Tag Archives: Lifestyle

Cycling is Tel-O-Fun in Tel Aviv

Welcome to Tel Aviv – the flagship of the Middle East in bicycle friendliness

Bike Citizens Tel Aviv 3_v1_2

Tel Aviv’s compact layout, flat geography, mild climate and young population all combine to create a city that was destined to become a cycling hub. Cycling in Tel Aviv is fun, and nowadays it not just fun but also easy thanks to Tel-O-Fun, the city’s public bicycle program. The project was scheduled to be launched in 2008, but was delayed until the Israeli helmet law was amended in 2011. Once the mandatory helmet age was curbed to 18, Tel Aviv immediately launched the long-awaited Tel-O-Fun, and ignited a true cycling revolution. Bicycle rental stations popped up all around the city, and in a fortnight, the bicycle became a real alternative to the car in Tel Aviv.

Read more about Tel Aviv’s successful bike sharing program in my latest article in Bike Citizens Magazine.

Bike Citizens Tel Aviv 1_2

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Tel Aviv city report

A few weeks ago I’ve published a city report on Rotterdam, that I wrote for Tales from a Small Planet (http://www.talesmag.com). Well, I’ve been busy writing another one, on Tel Aviv, where I used to live, and where I am currently visiting. Allow me to introduce you to the city that never sleeps, “the bubble”, the one and only Tel Aviv.

An iconic view of Tel Aviv from the Jaffa promenade

An iconic view of Tel Aviv from the Jaffa promenade

What are your reasons for living in this city (e.g., corporate, government, military, student, educator, retiree, etc.)?
I came to Israel in 1991 (aged 12), with my family, in the big immigration wave from the Soviet Union, and lived there until 2003.

How long have you been living here? Or when did you live there?
As many young Israeli’s drawn to the big city, I’ve lived in Tel Aviv for a while, between 1999 and 2001.

Was this your first expat experience? If not, what other foreign cities have you lived in as an expat?
It was the first time I lived in another country.

Where is your home base, and how long is the trip to post from there, with what connections?
Nowadays, my home base is in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. I visit Israel regularly, as I have family and many friends there. Takes about 4.5 hours by plane.

What are the special advantages of living in this city/country (e.g., touring, culture, saving money, weather, etc.)?
The weather is great for at least 10 months. Its a unique opportunity to experience the place that gets so much attention, and see for yourself what the fuss is all about.

What have been some of the highlights of your time in this city/country?
This I’ll have to get back to in another post here – the topic is a bit too big for a short answer.

Just to give you an idea of the highlights - this is the Negev desert. Just two hours drive from Tel Aviv, and you're not on the edge of it - no, right in the middle!

Just to give you an idea of the highlights – this is the Negev desert. Just two hours drive from Tel Aviv, and you’re not on the edge of it – no, right in the middle!

What is the air quality like (e.g., good, moderate, unhealthy, or very unhealthy with comments)?
Good, most of the time the breeze from the sea clears the pollution. When the wind is from the East, can get very bad, but it’s only a few days in a year.

What is the climate like? Weather patterns?
July-August are hot and sticky humid. December to March is the rainy season, but it almost never rains more than 2-3 days in a row.

What kind of insect problems are there, if any?
Cockroaches. Big, flying ones.

Are there any special security concerns?
Uhm… Yes. Its Israel. BUT the crime rates are quite low compared to other Western countries, and besides – nowadays the chances of becoming a victim of a terrorist attack are higher in Paris, London or Brussels. The Israeli traffic is the most dangerous part, and even that is not as dangerous as it used to be.

Housing types, locations, and typical commute time?
Depends on what one includes as “Tel Aviv”. The city itself is small and housing is also small, the outer rings of the metropolitan area contain many typical “sleeping neighborhoods” with more spacious accommodation, but the commute time is also larger.

Is this a good city for families/singles/couples?
For singles the city center is the place to be. If your can find a good house in the city and your family can handle the city life – go for it. But prices are high.

Is this a good city for gay or lesbian expats?
One of the best, I hear.

Are there problems with racial, religious or gender prejudices?
Yes. But that’s the simple answer. Compared to the severity of these issues in the neighbouring countries, like Syria, there are none worth mentioning.

Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city? Comment:
Challenging. Sidewalks are crowded with parked bicycles and motorcycles, public buildings are not necessarily fitted with ramps.

What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “secret or hidden gems”?
The whole country is one big live museum of nature, culture and history. For Tel Aviv itself I’d suggest checking out http://www.spottedbylocals.com/telaviv/. As a former resident who has done his best to explore the city I can certify that the local “spotters” are doing a very good job unveiling spots that are usually under the radar.

Are gyms or workout facilities available? Costs?
Everything is available, from free public gym facilities at the beach to private teachers of every sport you can think of.

What fast food and decent restaurants are available? Cost range?
The American fast-food chains are present but who needs them when local fast food is abundant. Every Israeli has a favorite falafel place, and Tel Aviv has a lively dining scene.

What is the availability and relative cost of groceries and household supplies?
Everything is available but prices are ridiculously high.

What comments can you make about using credit cards and ATMs?
Credit cards are widely accepted.

What type of automobile is suitable to bring (or not to bring) because of terrain, availability of parts and service, local restrictions, duties, carjackings, etc?
I’d suggest bringing a tank, but the fuel prices would kill you.

Are local trains, buses, and taxis safe? Affordable?
Reasonably affordable and safe. The national railways do have issues with the unions, so sudden strikes can be a plague.

How much of the local language do you need to know for daily living?
Most of the local people know sufficient English to get by without knowing any Hebrew. Many signs are Hebrew-only, so learning the Hebrew alphabet is useful.

Size and morale of expat community:
That’s a difficult question, as it depends much on what is included in the “expat community”.There are millions of foreign-born Israeli’s, hundreds of thousands of (mostly Asian) foreign workers employed in construction, agriculture and nursing, tens of thousands of African infiltrators/refugees (depends on who you ask), a constant influx of volunteers working in the Kibbutzs and so on.

If “expats” include only Western diplomats and such, then its probably small, I can’t say much about the morale among them.

Are there decent job opportunities for expats on the local economy?
Without a job permit chances are probably low.

What volunteer opportunities are there?
Numerous. Not sure how diverse are the options without knowledge of Hebrew or Arabic.

What are some typical things to do for entertaining/social life?
The beach. Huge clubbing scene. Mountain biking is growing in popularity. Barbecuing.

Tel Aviv 3

What’s the dress code at work and in public?
At work – depends much on where you work, but usually “casual-plus”. In public “casual” doesn’t even begin to describe it.

Believe it or not, this guy is actually at work. How's that for "casual"?

Believe it or not, this guy is actually at work. How’s that for “casual”?

Are there any health concerns? What is the quality of medical care available?
Israel has one of the highest life expectancies in the world, so healthcare must be good.

You can leave behind your:
Anything you thought you knew about the place and anything anyone has ever told you about it. Its nothing like you thought it is, no matter what you thought. And don’t bring your politeness either, it will go unnoticed at best.

But don’t forget your:
Balls of steel, elephant skin, all the sarcasm and cynicism you can find. A huge supply of sense of humor. And, of course, your hiking boots. Israel is best explored by foot.

Can you save money?
No.

Knowing what you now know, would you still go there?
Yes.

Recommended books related to this city (title, author):

  • “The lover”, A. B. Yehoshua.
  • Works of Bernard Lewis, such as “The Middle East: A Brief History of the Last 2,000 Years”.
  • 1948: A History of the First Arab–Israeli War”, Benny Morris.

Take them all with a huge pinch (better yet, a bag) of salt – everyone’s view is politically colored.

Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:
“Lebanon” – OK, it takes place in Lebanon, but its set exclusively inside an Israeli tank in Lebanon.

An Israeli tank close to the Lebanese border

An Israeli tank close to the Lebanese border

Any other comments:
Don’t be like the American presidents and Secretaries of State, who think that all it takes is for people to shake hands and stop being so childish. Its not up to you to bring peace, nor is it up to you to lecture the locals about how they should behave and think. Just try to enjoy the good parts, and ignore the bad ones – that’s what everyone else is doing.

