Rotterdam’s Cube Houses

Cube Houses
As mentioned previously, while some friends were visiting last month, we took a trip to Rotterdam. There was only one main goal that day — a post still to come — but while we were there, I really wanted to see the Cube Houses.

The Cube Houses (kubuswoning) were built between 1982 and 1984, although the plans were first presented in 1978. The architect was Piet Blom. The first cube homes were actually built in Helmond, in 1974/75, as a test, and by 1977, a total of 18 were built in Helmond, although there were plans to built many more.

In Rotterdam, 38 cubes were built, along with two “super cubes”. All of the cubes are attached together. Per the Wikipedia description: “Blom tilted the cube of a conventional house 45 degrees, and rested it upon a hexagon-shaped pylon. His design represents a village within a city, where each house represents a tree, and all the houses together, a forest.”
Cube Houses
The cubes are used as residences, while the space in the pylons below is used for commercial purposes. The cubes themselves are divided into three levels, with the first floor serving as an open-plan living room and kitchen, the second floor has two bedrooms and a bathroom, and the top floor is sometimes used as a small garden. The walls and windows are angled at 54.7 degrees.

So many people have been curious to see the inside of the cube homes, that one owner converted one of the cubes into a show cube, to give people a feel for how the space is used residentially. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a chance to see it for myself. Next time!
Cube Houses
Cube Houses
Cube HousesCube HousesCube HousesCube HousesCube Houses
Cube Houses

Modern Rotterdam Centraal

Rotterdam Centraal
While my friends were visiting, we did end up taking a couple of day trips to Rotterdam and Amsterdam. Our visit to Rotterdam was for one specific point of interest, which I’ll post about eventually, once I can whittle down the photos. Oh so many photos!

Rotterdam is a very modern city, due in large part to the fact that much of the city was destroyed by bombs in World War II. As a result, instead of an old city center full of traditional Dutch brick buildings that have been around for a few hundred years, you end up with gleaming glass skyscrapers and a variety of large contemporary buildings. We have more modern buildings just outside the Utrecht city center, but I only see them rarely, so it was a bit of a culture shock in a way. But in a nice way!

Today, I’m just going to share a few photos of the Rotterdam Centraal Station, which was recently renovated. It’s a stunning structure, with sweeping lines and metallic materials that shimmer and shine, especially in the crisp winter afternoon sunlight. The Utrecht train station is undergoing its own renovation right now and I hope ours turns out even half as impressive.
Rotterdam Centraal
Rotterdam Centraal
Rotterdam Centraal
Rotterdam Centraal
Rotterdam Centraal
Rotterdam Centraal
Rotterdam Centraal
Rotterdam Centraal

Wild Bicycle Parking in Utrecht

Bike Parking Along the DriftDespite the number of official spots for bicycle parking in the city, ranging from indoor parking to your typical outdoor bike rack, wild parking (I like the literal translation of wildgeparkeerde) is still the norm. It’s not surprising, considering the number of bicycles in the Netherlands outnumbers people, not to mention the whole point of cycling is the convenience it offers. If you’re out running a quick errand, you don’t want to park your bike blocks from where you’re going, just to park in a designated spot. Of course, there aren’t always that many designated spots, either.
Bike Parking Along the Drift
The Drift canal runs is lined with university buildings, including a library, so it’s no surprise that it’s a popular destination for people on bike. Students and faculty alike spend plenty of time in the area. However, offhand, I can’t think of that many convenient outdoor bicycle parking areas nearby. I think the newly renovated library probably has some underground parking now, but there’s still plenty of wild parking happening up and down the canal. So much so, in fact, that signs have to be put up on some of the bridges to prohibit bikes being parked there. With varying degrees of success.
Bike Parking Along the Drift
Some people really dislike the mass of bikes that pile up and they can be inconvenient at times, but overall, I don’t mind them. I’ll take huge swathes of bikes over cars any day! Plus, it can be quite picturesque in its own way. A row of lamps, a sea of bicycles, charming buildings, and a Gothic cathedral to top it all off.
Bike Parking Along the Drift

Now Where Did I Park My Bike?

Fietsenstalling
Just a small section of some of the bike parking near the station. They’ve added new indoor bicycle parking since I took these photos in January. That holds approximately 4500 bicycle parking spaces in a three-storey, automated lot under the station. They’re building more bicycle parking to hold roughly another 12,500. All of this is to help get rid of this “ocean of bikes“, though it sometimes seems that as soon as a new parking garage is built, it’s already full. Still, imagine if all of these represented cars. You can see a small overview of the area I photographed in this photo. The massive above-ground parking is partially seen on the right.
Fietsenstalling
Fietsenstalling
Fietsenstalling
Fietsenstalling
Fietsenstalling
Fietsenstalling
Fietsenstalling

Bicycles vs Stairs

Bike RampSo what do you do in a nation of bicycles when faced with having to get said bicycles up and down flights of stairs? After all, there are various instances, such as train stations or apartment buildings, when you’ll need to get your bicycle past these obstacles.

