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Saturday, November 25th 2017.

Destinations

Anja De HaenUNKNOWN, UNLOVED
The story of a 3-day educational to Groningen and the West Frisian Islands

 

By Anja De Haen, BCD Travel,  Head of MICE Benelux

 

Two weeks of well-earned vacation, two weeks of travel-free Dolce Far Niente at home in Belgium; that’s what I had in mind for the last fortnight of August. No bags to pack, no transportation to catch, no hustle – just me, myself and I!

But then I received the invitation of Pauline van Kooten and An van de Steen of the Dutch Bureau for Tourism and Congresses to join a 3-day educational to Groningen and the Waddeneilanden (West Frisian Islands). Having never been to these famous Dutch islands, the trip tickled me… So I threw my good intentions overboard, packed my weekend bag and went off!

holland

On Friday morning, August 21st, our group of 17 people left Berchem (Antwerp) by coach and after a mere 3,5 hours’ drive we arrived in Groningen. A nicely catered breakfast on board, a few newspapers, a variety of magazines and – last but not least – some good conversation with the other participants, made the journey go by in no time.

GroningenUpon our arrival in Groningen, Jaap Westerhuijs and his team of the Groningen Convention Bureau immediately took us on a surprise discovery of the city: a cruise on the canals while enjoying a delicious tapas lunch. Our boat however, was not a regular sightseeing cruiser! Instead, we boarded 2 smaller, wooden vessels – each with a capacity of 12 to 15 guests. The weather was great and we really enjoyed being on the water in open air!

Our official city guides wined and dined with us, while pointing out the most important sights and venues that we could see from the water. Amongst them houseboats in all sizes, colors and conditions, beautiful red stone warehouses dating back to the early 15th century, old hospitals and guesthouses, the famous Pancake Boat serving pancakes for lunch and dinner, and the Botanical Garden of the Prinsenhof.

But the absolute eye catcher was the Groningen Museum, with a variety of pavilions designed by famous architects such as Alessandro Mendini and Philippe Stark… and offering the possibility to organize private nocturnes with cocktails, meetings or other events! Connecting the museum and the center of the city with the Central Station on the other side of the Verbindingskanaal is De Werkmanbrug, a mobile bridge also designed by Mendini. The bottom of the bridge is decorated with a funny piece of art from the Belgian artist Delvoye: 56 white and blue tiles that represent 9 universal activities of mankind – not suitable for publication however!

The Central Station is a true monumental building. The outside combines the Dutch-Flemish Gothic style with Renaissance elements, while the main hall is a great example of Jugendstil. In front of the station, one can find the so called “city’s balcony” with the statue of “Het Peerd of Ome Loeks” on top of it and a bicycle parking with more than 5000 spaces beneath it. Those Dutch and their bikes…

groningen

After about an hour and a half, we disembarked our boats to explore the center of the city on foot. We discovered a wealth of historical buildings, standing brotherly next to nice examples of modern architecture. The current Der Aa-kerk, a church located in the old harbor district, was built in the 15th century and is devoted to Maria and Saint-Nicolas. It’s an interesting building, not only for church-goers but also for event organizers.

Right next door is Het Hanze Huis, where you can discover the hanseatic history of Groningen. Between the 12th and 16th Century, the powerful “Hanseatic League” was made up of 205 European towns that controlled all European trade. Amongst those towns were Hamburg, Bruges, Antwerp, London, Bremen and Groningen. Nowadays, Het Hanze Huis is a modern Hanseatic Trade Company that supplies its products to more than 100 fine food and department stores in the Netherlands and Belgium. Two important details however: Het Hanze Huis only trades with suppliers that are at least 100 years old AND only with suppliers that are located in the old European Hanseatic towns. If you are looking for typical gifts, make sure to check it out!

A few steps further down we found De Korenbeurs, the Neoclassical exchange building from 1865, with its remarkable cast iron and glass roof construction allowing a good incidence of light, which was required to inspect the corn grains in the early days. The building now is home to an Albert Heijn supermarket. A very nice environment to buy groceries, indeed!

