Our Geography field trip to Rotterdam

Billy Blanchard


This diary begins on the Newcastle to Amsterdam ferry, where I am writing in our rather small cabin on the sixth deck. Having never been on an overnight ferry before, I must admit that the idea of sleeping in a small cabin whilst rocking on the water does feel a bit strange. However, I have come prepared with my sea sickness tablets, which seemed to have worked well so far, albeit the North Sea does seem fairly calm this evening. Most of our group seemed to have enjoyed the buffet on board the ferry, with plenty of options and different cuisines available. A particular highlight was the soft-serve ice cream that was available as a dessert – definitely pick vanilla over strawberry next time! The sea is fairly calm and I’m hoping I can get a good night’s sleep.


Today was jam-packed with activities! After waking up, my first realisation was that the sea was much choppier than the night before. After a hearty breakfast on board the ferry (with particularly nice bread!), accompanied by an extra sea sickness tablet, we finally arrived in Ijmuiden. Our coach met us at the ferry terminal, where we immediately made our way to the University of Technology at Delft. Here we visited the Green Village, where our guide talked us through the various innovations that had been developed for home and work spaces. However, for me, the highlight of the day was visiting the Port of Rotterdam, where we were taken on a tour of the port by boat. Our guide gave us information about the port and the functions of its different areas and was particularly useful in pointing out where the Porthos off-shore Carbon Capture Storage (CCS) project was located. A surprising sight at the port was the impressive HMS Prince of Wales aircraft carrier that was briefly visiting having come back from NATO exercises earlier in the month. After an exhausting day of events, we checked into our hostel, which had a quirky exterior design of yellow cubes tilting at different angles! The evening allowed us to explore the city somewhat, and a group settled for a pint (well, 500ml) of beer at one of the city centre’s many bars.


Our second day in Rotterdam began with a speedy breakfast as we dashed quickly off to the city’s unique mode of transport, the water taxi’s. These small yellow boats were really convenient at getting us right to the city centre, where we would meet our architect guide. During our tour we learnt more about the rather wacky architecture of the city, such as the Lego-esque De Rotterdam skyscrapers. Most of Rotterdam’s old historic centre was completely decimated by bombing during World War II, except for the Art Noveau Hotel New York, that once served as the departure point for Dutch emigrants heading to America. In my personal opinion, I haven’t been particularly fond of either the post-war brutalism nor the contemporary high-rises that make-up much of the city’s centre. Following our tour, we headed to the Maker’s District, where we given a talk by the volunteers at the Floating Farm, a self-sufficient farm built and floating on water that housed over 30 cattle at our time of visiting. Whilst it was an interesting concept, it did slightly feel like “tech for tech’s sake”, and some of our group questioned the ethics of housing over 30 cattle on a small grid beside the Port of Rotterdam. After a long-day, I went out for a bite to eat at one of the local burger restaurants, before settling down for the evening.


The day started more relaxed than the previous one as we headed leisurely towards Rotterdam’s architecture museum. The museum had a particularly interesting exhibition on Netherlands’ spatial planning, in which it displayed infographics of the past, present, and future plans for the Netherlands by architects and the government. In the afternoon, we split off into our project groups, with our group heading back to the central library right beside our hostel. With an interview with Porthos coming up the next day, we planned our line of questioning and divided responsibility for note-taking/asking questions. In the evening, we received a fascinating talk from an employee of Solar World, a company that provided small-scale solar energy solutions to neighbourhoods in Malawi and other African countries.


After an early breakfast at the hostel, we took a coach to TomatoWorld, a greenhouse and information centre funded by multiple different companies that develops innovative technology in the greenhouse tomato-growing sector. Entering the greenhouse was exactly like the feeling you get when stepping off a plane in a warm country, the temperature had risen about 10C to 15C! A particularly fascinating fact about TomatoWorld was that they utilised CO2 captured by industries in the Port of Rotterdam and fed it through pipes into the greenhouse to help the tomatoes grow. Following our tour at TomatoWorld, we briefly headed to the Innovation Dock, an old warehouse that was home to numerous projects, many of which were being carried out by students. However, our group left the warehouse early, as we needed to head on the metro across town to Porthos’ office in the north east of the city. We met our interviewees at Porthos, who spoke perfect English like everyone else in the Netherlands. They gave our group enlightening information about the role of CCS in the Netherlands’ energy and how the Porthos project came about. With our data gathered successfully, our group headed out to a pizza restaurant in Rotterdam to celebrate our findings.


After a hectic few days, today has been fairly chilled by comparison. Following a slow start, our group met downstairs in the hostel’s common area, which had plenty of workspaces. We started work on our presentation, designing the PowerPoint slides and writing scripts for the sections we had assigned ourselves. Some good news came at around lunchtime, as another company involved in the Porthos project, EBN, came back to us and said that they were available for an interview tomorrow. As their head office was in Utrecht, it meant seeing another city in the Netherlands! Our group had been slightly envious of the two groups studying urban mobilities, who had been to both Amsterdam and Utrecht in the last few days – but at least now we can also see a bit more of the country!


This morning we headed off on a train to Utrecht for our interview with EBN. Utrecht Central station was massive and really easy to navigate, and luckily EBN’s office was really nearby. Our interviewee was directly associated with the Porthos project and was particularly knowledgeable on the risks associated with the project and the technicalities of CCS. After our interview, we were able to explore Utrecht a bit more and find somewhere for lunch. The city was strikingly beautiful – with narrow streets and much more traditionally Dutch architecture. We found a really good Italian sandwich place selling huge cheese, salami and veg sandwiches for just €4! In the afternoon, we went to the university’s library, which we were able to enter as students. Something that I found very interesting was the amount of English being spoken by other students who were presumably studying at Utrecht University! We headed back to Rotterdam just before dinner, and as of the time of writing, have spent the evening working on the last touches of our presentation!


Our last day in the Netherlands! We headed this morning to where it all started, Delft, where we had booked a private room in a co-working space to conduct our presentations. We were up second, and I would be lying if I said I wasn’t a little nervous. However, our preparation from the last few days paid off massively, as we all finished thinking it had gone really well. I was impressed by the effort put in by the other groups as well, and particularly the clear and professional design of their PowerPoint slides. With the assessment out the way, we had a quick lunch at the co-working space, headed into Delft (another city with great architecture) for some snacks for the ferry and got on our coach back to IJmuiden. Although I was looking forward to getting back for some rest after a jam-packed trip in the Netherlands, I have to say that overall, the trip was great fun and I really enjoyed working with my team on our CCS project.

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Billy Blanchard

Hi, my name is Billy and I’m in my final year reading Geography (BA). The Rotterdam field trip was a great adventure and offered a great opportunity to explore somewhere new whilst conducting my own research!

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