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Smite my neighbours

I’ve recently had a most interesting discussion with Gerard and Alida, who host the blog titled “6 days / 66 books / 6000 years“. The discussion was mostly about whether the Bible should be interpreted literally (as they do) or there is some room for various interpretations (as I think). As they say:

“If you begin to chop and change Scripture and don’t check with other passages that discuss the same issue, you make the Bible a useless guide to the Kingdom of God. So why refer to the Bible at all?”

Since Gerard and Alida make a point of using the whole Scripture as a guide, I feel I can’t respond to that in any other way but re-posting the by now  famous letter to Dr. Laura Schlesinger, discussing the exact issue of literal interpretation of the Scripture. I checked the passages, and they match the quotes in the letter. My only hope now is that Gerard and Alida can help me solve these troublesome issues, as I run into many of the same issues in my daily life as well.

Dear Dr. Laura,

Thank you for doing so much to educate people regarding God’s Law. I have learned a great deal from your show, and I try to share that knowledge with as many people as I can. When someone tries to defend the homosexual lifestyle, for example, I simply remind him that Leviticus 18:22 clearly states it to be an abomination. End of debate.

I do need some advice from you, however, regarding some of the specific laws and how to best follow them.

a) When I burn a bull on the altar as a sacrifice, I know it creates a pleasing odor for the Lord (Lev 1:9). The problem is my neighbors. They claim the odor is not pleasing to them. Should I smite them?

b) I would like to sell my daughter into slavery, as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7. In this day and age, what do you think would be a fair price for her?

c) I know that I am allowed no contact with a woman while she is in her period of menstrual uncleanliness (Lev 15:19-24). The problem is, how do I tell? I have tried asking, but most women take offense.

d) Lev. 25:44 states that I may indeed possess slaves, both male and female, provided they are purchased from neighboring nations. A friend of mine claims that this applies to Mexicans, but not Canadians. Can you clarify? Why can’t I own Canadians?

e) I have a neighbor who insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus 35:2 clearly states he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill him myself?

f) A friend of mine feels that even though eating shellfish is an Abomination (Lev 11:10), it is a lesser abomination than homosexuality. I don’t agree. Can you settle this?

g) Lev 21:20 states that I may not approach the altar of God if I have a defect in my sight. I have to admit that I wear reading glasses. Does my vision have to be 20/20, or is there some wiggle room here?

h) Most of my male friends get their hair trimmed, including the hair around their temples, even though this is expressly forbidden by Lev 19:27. How should they die?

i) I know from Lev 11:6-8 that touching the skin of a dead pig makes me unclean, but may I still play football if I wear gloves?

j) My uncle has a farm. He violates Lev 19:19 by planting two different crops in the same field, as does his wife by wearing garments made of two different kinds of thread (cotton/polyester blend). He also tends to curse and blaspheme a lot. Is it really necessary that we go to all the trouble of getting the whole town together to stone them? (Lev 24:10-16) Couldn’t we just burn them to death at a private family affair like we do with people who sleep with their in-laws? (Lev. 20:14)

I know you have studied these things extensively, so I am confident you can help.

Thank you again for reminding us that God’s word is eternal and unchanging.

Your devoted disciple and adoring fan.

 

In response to questions such as these, devout Christians like Gerard and Alida usually argue that the “New” Testament “cancels” the “Old” Testament, and therefore these laws are invalid. I find this argument rather unconvincing. First of all, the wordings of the “New” Testament are quite ambiguous. There are no lines such as “Instructions given in Leviticus 1 to 17 are considered invalid”. Second, it seems that some rules and laws of the “Old” Testament are still valid, as people like Dr. Laura or Gerard and Alida still quote them to support their views. So which parts are still valid and which ones are not?

I would be at a loss here, if I were a Christian. Fortunately, I am a Jew, so the “New” Testament cancels nothing for me. There is only one Testament as far as I am concerned, and the instructions given in it are still valid. Now I only need to find a proper authority on Judaism to help me decide whether I should smite my neighbours.

