We headed to Rotterdam and Delft in the Netherlands for two special exhibitions for our latest 36 Hours in article, in which we travel from Paris to discover the culture, food, and history of a European destination.
Boarding an 8:25AM Thalys train from Paris Gard du Nord station, we arrived at 11AM at Rotterdam Centraal, the main train station of the city.
Rotterdam has an excellent public transport system with up-to-date metros and trams that run frequently. We took the tram to the Kuntsthal, the main contemporary art museum of Rotterdam, which is located in the Museumpark, a park area which also houses the Natuurhistorisch Museum Rotterdam/Natural History Museum.
Thierry Mugler: Couturissme is the first major exhibit devoted to the work of fashion designer, photographer, director and perfumer Thierry Mugler. The sprawling exhibition, spanning four galleries of the museum, covers five decades of Mugler’s designs from 1977 to 2014. More than 150 outfits, some shown to the public for the first time, display the prodigious output of the creative genius, who changed the course of fashion in the 1980s with his futuristic looks. In addition to sequins, feathers, Swarovski crystals, leather and satin, Mugler used unconventional materials such as latex, car parts, fake fur and vinyl for his elegant yet sometimes outrageous outfits. The exhibition includes costumes, accessories, videos and sketches, and each room has a paragraph written by Mugler about his inspiration for a particular collection. Mugler is also known for his collaborations with fashion photographers including Guy Bourdin, Jean-Paul Goude, David LaChapelle, Helmut Newton, Herb Ritts and Dominique Issermann, who created iconic photos of his designs.
After the exhibition we visited Markhal, the enormous indoor food market on Blaak Square that launched in 2014. The striking structure follows the great contemporary design the Dutch are famous for, with floor-to-ceiling glass entrances on both sides and colorful illustrations covering the walls and ceilings. We were practically overwhelmed by the variety of foods in over 100 stalls with everything from Spanish tapas to duck burgers to frozen yogurt. We especially wanted to try Dutch specialties and found an informal restaurant with Dutch meatballs, which are deep-fried with a crusty outside and spiced ground meat inside. Dried waffles filled with warm, salted butter caramel were a delicious finish.
On the same square as Markhal is a landmark of modern Dutch architecture, The Cube Houses. In the late 1970s, upon the request of city planners, architect Piet Blom designed a series of houses tilted on a 45-degree angle, creating an innovative use of space and a unique type of architecture. One of the houses has been converted into a museum and we experienced the topsy- turvy interior.
The Port of Rotterdam is the largest port in Europe, covering 41 square miles, and one of the best ways to experience the port is by visiting the Hotel New York. Formerly the head office of Holland America Line, it was converted into a hotel and restaurant in 1993. The restaurant and bar encompass most of the ground floor with windows on three sides providing clear views of ships passing through the port. We enjoyed an early dinner of local oysters and homemade croquettes.
We later took a tour of the hotel and were shown one of the 72 uniquely designed rooms, which had a mix of modern décor and vintage wood furniture. The hotel offers a free water taxi to the center of Rotterdam.
After a long day, we settled into our room at the Brainpark Novotel, located in a quiet office park close to the city. A mostly business hotel, our spacious room on the 16th floor had commanding views of the city and a king-sized bed with outlets on both sides to support our computers and phones. The accommodating staff gave us maps, directions and recommendations for the city.
The next morning we took a local train to Delft, just 15 minutes from Centraal Station. Even though it was so close to Rotterdam, Delft is a world away, like a mini-Amsterdam with narrow canals lined with charming three-story, 18th-century houses.
Delft was an important center for art and artists in the 17th century, and painters Vermeer, Carel Fabritius and Nicolaes Maes formed the Delft School, which produced the Golden Age of Dutch painting.
A former monastery from the Middle Ages, the Pinsenhof is now a city museum. Even though artist Peter Van Hooch lived in Delft and painted most of his paintings there, he surprisingly has never had an exhibition in the city. The Pinsenhof is presenting a rare exhibition of 28 of Van Hooch’s paintings. Van Hooch was one of the first artists of the period to paint everyday people doing their daily chores, and he captured them in the courtyards of various homes in the city.
Delft is also the home of the famous Delftware china and porcelain invented in the early 1600s. The Royal Delft factory, the only surviving factory from the 17th century, is on the outskirts of the city, about a 15-minute walk from the historic center. The factory also contains a museum, café and retail shop. We took a tour of the factory in which we learned the captivating history of how the products are made and how each piece is still hand-painted, as we watched an artist paint a piece in front of us.
Later in the day we returned to the center of Delft to do some Christmas shopping and found a number of quaint, individual shops with locally made merchandise.
Chocolate is always a welcome gift, and we did some damage at Van der Borgh, a chocolate shop which makes its chocolate on premise. Our favorite item was a dark chocolate bar wrapped in a replica of The Girl with a Pearl Earring by Vermeer.
We stumbled upon a shop that sold antique Delftware from as far back as the 1700s. The genial owner, Laurens Puntman, spoke with us at length about collecting Delft, how to recognize authentic pieces, which are signed in a special way, and how to spot fakes. He also showed us a special series of rare plates with images of paintings from famous Dutch masters.
We liked Delft so much, we almost missed our 5PM train back to Paris.
Thalys train https://www.thalys.com/fr/en
Museumpark, Westzeedijk 341
Thierry Mugler: Couturissme until March 8, 2020
Ds. Jan Scharpstraat 298
3011 GZ Rotterdam
Overblaak 70, 3011 MH Rotterdam
Hotel New York
Koninginnenhoofd 1, 3072 AD Rotterdam
Novotel Rotterdam Brainpark
K.P. van der Mandelelaan 150, 3062 MB Rotterdam
Museum Prinsenhof Delft
2611 HR Delft
Royal Delftware Factory
Rotterdamseweg 196, 2628 AR
Van der Borgh
2611 KK Delft
Antiques from Delft
Markt 73, 2611 GS Delft