems to be very common here and people do not just stick to their own races. I found out that Dutch are very tolerant with different culture and races, they are not racists. I can’t say for the whole country, but in general i’ve observed that people are at ease with each other.

There are many Asians in the Netherlands, especially in Rotterdam. I do not feel out of place or have met any discriminating or racist incidents. I feel very comfortable in Rotterdam.

I know i mentioned it will be 10 things, but i would throw in the 11th thing as well.  That is, how much this city reminds me of Singapore. It’s a colder, greener version of Singapore. It’s cosmopolitan, it’s international, it’s orderly, it’s clean, the population is international. Maybe that’s why i feel like home here.

On the other hand, i’m not sure if it’s a good thing for me that this feels so much like Singapore. One thing about living in another country is to experience something different, there’s probably not much point in living in a city that’s so similar to the one that i came from? hmm, maybe another blog post on this thought for another time.

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