We then followed our guide along the Vismarkt (Fish market) towards the Grote Markt. The south side of this main city square is dotted with beautiful facades dating back to the 17th and 18th century – now housing a variety cozy cafés with outside terraces – while the west side is dominated by City Hall, a Neoclassical building from 1810. Unfortunately, the north and east sides of the square were completely destroyed at the end of the war in 1945 and now offer a variety of sad looking grayish buildings in an unattractive post-war architectural style. Fortunately, the view of the 15th century, 97 meter high Martinitoren (Martini Tower) makes up for it! No Martini, No Party? Think again! Although the church is not named after the alcoholic drink, which was recently put back on the map thanks to a commercial starring George Clooney – but after Saint Martin, the patron saint of the city – it can be used as a venue for all kinds of events!

NHNHNH

Our city walk ended at our hotel for the night, the NH Hotel de Ville, located in the Oude Boteringestraat, the most renowned street of Groningen that simply breathes history, from one of the oldest stone houses of the city to beautiful buildings from the 18th and 19th century. Many of the old facades now hide modern lounge bars, elegant bistros and fancy restaurants worth checking out, even for groups!

groningen

A quick & smooth check-in, friendly & professional staff, nicely decorated rooms. That was my first impression of the hotel. No time to find out more at this stage… The weather was nice and we had some time to kill, so I decided to go for a stroll through town to check out its shops. What else?

market market
 
Belgium is everywhere, even in Groningen

I soon discovered that, apart from popular department stores and other commercial brand stores, Groningen is a true Shopping Walhalla with a wide variety of artisan stores, special interest shops and delicatessen houses. An absolute must is the Oude kijk in’t Jatstraat and the neighboring streets. Make sure to bring that credit card! And if you are a market lover, you are in for a special treat… The Groningen market – taking place each Tuesday, Friday and Saturday – has been proclaimed “Best Market of the North”. And as if that’s not enough, there’s an extra market on Koopzondag (literally “Buying Sunday”, one Sunday per month, when stores are open in the afternoon).

mansionAfter a relaxing glass of rosé on Het Waagplein, it was time to walk back to the hotel and get ready for dinner. But not without having a quick look at the city’s most famous example of harmony between old and modern architecture: Het Goudkantoor (Gold Office) from 1635 that got very nicely incorporated into the new Waagstraat shopping and office complex from 1996.

Our evening started very promising with champagne and oysters in the Garden Room of The NH Hotel de Ville, hosted by Mr Egbert Brinks, GM of both NH de Ville and the NH Groningen hotels.

After this delicious treat, a coach ride of about ½ hour brought us to the village of Leek and the Nienoord Castle. A tree-lined driveway, an amazingly well-kept park and an imposing mansion reflecting beautifully in its moat; we were in for a real treat!

Filled with expectation, we stepped into the inner court, which was bustling with activity: pick-up trucks and lorries driving off and on, staff moving furniture around, chatting people in evening attire, playing children,… When we finally managed to re-group in the castle’s Balzaal (ballroom), we received a glass of sweet sparkling rosé wine to sip while Wilma Haket, our host for the evening, briefed us about the history of the estate and its possibilities, revealing that the 19th century castle nowadays houses a regular restaurant / brasserie with the possibility of renting it out partially or completely for meetings, parties and other events. The aperitif was followed by a tour of the premises. Starting with the Ridderzaal (Room of Knights), we immediately found ourselves amongst furniture movers again; chairs being moved out and a music installation being moved in. Obviously, there was another party going on! Too bad, because there was a lot to tell about this beautifully decorated room, but most of the explanations got lost in the noise… A short walk through the park brought us to “Koetshuys North”, a very nice multifunctional hall of 40mx20m, where custom tailored events for up to 400 guests can be organized. And in case you require more space, there is always the possibility of adding beautiful party tents in the park.   

wilmaBack at the Ballroom, our table was waiting for us. “Tingelingeling Tingelingeling Tingelingeling!” We all looked dazzled and our conversations faded away. Wilma was ready to announce the first course and the wine that it was going to be accompanied by, making sure not to leave out the details about the vegetarian alternative, which was only ordered for one guest of our group. She then offered us the opportunity to pray in silence, just in case some of us took that habit. The majority of guests in our party however, could not resist asking themselves who had died earlier that day! There was a bizarre touch about the evening…

Wilma, unaware of the situation, repeated her entire “Tingelingeling” ritual another 4 times. This type of service one can expect during very formal events where everything is meticulously planned; not during a dinner party where seats are short, where waitresses serve wine and water while clasping three other bottles between arms and chests and where the same two guests are always left out when it comes to refilling wineglasses.

