Dear Friends and Family Near and Far,
We hope 2019 has treated you kindly. Once again we feel grateful for the many wonderful moments we have shared this year. We are still living in Amsterdam, and feeling more rooted all the time. I write this from Normandy, where we are spending the Christmas holidays curled up in front of the fire eating cheese and drinking apple cider.
In February we drove to Alsace for our first (and very possibly last) ski holiday. The kids were soon flying down the slopes while I teetered along behind them thinking about how much longer it takes to recover from injuries in an almost-forty-year-old body. Fortunately, we all emerged unscathed, unless you count my dignity, which sustained several ridiculous falls on the bunny slope. Our AirBnB came equipped with no fewer than three fondue sets, which we duly utilised whilst watching ‘French’(-ish) movies like Ratatouille and Marie Antoinette. In a nod to my sightseeing obsession, we also visited the fairytale town of Colmar and the nearby Château du Haut-Kœnigsbourge, a massive maze of courtyards and drawbridges which inspired the architecture of both Miyazaki’s Howl’s Moving Castle and Peter Jackson’s Minas Tirith.
May was the month of grandparents. Grandma Betty and Grandpa John stopped in to visit on their way to England.
We went on the road with Grammy and Pampa for a vacation themed around the Hanseatic League, a 14th century confederation of merchant guilds and market towns in the North Sea.
We visited Zutphen, a Dutch town where in 1586 Tony’s many-greats-grandfather died fighting for Dutch independence from the Spanish during the 80 Years War.
Then we drove through Germany and up into Denmark, where we visited the Little Mermaid in Copenhagen, and then spent a divine few days holed up in a cabin on the Danish coast.
To celebrate his birthday, Raj took us to Efteling, the iconic Dutch theme park, where we experienced such delights as the terrifying Flying Dutchman roller coaster and the vintage 1950s Fairytale Forest, and ate hot dogs as long as our forearms.
For our summer holiday we got very adventurous, and planned a hiking trip to Slovenia with friends. Did you know that when Europeans say ‘hiking’ they mean something closer to mad, almost-vertical mountaineering than the scenic rambling I was imagining as an American? We got our first inkling that we were out of our league shortly after entering Triglav National Park, when we were informed that the trail we had been planning to take the next morning was closed because someone had died on it the week before. It turned out that our entire hiking plan was dramatically over-optimistic in every way.
We had estimated somewhere around twice as many kilometres per day as fit our skill level on this type of terrain, some of which reminded me of nothing more than a desolately mountainous moonscape. Undaunted, we set off anyway, somehow managing to make it to one of the ‘huts’ every night, where we were treated to many lunches and dinners composed entirely of cabbage soup. The kids almost cried for joy when the final hut had a more extensive menu that included pasta bolognese and pancakes. Highlights included spotting marmots and Alpine ibex, and sleeping on mattresses that were so old they sported ‘Made in Yugoslavia’ labels and had obviously provided cosy homes to dozens of generations of mice.
Somehow, those four days sort of felt like the longest of the trip, even though the scenery was frequently breathtaking. However, we also spent a day swimming in delightfully picturesque Lake Bled,
and another visiting the romantic city of Ljubljana, which is not that difficult to pronounce once you get the hang of it, and is also guarded by dragons.
The most relaxing part of the vacation came when we crossed the border into Croatia to spend a week at a tiny hill-town (population 46) in Istria, a peninsula that for various historical reasons feels so incredibly Italian we got rather homesick.
After our alarming adventures in Slovenia, we were happy to just watch sunsets and swim in the pool, although we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to hear Beethoven’s 9th Symphony in the Roman amphitheatre in Istria’s coastal capital. Tony and I even took the nostalgic opportunity to pop over and spend an afternoon in Trieste, the Italian city we once visited by stressful accident in the middle of the Italian citizenship saga over a decade ago, and forever remember as a ‘final Mediterranean daydream’.
Back in real life, it was back to school for everyone except Tony, who went on a business trip to Nigeria.
Raj graduated from primary school, and was thrilled to get into the same historic Amsterdam secondary school as Axa. I was at least as thrilled to get into Leiden University, which celebrated its 444th anniversary by letting me in to do a research master in history. Ah, the homework parties we have at our house these days! Axa also survived survival camp, where she constructed and navigated a raft, climbed trees in harness, and built a weight-bearing bridge.
Lyra was happy to be able to come on all our holidays this year, and celebrated by learning some new tricks like ‘kiss’ and ‘high-five’. We love our life here in Amsterdam, but miss those of you who live far away. If we didn’t see you last year, we hope our paths cross in 2020.
Until then, warmest wishes for a year filled with love, peace and happiness.
Sarah, Tony, Axa, Raj & Lyra