Leiderdorp, The Netherlands

December 12, 2001

Well, it would be a strange Christmas letter from us without some word about moving house. In fact, we will be moving at the end of December and have included our new address in this letter. Don’t worry if you have sent a card to the old address, it will be redirected.

The new apartment is quite close to Dawn's work, about a 10 minute cycle ride, and it is also very reasonable for Baldur’s new job (more of that later). Since September, Dawn has been looking for a place closer to her work in Leiderdorp. Just at the beginning of November, a colleague saw her message on the company internet bulletin board, and that was it.

It isn’t a bad time to leave our apartment in Tilburg. When we moved in, it was still a building site and was for quite a few months. Then, after a year or so of relative peace, they knocked down the building at the end of our very short street, and they are going to build the tallest block of flats in the Netherlands. Once again our furniture is covered with a fine layer of sand. Still, we will miss Tilburg, it is a great place to live. I am sure that we will find plenty to like about the Leiden area too, once we settle in there. Of course, most of all, we’ll both enjoy not having to commute.

It hasn’t really been a busy year in terms of visitors but they all came in a rush early on. An old pal of Dawn's from Ireland, who is back living in Scotland, Angela Slater came with son Paul for a short break and Baldur's sister Deborah came for a few days. We enjoyed taking them around and hope they enjoyed it just as much.

Dawn's mum and dad also came for a week. They weren't very lucky with the week they picked because there were railway strikes, threatened and actual. On one of the strike days, Dawn took the day off work and they went to Breda by bus. Just as well there was no hurry, the bus went a long roundabout route and took about 1.5 hours to travel what is 20 km by the direct route.

But the NS (Dutch Railways) weren't done with messing about and a strike was also rumoured for the day the folks were to travel back to the airport. So Dawn decided to stay with her folks one night in a hotel in Leiden, close enough to Schiphol to take a taxi if needs be and Dawn would also be able to get to work. Now, for the last while almost nothing has been on time with the railways and sure enough the strike itself was delayed by a day. Too late of course to change the arrangements. Still, they had a pleasant evening together, and mum and dad had a few hours in Leiden to look around before they had to go to the airport. Fortunately, that was the last of the strikes, for Dawn, living in Tilburg and commuting 2 1/4 hours each way, the railway strikes were a real headache.

Well, you'd think with all that we'd have some nice relaxing holidays and indeed we did. However our definition of 'relaxing' and that of the staff in the Broere Reisen travel agency clearly diverge on one or two points. They sort of know us by now but it still comes as a shock that anyone actually books cross country skiing holidays, I mean - laughing and clearly deranged people skating uphill while not shedding a drop of sweat, they're only in the brochure as a decorative feature, don't you know. OK that does sound like a Baldur rant but that's the only way you can explain the looks of concern we get when we book such a holiday.

The travel agency girls cast especially concerned glances at Dawn wondering if she's the victim of some strange form of wife battering. Cross country skiing, after all, runs counter to every right thinking Brabanders idea of a ‘gezellig’ holiday. (For those who aren't familiar with the concept, ‘Brabants gezellig’ is roughly the same as Austrian ‘gemütlichkeit’ but not so rushed and with more alcohol.)

Anyway, despite the misgivings of the Broere Reisen employees’, we had an extremely enjoyable holiday skating over the snow-covered meadows of Leutasch in the Austrian Alps. Unlike the brochure however, considerable amounts of sweat were expended in the process, after which a daily dip in the hotel pool was more than welcome.

In June, Dawn was in Ireland for a few days, for the wedding of ex lab colleague and friend, Sandra. It was a marvellous wedding and it was great to catch up with Mary, Chris and Suzanne, and of course, Sandra and nice to see Mary and Sandra's wee yins for the first time in the flesh. She also managed to drop in by her friend Roz in Dublin.

