Lifestyle & Culture

Pandemic travel: The good, bad and ugly of our first coronavirus quick trip to Den Haag

Coronavirus has changed everything, and travel most of all. In fact, we see a whole new world of pandemic travel coming whether we want it to or not.

Being expats in the Netherlands has lots of advantages, one of the biggest being so much to see and do. We take every opportunity for weekend Quick Trips to Maastricht, Rotterdam or wherever. But we, like everyone else, have been staying close to home during what the Dutch term our “smart lockdown.”

Finally we couldn’t take it any more. We booked a couple of nights at the NH Hotel in Den Haag’s World Trade Center, about a 20-minute walk from centrum. Den Haag – or The Hague, if you prefer – is one of the Netherland’s two governmental centers along with Amsterdam. Den Haag is a more of domestic tourist destination than Amsterdam because of the Binnenhof complex, which includes the royal palace complex and the Mauritshuis museum, and Scheveningen beach.

Here’s what we found.

The hotel

Okay, I cut the NH staff some slack because the hotel had just reopened the week before after two months of shutdown. My wife and co-CEO Cheryl not so much because she’s worked in corporate sales for some of the best hotels in the world, including 21C and The Brown Hotel. Cheryl lives by industry standards and the NH didn’t come close to meeting her expectations.

THE BAD

I’ll have to admit I’ve never seen a top flag so disorganized. For example, our bed had no duvet, just a flat sheet. We literally slept on the mattress pad. Thank God the AC didn’t work so we didn’t get cold. (We discovered too late the windows opened on the ninth floor. Guessing this was an old hotel that’s been reflagged.) We had these teeny pillows that must have been meant to be decorative because no one’s head is that small.

We booked the NH because of its central location and a promised parking rate of 23 euros per night. But when we went to fetch our car to visit friends, we got charged 50 euros for the day.

What?!

The nice lady at the NH front desk told us we had to validate our parking ticket with the hotel. Which no one bothered to mention when we checked it. But she immediately refunded the 50 euros, so overall, everything went a lot better than it could have.

OUR ADVICE – BUY STOCK IN PLATIC WRAP MAKERS

THE GOOD

The up side was, they had breakfast figured out. We booked our time (required now) and it wasn’t very crowded. All the food had plastic wrap and it was a good crew. The quality of the food was good, so the kitchen seemed unaffected in the crisis.

Also, the room rate was 99 euros per night, about a 20-percent discount. (We thought we’d booked it at 89 euros but forgot the Den Haag’s hefty room tax.) A lot of hotels had big discounts on Booking.com and other discount sites. So it looks like the brave people willing to venture out will be rewarded with lower rates, at least for awhile.

The bottom line: The pandemic lockdowns meant hotels, which have huge operating costs, saw revenue drop to zero. To cope, stressed hotel owners have cut staff. So don’t count on the pre-pandemic levels of service to return for years, even at the top flags.

We paid a lower rate than normal, yes, but as Cheryl said, with all the problems, we felt like 69 euros per night would have been more in line with what we got.

Museum experience

The least good part of the weekend (though it was still fun) was going to the Mauritshuis, which houses the Netherlands’ royal collection of the most important Dutch paintings including Vermeer’s “Girl with a Pearl Earring” and Rembrandt’s “Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicholaes Tulp.”

The problem is, the Mauritshuis is an actual house on the end of the Binnenhof, the royal complex. So rather than large open galleries like at the Rijksmuseum, the Mauritshuis galleries are actual rooms in a 17th century mansion. To at least make an attempt at social distancing, museum officials limit the number of people who can enter each gallery, mostly at the magical number of four.

THE BAD

Which means people gathered at the thresholds and stared at us like fat Americans waiting for us to give up our table at the Cheesecake Factory.

There were a couple of pieces I’d not seen, including Vermeer’s “View of Delft,” so I lingered. Big mistake. There was another American couple literally tapping their feet and staring at me at the 30-second mark. Those were the nice people. The creepy people just ignored the distancing precautions altogether and waltzed into the galleries until museum personnel chased them out.

THE GOOD

The crowd was much smaller than I’ve ever seen. New museum rules require you to register for time slots to avoid everyone showing up at 1 p.m., so it was all manageable. But honestly, I’d recommend sticking to museums such as the Rijksmuseum, where the huge open galleries should mean crowd flow isn’t such an issue.

Hanging out

Den Haag is one of the best places in the Netherlands for people watching … and that’s saying a lot. As home to the Dutch royal family, there’s a lot of money in this town and it shows. And everyone is seeing and/or being seen 24/7.

THE BAD

As we checked out cafés on the most popular restaurant streets, we were amazed to find them packed literally to capacity. Social distancing? What social distancing? So we walked on until we found a small noodle restaurant, Xi’an Delicious Foods, at Korte Poten 18, that was fairly spacious and not crowded. (Recommended! They make their own noodles and the staff is crazy friendly.)

NEVER SEEN THIS BEFORE – AND PROBABLY NEVER WILL AGAIN

Stores were really no different, though, on Friday night. We walked into The Passage, Den Haag’s wildly ornate 19th century shopping complex, to find it empty. Which made for some great photos.

THE GOOD

At least theoretically, there is social distancing in the Netherlands and Cheryl says it’s welcome in this country – one of the most densely populated in Europe – where people don’t observe the same personal space as we’re used to in the United States.

Take-aways:

• In the pandemic, get used to booking everything in advance whether it’s reservations at restaurants or viewing slots at museums. Get used to standing in little 2-meter squares painted on the streets outside the more popular stores such as the Apple Store. Get used to waiting for an empty elevator. That’s just the way it’s going to be and our pandemic travel lives will get a lot less spontaneous and whimsical. But, it is possible to travel with minimum risk to your health.

• There are new pandemic travel trends coming. Unlike Eindhoven, where we live, we saw lots of people in Den Haag wearing face masks. Everywhere in the Netherlands, they’re required for PubTran. As a matter of fact, we see an entire new pandemic travel market trend – fancy marketing masks with company logos and designer masks.

No, really.

LIVING THE EXPAT LIFE IN BRUSSELS: FROM LEFT, LALE, TERRY, CHERYL AND LUCY

About the author:

Terry Boyd is co-founder of Dispatches Media, based in Eindhoven, Netherlands. Boyd has been a military reporter, business reporter and an entrepreneur, founding Insider Louisville, a pure-play digital news platform, in 2010.

Boyd & Family are long-time expats and have lived in Turkey, Germany and the Netherlands.

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