Yesterday I took my daughter to my roots: Blijdorp Zoo. I was born just around the corner, and this zoo feels like 'home'.
One of my earliest memories is walking with my hand in that of my Grandma as a two-year old, along the avenue with the colourful Aras on both sides.
That avenue is gone, as well as the Aras. Large birds chained to sitting poles is not of this day and age. But the flamingo meadow is still there, right at the front of the zoo, near the old entrance.
Sorry! The 'B' has dropped off.. My Samsung isn't that good a camera.
'Blijdorp" means "happy village", and it has many happy memories for me. My Mum used to take me very regularly, and I witnessed all the changes to this zoo through the years. There has been a huge change of opinion on how animals should be kept in captivity since I started going there in 1958.
The cages, often tiny, have been demolished and changed to more natural habitats, where animals that belong together in the wild are put together, or near each other. And there is an Oceanium, where you walk underneath sharks and manta rays that swim overhead, and where you can stare at two huge and terrifying green eels with very sharp teeth, who stare right back at you.
But it is still a zoo. With animals in enclosures. And often not very happy.
So, instead of the traumatised tiger, or the zonked out lions, or the dozing ice bears and snoozing hyenas, I have taken photos for you of other things that captured my eye. And I have let myself be inspired by the things I remember loving as a toddler.
Here we are: the dell. Now long since changed into the Chinese garden in the 'Asia' part of the zoo. In the background you can spot the temple and bridge, but this spot is what I used to love as a child, and still do. The woodland plants. My grandma used to sigh that she paid good money to take me to Blijdorp and all I wanted to do was endlessly walk along the rock garden rocks in the dell.
And another favourite spot: the tropical greenhouse. This has been changed around as well, and has now been turned into a butterfly garden. It brought tears to my eyes, for my private jungle, with all the tropical birds there along the pathways, has disappeared. The birds have mostly been rehoused in aviaries, where they can pretend to fly. I used to sit near the Minah cage as a teenager and listen to the birds calling to each other, and dream about life and love.
Now my daughter was used as a perch by a huge butterfly; it was as large as my hand.
Some of the tropical plants are still there though, and the earthy damp smell is the same.
It was extremely busy in the zoo, and the mass of people made us flee to the only corner of the zoo that wasn't that trampled; the Dutch corner, with the meadows, the migrating birds and the sloten. In fact, the landscape I see around me at home every day! Shades of my Gran again: "I pay good money to..." etcetera!
But we enjoyed the elephants playing with the youngster that was born not so long ago (no photos, sorry, too many people standing in front of me!) and the giraffes with their youngsters snacking on liguster leaves in their snazzy new stable.
The zoo is in dire straits, in desperate need of funds, and it shows. The animals are very well cared for, and some of the new habitats are lovely. But on the whole there is a feeling of neglect about large areas of the zoo.
That's a shame. Blijdorp and Rotterdam belong together.
So if and when you visit Rotterdam, and you need to get away from the architecture, harbour, shops, nightlife and culinary delights, do stop by Blijdorp, for it is still worth your while.
You'll find it not very far from Rotterdam Centraal Station. Go to the back exit of the station and take bus 33. And say hello to the the only owl that I could find.