Travel Black Book: Ambassadors Series

Modern, vibrant Rotterdam

The best of home: Ambassadors to Singapore provide an insider's guide to their favourite destinations

Who: Ms Margriet Vonno, 51, Ambassador of the Netherlands to Singapore

She and her husband Martin, 54, and their daughter Leda, 11, moved to Singapore last month.

Favourite destination: An absolute must-visit city in the Netherlands is Rotterdam, which has architectural beauty as far as the eye can see.

Like Singapore, the Netherlands is a hub, a gateway to Europe, and Rotterdam is the industrial and infrastructural heart within that hub.

It is a great city to visit, with much to offer: futuristic architecture, an abundance of art, inspired local initiatives such as inner-city canal surfing and a never-ending selection of dining and nightlife spots.

SEE

As Holland's main city of architectural innovation, Rotterdam has many unique buildings and interesting architectural sites.

Among them are the futuristic Erasmus Bridge and Markthal (Market Hall), and the famous Cube Houses designed by architect Piet Blom, who tilted the cube of a conventional house 45 degrees and placed it on a hexagon-shaped pylon.

The unique structures are a popular tourist attraction and you can visit Kijk Kubus (en.rotterdam.info/locations/kijk-kubus-1), a Cube House that has been turned into a museum.

For views of one of the world's flattest countries, visit the Euromast (euromast.nl/en), which was built in 1960 and was once the highest tower in Europe. At the top, you can take a ride in the Euroscoop, a rotating glass lift that takes you 185m into the air.

For culture, the Museum Park (en.rotterdam.info/locations/museum park) is an excellent choice. A large part of it was redesigned by Dutch designer Rem Koolhaas of OMA, the firm that also designed the Interlace condominium in Singapore.

The park is surrounded by six museums, among which are the Museum Boijmans van Beuningen (www.boijmans.nl/en), an art museum, and Kunsthal (www.kunsthal.nl/en) modern art museum, which is another architectural gem.

The Dutch are culture vultures, so there are many impressive museums and cultural sites in the country. The Rijksmuseum (www.rijksmuseum.nl/en) in Amsterdam should not be missed. It is the Netherlands' most famous museum and showcases our national heroes - Rembrandt van Rijn, Piet Mondriaan and Vincent van Gogh. It takes only 40 minutes to get to Amsterdam from Rotterdam by train.

Off the beaten track, the Kroller Muller Museum (krollermuller.nl) in Otterloo is worth a visit. A 11/2- hour drive from Rotterdam, the museum boasts one of Europe's largest sculpture gardens and the second-largest van Gogh collection in the world.

  • GETTING THERE

  • The best way to get from Singapore to Rotterdam is to fly directly on KLM Royal Dutch Airlines or Singapore Airlines to Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport. Then take a train to Rotterdam Central Station, which takes about an hour.

    TIPS

    •Rotterdam is a perfect year- round destination, though the weather changes frequently. Whatever the weather, you will always find things to do.

    •Three days is ideal to explore the city, but if you stay for a week, you will still be entertained.

    •No matter where you go in the Netherlands, make sure to go by bike. The Dutch infrastructure is designed for safe cycling as it is a big part of its culture. Enjoy the comfort of the cycling lanes and be entertained by the many types of cyclists who pass you by.

    • A perfect read when visiting  the Netherlands and  Amsterdam, in particular, is  In The City Of Bikes by  American author Pete  Jordan. He beautifully  describes how biking is so  entrenched in Dutch  culture. Stuff Dutch People  Like (stuffdutchpeoplelike.com) is a must-read  humorous guide for a deeper understanding of the  culture, habits and accent. 

    • Most Dutch people speak  English well, so it is easy to  ask for directions. 

    • The Netherlands is safe, but  it is advisable to always keep  an eye on your belongings  and to keep them close to  you, especially in crowded  areas such as train stations. 

    •Tipping is polite, but not  mandatory.

EAT

Rotterdam is a good place for foodies as it hosts many food festivals throughout the year, such as the Rrrollend Foodtruck Festival (rrrollend.nl) and Culinesse (www.culinesse.nl) food and music festival.