Overall, the dinner itself was not that bad, but the way the food was presented did not match the environment (or maybe it did…?). A nice terrine of duck served on four slices of unpeeled cucumber; well-prepared warm scallops, served on a cold tuna mayonnaise; a fluid (melted?) sherbet; a fillet of beef cooked blue or rare for everyone and a palette of desserts topped off with a piece of canned pineapple… Call me spoilt – call me whatever you want – but this culinary experience was below all expectations. By the way, did I already mention that the exploitation of Kasteel Nienoord is in the hands of “Delisjeu” – a company claiming to be an expert in catering and organization? Not to my opinion!

At the end of the evening, we returned to Groningen. The fact that it is a University City mainly becomes evident during the evening, when the city centre gets crowded with the young and the young at heart. In particular the “Ellenbogen” area has a high density of attractive cafés, where quiet pubs alternate with bustling student pubs. The south side of the Grote Markt is home to a variety of bars and discotheques and there is live music in the city almost every evening. Rumor has it that time flies in Groningen, as there are no fixed closing hours. I really wanted to go out and discover this myself, but once back at the hotel, I really felt the urge to go and check out my bed instead… So I did.

The next morning, after an elaborated breakfast, we took off by coach towards Harlingen, where a privately rented rescue power boat was waiting to bring us to the island of Terschelling. A great exciting experience, only a pity that the tide was high and we did not get to see the seals the Waddeneilanden (West Frisian Islands) are so famous for!

Groningen

Completely blown about – it does get rather windy on these recue power boats! – we arrived at the quay of Terschelling – located at the edge of the village of West Terschelling – where Peter Miedema of Frisse Wind Events was waiting. A warm smile and a firm handshake immediately made us feel very welcome! Peter showed us where to drop our luggage and took us to his offices, where he and his team treated us to a nice cup of coffee and a piece of local cranberry pie. Yes indeed, the American cowberry or so-called cranberry does grow on Terschelling as well!

During a short presentation we learned that, with its 30 km in length and a maximum of 4,5 km in width, Terschelling is the second largest West Frisian Island – after Texel. The island has approximately 4.700 inhabitants and it is mainly landscapedominated by nature and culture. The landscape is very varied with polders, large mud flats, salt meadows and beaches and offers a great background for popular local events that are organized throughout the year – the Harlingen-Terschelling-Race, a sail and sloop race in June and the Oerol cultural festivities, being some of the most famous ones.

Frisse Wind Events (Fresh Air Events), an Event Bureau that saw the light in 1991, is active on all five West Frisian Islands. It consists of a bunch of enthusiastic people – 40 to be exact – offering successful made-to-measure events on any of the islands for groups of up to a thousand guests.  

As it is the case on the four other West Frisian Islands Texel, Vlieland, Ameland and Schiermonnikoog, bicycles are the most important means of transportation on Terschelling. Something we soon would experience ourselves. We mounted our rental bicycles and took off, Peter leading the way. During our pleasant ride through the cozy village of West Terschelling – just “West” for the locals – we discovered a variety of interesting and unusual venues. Amongst them was Antiquariaat ‘De Kraak’, a cozy maritime bookstore that can be closed to the public and used as a meeting venue. It must be quite a different experience indeed, attending a meeting at the large readers’ table in the middle of the shop, being surrounded by old books and other bric-a-brac. Also worth mentioning is ‘West End’ (what’s in a name?), a tiny local theatre completely built and decorated by its proud owner Willem Fries. When no performances are scheduled, this playhouse can be rented for all kinds of events – even for a small board meeting “on stage”, with no other guests attending.

