As a convention visitor in the Netherlands, where should you really go?

Anyone visiting an international convention in the Netherlands will probably also take time to see the sights, which is another good reason to attend an event. Publicist Onno Aerden reports on the blessings of being able to spend even a few hours a day in an entirely different environment as a convention visitor.

Finally! You’ve landed at Schiphol Airport, and surprisingly quickly, you’re outside with your luggage. Amsterdam, here we come! You’re here first and foremost for the convention, of course. Three whole days of conferencing, listening, meeting colleagues and taking notes. Your hotel room is in an awe-inspiring box of blocks right next to the RAI Convention Centre. The people who booked your stay congratulated you on it, as it’s a design from the world-famous OMA, Office of Metropolitan Architecture. It’s by Rem Koolhaas!

You remember attending a convention once, at the start of your career: for a week, you lived in a space of 500 square metres. That won’t happen this time. You’ve booked yourself as an adult, and you know that real inspiration happens outside the hall.

That other big Dutch city

To start off, you surprise your booking department with a couple of photos of other OMA designs, such as De Rotterdam, an enormous building located in that other big Dutch city. It’s a 40-minute train trip from Amsterdam RAI to Rotterdam Central Station. The train station is right next to the hotel and the convention centre. Then you can crisscross in front of that huge building in Rotterdam by water taxi. Be sure to snap those pictures. And you can also take a good look inside the building. While you’re doing that, the taxi hurtles over the high waves of the Maas, which gives you a real sense of freedom, and guides you past the bustling world ports back to Rotterdam’s city centre. It’s time for dinner, and why not also with an architectural twist? Renilde is a restaurant in the remarkable museum Boijmans van Beuningen art depot that was designed by top Dutch architects MVRDV. After dinner, you can walk up to the roof of the huge, shiny depot for an unobstructed view over the country’s only skyline.

From FOAM to Our House

On your first day at the RAI, you’ve already understood that you shouldn’t talk too much about that other city. “Go and explore the capital; there’s only one.” That’s not an unpleasant task, by the way. But as a tourist, you’ve already experienced boat trips over canals, the surreal and overcrowded area in and around the Red Light District, and a visit to the Rijksmuseum. You want to experience new things. Fortunately, the FOAM photography museum has an exhibition with completely unknown up-and-coming talent, and it’s located on a canal, which is good for that real Amsterdam feeling. Then you stroll to what could be called the nicest square of the city – no, not the Dam, not the Rembrandtplein, not the Leidseplein, but the Amstelveld. Under large trees and against the white wooden Amstel Church, there’s the Brasserie Nel. It’s not new, but it is relaxed. It may be cool outside, but the sun is shining. So, before you have lunch inside, be sure to sit on the terrace and be amazed at how much atmosphere and serenity there is in the middle of the city. It’s good to know that the Vijzelstraat metro station is an eight-minute walk away. And the North-South line is a modern artwork in itself, with beautiful, ultramodern stations showcasing art.

While enjoying your salad, you get a bright idea: because you’ve just spoiled your eyes, it’s time to give your ears a treat this afternoon. On to the Amstelstraat, to Our House, the world’s first electronic dance music museum. Armin van Buuren helped found the museum, so it should be good. At the end of the afternoon, you can return mentally refreshed for the evening sessions.

World-class Japanese food

After those sessions, the day isn’t over yet. In the Scheldestraat, five minutes from your room, you can enjoy great fish even after 8pm. A bit further away, there’s world-class Japanese food at Hotel Okura, which has four restaurants that have at least one Michelin star, and that is unique. If you walk on for a while, you’ll end up in de Pijp. What was once a working-class area has now become gentrified, making it the place to be, even in winter. It has covered terraces, pleasant cafés and restaurants, and, until about 5pm, possibly the largest daytime street market in Europe. You’ve booked at Poppy’s with some fellow attendees who also like to walk. Poppy’s serves wonderful vegan food as well as meat dishes. While dining, you hear from someone at the table that you should visit the Gustav Klimt exhibition at the Van Gogh Museum. “Who knows”, you say, knowing that it’s going to be tough.

You told yourself that the second half of your free time would be devoted to the rest of the Netherlands, which is a broad concept. But you make it a little easier on yourself by excluding all the tourist highlights. Skip the clog workshop and the cheese farm, and in the winter, all the tulips are asleep, thank God.

Trade city Deventer

The third day starts with a short trip to Rust for an hour of deep tissue massage in what is perhaps the best massage salon of the city, in the historic city centre. Have the back pain from all that walking massaged out, and afterwards, enjoy a cup of mint tea for a change. And then, via Amsterdam Central Station, which has been undergoing renovation for some 20 years, you’re off to a city that you picked out blindly on the map: Deventer. That turns out to be an hour later – a lucky guess because as soon as you walk out of the station, you’re in an old city. Already, 800 years ago, the city on the winding IJssel river was a vibrant trade city. Back then, all of Amsterdam was still marshland. Traders gathered on the Brink, the main market square. Fortunately, that still exists, including cafés and restaurants. But first, soak up more history via the Proosdij walk; make sure to book it. You’ll suddenly walk through the oldest stone house in the Netherlands, dated 1130. The guide also explains that the park further on, Worppark, has the oldest public greenery in the Netherlands. And on the way back, you grab some coffee and a piece of Deventer cake, bought in yet another very old building; it seems that they’ve been making this gingerbread for four centuries. Imagine that.

Back at the hotel, looking out the window, Amsterdam suddenly seems quite new.

A miniature Amsterdam

One more day to go. A full convention day means no faraway trips. It will be an afternoon in Haarlem, a kind of mini-version of Amsterdam, just 20 kilometres away without the crowds. Here as well, the museums are located in the historic city centre. You decide to go to the Frans Hals Museum because you vaguely remember the name of this Dutch master. But after a tour of his masterpieces, you’re surprised to find out that the museum is featuring an ode to nightlife this winter. It’s an exciting ode to the club scene in the form of video art, including Rineke Dijkstra, a modern Dutch master, as it were. And the great thing about visiting a museum right before closing time is that you’re almost alone.

Then you agreed to meet up with some colleagues who had also travelled by train to Haarlem’s city centre within 20 minutes to have a last dinner. Tomorrow, everybody’s going back home. You’ve decided to celebrate and have chosen Olivijn, which, according to restaurant blogs and guides, is the city’s best restaurant. The chef used to cook at De Bokkedoorns, the starred restaurant further up in the dunes, and now serves up starred fish, meat and vegetable dishes with almost exclusively local products, which you’ve enjoyed your whole stay. As restrained as possible, you ask, “When was the next convention in the Netherlands again?”