img1

Voorschoten, The Netherlands

12 December, 2003

The days are getting shorter and turning cold, and it is getting very close to Christmas. That means it's time for Dawn & Baldur's Christmas letter and here it is.This year we have enjoyed having a balcony with a green outlook. We planted a couple of window boxes at the back and a big pot of heather at the front. And hung up a bird feeder.

Among our regular visitors are tits, turtle doves and parakeets - yep they are escapees that have survived and bred here. In the near distance we have seen woodpeckers and jays, and Baldur heard an owl a few times. We haven't, so far, seen any flamingos1 but blackbirds raised a clutch of three in the bush just in front of the balcony - eat your heart out David Attenborough.

Finally, after many years of discussion (mainly because we kept thinking about it just before we went on holiday), we bought a new tandem. The main idea was to get something that broke down smaller so that we could transport it easily by train or plane. The frame has S&S couplings which allow it to be broken down into 3 parts. A big bonus for Dawn was getting a suspended seatpost. The old tandem is still with us and will continue to be used for everyday trips, shopping and so on. And so our ‘stable’ has increased yet again (2 tandems, 2 three-wheel recumbents, 1 two-wheel touring bike and a folding bike). You begin to see why storage space is a major consideration when we are looking for new accomodation.Travel, they say, broadens the mind - or perhaps it just unsettles it - you can be the judge.

We spent a week in March in Andalucia on a walking holiday. That was instead of our usual cross-country skiing holiday. We enjoyed the walking and the weather was nice and warm. Contrary to our usual experience of going uphill and then back down; at the end of every hard day’s walking we had to walk uphill to our hotel in the clifftop town of Ronda.

Spectacular views though. Baldur’s conviction that Andalucia is exactly like West Cork failed to convince Dawn. “It’s exactly like West Cork here.” “They speak Spanish.” “Well, of course, it’s Spain, but apart from that, it’s exactly like West Cork.” Those of you familiar with the “What have the Romans done for us” sketch, know how this pans out.... “OK! OK apart from the language, dry weather, olive trees, cactus, vineyards, bullfighting, Moorish influences and eating at 9 o’ clock at night... it’s exactly like West Cork.”

As far as the latter is concerned, anyone familiar with the customs of Mediterranean Europe will have observed that they like nothing better than to wander up and down the street in the evening chatting to friends and neighbours. With the result that no-one eats before 9 o’clock. We - trying to be a bit cool - could hold out after a day’s walking, to precisely 9:01 p.m., at which point we dived into the nearest restaurant, still first, and with a 21 gun salute sounding in our bellies. Yeah, real cool...

Dawn got a cash bonus from her work to make up for all the overtime she has done over the past few years. She decided that the money would be spent on taking a couple of long weekends away. In July we went to Brugge/Bruges in Belgium. We found the medieval centre was very picturesque but still managed to end up back in Holland on our hired tandem. In August we went to Köln/Cologne/Keulen in Germany. Unfortunately we were there in the hottest spell they had had in decades, around 38C but, on the other hand, we did get to visit three places for the price of one. We were grateful for an airconditioned hotel room for once.

We planned our summer holiday in Tuscany for as late as possible, in the hope that it might be cooler at the end of September. It was still pretty hot when we arrived, though, 35+, but we enjoyed a few days in Florence keeping to the shadows and avoiding the most popular tourist spots. Much to the delight of the tourists and mosquitos, Baldur assembled the tandem in a backstreet. (A mosquito-free, quiet backstreet in Florence does not exist even, at the end of September.) Once we headed into the hills, the weather was cooler - but we weren’t!

Dawn was sorry to have missed the sunflowers - though she did take us to Certaldo twice in one day, just in case. The landscape, medieval architecture and art were all spectacular. After a week and a half of the architectural genius of Brunelessci, the artistic elegance of Michelangelo and the inimitable work of Leonardo da Vinci, Dawn (obviously suffering from cultural overload) made the observation “That’ll be an old bit of wall then.” You can see it now in the tourist brochures “Come to Tuscany - we’ve got an old bit of wall”.

Further evidence of the mind numbing effects of travel and cycling was Dawn’s “I don’t feel like I’m going uphill” during the 900m ascent of Monte Pisano. But maybe that was because of the new 'folding' tandem, the suspension seatpost and Dawn’s level of fitness, or maybe the road wasn’t too steep.

And anyway, there was always a church or a view to look at when our legs needed a rest.

After two weeks of eat, cycle, sleep, eat, cycle, look-at-church, sleep we returned to Florence where someone had apparently neglected to feed the mosquitos in the meantime. While Dawn went off to see an exhibition on the lifecycle of the mosquito, Baldur dismantled the bike. With our tandem in two large bags we left on the last train out of Italy. The last train? Yes, at 2 a.m., shortly after our train crossed the border into Switzerland, the entire country was plunged into darkness (we’re not making this up) and the mosquitos decended on an unsuspecting population. Baldur still claims he had nothing to do with it - honest.

Fortunately, we had visits through the year from normal people - just as well when you think how weird we get on our own. With Dawn’s mum and dad we went to the Keukenhof (translates literally as kitchen garden) which is open for a few months early each year as a showcase for Dutch bulbs (7 million bulbs in 32 hectares, see www.keukenhof.nl). We were there in the last week of the season, but mum was not disappointed. Dad had his day

when he saw an exhibition of barrel organs in the Hooglands Kerk in Leiden. Deborah, Baldur’s sister also visited this year and she went to Dordrecht and Utrecht. She wasn’t very lucky with the weather this year. Mid September we had a visit from Dawn's brother Brian and his wife Sheena. They were on their way to Italy by car (to see the Formula one racing - Brian’s 50th birthday gift from the family). Once they left we actually started packing for our trip to Italy by train.

The last couple of months were quite hectic for Dawn. In the space of 6 weeks she spent a week in Ireland (part business trip and part pleasure), a week in Scotland (holiday), 3 days in Poland (work) and a week in Brussels (course). Dawn promises every time that she’ll bring back some chocolates from Brussels but apparently they don’t travel well, or something ... she sounds really mumbly on the phone.

She is looking forward to a quieter spell now, as much as she likes travelling, she likes a bit of home time too. She is however, going to spend one week in Brussels every month for an MSc course in Pharmaceutical Medicine and every two months she will be visiting Dublin on business. She is looking forward to catching up with old friends while in Ireland.

Baldur is also doing an MSc course. His course doesn't require any travelling as he is doing it over the Internet.

Well, that is enough nonsense from us for this year. We wish you a happy, healthy and prosperous 2004.



1. Flamingos were a one-legged standing joke in last year’s letter