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When the New York Times tries to be positive about Israel

A blog post by Jesus (aka Tony Wolkovitzky) pointed my attention towards an article in the New York Times dedicated to the urban culture of the Israeli city of Haifa. The article is titled “In Israeli City of Haifa, a Liberal Arab Culture Blossoms”, and boy, its a hilarious one. In Haifa, the NYT preaches, “30,000 Arab residents, around 10 percent of the population, include equal numbers of Muslims and Christians, and they are generally wealthier and better educated than Arabs elsewhere in Israel”.

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Haifa is a gorgeous city on the Mediterranean sea

According to the NYT gospel, “This makes Haifa a comfortable place for liberal Palestinians who want not only to escape the constraints of conservative Arab communities but also to be among their own people.” Surprisingly, the place where they can “be among their own people” turns out to be… drums… Jewish neighbourhoods!

“”If you live in a Jewish neighborhood, you are a stranger, and that gives you freedom as an Arab woman,” said Fidaa Hammoud, 32. […] She and her partner live together in a Jewish neighborhood where they run a Palestinian cafe called Rai. “I couldn’t do this anywhere else,” she said.”  The emphasis is mine, as you probably guessed. From the murky description of their relationship I guess Ms. Hammoud is either unmarried or gay, and living in an Arab neighbourhood would be a nightmare for her, even in Haifa.

Essentially, what “makes Haifa a comfortable place for liberal Palestinians” is living alongside a significantly larger Jewish community. It is the Jewish community where they can escape to and where they enjoy the liberties and tolerance. Sadly, both the “liberal Palestinians” and the NYT fail to thank Haifa’s Jewish community even in a footnote.

But hey, what can one expect from a newspaper that produces a headline like “Israeli Woman Stabbed Amid West Bank Exchanges of Violence”, leaving it to the readers to guess, even after reading the article, that the pregnant woman was not “exchanging violence” with anyone but was stabbed by a Palestinian terrorist because she was Jewish.

Back to the Haifa article, the funniest part was the subsequent criticism of the article from Ayed Fadel, the owner of Kabareet nightspot, who is quoted by the NYT as  saying “We want a gay couple to go to the dance floor and kiss each other, and nobody to even look at them, this is the new Palestinian society we are aiming for”. Mr. Fadel’s complete rant is available here, but basically he is pissed about having “been totally used as a “pink washer” with the quote above!!”

The thing is, Kabareet was among the bars and cafes that held screenings for Kooz Queer, the first Palestinian gay film festival. The only place in the Middle East such a festival is even imaginable in is Israel. Yet somehow, for Mr. Fadel, Israel still gets to be the bad guy for allowing the festival to take place. And the NYT pissed him off by not mentioning the “pinkwashing” angle of Kooz.

Let me get this straight (pun intended). A Palestinian LGBT-themed film festival is held in Haifa, Israel. One of its most important topics is the Israeli “Pinkwashing” – the supposed exploitation of the idea of Israel being LGBT-friendly to promote public perception of Israel as a cute and cuddly country. But doesn’t the festival prove exactly the opposite?

First, it shows that Israel is a gay-friendly place – just think how the public and the state would react to a similar event in any of Israel’s neighbouring countries.

Second, it demonstrates quite clearly that Israel is not trying to “pinkwash” itself. Its not like the festival was promoted by Israel as a proof of Israel’s cuddliness. Mr. Fadel probably sees this lack of attention as “being silenced by the Zionist oppressor”, but he’s not going to be satisfied either way, I guess.

Third and finally, by allowing a festival with “pinkwashing” smear theme to take place in a major Israeli city like Haifa, without as much as a grumpy face from a single Israeli official, shows that Israel respects the freedom of expression and opinion, no matter how obnoxious and detached from reality this opinion may be.

I’m not the first nor the only person to note that in the Middle East, this sort of liberal, secular and gay-friendly scene could take place only in Israel, under Israeli laws and protection. The NYT was apparently sufficiently concerned by the criticism to publish not one, but two responses by Margaret Sullivan, the NYT public editor, who “handles questions and comments from readers and investigates matters of journalistic integrity”.

