Ecotourism in the city? I used to think it wasn’t possible. Urban areas don’t usually come to mind when you think of the lush, green, protected areas that you normally associate with ecotourism. But recently I was pleasantly surprised by the possibilities of city ecotourism when I went on a hiking exploration of Rotterdam.
Hiking is good for the mind
You guys know I love hiking – well… you know I have a complicated relationship with the activity at least. But it is good for your mind. Lately, I’ve been walking around my city quite a lot trying to get out of my head. It was just getting too crowded in there because I’ve been worrying so much about how to get my sh*t together. All these questions screaming for attention. AAAAAAAAAAHHHH!!!!!!! Anyway, let me tell ya, it totally works! Urban hiking has been a good natural remedy for me. Because at the end of the hike – after 15km – you’re just so tired, the only thought you do have is putting one foot in front of the other. Like a Zombie – it’s very zen. So when my best friend came across this hiking event on Facebook, in my hometown no less, I jumped at the chance to get to know my city from a different perspective.
Somehow while growing up and starting my working life, I had forgotten my natural roots. (It’s no wonder considering I used to colour my hair a lot in high school! 😉 Red. Purple. Black… Basically everything but my natural dark blond hair). – I had forgotten that Rotterdam is so much more than tall modern buildings.
Rotterdam actually has a lot of green spots and although they might be somewhat hidden, they are worth visiting. But, don’t read this like I’m trying to convince you to come visit. If you want to stay in Amsterdam and be that cliché Tourist – with a capital T – that’s fine by me. If you want to see how modern urban and more classic architecture have been blended with the colour green then you’re allowed to come.
So back to the hike.
The theme for the 4 days of hiking was North, East, South and West, which totally appealed to the explorer in me. There are some areas in my city I’ve just never been, sometimes because of prejudices, but mostly laziness. Yup. Laziness. After 4 days of hiking around Rotterdam, I wondered every damn day why I didn’t do this more often. Why? Because you get stuck in the comfort zone, like a couch potato.
Idodidid – I’ve gone, done, and did it!
The idea of the organizer Iddo from Idodidid – a really cool and zen guy – was to explore urban nature, to see the city through different eyes – basically, to get out of that comfort zone that is your own part of the city – and have interesting open conversations with people you’ve never met before. FYI. I can certainly recommend this as an alternative to networking events (they’re so boring … mostly). It’s sort of a bonding experience – hiking. Oohing and aahing together during a hike, just does something deep to you. I don’t know why. Besides getting to know my fellow hikers and talking about some deep sh*t– for some reason hiking always does that to me – I was amazed to remember how beautiful Rotterdam is. Urban hiking seems to be conducive to both contemplation and as a form of therapy. It works for me.
The first day we (re)discovered the Northern part of Rotterdam, which is basically where I grew up. We explored the neighbourhoods Nesselande, Ommoord, Terbregge, Bergschenhoek, and Hillegersberg. In my parents’ heydeys, part of this area was farmland and it still has that appeal today. In the middle of suburbia, you can find cows, goats, sheep, and old farmhouses.
While walking around the area of de Rotte (the river that gave its name to my city of Rotterdam), nostalgia hit me. I suddenly remembered the yearly 4-day hikes I used to take as a child every summer. It’s a thing in Holland. We call it ‘avond-vierdaagse’, which just doesn’t translate that attractively in English. It means that every evening for four consecutive days we hike en masse in certain areas of the city. I know. It doesn’t sound that appealing, but it’s really fun.
Wednesday, the second evening, was dedicated to exploring the eastern part of the city. Starting from De Esch, going through the neighbourhood Kralingen-Crooswijk towards ‘het Kralingse bos’ (an urban “forest“) to end up in the city. Personally, besides day 1, which was so nostalgic to me, this hike was my favourite. Again I wondered, why don’t I do this more often?! It’s only 30 min by tube (metro/ subway) to get here. To me, it was a magical experience looking at the sun going down on the city from our viewpoint at the lake…
Thursday was spent uncovering the secrets of the South. I have to be honest, when it comes to the southern part of Rotterdam, I never went any further than just beyond the Erasmus bridge. I’d never considered going beyond that. Too scary.
