Last year, Sister Cities International celebrated its 60th anniversary. The organization was founded as a result of President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s People-to-People program. Eisenhower believed that cultural exchanges, youth programs, sharing arts and culture, and exchanging business ideas and research and development projects could foster bonds between people of different communities. Here in the Northwest, each of our major cities has a number of sister cities. Seattle, for example, has 21, while Portland, Oregon, has nine (and one friendship city).
For planners and groups with a touch of wanderlust, Northwest Meetings + Events takes you on a trip to one sister city each for Seattle, Portland, Boise and Anchorage. But don’t worry: For those of you whose meeting budgets don’t exactly work with your vagabond nature, we’ve also provided you with a much more affordable option closer to home.
What a sister city match! Darwin, like Anchorage, is off the beaten track, just a bit wild, immersed in rugged beauty and steeped in native culture. Located on the edge of the Timor Sea in the sparsely populated Northern Territory (also called the Top End), Darwin is the largest city in the region and home to a melting pot of 120,000 people from 60 diff erent countries (compare that to Anchorage’s population of 298,695)
Darwin’s Mindil Beach Sunset Market epitomizes the Top End’s cultural mix with food stalls serving specialties from 30 countries and vendors selling handmade crafts, bush art, pottery, puppets and didgeridoos. Live music and a BYOB sunset celebration create an only-in-Australia experience when the market closes at dusk. And what would a visit to Crocodile Dundee territory be without a visit to Crocodylus Park, home to big cats, primates, birds and 10,000 crocodiles.
The Aboriginal people of Northern Australia have called this region home for more than 40,000 years, and there are numerous self-guided or tour operator options to explore ancient rock art sites, sample bush tucker (food native to Australia) and learn traditional weaving or hunting techniques. Seit Outback Australia offers tours ranging from a few hours to an entire day and encompass everything from a walkabout at Uluru (Ayers Rock) to four-wheeling on a private cattle station to a bush tucker tasting tour to learning the ancient Aboriginal dot-painting technique
Because tourism is big business in Darwin, so are meetings, and Top Enders strive to please.
The waterfront Darwin Convention Centre reflects the region’s tropical setting with harbor views, light-filled foyers and large outdoor spaces. Inside, flexible meeting spaces include an auditorium with tiered seating for 1,200 delegates that can be divided into two equal spaces; four column-free halls with capacity for 225 exhibition booths, banquet seating for 2,740 or theater seating for 3,660; plus three top-level waterfront rooms that can cater to up to 560 delegates.
Within a mile and a half of the convention center, the Hilton and SkyCity hotels also have meeting space. Additional four-and-a half- and five-star hotels include the Mandalay Luxury Stay, Mantra Pandanas and Novotel Atrium Darwin. For smaller retreats, the boutique hotel Oaks Elan Darwin is a five-minute walk from the Darwin Convention Centre. tourismtopend.com.au
CLOSER TO HOME
Intrepid navigator Captain James Cook sailed the far corners of the Pacific in the 1770s, exploring Alaska and the west coast of Australia, among dozens of other islands and land masses. Anchorage gives a nod to Cook at the Hotel Captain Cook, where the interior design and artwork celebrate his voyages. The hotel features 14 meeting and conference rooms ranging from a 288-square-foot library with a fireplace to a 9,000-square-foot ballroom. All meeting spaces have excellent views of Cook Inlet. captaincook.com
Boise loves its Basque-ness. Every summer, city streets fi ll with revelers celebrating the San Inazio Festival, an annual event honoring St. Ignatius of Loyola, the patron saint of the Basques. In the mid-1800s, Spanish Basques joined America’s westward migration, fi rst arriving in Idaho as miners, later as sheepherders. A lot of them stayed. Today, an estimated 30,000 people in Idaho and north Oregon trace lineage to the Basques, so it’s easy to see the sisterly connection between Boise and the old-world town of Gernika-Lumo in the heart of Spain’s Basque region.
Vastly different from its well-known, cosmopolitan neighbor Bilbao, home of the Guggenheim Museum, Gernika-Lumo is a traditional town with a population of just under 17,000 (Boise has a population of more than 214,000). It feels more quaint than trendy, more Basque than businesslike.
