AB and I were in Rotterdam in July for the North Sea Jazz Festival. I had chanced upon it while looking online for something interesting to do in the Netherlands as AB was going to be there for work. Quelle chance!
I had never been to Rotterdam and my only impression was that it is home to one of the busiest ports in the world, alongside the port of Singapore. I learnt from AB about the city’s reputation for rave parties with youngsters driving around in souped up cars. In jest, he suggested listening to this in preparation for our weekend of music in Rotterdam!
When we were finally in Rotterdam, I didn’t see any rave party in action though I spotted a few cars zipping around the city with the windows down, music blaring.
We booked our accommodation through AirBnB.com and stayed with a family near Burgerplein. I like the location of the house as it was in a quiet residential neighbourhood and minutes from an Albert Hijn supermarket (the best supermarket chain in Europe!) and the Rotterdam Centraal Station.The father of the house recommended a Thai restaurant near the train station for dinner. I was a little skeptical in spite of his enthusiasm – while good Indonesian restaurants are a dime a dozen in the Netherlands, I wasn’t sure if the suggested Thai restaurant will be up to my Singaporean expectations. Am happy to say that it did!
Blue Mekong @ 29A Proveniersstraat serves hearty and wonderfully spicy Thai fare, which you could either order as a-la-carte items or as a rijsttafel set to share amongst two people or more. The restaurant seats around 20 people and is run by a Thai family with the mother shuttling between the kitchen and the tables with plates of stir fried fish/pork/chicken, vegetable salads and bowls of red curry, most of which seemed to have been freshly prepared on order.The approximate 25€/person cost for the rijsttafel menu was rather steep in comparison to what I would have to pay for something similar in Thailand. But, hey, we were in the Netherlands, and for what we ate and the friendly service, I’d say that it was worth it. There were pink plastic boxes of tissue on the table, just like what one can expect to find in a casual eatery in Thailand!
The following day, we were off to the Ahoy Rotterdam congress centre for the jazz festival. When we arrived, there was a sea of people – mostly in colourful outfits, including men in pink shirts, which was unusual after having gotten used to the black-grey ensemble in Paris and Brussels.AB and I thought that it was a shame that most of the venues were indoors, within dark rooms with no windows. Would have been more pleasant if there were more outdoor spaces for the music performances. The line-up was pretty good and I left it to AB to pick the acts as I was unfamiliar with most of them. We started with an rhythmic set by Charles Lloyd, Zakir Hussain & Eric Harland. It was interesting to listen to the tabla (classical Indian drums) played alongside the saxophone.Then we moved on to jazz + bop with Willie Jones III Quintet, during which I kept nodding off in the dark cold room (and this has nothing to do with their performance)!We wandered around the outdoor food bazaar area looking for something to eat in exchange for our food/drink tokens before we went to the huge tent to watch Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni Ba: Hailing from Mali, the Ngoni Ba band is led by Bassekou Kouyate, who plays the ngoni and performs alongside his wife (lead singer), children, brother and nephew. Dressed in traditional Mali clothing, the group gave a highly energetic and fun performance. The atmosphere in the tent was electrifying with people dancing below the stage towards the end!To end it off, we waited in line to enter the room where John Zorn was set to play with six other musicians from The Dreamers album. AB was gushing about John Zorn while we were in the queue. When the doors opened, the crowd swept into the room with some people rushing to grab the seats up front and all the spots were quickly taken. You could feel the buzz in the room. Not being familiar with him and his music, I was curious to see what the excitement was all about.
Soon, he appeared on stage in a t-shirt and camouflage pants, together with six musicians, including one with an incredibly long thick beard (which got me quite curious). The music was like nothing I’ve heard before and it was incredibly interesting to see them play in person with John Zorn conducting the group from the edge with simple hand gestures. I think I dropped my jaw on a few occasions while watching them perform!
= The next North Sea Jazz Festival will be taking place from 11-13 July 2014 =
The following day, we wandered around the city centre and shared a plate of tasty Dutch pancakes at Poffertjes Seth @ 177 Hoogstraat. The pancakes were tiny (so cute!) and served with a generous sprinkling of icing sugar and a chunk of melting butter atop (the waitress assured us that the butter is part of the traditional way of eating poffertjes).
Before we returned to the house to pick up our luggage, we walked through the Kijk-kubus (Museum Cube House) @ 70 Overblaak. What a peculiar design! Designed by Piet Blom, the row of slanted cube houses is supposed to resemble a forest with each house representing a tree. Don’t think I’d like staying in such a house.We hopped onto a tram, picked up our stuff at Burgerplein and made our way to the train station to catch our ride back to Brussels.All in all, it was a very nice weekend : )