For some reason, we Northerners have a weird view of the South. My momma used to jokingly say: “dear girl, don’t ever go out with a boy from Rotterdam South”. It’s an old rope skipping song from when she was young (so somewhere around the mid-1800s – just kidding!), but somehow it stuck. While growing up I mostly stayed in my own corner of Rotterdam – my comfort zone. But on this third hiking day, the time for laziness was over.
I finally put my bad girl shoes on and went over the Erasmus bridge. And surprise, surprise, I had a lot of fun! Beyond the known hotspots like Katendrecht with its Fenix Food factory and the Walhalla theatre, or the Kop van Zuid with Hotel New York, there is so much more! I never knew there is a huge park that side of town, called ‘het Zuiderpark’ – translated: the Southern Park (I know cliché, right!). Fun fact: it’s also the biggest city park in the Netherlands. That goes to show you don’t need to travel to the other side of the world to discover something new! 😉
The last evening we explored the West-side, my own back yard, where I spend many a day walking around, getting out of my busy head. We started in Schiedam (a neighbouring city in the Rotterdam metropolitan area) and zig-zagged all the way to Rotterdam Central Station via Blijdorp and my favourite city park – ‘het Vroesenpark’. Done. I’ve gone, done and did it. Together, we thoroughly explored the four points of the compass here in Rotterdam and I’ve got a taste for more. Which leaves me to answer the question with which I opened this blog post.
Is ecotourism possible in urban areas?
Although urban ecotourism as a concept might seem counterintuitive, as in origin it is often associated with nature in its purest form, my answer is a resounding YES. Whether you call the experience local travel, slow travel, or ecotourism, it doesn’t matter. What matters is your conscious mindset.
Ecotourism is all about exploring natural areas in a conscious way, making sure they are protected and preserved for future generations. I believe that this goal can be reached even through urban ecotourism. When we explore urban nature, we also develop a sense of respect for our surroundings. We learn more about environmental concerns and our impact on the world which in my case translates to a more conscious behaviour. Something that shouldn’t be limited to supposedly untouched nature like jungles, protected areas, or whatever, it should be incorporated in every part of our lives – even the urban environment we live in.
Another aspect of ecotourism is the welfare of local people, getting to know and respect people from other cultures, broadening your world view, besides offering a better income to the local community. Although there wasn’t a community aspect to this hike in the sense of providing fair economic benefits to local people, I definitely felt a sense of community with my fellow ‘Rotterdammers’ (it’s what we call ourselves as people from Rotterdam).
The experience was awesome. I really want to thank Iddo from Idodidid for coming up with the idea. My muscles certainly felt it. Another thing I wasn’t expecting since my country is as flat as a pancake. We have freakin’ hills…, not mountains. So why did my muscles hurt?! In addition, I rediscovered all the places I loved so much when I was younger, and as a bonus got to talk out my life story (so far) with a bunch of super awesome strangers. I’ll definitely be there, next year. Although, Iddo, I heard you talking about a 30 min yoga session afterwards. Uhmm… I really don’t know if my zombie-legs are still capable of that after 15 k, but I’m up for anything.
It turned out to be a long read this time, but I hope you liked it. I certainly had fun writing it. While you are very welcome to come visit Rotterdam, I also encourage you to take a look at the green areas in your own home town. Chances are that you’ve missed some great spots which will put your city in a whole new light. If so, let me know in the comments below or on social media.
Interested in the topic of Urban Ecotourism? Here are a few suggestions to get you started:
James Higham & Michael Lück (2002) Urban Ecotourism: A Contradiction in Terms?, Journal of Ecotourism, 1:1, 36-51.
Laetitia de Freslon Urban Ecotourism – The Case of Lac de Maine Leisure Park EcoClub.com