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One week in Holland: wines, meetings and a lot of fun

KL896 Shanghai-Amsterdam at Shanghai Pudong Airport

I am writing this on the plane from Amsterdam to Shanghai after spending a week in The Netherlands. I was here for business reasons, but I decided to go a few days earlier to visit my parents as well. I flew to Amsterdam on Friday afternoon and had an excellent flight from China, working a bit on the plane, having good food and even better wines (KLM always has a good selection in business class), sleeping for an hour of two, reading newspapers and magazines and even watching the movie De Ontvoering (a movie about the kidnapping of Freddy Heineken – I hardly ever watch a full movie on the plane, but this one was really good so I kept on watching it). I arrived in Holland early Friday night (flying westward is always nice because you don’t lose many hours) where my parents picked me up by car and we drove to their house in Ommen.

Gewuerztraminer and Pinot Gris wine tasting

My parents love good wine as well, so we started the evening with a bottle of Champagne. Or actually not a real Champagne, but a Luxembourg methode champenoise wine that they had tasted at the winery the week before. During the light dinner we continued with Luxembourg white wines and we ended up doing a small wine tasting with 2 gewuerztraminers and a pinot gris. A very nice selection. Because of my jet lag I decided to call it a day at 10:30 PM and get some sleep. I got up around 5:30 AM
to catch up on emails and RSS feeds. At 8 AM I went to buy fresh bread rolls with my dad, always a nice tradition on Saturday mornings. After a big breakfast I worked a bit more, read some newspapers and among others went grocery shopping with my dad.

Making a walk around Ommen

One of the things I miss in Shanghai is running outside, so when I am with my parents I try to run there. On Saturday my dad and I went for an easy run in the woods around their house. My dad had a pretty bad injury during the New York marathon and this was one of the first times that he was able to run again (10 weeks after the marathon!), although still with some pain. We ran for about 7 kilometers on trails and I loved it. The weather was very nice (cold but sunny with clear blue skies) and it felt great to be in nature again.

Saturday night we went for dinner at De Bokkepruik in Hardenberg, a Michelin star restaurant in Hardenberg. Hardenberg is about 15 km from my parents place, close to the German border, and it’s the city where I did the last years of my high school education. The food and wines at De Bokkepruik were excellent, no doubt about it. But the service was not at the level that I am used to in Michelin star restaurants. It certainly wasn’t bad, but some things were missing.

Dinner at Michelin star restaurant De Bokkepruik in Hardenberg

Some examples, we had a 4-course meal that we started at 7 PM (with a jet lad I try to have early dinners the first 2 days). I had expected to be done by 9:30 or so, but at 10:00 we were still waiting for the main course. When I asked the waitress whether it would still come she explained that the kitchen also cooks for their brasserie, and that it was very busy there tonight. That’s great for them, but if I had been a Michelin inspector that remark would have lost them their star. If you pay top prices you should be able to expect top service. Having a brasserie with much lower prices may be necessary to survive, but you can’t let your higher paying customers wait for this – and certainly not tell them this!

The wait staff made a few more small mistakes that I generally don’t mind too much, but over the course of the evening they added up to the point that you started wondering what the next thing would be that they would forgot or do wrong. Not a good thing for the restaurant, and I hope it was an exception because the food was certainly very good.

Dinner at Michelin star restaurant De Bokkepruik in Hardenberg

The good thing about the long dinner was that we had a wine arrangement (paired wines with the food for a fixed price), and they kept filling up our glasses with excellent wines, without charging us additionally for this. Anyway, although the overall food experience was excellent I am not sure if I will be back. The service mistakes are actually still okay (and a bit entertaining), but 45 minutes between courses is a bit too much. Maybe we should save some money and try their brasserie next time?

On Sunday I slept a bit longer, the copious amounts of alcohol certainly helped with that, and I enjoyed the day with my parents. I decided to skip lunch and go for an afternoon run instead. My dad decided not to join because of his recovering injury, but he joined me on his mountain bike.

17.5 km run around Ommen

I ran a nice course from Ommen across the Vecht river bridge to the North and then a bike path and trail along the Vecht river until the sleuce at Vilsteren. There I crossed the river again and ran back to my parents place. The first part was not too easy (partly because of the alcohol I guess), but after a while I got into my running rhythm and managed to run the 17.5 km in about 1 hour and 22 minutes. I was happy with the result, this is the pace I want to run when training for a marathon, and I am not even in training yet.

17.5 km run around Ommen

In the late afternoon a fashion entrepreneur came to visit to discuss some fashion business ideas and we had a nice 10-year old bottle of St. Emillion Grand Cru. A very good wine, but while drinking it I realized I prefer a good Californian Cabernet Sauvignon over the high end French wine. The wine was really good but for some reason I seem to be more hooked on the taste of New World wines.

