I was a little apprehensive as I stepped on to the Eurolines coach at London’s Victoria coach station, a service that would take me to Rotterdam for a long weekend.
Ahead of us lay a 10-hour journey, via Eurotunnel and then a lengthy drive through France and Belgium. But in these grim days of spending cuts, job losses and trying to stretch money out as far as it can reach, why refuse a weekend in a thriving European city when the return fare is just £39?
That number kept a warm glow of contentment in my stomach as my friend and I whistled through two European countries. Time passed fairly quickly, partly because we packed accordingly (a laptop, MP3 player and magazines are all imperative).
We eventually arrived in Rotterdam, Holland’s second city, as it descended into autumnal evening darkness.
Our first stop was Hotel Bazaar, a buzzing Moroccan bar whose mismatched, bohemian stylings are a world away from the sleek modernity that rules supreme outside its doors.
Hefty portions of juicy kebabs, soft flatbreads and tangy dips were the perfect antidote to a day cooped up aboard the coach.
We soon discovered there was far more to Rotterdam’s nightlife, however, than a few bottles of Dutch lager and an early night.
Before long we were running the nightclub gauntlet. Once inside Worm, an art space where heavy beats are mixed with mind-bending light shows, I was served the biggest vodka shots I’ve ever seen.
After an hour or so, we headed towards Rotown. This indie bar and club is one of the city’s best live music events. If any band has made it big in recent years, the chances are they have played this welcoming, 200-capacity venue. Franz Ferdinand and Foals are among its alumni.
The next morning, I took a bicycle ride around the city. It was flattened by the Luftwaffe during the Second World War and, as a result, has precious few buildings predating 1940.
However, it has become, says our bicycling guide, a playground for architects and home to one of the best modern cityscapes in Europe, especially around the city’s port, one of the largest in the world.
Dominating this view is the Erasmus Bridge, a huge connecting point over the New Meuse river linking north and south Rotterdam.
The cranes and scaffolding on Rotterdam’s skyline remind you the city’s in a constant state of flux, driven by a desire to remain at the cutting edge.
One of the city’s most interesting buildings has been turned into a youth hostel. Stayokay Rotterdam is located within the famous cube houses. Designed in 1984, these eye-catching structures create an urban ‘forest’, with each cube representing a tree. It’s by far the cheapest way to experience a piece of Rotterdam’s architectural history (stayokay.com).
Our home for the weekend, however, was the Bilderberg Park Hotel, which offers a special clubbing package including one night in an executive room, the use of the fitness room and sauna, plus champers on arrival and a bloody Mary late breakfast (plus optional late check-out!).
Later that day, we found that many of Rotterdam’s best parties take place in or around the city’s landmarks.
We attended a Housequake party at the famous cruise terminal, a wide glass-fronted behemoth building still used by large passenger vessels.
For those looking for a fun weekend on a budget, Rotterdam is ideal.