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September 2013

Going Dutch: Five Days, Four Cities in Holland

By Christopher Durso, Executive Editor

It started small, with a simple inquiry to see if NBTC Holland Marketing would be interested in hosting Convene at the World Justice Forum conference in The Hague this past July. NBTC agreed enthusiastically, and also suggested we visit some of the country’s other meeting destinations while we were there. The end result was a barnstorming tour of the lovely northern European country, covering four cities in five summer days —  Amsterdam, The Hague, Maastricht, and Rotterdam — including time at the World Justice Forum, which we’ll be profiling in our November issue.

Seeing four destinations one right after the other helped me get beyond what to an international traveler can seem like the monolithic culture of a foreign country and appreciate each city’s differences, highlighting its strengths and idiosyncrasies. It was an ambitious and at times exhausting itinerary, and a lot of fun. Here’s some of what I experienced.

AMSTERDAM: BRIGHT LIGHTS, BIG CITY

 

I landed at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol on a brilliant Monday morning — a jewel of a day that locals welcomed after a long winter and a rainy spring —  and was driven to my host hotel, the Hotel Okura Amsterdam. From the car I got quick, enticing glimpses of Amsterdam’s capital — the concentric half-circles of canals ringing the city center, the skyline mashup of classic and modern architecture, and, everywhere, people on bicycles.


I freshened up at the Okura. Located along Amstel Canal, a short walk from the Amsterdam RAI convention center, it’s a gorgeously modern property, sleek and angular, with 300 guest rooms and 27,000 square feet of meeting space. Then it was a quick cab ride to Café-Restaurant Dauphine, where I met my hosts from Amsterdam Marketing. And, after a coffee on Dauphine’s spacious streetside patio, we were off for a daylong tour, conducted almost entirely on foot, through Amsterdam’s compact, lively urban core.

Our first stop was the Hotel Casa 400 Amsterdam, a squat, sturdy cube of floor-to-ceiling windows that sits a three-minute walk from Amsterdam Amstel railway station. Casa 400’s 520 guest rooms and 13 meeting and conference rooms are all splashed with light, due in part to the serene open-air garden that sits in an atrium-like space at the center of the property.

At EYE Film Institute Netherlands, a striking white building that juts over the IJ river on the north side of Amsterdam’s waterfront, we wandered through a dazzling array of spaces, from museum exhibits to theaters to meeting rooms, to the soaring EYE bar-restaurant and its riverside terrace.

From there we hopped a ferry back across the IJ — a free, 24-hour service from Amsterdam’s GVB public-transportation company — and made our way to the Beurs van Berlage, just a few minutes from Amsterdam Central train station. Built as a commodities exchange at the turn of the century, the Beurs’ red-brick construction, stone columns, and iron-and-glass roof recall the industrial age even as the facility offers 55,000 square feet of thoroughly modern event space, including the 17,000-square foot Great Hall.

Several blocks away, the 402-room Renaissance Amsterdam Hotel offers more than 15,000 square feet of event space — including, just across the street, the 17th-century Koepelkerk, a former Lutheran church whose beautiful copper dome is an area landmark.

Just a few blocks farther, three 17th-century canal houses that once hid a clandestine church today operate as De Rode Hoed (“the redhead”), a charming red-brick venue with a foyer and bar, sitting rooms, boardrooms, and a lecture hall. Buried at the center of De Rode Hoed is the main hall of the old wooden church, a three-story in-the-round space that can accommodate up to 450 people for seated gatherings.

My first day in Holland wrapped up on a timeless note, at Sofitel Legend The Grand Amsterdam, an opulent property that first housed two 16th-century convents, then the Admiralty of Amsterdam, which added a new building with a stunning façade, and finally, for nearly 200 years, Amsterdam’s city hall. Today, the 178-room Sofitel Grand is a classic beauty that sprawls around a cobblestoned courtyard, with nine “historical” meeting rooms — including the 3,175-square-foot Council Chamber, built in 1924 for Amsterdam’s city council — and, spread over three floors, the nearly 10,000-square-foot Princehof Meeting & Convention Centre.

The next morning was another stunner, clear and bright and mild. Perfect weather for a day at the beach, which is where I unexpectedly found myself after a tour of Amsterdam RAI, Holland’s largest conference and exhibition center. Not only does the sprawling RAI complex offer more than 1 million square feet of space, including 11 exhibit halls, from 11,000 to 161,000 square feet, and the Elecium conference center, with a 20,000-square-foot ballroom and 20 meeting rooms — the facility also sits adjacent to Strand Zuid, a beach property with sand, lounge chairs, hammocks, and a cool, relaxed restaurant, where I enjoyed a cold drink at the water’s edge before taking my leave of Amsterdam.

The RAI had that covered, too. The complex is home to its own rail station (along with subway, bus, and canal stops), making it a snap to catch the train to my next destination, a little more than 30 miles to the southwest: The Hague.

THE HAGUE: SEAT OF POWER

 

If Amsterdam is Holland’s New York City — bright and urbane, with seemingly limitless energy — The Hague is its Washington, D.C., leafy and elegant, even stately. As my hosts with Den Haag Marketing noted, the destination is known as the City of Peace and Justice, and for good reason. Situated on the North Sea, The Hague is the seat of the Dutch government and supreme court, and home to more than 150 international organizations, including the International Court of Justice, the International Criminal Court, and the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY).


Many of those organizations are based in the city’s international zone, a short ride from downtown, and so is much of its meetings infrastructure, including Worldhotel Bel Air The Hague. With 300 guest rooms, a 3,000-square-foot congress hall, and 20 meeting rooms, the Bel Air is one of The Hague’s premier conference properties — located just next door to the World Forum convention center, which was hosting the World Justice Forum.

After spending a few hours at the World Justice Forum, I checked into my host hotel, the Crowne Plaza Den Haag - Promenade, which also sits adjacent to the World Forum. It’s another impeccable property for international business, with 174 guest rooms and eight conference and boardrooms.

I had a free evening, so I walked from the Crowne Plaza through the lush Scheveningen Woods, along one of The Hague’s many wide, tree-lined boulevards, and into the city center. It was a beautiful night in a beautiful city. A steady breeze blew off the North Sea, and standing at the edge of the Hofvijver pond, looking over the shimmering water at the 600-year-old clutch of buildings that house the Dutch parliament and at the jagged line of modern skyscrapers rising up behind them, it wasn’t hard to trace a line through the centuries to today’s City of Peace and Justice.

The next morning, I walked from the Crowne Plaza back to the World Forum to learn more about the 160,000-square-foot venue, which shares a neighborhood with the ICTY, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, and, directly across the street, the residence of the Dutch prime minister. With nearly 110,000 square feet of exhibit space, 27 meeting rooms, and a 2,161-person auditorium, the World Forum can

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