Saturday, January 05, 2013


After spending a lovely evening with some Bulgarian friends I had made in New York City, I had a wonderful, and much-needed vacation in the Netherlands over Christmas and the New Year.  I stayed with a friend whom I've known for several years, her husband, and her almost-one-year-old daughter. 
The first few days were filled with the purchase of presents and food, a dinner with friends of the family, and a lot of walking around the town of Groningen
On Christmas day, we went to visit the largest steam pumping station in the world.  Depending on weather conditions, it's only turned on about once or twice a year.  So, we (along with a rather large crowd) went to see all the wheels and gears pumping to keep parts of the Netherlands from flooding.  My friend mentioned that the Dutch have an understandable obsession with water - as most of the country is under sea level.  The country is crisscrossed by canals and various waterways - a lot of which come very close to residences.  And there's a delicate balance to try and keep just the right amount of water within and a whole lot of it without.  Afterwards, we came home and had a wonderful Christmas dinner.  (I ate a lot of rich and delicious food while I was there.) 
The next day, on the 26th, we celebrated Second Christmas.  My friend is married to a Dutchman, so his father had been with us the day before.  On the second day, his mother, brother, sister, and their significant others came over.  It was a busy Christmas.  We opened presents.  (His parents even brought me something!)  We had another fancy dinner, and we played a game. 
My friends and I spent the coming days playing more games, eating more delicious food, and going on a few day trips.  We went to Camp Westerbork, which functioned as a concentration and transit camp during the Second World War.  We went to Fortress Bourtange, which was built during the Eighty Years' War and is located near the German border.  I went down to Kinderdijik, where the largest concentration of windmills in the Netherlands is found. 
My friend and I went out on the town a couple of nights, and for the New Year, they had friends over.  We ate a lot of food, played a game, and watched the local fireworks at midnight.  I had a really great time just hanging out with the family and playing with the little girl.  And the Netherlands, while gray, was beautiful.  I could see myself spending significant time there. 
My flight back was eventful.  It was too foggy to land in Sofia, so we were diverted to Varna - a town on the Black Sea.  (I wish I had taken a picture from the plane of Sofia.  The fog made it look like soup, and only the top of factory smokestacks were visible from the air.)  After about six hours in Varna, I got on a plane that stopped in Burgas and then continued on to Sofia.  After getting to the airport around 1:30 a.m., there was some confusion about getting my passport stamped, and I learned my luggage hadn't made the trip.  Maybe it was somewhere still in Paris.  It took a couple of days, but I learned my bag has arrived.  I'll have to go to Sofia tomorrow to pick it up.  Other than this minor snag at the end, it was a really great trip.
I've been back at work for the past couple of days where things have been busy for me.  In fact, I need to work this weekend.  Problem is, I'm just still in a vacation frame of mind.