The solution is surprisingly simple. They build small ramps into the stairs so that you can roll your bicycle up or down stairs rather than having to bump around awkwardly, potentially damaging your tires. It’s another example of the developed cycling infrastructure that encourages people to ride their bicycle rather than drive.

A good cycling infrastructure is more than just comprehensive cycle lanes, although that’s where cities need to start and focus. (Don’t let cars park in bike lanes as I saw in a photo today!!) It’s also the elements that are a part of daily life even when you’re not actually riding. The easier it is to move bikes and park them, the more likely people are to use their bikes. These simple ramps take the hassle out of transporting a bike up and down stairs, removing yet another obstacle that people could use as an excuse not to ride.Bike Ramp

Is It Legal? Dutch Cycling Raises Eyebrows in London

Bakfiets
Every once in a while, I’m reminded that the cycling culture here really is different to many (most) countries. Things we take for granted raise eyebrows elsewhere.

Just last night, I was watching the Travel Channel and saw a short segment between programs, with a motorcyclist going on about his love of bicycling and how if he’s not on his motorcycle, he’s on a bike. As he rode around a picturesque village — in Lycra, wearing a helmet, and on a more race-style bicycle — it struck me how different things are here. No one thinks twice about cycling and it’s not just for pleasure or exercise; it’s a valid form of daily transportation. As for the mode of dress, Lycra, et al. are only worn by people who actually race or at least ride for sport, often with groups of friends. Here, people of all ages, in all types of clothing, ride for a variety of purposes.
Convey Motion
The differences were driven home yet again this morning when I saw an article about how a man in London was pulled over while taking his two girls to school in a bakfiets (see top photo). The police questioned the legality of the bicycle and the Daily Mail (admittedly, not a surprise that they’d not exactly get the story straight) referred to the bicycle as a “rickety wheelbarrow bike”, ignoring the fact that the bikes are sturdy, specifically designed, and cost more than €1000 easily. This is not a thrown-together mishmash of bike and garden tool.

The man, who has been taking his girls to school in the bakfiets for four years, was allowed to go on his way, but it does drive home the differences in how bicycles are viewed in other countries. The stop came about because of a crackdown on unsafe drivers and cyclists after six cyclists were killed in just two weeks in London. A bike that is taken for granted here and used by thousands of parents is viewed as something alien and dangerous in other countries.

There’s a push in many countries for better and safer cycling infrastructure, and not surprisingly, many of these proponents look to the Dutch cycling infrastructure as a good example. For those who say there’s too big a difference and it can’t be done, it is important to remember that the Dutch system didn’t really come about until the 1970s, after people started protesting the number of bicycle deaths. Pretty sure I’ve linked to it before, but it bears repeating: read this excellent post by Mark at the Bicycle Dutch blog about the development of the Dutch cycling infrastructure.

Systems can change and I think encouraging more cycling would be a change for the better for a variety of reasons. Certainly, cyclists need to ride responsibly, but given the proper infrastructure, they’re less likely to be put into difficult situations. More importantly, drivers of all vehicles need to be respectful of cyclists. Too many drivers treat cyclists as a nuisance and seem to forget that their heavy vehicle can kill or seriously injure. By encouraging the development of proper infrastructure, drivers will benefit as well as cyclists. The result is that neither should hopefully be quite so angry or combative.

No system is perfect, and I’ve heard complaints even here in the Netherlands from both drivers and cyclists, but the reality is that the system works well enough for it to be generally safe for cyclists everywhere, from small villages to the largest cities.
Bike Lane

The Search for Expats and Their Pets

No Lolas Allowed
As we prepared for our move here to the Netherlands, I spent most of the time worrying about getting our pets into the country safe and sound. Two cats and a big dog required their own crates and their own multiple copies of paperwork, as well as a drive to another state so that we could avoid having a layover.

It was all worth it, though, as there was no way we would have left any of them behind. In fact, I was always shocked when people asked us if we were taking our pets when we moved overseas. Of course! If we had human children, would you ask that question? To us, our pets are our children.

We’re not the only ones who can’t imagine leaving a pet behind. Although there are times when expats do have to leave a pet behind, it’s usually with a trusted family member and it’s a difficult decision. But many expats do take their pets with them. I’ve come across quite a few, and now I’m looking for more.