Train in The Hague early in the morning

On Monday morning I took the train to Amsterdam. I had to change trains twice and both times I was afraid to miss my connection because of delays. But because all 3 trains were delayed it didn’t make much of a difference, except for the fact that I arrived 20 minutes too late in the Dutch capital. I checked into my hotel and then took the tram to the Stadsschouwburg for a radio interview at BNR (Business News Radio). The interview was mainly about doing business in China, my latest start-up unitedstyles, and the Chinese economy.

On air at BNR Nieuwsradio

The CEO of Google in the Benelux (Belgium, Netherlands & Luxembourg) was in the program as well, and it turned out we view work and especially working in an Internet company a bit differently. He does not use Facebook for example, which I find quite strange in his position (I Twittered about this during the program and the presenter saw it, and then used this as a discussion topic with us). Also he claims not to check emails during vacations, which is hard to believe for someone running an online company. Anyway, people are different and I would likely not be the right person to run his business. You can listen to the interview here, the exchange between the Google CEO and me is in the last 5 minutes or so.

Interview at BNR Nieuwsradio

I then had a lunch with a founder of Dutch social network Hyves and a friend who is on their management, talking about investment opportunities worldwide, sailing around the world and setting up a winery. Fun topics! After that I had to run to my next meeting and then it was time to work on emails for a while before dinner.

At Paleis Noordeinde for a coffee

The next morning I got up at 5:30 to read my overnight emails and check the Skype backchannel for unitedstyles (we all communicate over Skype and it’s a good way to read what happened during the hours that I was asleep), before taking the train to The Hague for several meetings. The first was at Paleis Noordeinde, the working palace of Queen Beatrix of The Netherlands, where I had a coffee with the former Dutch consul-general in Shanghai. The palace is a very nice place, especially on a cold but sunny winter morning. The entrance is in the back and you walk through a park to get there. The palace itself is very old, but it is extremely well kept with beautiful old furniture and old paintings everywhere. The only thing missing was wifi – one of the first things I checked when I entered, because I wanted to check in on Foursquare!

After 2 more meetings I had lunch in The Hague with 2 former high school class mates, Nuria Reques Waterink and Margreet la Roi. I met them again after 20-something years through Facebook. We recognized each other right away and had a fun hour talking about our current lifes. Would be nice to do this again in the future!

Lunch in The Hague with former high school class mates Nuria and Margreet

In the afternoon I had to go back to Amsterdam for a meeting and then had a cup of coffee with a journalist of Quote magazine. I had planned to go for a run after that, but I was so far behind on my mails that I decided to work until dinner instead.

Wednesday morning I had my meetings in Restaurant Dauphine during the morning, the best place in Amsterdam to meet other Internet and social media people. I was a bit too early and found out that they only open at 9 AM, so I had to wait outside in the cold (it was about 0 degrees). Luckily their wifi was on, so at least I could work a bit. After the meetings I had a lunch and did a Skype interview, and later I finally went for a run (8.6 km in 40 min along the canals and the Westergasfabriek, in freezing cold rainy/snowy weather with strong winds).

Sunset in Amsterdam (Jan. 16, 2012)

After a shower to warm up again I then took the tram to the Conservatorium Hotel for a dinner with 3 partners of Simmons & Simmons (a Dutch law firm, coincidentally the firm where my sister started her career) and with the current Dutch consul-general in Shanghai (that makes 2 consul-generals in 2 days!). Interesting discussions about China and where the country is heading, and about Chinese investments in Europe. Simmons & Simmons just opened an office in Beijing, a smart move considering the number of Chinese investors that are looking for opportunities outside the Mainland.

On Thursday I had meetings on the Zuidas (the southern part of Amsterdam, where many banks and law firms are located), and started the day with a breakfast with former university class mate Jasper Bugter. Always good to catch up with him.

After lunch I headed back to the Conservatorium Hotel for a seminar organized by Simmons & Simmons where I gave a talk and where I was on a panel. It was an interesting afternoon, where I met a lot of people (including several readers of this blog!). I think the seminar was a big success, with more people (mainly bankers, entrepreneurs/business people, consultants and investors) showing up than they had invited: the Simmons & Simmons staff had to stand in the back to make room because all seats were occupied. I very much enjoyed speaking here, it was very well organized with excellent food and drinks (the white wine served afterwards was excellent, but I forgot to ask what it was). After the event I had a dinner and then headed back to my hotel early. I was quite tired and fell asleep right away.

On Friday I once again got up at 5 AM to work and to pack my suitcase, because I had my first meeting at 6:30 AM with Xander. At 7:30 AM we had a breakfast meeting at Boer & Croon (a leading Dutch consulting company) and then we went to Schiphol airport for an hour. Next meeting was at Telegraaf Media Groep (a big Dutch media group, both on- and offline) before meeting my sister for a lunch at Het Bosch, a waterfront restaurant just south of Amsterdam. After the late lunch my sister drove me to the airport where I had a coffee in the lounge and then boarded the plane back to Shanghai. It was an excellent week once again, but I need to catch up on sleep very soon.

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