A few pedals outside the village center, we took a complete site inspection of the Golden Tulip Resort Schlynge. Tim Lebbink, the hotel’s General Manager had been so nice to come and meet us on his free Saturday. Although the meeting facilities at this hotel are ready for some planned major renovations, it is a very nice property. The 88 recently refurbished rooms are spacious and bright; the restaurant and its adjacent patio are famous for the creations of its star rated chef Ton van Scheppingen; and to complete the resort feeling, the hotel also offers a bowling alley and an indoor swimming pool with wellness centre, including sauna, jacuzzi and steam bath.

Groningen

The beach was calling, time to leave civilization… We followed Peter along the very well maintained bicycle tracks, passing green meadows and cutting through cooling woods, and arrived at the recreational area of Duinmeertje Van Hee, a small lake in the dunes. Unlike most water recreational areas we know, no abundance of cafés and shops here, no loud tourists nor screaming children either. Just plain nature and people enjoying nature in silence… And just behind the corner, in front of a tree, a typical Dutch picnic lunch buffet was waiting for us: a cup of hearty soup, “broodjes gezond” (healthy sandwiches), juice, milk and… buttermilk, of course! After this hearty break, Peter wadkaintroduced us to Arie Ouwerkerk of Staatsbosbeheer, the Dutch Organization of Nature Conservation. Arie passionately spoke about nature on Terschelling and took us on a walk around the lake, pointing out the big variety in plants and animals.

We continued our bicycle ride and crossed the island to the northern side – the side of the North Sea. The beach in the area of kilometer marker 8 on Terschelling is one of the most impressing stretches of beach I have ever seen – and believe me, I have seen a few already! Beautiful soft white sand as far as the eye could see, bordered by a deep blue sea on one side and imposing dunes on the other. No disturbing vendors here either, only one beach pavilion with a bar and a restaurant and an area with clean (!) public restrooms.

Peter took us for a walk along the beach to an area that had been privatized for us and where we could try some of the beachfun activities that can be offered for groups, like beach golfing (difficult…), kiting (more difficult…) and blokarting (most difficult... but only because the wind had gone still).

After all this fun, we walked back to our bicycles and a short ride of not even two minutes brought us to our hotel for the night: Paal 8, the name referring to the hotel’s location at kilometer marker 8. Marion Riemersma, the hotel manager, welcomed us with a drink on the outside terrace, enabling us to enjoy the late afternoon sun. As this was still Holland, the typical bitterballen (fried meatballs) and Dutch cheese accompanied the welcome cocktail.

Paal 8 is member of Sandton Hotels, a unique hotel collection of three, four, or five star hotels at special locations in the Netherlands and Belgium, each offering its own character.  The welcoming accommodation of Sandton Paal 8 Hotel aan Zee on Terschelling is situated right on one of the largest beaches of The Netherlands, offering spectacular views of the North Sea and the surrounding dunes. All 56 spacious rooms, suites and family rooms are comfortably furnished with all facilities one can expect of a four star property. The hotel’s restaurant “De Grië” is famous for its seasonal dishes and local specialties such as the famous Eilander Lamb and Duck Cage served inside or on the sheltered terrace. For the business traveller, the hotel also is a unique meeting place. The fully equipped meeting rooms with a maximum capacity of 150 guests and the eight magnificent apartments on the top floor that may be used as break out rooms or luxury board rooms for up to 10 people guarantee an undisturbed meeting with one of the best view of the Netherlands! loungeAnd if working, relaxing on the beach or enjoying hours of undisturbed walking or cycling is not enough, you may also want to enjoy the indoor swimming pool, sauna and solarium.

Later on that evening, Peter and Karin of Frisse Wind Events took us for a stroll back to the beach, where we got treated to some “bubbles” on the lounge terrace of the Beach Pavilion. The place was rather crowded, with both locals and tourists enjoying fingerfood and drinks while watching the sun set, but the ambiance was great! Dinner itself was served “family style” inside the Pavilion – one large imperial style table full of all kinds of cold cuts, salads and delicious bread. The waiters looked more like Energizer Bunnies – “they kept on going and going”… always bringing more and more food to our table, both cold and warm. Wine and water were served at discretion and to top off the meal, some excellent cakes were served, together with a nicecup of coffee or tea and some after dinner drinks. Nice location, good company and great food… This was a truly great evening!      