According to Ms. Sullivan, Diaa Hadid, who wrote the original story, disagrees with the claim that Israel is the only place in the Middle East where openly gay persons have freedom and safety. Ms. Hadid points out that “Beirut has a fairly vibrant gay scene”. Perhaps to prove her point, Ms. Hadid can, once she gets the chance, report from a gay film festival in Beirut? In fact, I’d be pleasantly surprised if Ms. Hadid has something positive to report on gay issues from any Arab capital. In the meantime, I wish her all the best exploring the diverse subcultures that peacefully coexist in Israel.

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Best bag for the cycling commuter

My review of commuter’s bicycle bags was published in the Bike Citizens Magazine. Here’s why you should go and read it.

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Who knows, maybe the best commuter bag is not a bag at all… It all depends on what you commute with, I guess.

Often, reviews of products you come across online are useless. Take bicycle commute’s bags, for example. The reviewers pretty much assume you commute with a which bagbackpack, and then throw in a messenger bag as an afterthought. And somehow, none of the bags they review seems to have any flaws. Which is obviously impossible – we all know every product has its limitations.

I think that the poor quality of reviews has two reasons. One reason is that the people who write these reviews don’t know what they are talking about, and write based on hearsay. “We consulted cyclists in The Independent office, and tested a range of bags for all budgets” – that comes from someone who wrote 200 articles in 12 months. Do you really believe she had the time to test 10 bike bags and come with a decent review? Second reason is that these reviews are often published in various lifestyle outlets, dedicated to praising consumer goods. Their goal is to get you to spend – why would they point out the flaws or drawbacks in the products they try to sell you?

That’s why you need people who know their material, and who are not driven by consumerism. People like me. If you need help in choosing a new bicycle bag, check out my review of commuter’s bicycle bags, published in the Bike Citizens Magazine. It is an honest, no-nonsense comparison of the four very different bags I use routinely, written based on decades of cycling experience. I hope it inspires you to cycle more often on your commute, regardless of which bag you use.

The Bike Citizens Magazine will be publishing more of my articles in 2016, stay tuned!

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Leaving Austria – a tale of a lucky hitchhike

Way back in 2008, when I was a penniless student, I was finishing my semester in Zurich when I got a call from Kristian (who already featured in an earlier post about London). He asked if he could come visit me in Zurich and whether I’d be interested in a little side trip together. Needless to say I was.

You might recall that in 2008 the European football championship was played in Switzerland and Austria. Not that we had tickets but since we were around, we were planning on enjoying the sphere. By the time Kristian joined me in Zurich the semifinals were being played. After spending a couple of days in Zurich I’ve done the last arrangements, packed the rest of my gear and off we went to Vienna on a most spectacular 8-hour train journey through the Alps, to experience the city during the final match between Spain and Germany.

The closest we got to the actual match

The closest we got to the actual match

In Vienna we, much appropriately for two poor students, arranged a place via Couchsurfing with a lovely local couple who were binging on couch surfers, so the house was swarming with guests. A couple of days partying at crazy birthdays, a bit of mischief in the local museums and pestering the losing Germans flew by and it was really time to get back to our base at the Netherlands. Have I mentioned we were poor? We could however afford to spend a bit more time on the journey back and were both in an adventurous mood so we decided to hitchhike. Getting out of Vienna and onto the highway proved in hindsight the most treacherous part of the trip. We probably should have started hitchhiking on the closest petrol station in town. Instead we took the metro to a place near the highway and spent a half an hour searching our way through the fields in an effort to get to the highway petrol station and really start the journey home.

Not the right way to hitchhike

Needless to say, this is not how we were hitchhiking – this is just for the show.

We’ve had an early start, which was a very good thing. It was July and it turned out to be one of the hottest days of the year. By the time we were in position, it was almost nine and already quite hot. Within a mere half an hour I approached a Saab with Dutch number plates and struck a conversation. The guy was friendly enough to offer us a ride but at he explained in the car, he was only going as far as Passau, at the Austrian-German border. He was after all already driving for a while – he was working in some import-export firm in the Netherlands and they’ve had a misunderstanding with Austrian customer. Having failed to clear the misunderstanding over the phone the previous day, he jumped into his car after working hours, drove all the way to Vienna, was there at 7, had a meeting until 9, and was now on his way back to Eindhoven. He was (before he met us) realistic and planned to stop at Passau to get some sleep.

