Baldur, Roquefixade March


Montségur March


Auntie Jess' 99th May


Stadtmusikanten, Bremen, August


Externsteine- Holzhausen, 
August


Parakeets October

website: www.xs4all.nl/~dmbvl 

Voorschoten, The Netherlands

December, 2005

Dear

You'll be expecting a letter full of amusing anecdotes, then? Well, tough luck, what you've got is Dawn & Baldur's Christmas letter. Are you stting comfortably? Then let us begin...

In March we spent a week walking in the French Pyrenees, we booked the holiday on the Internet with a French company. The route was part of the Sentier Cathar1  and it took in a lot of castles perched on high rocky peaks (you can see 2 on the left if you look closely). Being an organized walk, our luggage was carried on to our hotel each day (yes, sometimes even we take the easy way out). We travelled by overnight sleeper train, arriving in the small hours at Carcassone, took the local bus to the start of the walk, gave our luggage to the taxi driver and set off.

Our holiday week was the first of the season, and just a week and a half before the departure date there was a heavy snow fall in the area, over 2 m (6ft ) in places. The organiser contacted us to suggest that we might need snowshoes and poles. Since the forecast was for pretty warm weather, Baldur reckoned (correctly as it turned out) that most of the snow would be gone by the time we arrived. However, there were still a few drifts deep in the woods which required a Good-King-Wenceslas-and-page approach since Dawn's balance is not the best in soft snow. In this re-enactment of the carol however, the 'page' was rather vocal if the footsteps did not match her stride. Almost every day we got worried phone calls from the company liaison asking if the route was OK, Baldur explained in his best Franglais that yes there was a bit of snow, but nothing to worry about; “vous êtes très sportief” was the response.

One section of the route (running through a canyon) was indeed closed because of avalanche danger so we were taxied around it and picked up the path at the other end. Having reached the hotel by lunch time, we decided to set out again for the afternoon. Needless to say the short day ended up being the longest. No prizes for guessing who dreamed up the “wee” afternoon loop.

In Foix, the endpoint of the route, we happened upon the Miranda Inn, which brought back memories of Belloc's poem Tarentella: “Do you remember an Inn, Miranda? Do you remember an Inn?” with the line “And the fleas that tease in the High Pyrenees”. We spent the night in a different hotel...

For our summer holiday, we decided on North Germany to avoid a lot of travelling to reach our starting point. We headed east on the northern half of the Hansa route. The plan was to cycle as far as we could in the time we had and then head back on the southern part of the route. We ended up cycling farther than we ever did before, 1400 km (870 miles) in under two weeks! The route took in such Hanseatic towns as Kampen, Bremen, Paderborn and Munster. The most easterly point we reached was Arendsee in Sachsen-Anhalt (former DDR) and we spent the night at a camp site about 30km south west of there which retained all the old Soviet bloc charm. Now, we can't really complain, the facilities may have been from the '50s but the people were very friendly and it was very cheap.

We had to stay in a hotel on two nights when there was no camping site in the vicinity. One was in Salzgitter which, it has to be said, is a beauty spot to rank 

alongside Cumbernauld/Tallaght/Almere (depending on your geographical context). We cycled round and round for miles looking for a camping site that was marked on the map, finally to find out that it had shut down last year (it was our own fault for using a book that was about 3 years old and not checking). We then cycled around just as long again looking for a hotel and finally got to one after 8 at night. We had spotted a Balkan restaurant during the search which wasn't too far from the hotel and we ate very well there (hunger being the best spice as they say). Talking of food, for some reason Dawn kept track of how much muesli we got through on our holiday. Between us we ate 3 kg (6½ lbs) almost all of it was 'organic'. Sounds a lot, eh, but it was a lot cheaper than petrol! Dawn's other discovery of the holiday, is that you can speak Dutch to people for quite some distance from the border (almost in Bremen in fact) and they will still understand you.

All in all it was a fairly uneventful holiday, no flat tires or any other mechanical problems but our tent was invaded one night by a very determined hedgehog. “Hedgehogs are naturally shy, cautious and nocturnal” Well, nocturnal was right but for the rest it just goes to show what rubbish you can read on the Internet. Having been forcibly extracted from the foodbag he (or she) continued to look at us somewhat miffed and showing no fear whatsoever until we turned off the torch and went back to sleep, leaving it to find its own way out. On our penulitimate day we didn't see any flamingos despite passing by Zwillbrocker Venn (regular readers will recognize this as the height of uneventfulness).

Dawn's first trip to Scotland was for her Auntie Jess' 99th birthday party in May. Doesn't she look great? Dawn realised at that point that there are 50 years between them. In September, Dawn was back again and spent a couple of days with her mum in Sunderland at her friend Viv's 50th. Quite the trips down memory lane and both very enjoyable.

Another happy family event was the arrival of Dawn's great nephew Shaun in November. She is looking forward to visiting Claire, Allan and the wee one in the New Year.

In April, Dawn got a transfer/promotion into another department where she will be responsible for managing studies rather than just the data. In fact her last day was on her birthday, which saved some money since she only had to buy one lot of cakes☺. One thing Dawn expected, was to travel a lot less in her new job, one thing Baldur expected, was that Dawn would prove to be wrong about that. As we write she has been in Portugal, Belgium, England twice, Austria, Czech Republic, Monaco, Ireland and Spain. This is not to mention the trips she made before April and two trips to the family home in Scotland. Baldur made a business trip himself, to Chicago and will be back there again in January. No doubt about it, polluting the planet is still too cheap – 2005 was the warmest year for the northern hemisphere on record – there's got to be a better way.

Dawn is still running regularly though she didn't achieve her aim of running a 10 km (6 miles) race and doing it in under 60 mins, because of a pulled muscle just before the race, (her running mate Monique managed it). She did run a 7.4 km race within her target time though, and she is planning to try again next year. She also took up her knitting needles again after a 7 year hiatus and with all that and her new digital camera, she keeps herself occupied while Baldur is busy with his research project.

The balcony proved its worth again this year – we had a great crop of Roma tomatoes (see the Xmas card!) which we were still eating in December.

We have a website now, and intend to to put our photos on it. Take a look from time to time if you can (we will try and get it updated over the Christmas holidays).

Happiness and health to you and yours in 2006,

Dawn & Baldur

1The Cathars were a peaceful religious sect that was eventually wiped out in nasty style by a crusade that also served as a means of bringing Occitania (south of France) under central control.