After a good night’s sleep and a full breakfast we were ready for our bicycle ride back to the harbor of “West”. Peter made sure to avoid the tracks we rode the day before – there was so much more nature to soak up – and somewhere half way our journey, in the middle of nowhere, “bij de zandafgraving”, he had organized a coffee and cake buffet for us to enjoy. Our final stretch of peddling took us past the Marina, back to the center of West-Terschelling, where we handed in our bicycles, picked up our luggage and boarded the Hoover Speed back to Harlingen. But not without thanking our hosts Peter and Karin for their great hospitality… “I will be back – and that’s a promise not a threat!”

A smooth ride of 45 minutes on a very comfortable high speed vessel took us back to Harlingen, where our coach was waiting to drive us back to Belgium. But Pauline and An of the NBTC would not be Pauline and An of the NBTC, if they would not have a last surprise up their sleeves. Via the Afsluitdijk (the Closure Dike), we arrived in the cute small town of Hoorn for a closing lunch at Restaurant De Hoofdtoren (the Main Tower). The weather still was great and we all felt rather disappointed not being able to take our meal outside. But our disappointment soon faded away when we climbed the tower and discovered the cozy restaurant where an excellent lunch was served.

Time flies when you’re having fun – and all good things must come to an end, as did our trip. So before we knew it, we arrived back from where we started only two days earlier. All those impressions, all those experiences and all that gathered information made it feel like we had been gone for at least a week! An educational very well succeeded indeed – because now I know, and I love…

Tempted for more details on Groningen?
Please contact Jaap Westerhuijs
+31 50 316 88 77 / info@groningencongresbureau.nl / www.groningencongresbureau.nl

Interested in some exploring of the ‘Wadden’?
Contact Peter Miedema or Karin Stam
+ 31 562 448108 / info@frissewind.com / www.frissewind.com

 

SOME OTHER BBTONLINE INSIDER TIPS

solex

Some extra tips & ideas from the region…

(Click on the name of the hotel, restaurant, venue etc to access their website.)

Groningen
- Restaurant Muller: the absolute top in the region!
- Bistro Het Gerecht:cosy bistro with nice terrace,  part of Hotel NH De Ville 
- Restaurant Villa Sasso: relaxed dining & original location for groups at Paterwolds Lake, only minutes from Groningen
- Ten Broeke & Wattez Catering: quality catering for small groups & on interesting locations
- The Aa Kerk: original meeting or dinner venue in the center of Groningen
- Groninger Museum: The museum that put Groningen on the map, also available for functions
- Cooking Workshops: Fresh produce and some creativity make the greatest chefs! 
Solex Adventure: A great alternative way to explore the surroundings of Groningen
- Dream Flights: For an amazing view…

Terschelling & De Wadden
- Restaurant De Grie: Nice restaurant located at Paal 8 Hotel
- West aan Zee: the beach location for excellent food in a loungy setting! Great for groups

Harlingen
De Gastronoom: A gastronomic treat, of course.

 

For more information contact
Netherlands Board of Tourism & Conventions
An van de Steen - Marketing M & C
Tel +32(0)2 543 08 15
avandesteen@holland.com

Pauline van Kooten - Sales Manager
pvankooten@holland.com

The Netherlands Board of Tourism & Conventions has a dedicated MICE department (An van de Steen and Pauline van Kooten) in Brussels that is there to help you. What can NBTC do for you?

  1. NBTC provide advice free of charge on all aspect of organising an international conference in every phase of the organisational process.
  2. They share with you their in-dept knowledge on the destinations, venues & partners to make the perfect match between your demands and their suppliers.
  3. They put you in touch with the right partners in the Netherlands: convention facilities, PCO¹s and service providers like audivisual companies. They will be pleased to arrange a curtain-rising visit for you if the Netherlands is a serious option as a venue for your event.
  4. They give you tips about the Dutch way of doing business and about matters like the national culture, infrastructure and economy.
  5. They will be pleased to answer your question on any subject ­ about small or large meetings and conventions, etc.
For meeting and convention organisers: www.holland.com/meetings/en

For congress organisers:
http://www.holland.com/meetings/en/congressorganisers/

Watch also Holland's funny video promotion on YouTube, http://www.holland.com/meetings/en/aboutholland/promotionvideo/long.jsp

 

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