We quickly realized it was a golden opportunity. And we did our best to keep our luck awake, pouring coffee into him at every stop and keeping him entertained by small talk. Passau was passed, then Nuremberg, then Würzburg, and we were still driving. The dude was, in fact, also anxious to get home. It was the last day of school, and his eldest child was graduating from primary school (can you graduate from primary school?). The traditional school play was set due in the evening and he reckoned he could be there at least for the second act. Naturally, we encouraged the idea and as the hours went by we were pretty certain we’d get there.

The Saab clicked through the kilometres, and thank God it was a Saab – the comfy seats, the powerful airco and the reliable engine really got us through the day. By noon it was 38 degrees and the asphalt was melting. Every pit stop we made meant spending as little time as possible out of the car, as even a couple of minutes in the relentless sun would give you a heat stroke. The evening rush hour was rather brutal on less reliable cars, and dozens of overheated car lined the sides of the Autobahn.

As we were coming to the Dutch border, massive storm clouds were gathering as common in Europe on such overheated days. Just as we passed Venlo, all hell broke loose in some of the biggest thunderstorms I have ever seen. We blessed ourselves again with our ride, as the news on the radio mentioned countless train routes out of order due to lightning strikes. From Eindhoven it was quite simple – the storm has passed, cooling down the intense heat, and we had an otherwise uneventful train journey back to Delft. And there we were – having hitchhiked in a single day and with a single lucky ride a whooping 1100 kilometres! And if that’s not a promo piece of the joys of hitchhiking, I don’t know what is.

Vienna to Delft

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A virtual tour of my Rotterdam

The Markthal at night - inside is the biggest art work of the Netherlands

Rotterdam’s newest and already the most popular attraction -the Markthal at night – inside is the biggest art work of the Netherlands

The last few days, spring has been in the air. The sun is shining, temperatures are in the double-digits, crocuses, narcissi and tulips are blossoming everywhere and a small army of orange jackets is trimming bushes all over the city. Other, less appealing signs of spring are the intense smell of fermented manure being sprayed on the fields and me getting a hay fever, but that’s not the point here. The point is that Rotterdam is firmly on the map as a tourist destination in its own right. In the last couple of years, the city I live in has scored big-time in international awards and “top destination” lists. And the publicity is bearing fruit – Rotterdam is literally swarmed with tourists. I am seeing more and more of them, gaping at the sight of the Markthal or standing at a street corner trying to figure out the map in their hands.

Spring is in the air and on the ground

Spring is in the air and on the ground

For the past 3 years or so I’ve been doing my best trying to help visitor find the best spots in Rotterdam by contributing to Spotted By Locals. But I’ve recently thought about it and realized its all very nice writing about spots, but that I think there’s more to it. I would actually like people to have the opportunity to experience Rotterdam the way I experience it – in a coherent, connected fashion. So whether you’ve been following my writings at Spotted By Locals or not, if you’re just visiting Rotterdam or lived here your whole life, let me take you on a city trip along my favourite spots. I’ve put them together in 3 “theme” days, so that if I inspire you, you can either get just the main highlights in 1 day, venture outside the city centre if you have another day, and should you be staying for longer, perhaps see a bit of the greater surrounding. Click on the day headers for the map of the day.

Day 1 – Downtown Rotterdam

Centraal Station - befitting Rotterdam's reputation as architectural capital of Europe

Centraal Station – befitting Rotterdam’s reputation as architectural capital of Europe

