Depart the hotel by 10:30 AM.
(Don’t pretend you might leave earlier, it’s Amsterdam, and we all know what you were doing the night before.)
Walk to Amsterdam Central Station and take the train to Rotterdam Central Station (very frequent and cheap departures).
If you did manage to leave the hotel at 8 AM, walk fifteen minutes from the Rotterdam Central Station and visit the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen. Though not as widely discussed as the easier pronounced Louver or Hermitage, this is one of the great art museums of the world. It is a tour of art history and a honeycombed maze of masterpieces–housing everything from Pieter Bruegel’s “Tower of Babel” (1563; considered one of the most important religious artworks in history) to Salvador Dali’s The Face of War (1940). Their collection also includes Rembrandt, van Gogh, Monet, and some works you may recognize from Art History textbook covers by the venerable Hieronymus Bosch. The museum is also brimming with expansive interactive modern art multimedia installations and a vast eponymous sculpture garden seemingly contemplated out of an Escher painting.
Otherwise, from Rotterdam Central Station, take the “D” Metro two stops to Beurs for lunch at any one of dozens of psychedelic options at the fantastically ultramodern underground Beurstraverse (locals call it “Koopgoot,” Dutch for “shopping gutter”).
After digesting your delectable Dutch delights, either walk (20 minutes) or continue two more stops down the “D” line to Wilhelminaplein. From here you will see the world famous Erasmusbrug, where you catch the waterbus to Alblasserdam Cay.
From there, hike thirty minutes to Kinderdijk. This is basically the most famous expanse of windmills in the world. Despite frequent visits to the Netherlands and even living in Rotterdam for several months, I have never been here. So if you go, please send me pictures.
Take Bus 90 back to Rotterdam.
From Rotterdam Central Station it is a ten minute train ride to Gouda (where the cheese, actually pronounced “how-duh,” comes from). Walk to the market square (Markt) which is home to the Gouda cheese markets and one of Europe’s most beautiful medieval City Halls. If the weather is pleasant, grab an outside seat at one of the dozen outdoor cafes. If the mood strikes you, smoke a cigar from the square’s coroner tobacconist while drinking an orange-adorned Hoegaarden. Finally, order a traditional Dutch dinner and marvel at how lucky you are to be alive.
My favorite place to eat and drink is Café Tapperij. It’s situated behind the Stadhuis on the Markt. There was a compulsory visit for every friend who traveled to see me when I lived in Rotterdam. In the winter, I would go nearly every weekend and grab the first stool near the window with a paperback textbook on comparative constitutional law and take frequent reading breaks to stare at the magnificent medieval City Hall.
After dinner, continue on the train twenty more minutes to Delft. You will find yourself almost immediately in one of the grandest medieval squares of Europe. Any shop will sell meticulously crafted ceramic Delftware (you’ll know it when you see it).
Enjoy a movie here at Filmhuis Lumen. This is one of those uniquely homey art house places that can usually only be stumbled upon by random meandering happenstance. Like Nantucket’s Starlight Theater and Cafe, Cambridge’s Arts Picturehouse, or, home to the Edinburgh International Film Festival, Filmhouse, you buy your beer or coffee in a delightfully artsy and locally-themed lobby cafe and bring it with you into the smallish-yesteryear theater to enjoy anything from a Blockbuster to the best in independent subtitled foreign film. The cafe will also sell you the whole scope of organic salads and sandwiches to cookies and cakes requiring a doctor’s wavier prior to purchase. For my part, this is was where I first watched the Lord of War and heard Yuri Orlov’s nihilistic opening line:
“There are over 550 million firearms in worldwide circulation. That’s one firearm for every twelve people on the planet. The only question is: How do we arm the other 11?”
After enjoying a movie and something creative from their cafe, with your last vestiges of energy continue to Locus Publicus You have to experience this place to believe it. It is the quintessential idyllic pub experience and It is worth a trip to Delft just to visit this single elongated-room shoe-box sized bar. Grab one of the paperback classics available for borrowing from the shelf and review their drinks list. Skip the coffees, juices, and the brands everyone recognizes like Heineken and Carlsberg, and instead experiment with one of the dozens of rare and obscure Belgian ales. (Publicus’ recherché collection makes World of Beer’s efforts seem adorably amateurish and child-like by comparison.) Read Candide, discuss Friedrich Nietzsche with a local dock worker (it seems everyone in the Netherlands is hyper-educated), and relish at what can be recklessly packed into one impossibly ambitious day.
Catch the midnight train back to Amsterdam (one hour). Collapse in your hotel.
If you ever find yourself with an extra night in Rotterdam, and you had the foresight to book a reservation approximately 28 years in advance, have dinner at Parkheuvel. If a restaurant has one Michelin star it is considered to be one of the best in the world.
This place has two.
I always have difficulty explaining the sheer intensity of the customer service at these places. They treat each patron as if he or she was royalty, a celebrity, or a Nobel Laureate.
Here’s an illustrative anecdote about Parkheuvel. Outside the front entrance my friend and I had asked the sole valet to take our picture together. As he took several from different angles and perspectives, a limo draped with Dutch flags pulled up. My friend was dissatisfied with the pictures and asked the valet if he minded trying again. I gestured excitedly that Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende was waiting for his door to be opened and the valet might have more pressing matters to attend.
This is how the valet reacted:
He turned his head, saw the limo, returned his attention to us, and said “He can wait. You were here first, and for you, I have all the time in the world.”
We tipped generously, ran out of the way inside, and found ourselves seated in priority over a world leader.