There are but a few things that I know I am really, really good at.
One is giving hugs - ask anyone, once they've caught their breath again after I squeezed it out of them.
Another is biting my nails; I'm especially good at that when I'm about to publish my first book.
And another is making assumptions. I'm really good at making assumptions. I excel at it.
I assumed that Hotel New York - a place that is considered an institution for seafood and upmarket hospitality in Rotterdam - was going to be steeped in history, with over a century of stories for me to uncover on my visit for lunch.
Well, it wasn't. Except, it was. A bit.
It looked historic and felt wonderfully vintage with its cruise-ship inspired decor and art-deco black and white tiles. Outside, I could see a sculpture and floor markings that hinted at history too. They were telling me that towards the end of the 1800s, this corner of the city known as Wilhelmina Pier, surrounded by the wide River Maas, was where people boarded boats to Canada and the USA, armed with nothing but their loved ones and a hope for a new life in the new world.I assumed that Hotel New York was where these brave souls stayed the night before they left the Netherlands behind. Was it behind these red brick walls in four poster beds that they gently dozed off, entertained by sweet dreams of new adventures and opportunities?
No, not at all. Hotel New York has only been a hotel for twenty years. But the building it is housed in holds vast amounts of associated history. It's the former headquarters of the Holland - Amerika Lijn, the shipping company responsible for opening up the Atlantic to so many. Built in 1901 and fondly called "The Grand Old Lady" by those who worked for the company, it watched ships depart for precisely seventy years when in 1971 the last ship set sail for North America. Commercial airlines were changing the way people travelled and it was time for this part of Rotterdam's fascinating shipping history to sail into the sunset for ever. So, I assumed that then it became a hotel, destined to be preferred by the rich and romantic during visits to Rotterdam?
No, not quite.
What's even less romantic - I've since learned - was how those first emigrants who travelled halfway across an unknown world were often leaving in order to avoid poverty or persecution due to religious factions in the Netherlands. These people weren't daydreaming of better lives... they were escaping to survive.
But back to the Seventies. It was used by the shipping company a little longer and eventually was put up for sale in the 1980s. Though it wasn't until the early 1990s that someone - not surprising standing on the opposite side of the river - saw the building's true charm and potential. As we settled into our table, the menus told us that the hotel was celebrating its twentieth anniversary that year. And it's clear from the clientele, the smiling staff and the style that this place oozes, this is now where the rich and the romantic stay when they visit Rotterdam. I'm also happy to say it's possible for the not-so-rich but just-as-romantic to stay there with some rooms being priced at under 80 Euros a night (per person) if you take advantage of one of their packages.
"Oi, Frankie, what do you want to drink?" NewMan asked as I was gawping around me at all the maritime details and "New York diner" style layout. I didn't even notice the waitress stood by my side.
"Try the garnaalkroketjes " tweeted Kim, my lovely point of contact at Rotterdam Marketing (a great team of people who will help you with any information about a trip to Rotterdam).
First of all, I had to translate as it didn't exactly sound 100% edible.
Secondly, there was the mission of pronouncing it correctly.
Well, somehow I managed on both fronts and those prawn croquettes were about a hundred times more delicious than they look in this photo - if anyone can tell me how to take a sexy photo of some croquettes - a Dutch bar snack staple, by the way - then please give me some tips.For my main course I enjoyed a tuna steak cooked just the right amount, swimming in a tangy tamarind Asian-style sauce. I drank more than one glass of Prosecco and I began to feel confused about where I was; was I on a cruise ship? In a downtown Manhattan restaurant? Or was I in Rotterdam?I looked around me. I saw tall blond men in suits leaning into each other over brodjes, I saw three smartly turned out women nod and pout at each other as their chatter overlapped each other, sharing a bottle of champagne. And I saw a couple drinking blonde beers and sharing a giant plate of oysters - Hotel New York's plat de résistance . There was a "Map of Rotterdam" folded by his side and she was laughing at something he said.
To quote the song - this could be Rotterdam or anywhere... but I'm glad I was in Rotterdam. And I was very glad to have lunch in Hotel New York. Aside from the delicious food, excellent service and wonderful timeless atmosphere, it's a special spot because of the history it is associated to. A history that is both completely unromantic and yet so desperately romantic, because now when I think back to that day and I see the River Maas, a river that opens up into a big wide ocean, I can't help but wonder, hope and maybe assume - just a little bit - that some of those brave souls found a better life in the new world.
See, assuming isn't all bad... Disclosure: I was a guest of Hotel New York and Rotterdam Marketing. But I'm already planning my return to eat more garnaalkroketjes and drink more bubbles at my own expense... And I can highly recommend that experience to you too.
Frances M. Thompson
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