It’s New Year’s Eve and I am sitting next to the fire place at my parents’ home. This year we decided to spend the Christmas holidays in Europe, after spending the last 3 Christmases in China. Not leaving China during the Christmas season means no holiday feeling at all, because there are no Christmas holidays and I normally just keep on working. At least being away from Shanghai for 2 weeks or so gives you a partial holiday feeling: because work continues I still spent too much time on my mail or on the phone (my wife as well). I also spent some time at the Spil Games office in Hilversum, but most of the time I was at my parents’ place with my family. We did a lot of things over the past 2 weeks, and because of the nice winter weather we were even able to enjoy some outdoor winter sports.
The weekend we arrived I had a big Christmas dinner in Maastricht with a student club that I belonged to (or actually belong to: once you manage to get in membership is for life). Good to catch up with my friends, some of whom I had not seen for years. During the dinner it started snowing heavily and we were lucky to catch a taxi back around 1 AM. The party itself continued much longer but I was too jetlagged to really enjoy it (the night before we had spent on a plane with the kids, meaning hardly any sleep…).
The good thing was that we got up quite early the next morning (7 AM), despite many drinks and so could leave Maastricht before new snow storms would hit the south of Holland. The roads were pretty bad though (even the highways were often covered in snow), but we still managed to get back to Ommen in a reasonable time.
On Monday I had meetings in Amsterdam and Hilversum and spent half the day in traffic jams because of the snow. Not the nicest thing in the world, but it gave me time to think through a lot of things and listen to Dutch radio for hours.
The day after, we left early for a trip to the Sauerland region in Germany to do some skiing and sledging. This is only a 3 hour drive from my parents’ place (despite the snow), so you could drive over for just one day, but because of the kids we decided to stay overnight.
We had a lot of fun, the snow was excellent and it was not too cold. My dad and I went skiing and the kids mainly played in the snow. Scott loved to ride a sledge downhill, but Elaine was still a bit too young to enjoy it. The nice thing was that there were hardly any people, it looks like that in the days before Christmas people don’t really go on holidays or on an outing there.
The day after skiing I bought some new skates (my skates are still in China, where I used them sometimes on Houhai in Beijing) and tried them out right away at the ice skating track in the woods in Ommen. It’s a 400 meter oval surrounded by trees, not far from my parents’ place. The ice was great and also here there were hardly any people! I skated for the first time in years, but luckily I was still able to get around the track without too much trouble. But the muscle and back ache afterward was quite bad, I realized that while skating you use some muscles that you otherwise never use… But a glass of champagne at home after the skating trip compensated the pain of course.
Christmas Eve we spent at my uncle Victor’s place in Joure. He cooked an excellent meal for us, and our kids played with his kids most of the afternoon and early evening. Interesting thing is that their favorite toys were the iPad and the iPhone, at one point they were playing Angry Birds simultaneously on 3 devices! One thing we noticed in Joure is that there was not much snow there, and that the ice looked much better than the snow covered lakes around my parents place.
So the next morning we decided to drive in a northerly direction again to go skating there. We ended up on the Belterwijde close to Giethoorn where we (= my dad, my sister and me) skated for about 15 kilometers over the lakes and canals.
The ice was very nice with hardly any snow on it and because of Christmas Day not many other skaters. Entrepreneurial people put up stands with hot chocolate, tea and soup at some places around the main lake, so we could warm up after a bit of skating. A very enjoyable afternoon!
Christmas Day we drove to my sister’s house, a very nicely renovated old farm house. We had coffee there and talked a bit before taking the car to Oud-Zevenaar for a big Christmas lunch at Vlees en Vis.
I had not been to this restaurant yet and was pleasantly surprised. An excellent 5 course lunch with a bottle of champagne to get started and different wines with every course. Luckily my mom offered not to join every course’s wine and drive back home afterward.
If you are in the Arnhem/Zevenaar area the Vlees en Vis restaurant is an excellent choice, with a cuisine that matches some of the best restaurants in Holland and an excellent wine menu. A very friendly waiter/sommelier as well, and a cook who even created a special 5-course menu for our kids. I’ll be back!
Monday I went back to Spil Games in Hilversum for a couple of meetings, but left the office before 5 PM to be back in time at home for Scott’s birthday. He turned 3 years old that day, and got lots of presents once again (during Christmas he also got a ton of presents already). My sister also dropped by for the festivities, because she has her birthday on the same day as Scott. So we had some nice drinks and dinner together to celebrate.
Tuesday I had to follow up on my promise to my wife to go shopping with her. We decided to go to Hardenberg, the city where I spent part of my high school years. I hadn’t been there in years and it had changed completely. A bit like Shanghai, you don’t go there for a few years and you can hardly recognize it anymore. After shopping we had lunch in a small brasserie and then drove back to Ommen for some additional shopping. When we got home I decided to go skating with my dad, walking around shopping streets made me tired and I felt I needed to do something more active. We went to the outdoor track in Ommen for a few kilometers of skating. Because the track closes at 5 pm to clean the ice and we arrived at 4:15 we had the track for ourselves as most people went home early.
After the ice skating my dad and I still went for a snow bike ride through the woods. It was extremely tiring, but it’s the best way to see the beauty of nature in the middle of winter. Back at home we decided to have dinner in an Italian restaurant. My favorite in this region (Bacco in Marle) turned out to be closed, so we ended up at another one in Ommen. Not bad either, but certainly not as good as Bacco.
Wednesday most of the snow on the roads and bike paths had disappeared, so for the first time this holiday I went running with my dad. It felt great to be running in the cold air again, but we had to watch out not to slip. It wasn’t very easy, but I felt good after I did the 5.5 km run in about 25 minutes. At home an uncle of mine came by to visit and it was good to catch up. Race car driver Ho-Pin Tung also called to see if he could come by, so we had a full house in afternoon. Of course we opened some nice bottles of wine again (I lost count how much I drank this holiday, and that’s probably better. Luckily my dad’s wine cellar is big enough!).
Thursday we drove to Antwerp to meet with some friends who just moved into an amazing house in the city center for a kind of housewarming visit. We started with coffee and a very nice raspberry cake followed by