Cube houses at the Oude Haven

Cube houses at the Oude Haven

Since you’re probably arriving by train, don’t forget to look back as you exit the spectacular shining new Centraal Station. From here its a short walk to the Dudok, to start the day with a cup of coffee and Dudok’s iconic apple pie. If its Tuesday or Saturday, you’ve got the chance to experience one of the biggest outdoor markets in Europe, on other days the brand new Markthal is a good alternative. After exploring the market(s) and the weird architecture Rotterdam is so famous for, Seth’s Poffertjes are a perfect spot to lunch and do some crowd-watching. Walk to the river and cross to the Noordereiland over the Willemsbrug, that offers a panoramic view of the city’s skyline. Stroll along the south bank of the Maas past the Erasmus bridge (aka the Swan), not forgetting to pay your respects to the Holocaust victims at Loods 24. Take the water taxi at Hotel New York, moving back to the north bank, to the Veerhaven. If the weather is friendly, go up the Euromast for an unrivalled view of the city and the harbour, on clear days as far as the sea. And if its raining, take an indoor trip around the world at the Wereldmuseum. By now its probably dinner time. If you’re made of money, you can dine at the Michelin-starred restaurant of the Wereldmuseum. Those on a more reasonable budget can dine at the Wester Paviljoen, where you can also close the night with drinks. If, after all these efforts, you’re still up to it, in the wee hours Rotterdam gravitates towards the Witte de Withstraat, where De Witte Aap is the focal point.

The view from the Euromast is spectacular on a clear day

The view from the Euromast is spectacular on a clear day

Day 2 –  Ol’ Rotterdam (or what’s left of it)

Dragon boat race on the Kralingse Plas

Dragon boat race on the Kralingse Plas

Somewhere in Kralingen...

Somewhere in Kralingen…

As you might know, the centre of Rotterdam was pretty much levelled by the Luftwaffe in 1940. And what was left standing was torn down under the disguise of “urban renewal”. The old town was replaced with glass, concrete and steel and these are, in their turn, being replaced by even more glass, concrete and steel. But outside the city centre, the “old school” Rotterdam is still there. But first, its back to the Dudok for a solid breakfast to start the day. Its one of the few places that serve breakfast, so there’s not much choice anyway. Simit Saray just down the road is perhaps a bit more budget-minded. From here, take the subway to Voorschotenlaan, at the heart of Kralingen, Rotterdam’s rich suburb since about forever. Walk through the alleys following the pattern of ancient waterways to the Trompenburg botanical garden (don’t miss picture-perfect Slotlaan), where you can spend some time exploring the pathways. If you can find the tea-house, you can have lunch here in classical Continental style (which requires a lot of patience). Weather-pending (it’s a recuring theme, isn’t it?) take a detour to see the Kralingse Plas pond and perhaps feed the zillion ducks there, walking through a neighbourhood where kids on lunch breaks play tennis rather than football, I kid you not. Mme Masette is a wonderful spot to enjoy the sunset with a cup of coffee or a glass of wine (they’re good at selecting those) before heading back to the centre through Rubroek, practicing your bird-watching skills along the way. Back in the centre, all you have to do is decide whether you’re in the mood for French, Spanish or Italian – and go to Pierre, Barcelona or Due Tonine. But regardless of where you dine, end up at Bokaal.

Day 3 – Beyond the city limits

Boompjes promenade

Boompjes promenade

The Water Bus is the best way to get to Kinderdijk

The Water Bus is the best way to get to Kinderdijk

Its time to see some of Rotterdam’s surrounding country side, and the best place to go to is of course UNESCO World Heritage site of Kinderdijk with its classic windmills. Rent a bicycle, get your groceries at the nearest supermarket and sit at the Boompjes for a breakfast in full view of the river. Board (with your bike) the Aqualiner water bus to Kinderdijk. Touring the windmills will probably take the best part of your day, but if you haven’t had enough pedalling, you can disembark on the way back at the Stormpolder and cycle the extra 10 km to Rotterdam. Back in the city, cross the Earsmusbridge again to the Kop van Zuid, and choose your spot to enjoy the sunset – Hotel New York, the rooftop terrace of nHow or just sitting on the quay wall. The Lantaren-Venster filmhouse is an excellent place to say farewell to Rotterdam, closing off with a dinner, a movie and/or a concert.

Hotel New York is flanked by modern high-rise

Hotel New York is flanked by modern high-rise

Its a boat... its a bus... its... SplashTour! Hotel New York's water taxi is on the background.

Its a boat… its a bus… its… SplashTour! Hotel New York’s water taxi is on the background.

I hope you enjoyed this virtual tour of Rotterdam and perhaps will be inspired to visit for real.

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Filed under cycling, Europe, Small European things, Travel