You see, I’m fortunate enough to have been asked to participate on a project about expats here in the Netherlands and the pets — expets — that they brought with them. Dutch photographer and journalist Robert van Willigenburg had the idea for this project and I’m going to be helping out, interviewing my fellow expats about their expets. He will be photographing everyone. He has already written, photographed, and produced the book Kat in de Stad (Cat in the City), a look at some of the well-known shop and neighborhood cats of Utrecht. Our very own neighborhood Sheriff is included!

So, we’re now looking for other expats and their pets here in the Netherlands who would be interested in participating. Your pet needs to have made the move with you, rather than having been adopted here, and still needs to be alive, of course. If you now have a mix of expets and native pets, that’s fine. We’re also interested in Dutch nationals who were expats themselves and adopted a pet while abroad before returning back to the Netherlands (with pet in tow).

If you are an expat with an expet or know of any, please get in touch with me or Robert. We have a number of people interested in participating so far, but we’d love to find more. You can share this post on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and any other places where you think you can reach expats in the Netherlands. Please help us spread the word!

Views Without Vertigo

I have a confession to make. Despite my love of the Domtoren, I’ve never climbed it. You see, I did climb the Campanile bell tower in Florence, but that was when I truly understood that I’m not a fan of going down stairs without a handrail. I always have a feeling that I’m just going to pitch forward. I’m like that with any stairs. Walking down the narrow, heavily worn, relatively steep steps of that tower was a nightmare for me and it’s about 30 meters shorter than the Domtoren. Fortunately, it was narrow enough that I could put a hand on both walls to give myself some sense of security, but occasionally we’d be met by people going up the stairs, which meant I often sort of pressed myself up against the wall and waited until they passed, for fear that their momentum would somehow unbalance me.

In the case of the bell tower in Florence, we were left to our own devices going up and down, so I could take as long as I needed to, but here in Utrecht, the tours of the Domtoren are guided, so you have to go with a group. Add in a knee injury a few years ago, and the result is that I’ve never gotten up the nerve to go up.

Fortunately, thanks to Google, I can now take a virtual tour of the Domtoren. Using the same street view option that allows you to get a 360-view of streets, neighbourhoods, and cities, you can now do the same with certain moments, including the Domtoren.

You can see the different levels of the tower by choosing levels 1-5, from the ground floor to the top exterior. I’m particularly fond of the view on level four, as you look up at the bells and the massive Gothic windows. On level three, you can actually move the image so that you are standing beneath the bells, looking directly up into them, clapper and all!

So if you’re like me and have an issue with stairs or heights, or if you just can’t get to Utrecht, you can now explore to your heart’s content with this great option. Zoom in, twirl about, look at the details … and maybe you’ll find yourself determined to get over your issues so you can go see it all in person.

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I’m going to canvas for comments again for my blog over at Expats Blog. Many of you have already left me amazing comments that have truly moved me, but if you haven’t and feel so inclined, please leave a comment on that page. With enough positive comments, it will help me be chosen Top Netherlands Blog.

New Look, Old Building

Vredenburg
Since we moved here, the western end of town has seen constant construction due to the renovation/rebuilding of the Vredenburg Music Hall. The building was originally constructed in 1979 and has hosted a variety of concerts and musical events, but it was becoming a bit shabby and too small, so a new music palace is under construction. Two of the main halls of the original building remain, but they have been encased in a larger, more opulent structure.

The rebuilding is just one part of the CU2030 revitalization project that is part of a major reworking of that whole side of town, including the music hall, the Hoog Catharijne shopping center, the train station, and the highway that’s being turned back into a canal. In other words, it’s all a big, ugly mess these days.

There’s a large square behind the music hall, which is where the local market is held on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. That’s the part I usually see, but I’ve been seeing other parts of it in the past couple of weeks as I’ve headed to the train station a few times. While heading home one day, I snapped a couple of shots of the new façade of the building, with the Domtoren off in the distance on the right.

Dots

I’m not sure how I feel about the new building. It’s not that it’s modern in design; I think my hesitancy stems mainly from the fact that the whole area is still under construction, so it’s hard to not think of it all as cramped and busy. I’m sure once the work is completed on the whole area — including reopening the canal where the car in the top photo is — it will feel more open and clean and balanced. The plans for the area, which can be seen on the CU2030 website (in Dutch and English) do look appealing and certainly nicer than what we’ve got now!

junnew

I still worry that the older buildings across the street (seen above) will be overshadowed by this new music palace, but I’ll reserve judgement until it’s all finished. Amusingly, another palace of sorts once stood on roughly the same ground. The Vredenburg Castle, although short-lived, was constructed in that area in 1532. You can read more about it, including how Trijn and a group of women tore it down, at the castle’s Wikipedia page.

For what it’s worth, here’s a time-lapse video of the spot taken on the same day I took my photo. There are also live webcams available on the CU2030 website. You can get a better sense of how the new structure seems to tower over the nearby buildings.