But now that the only road to Rotterdam by daylight is the road of iron all that is past, and yet there is some compensation, for short as the journey is one may in its progress ground oneself very thoroughly in the characteristic scenery of Holland. No one who looks steadily out of the windows between the Hook and Rotterdam has much to learn thereafter. Only changing skies and atmospheric effects can provide him with novelty, for most of Holland is like that. He has the formula. Nor is it necessarily new to him if he knows England well, North Holland being merely the Norfolk Broads, the Essex marshlands about Burnham-on-Crouch, extended. Only in its peculiarity of light and in its towns has Holland anything that we have not at home.
England has even its canal life too, if one cared to investigate it; the Broads are populous with wherries and barges; cheese is manufactured in England in a score of districts; cows range our meadows as they range the meadows of the Dutch. We go to Holland to see the towns, the pictures and the people. We go also because so many of us are so constituted that we never use our eyes until we are on foreign soil. It is as though a Cook’s ticket performed an operation for cataract.
But because one can learn the character of Dutch scenery so quickly—on a single railway journey—I do not wish to suggest that henceforward it becomes monotonous and trite. One may learn the character of a friend very quickly, and yet wish to be in his company continually. Holland is one of the most delightful countries to move about in: everything that happens in it is of interest. I have never quite lost the sense of excitement in crossing a canal in the train and getting a momentary glimpse of its receding straightness, perhaps broken by a brown sail. In a country where, between the towns, so little happens, even the slightest things make a heightened appeal to the observer; while one’s eyes are continually kept bright and one’s mind stimulated by the ever-present freshness and clearness of the land and its air.
Rotterdam, it should be said at once, is not a pleasant city. It must be approached as a centre of commerce and maritime industry, or not at all; if you do not like sailor men and sailor ways, noisy streets and hurrying people, leave Rotterdam behind, and let the train carry you to The Hague. It is not even particularly Dutch: it is cosmopolitan. The Dutch are quieter than this, and cleaner. And yet Rotterdam is unique—its church of St. Lawrence has a grey and sombre tower which has no equal in the country; there is a windmill on the Cool Singel which is essentially Holland; the Boymans Museum has a few admirable pictures; there is a curiously fascinating stork in the Zoological Gardens; and the river is a scene of romantic energy by day and night. I think you must go to Rotterdam, though it be only for a few hours.
At Rotterdam we see what the Londoner misses by having a river that is navigable in the larger sense only below his city. To see shipping at home we must make our tortuous way to the Pool; Rotterdam has the Pool in her midst. Great ships pass up and down all day. The Thames, once its bustling mercantile life is cut short by London Bridge, dwindles to a stream of pleasure; the Maas becomes the Rhine.