“The village of Gernika-Lumo, founded in 1366, is the symbolic heart of Basque identity,” says Dr. Gloria Totoricagüena of the Cenarrusa Foundation for Basque Culture. “In Gernika-Lumo, one hears the pre-Indo-European language Euskera equally from elderly men and from the grandchildren they watch, from teenagers singing on their way home from school, or from the weekly Monday Market fishmongers. Small boutique hotels, restaurants and museums combine tradition and ultramodernity in architecture and quality gastronomy.”
Gernika-Lumo was named the “City of Peace” in 2003 by UNESCO in recognition of the devastation it endured in 1937 during the Spanish Civil War when Nazi Germany’s Luftwaffe destroyed the city in aerial bombardments. A visit to the Peace Museum pays tribute to Basque beliefs of democracy, human rights and peace.
Stately domed buildings with arched passageways, Roman columns, clock towers and gardens are scattered throughout the city. Great examples include the Gothic-style Church of Santa Maria, the Alegria Palace, the Euskal Herria Museum and the Parque de los Pueblos de Europa.
But Gernika-Lumo is not all impressive buildings and tranquil gardens. People from near and far make their way to the Monday Market to shop, visit and enjoy what has become an unofficial city holiday. “Not a stroke of work gets done on Mondays” is a common refrain.
Small meetings, retreats and incentive groups can get down to business at intimate boutique hotels and meeting facilities, including the Hotel Gernika, with 40 guest rooms and meeting space for up to 80 people, or the Hotel Boliña, with 16 guest rooms. The Lizeo Antzokia Theater accommodates 347 people for meetings, and the Elai Alai facility accommodates 222.
Larger groups may choose Gernika-Lumo as a day trip and lodge or meet in nearby Bilbao. The Bilbao Exhibition Centre (BEC) has seating capacity for up to 2,500 people and a variety of meeting rooms and exhibition halls. Bilbao hotels contrast with one another as sharply as the city’s industrial past and its high-art present. The stately 270-room Hotel Carlton was named an Architectural, Historic, Artistic and Cultural Monument, while the 172-room Meliá Bilbao is a confection of hothouse colors and trendy furniture. gernika-lumo.net
CLOSER TO HOME
An entire Boise city block is devoted to Basque heritage, with shops and restaurants specializing in native souvenirs and food. The Bar Gernika has been serving authentic Basque food and drink for more than 20 years, and the Basque Center is an ideal place to meet. The old-world feel begins at the entrance to the center, where an arched doorway is flanked by overflowing flower baskets, American and Basque flags, and wrought-iron railings. Meeting rooms include a main hall with a stage that seats up to 450 people and a lower hall that accommodates 225. The Basque Center can connect meeting planners with dancers and other entertainment, as well as local caterers who specialize in Basque cooking. basquecenter.com
Suzhou, People's Republic of China
Suzhou’s waterway geography has much in common with Portland, and both cities have a love of green spaces and nature. Impressed by Suzhou’s labyrinth of canals and arched stone bridges, Marco Polo called it the “Venice of the East.” Suzhou dates back to 514 B.C., and is a modern, thriving metropolis of 6.5 million people (compared to Portland’s 2.35 million residents) that has maintained pockets of cultural and artistic roots.
Scattered throughout Suzhou, more than 60 exquisite Chinese classical gardens honor history, horticulture, ancestors and architecture. A must-visit, if for the name alone, is the Humble Administrator’s Garden.
In addition to gardens, Suzhou offers many opportunities to touch, taste, see and smell the ancient city. A boat cruise along the canal meanders through old and new, shiny and dusty Suzhou. The Suzhou Silk Museum showcases the 4,000-year-old industry with weaving displays and examples of silk fashions through the centuries. Guanqian Street in the central downtown area houses shops that have been doing business for centuries, while Shiquan Street is a trendier location, with pubs, restaurants and shops selling stylish clothing along with more traditional Chinese items, such as pottery, porcelain, embroidery and calligraphy. The I.M. Pei–designed Suzhou Museum traces the region’s history and offers 30,000 examples of art, textiles, furnishings, and stone and wood carvings. Tranquility and tradition reign at numerous pagodas in the city. Get two for one, an uncommon occurrence, at the Twin Pagodas, where magnolias perfume the air in spring.