Baldur was unfortunately not able to take advantage of the wedding invitation as he, clearly in a moment of mental aberration, ("moment?" cries Dawn) had agreed to swim a kilometer in open water as a member of a triathlon team. Fortunately he'd done enough training - swimming three mornings per week before work - that the distance itself wasn't a problem. And the borrowed wet-suit made the water temperature of 17°C feel almost balmy (as opposed to barmy). However swimming crawl in a pool with a nice black line along the bottom is rather different from swimming in open water with completely fogged goggles and only a buoy every 200 meters to guide the way. There was also no hope of keeping up with the other competitors since they all swam a lot faster, so pretty soon Baldur was completely off line. He swam back to the course, and finally ended up doing breast stroke instead of crawl to stay on a straight line.

He was the only swimmer who had to stop at the turning point and ask for directions to find his way back. As you might expect, the time was abysmal (the fastest competitor had finished in half the time) however it was such a bizarre experience (bobbing around aimlessly when supposed to be racing) that it had its funny side. Undaunted by the experience, Baldur is still swimming mornings before work and is determined to put in a good time next summer.

After all that, it was back to Broere Reisen to book our summer holiday. Yes, we explained, we only want to book the bike-bus back from the north of Denmark - we'll cycle up there first. Baldur was definitely getting disapproving looks this time, especially when it became obvious that we were taking a tent. Well, we had 3 weeks to cover the distance and since we were planning to start from Emmen in the north east of the Netherlands it was a fairly relaxed pace.

The holiday itself involved 4 days cycling across East Friesland and Holstein (North Germany) an evening in Kiel with Christine who generously gave up her bed for the night (and also gave us the, by now familiar, look). Once in Kiel we discovered that the ferry from Kiel to Denmark had stopped running the previous October - the one thing that Baldur hadn't checked on the internet, ho-hum... So we cycled for another day to get to the nearest ferry.

The rest of the holiday was spent dotting around Denmark, and finally up to the north of Jutland for the bus. In 16 days of cycling we did 1600 km (990 miles) - a friend asked afterwards if we'd ever thought of doing the Tour de France, but Baldur reckons that’s too easy 'cos they don't have to carry their own accommodation, have continuous mechanical and medical assistance and they don't have to sleep in the same sleeping bag as their teammates. Wimps!

Our time in Denmark was not what we'd expected - but in a pleasant way! For one thing, it was warmer than we expected and we had only one morning of rain in the whole trip. For another it was so quiet. You've probably seen movies where the hero meaningfully intones "It's quiet. Too quiet." - well that's Denmark. Even the tourist attractions listed in our guide as popular were about as busy as Kirkcaldy Links on a wet winter's day. Perhaps we were there when all the Danish had gone off somewhere else for their holyers, or maybe the Germans had stayed away in their hordes for one year. Whatever the reason, it was peaceful, good cycling country, excellent weather and we loved it.

Frankly we didn't do much sightseeing, there is only so much viking ship and longhouse viewing that one can cope with. The countryside was not very dramatic, but attractive in a quiet way. The Danes have retained a lot of their old buildings, thatches and half timbered houses are so common that you stop noticing them after a while.

One of the nicest encounters on the holiday was the tandem riding German couple on the campsite in Koge (south of Copenhagen). Because of their two small children, they were forced to leave the bike at home. Honestly you have never in your life seen someone pining for something as much as that man when he saw our tandem. On the morning we were leaving, the tandem in full splendour (with bike trailer attached and all the camping gear loaded on), he came up for a last look. At that point something finally snapped and he offered - not entirely in jest - to swap his car for the bike for a few days. Well it's nice to know that you're not the only lunatics abroad!

Dawn had expected to do much less travelling in her data management job, but this year she's been to Brussels twice, Paris and Reading and in November, wait for it, Amsterdam. In April this year, she got a permanent contract and in July, promotion. Dawn reckons she's been on more training courses in the past year than in her whole life before. So, all in all, things are going well in Yamanouchi. Currently pleasantly busy on a group of 3 clinical trials which are all hotting up, and expecting to be very busy from now until next summer.

As mentioned Baldur has now managed to get a job in the same area as Dawn - except of course, when she's gadding off on some trip or other. The company is called Medis and they also create software which can be used with medical images, though with a somewhat different emphasis than Philips. It's quite a small company, only about 30 people, so in that way it promises to be quite different from any previous job.

Finallly, if you haven't seen us for while just take a magnifying glass to the Xmas card our faces are tucked in there on the decoration.