The Netherlands also has culinary talents such as Herman den Blijker, whose fine-dining restaurant Las Palmas (restaurantlaspalmas.nl) is located in the centre of the city.

Its menu is focused on meat and seafood, which my husband and I love. A three-course meal costs around €60 (S$96).

For a more casual meal, the Markthal (www.markthal.nl/en) is the first covered market in the Netherlands. Inside the spectacular steel- and-glass arch, you can find all sorts of food, from tapas to Italian cuisine to traditional Dutch fare, as well as stalls selling produce, sweets and meat.

The locals love to go out for lunch, but we do not have a warm lunch. Typically, Dutch people have a light, cold lunch such as a sandwich or salad.

Go fully Dutch and try Dutch herring, which should be eaten raw with some onions on the side. Dutch pancakes (poffertjes) or the heavenly stroopwafel cookies are great desserts. You can find these at any market in the Netherlands.

For a unique food experience, visit Urban Farmers (www.urbanfarmers.nl/en), only 4km from The Hague Central Station.

The Netherlands is all about sustainable innovation and circular economy and, at Urban Farmers' UF002 De Schilde rooftop farm, fish swim on the sixth floor, while crisp, green lettuces and juicy, shiny tomatoes thrive in the rooftop greenhouse.

PLAY

The Netherlands is crawling with music and art festivals, especially in summer. Aside from the famous music festivals Pinkpop (www.pinkpop.nl) and Lowlands (lowlands.nl), Oerol (oerol.nl), a big cultural festival in June, takes place on the island of Terschelling, one of the Wadden Islands, an archipelago off the coast of the Netherlands in the North Sea.

One of the best festivals in Rotterdam is the International Film Festival (iffr.com/en), which offers a quality line-up of arthouse and documentary films, both short and full-length.

I also recommend Rotterdam Unlimited (rotterdamunlimited.com/en/program/program-2017), an annual summer festival which celebrates the city's cultural diversity.

A worthwhile side trip is to the Deltawerken, or Delta Works (www.holland.com/global/tourism/destinations/provinces/zeeland/delta-works.htm) - an impressive system of dams and barriers which protects the country from the high (and rising) sea level.

The Dutch have a special relationship with water and the sea and you can learn more at the Watersnood Museum (www.watersnoodmuseum.nl).

If you have time to travel a little farther, visit the island of Schiermonnikoog in the Wadden Island archipelago. Most of it is a national park and I love going there for its beauty and serenity.

The island is car-free and I can spend days cycling around the island with my family, looking out over the dunes and dykes to the water, which defines our country in so many ways. It is an oasis in a busy and dense country, with soothing green all around.

You can travel to Schiermonnikoog by car, train or bus, or take a ferry or water taxi from the mainland. Stay there for at least two nights and up to a week to fully enjoy the peacefulness. SHOP Dutch designers have a lot to offer, and, in Rotterdam, you can find many beautiful stores where you can buy innovative Dutch products.

I recommend homeware store Moooi (www.moooi.com); Keet (www.keetrotterdam.nl), a minimalist boutique filled with products from niche Dutch artists and designers; design shop and studio Depot Rotterdam (depotrotterdam.nl); and vases by designer Hella Jongerius (www.jongeriuslab.com).

Souvenirs can be purchased everywhere. A traditional pair of clogs could be on your list, but do note they are not worn nowadays.

STAY

It was 1993 when I first visited Hotel New York (www.hotelnewyork.nl) in Rotterdam and it was love at first sight.

This beautiful hotel used to be the head office of the Holland America Line, a Dutch passenger, cargo and shipping line that is now based in the United States.

Back in the day, thousands of immigrants hoping for a better life started their journey towards North America from here. A stay at the hotel offers more than a good night's sleep. You can feel that this is where it all happened - from the cast-iron staircase and trunks to the visuals of emigrants and the former offices of its past directors.

You can get to the hotel on the Maas River by water taxi. It has a shop with exceptional souvenirs and modern homeware.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 13, 2017, with the headline 'Modern, vibrant Rotterdam'. Print Edition | Subscribe