Suzhou’s sophisticated hotels and meeting facilities can accommodate nearly any size meeting or convention. The Suzhou Jinji Lake International Convention Center has 60 meeting rooms of various sizes and configurations, and also includes exhibition space and a grand ballroom. The center is connected to the 307- room Novotel Suzhou SIP hotel.
Offering a singularly unconventional experience, the Tonino Lamborghini Hotel on the banks of Jinji Lake was built around the idea of a library and boasts a traditional book-filled space as well as libraries devoted to wine, liquor and chocolate.
“Everything always works beautifully in Suzhou,” says Lynne McIntyre, president of the Portland-Suzhou Sister City Association. “I’ve been to Suzhou many times and always look forward to the comfort and careful attention offered by hotels, meeting sites and government-arranged events.” traveltosuzhou.com
CLOSER TO HOME
Built by Chinese artisans from Suzhou, Portland’s Lan Su Chinese Gardens replicates its sister city’s famous gardens. Carefully tended flowerbeds, graceful pagodas, intricately carved furniture, red hanging lanterns and quiet ponds create an extraordinary meeting venue. There are more than 500 Chinese plants, stone pathways and a beautiful waterfall flowing into Lake Zither. Because Lan Su is open to the public, rentals are available before or after the public hours, which are 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. The garden can accommodate up to 300 guests for a reception and up to 125 for a sit-down dinner. The two-story, authentic Chinese Teahouse accommodates up to 50 guests seated. The Lan Su Chinese Garden can arrange a traditional Lion Dance or a garden docent for events. VT Group, the venue’s exclusive caterer, offers both Asian and traditional Western menus. lansugarden.org
Seattle and Bergen have so much in common they could be twins. Laced with waterways and surrounded by dense green forests and mountains, both lay claim to some of the most dramatic scenery in the world, and both draw heavily on maritime industries, international trade, medicine, high tech and innovative companies to support vibrant, cosmopolitan cities. World-class museums, symphony, galleries and festivals add culture and color, and the great outdoors are right outside city limits. More than 100 years ago, Norwegians settled in Seattle’s Ballard area, bringing along their festivals, food and customs. All of this makes Bergen a new-yet-familiar place to hold meetings and conventions.
“Bergen is a small city, with a big heart and a beautiful soul,” says Lori Ann Reinhall, president of the Seattle-Bergen Sister City Alliance. “This UNESCO World Heritage City and European City of Culture is a tourist paradise, offering unique boutique hotels and state-of-the-art conference facilities, the gateway to the fjords of Norway and some of the most dramatic landscapes in the world. The Bergen region has the ideal combination of nature, culture and exciting urban life all year round.”
Futuristic-looking Grieg Hall, the largest conference center in Norway, is located in the city center and can accommodate up to 2,188 delegates in theater seating, 2,000 for receptions, and has 18 meeting rooms.
Smaller meeting locations that will leave big impressions include the Fløien Folkerestaurant—with sweeping views of Bergen—and Haakon’s Hall, a medieval king’s hall available for exclusive banquets and parties. At the Bergen Aquarium, attendees wine and dine surrounded by tanks filled with exotic sea life.
Off-site excursions whisk delegates back in time to the 1700s with tours of Damsgaard Manor, a wood-clad, rococo manse, said to be the best-preserved building of its style in Europe. The iconic Bryggen wharf and waterfront district with its bright red, yellow, orange and white high-peaked buildings is not to be missed.
Thirty-five hotels are located in the city within walking distance of many attractions and the convention center. The sleek 254- room Scandic Bergen City hotel has 17 meeting rooms and can accommodate a maximum of 1,000 for receptions. The Clarion Collection Hotel Havnekontoret dates back to 1920. Located in the center of the waterfront district of Bryggen, it offers 116 guest rooms. visitbergen.com
CLOSER TO HOME
In the heart of Ballard, Seattle’s original Norwegian settlement, the Nordic Heritage Museum keeps Nordic culture, charm and history alive. Currently housed in the historic 1907 Daniel Webster School, on a quiet, treelined street, the museum offers an auditorium that accommodates 200 people for receptions and 220 for lectures or concerts. Three classrooms can be configured to seat between 50 and 100 people. A new museum and cultural center will open in spring 2018 at 2655 Market Street, expanding the meeting space. Specifications are currently being determined. nordicmuseum.org