CH-6003 Luzern, Switzerland
Another year is drawing to a close. I hope that past year has been a joyful and successful on for you all. I have had a great year, filled with all sorts of travel adventures.
In March, I again took part in the Engadin cross-country ski marathon. This was my third time and it went quite well. I managed to place well enough to be advanced into the next category for next year. For me, this means that next year's race will be tougher, faster, etc. My next goal is place well enough so that I do not drop back into the previous category. For Sandra, it means that she has to get up a half-hour earlier to help me get to the start.
For my birthday (May 1st), we went for two weeks to Belize (on the Caribbean with borders to Mexico and Guatemala), an amazing mix of Maya, Reggae and English colonial cultures. We spent the first week in the jungle visiting Mayan pyramids and archeological sites. We then stayed for a few days, including my birthday, in a strange spa-resort in the Jungle. The first night at the spa we met the only other two guests staying there. When we entered the restaurant it was decorated for a birthday party, although we hadn't said anything. It turned out that the wife of the other couple shared the same birthday as me. We spent the final week of our trip on Ambergris Cay, hanging out on the beach. There we sat about in hammocks with rum cocktails and did not do much of anything. On our return trip we spent one day in Miami, where I had never been. It's a bizarre and entertaining place. I quite understand its appeal to European tourists. Interestingly, all the 'locals' we encountered were fresh arrivals from somewhere else.
Over the past couple of years I've had very little time for riding my motorcycle. However, in June we managed to get a group of eight people together for a long weekend to ride to Mugello, near Florence, to watch the motorcycle Grand Prix. The approach ride over the Alps was quite pleasant, but the race day was rainy and cold. We actually left before the final race ended, to avoid the crowds, only to get stuck in a traffic jam with thousands of like-minded motorcyclists. We stayed further north in Verona, famous for opera and its Roman coliseum.
In July, I had another long weekend in Italy. This time with Sandra, visiting Venice and the surrounding countryside of Veneto, where Sandra's relatives are from. We met Sandra's grandmother and a collection of her relatives, most of whom spoke only Italian. In spite of the language difficulties, we all managed to communicate and enjoy ourselves. Good food and wine helped things considerably. In the meantime I'm setting myself the task of learning some Italian for next year.
My final long weekend in Italy was in the fall with a friend from Turin. We visited Turin and Alba, the main town of the wine region of Piemonte. As it was cold we spent most of the weekend indoors in cafes, wine cellars and some quite fine restaurants. We came back with the car loaded to bursting with wine, fresh truffles, cheese and groceries. Surprisingly, we did not get stopped by the border guards. The car must have smelled like a delicatessen.
In September, Sandra and I spent a week in Scotland, where many of my ancestors are from. We started in Edinburgh, drove to Inverness and returned through the western highlands, a rugged coastline with a few small villages and many desolate islands. After an initial two days of rain in Edinburgh, the skies more or less cleared and we had dry weather for the rest of the trip. The countryside, when the sun peeks through the clouds, is beautiful. There were few tourists about, though we saw many cyclists, which I though quite strange, given the typical weather and barrenness of the place. The food was unexpectedly good, with seafood being the best. At each bed and breakfast we stayed in, we were fed a 'fried English breakfast', a massive affair which easily enables you to skip lunch. After a week of over-feeding we were longing for our more normal fruit and cappuccino. On our final morning in the UK, while staying with a friend of Sandra's in Manchester, the host offered us, as a special weekend treat, a fried English breakfast!
The highlight of the year, was our oft planned and oft cancelled trip to Viet Nam. We finally made it this fall and it was well worth the wait. The country is a real adventure. Luckily Sandra had arranged all our internal transportation and guides in advance. All we had to do was show up. Upon arrival in each location, we were whisked away to be shown the most amazing sites. Our trip was a total of three weeks and we visited Siagon, Hanoi, the Mekong Delta, Hue, Hoi An (my favorite), Da Lat, Na Trang and Halong Bay. Our guides were really excellent. Without exception, all were very wise people with extensive knowledge of their culture and history. Many also shared with us their insights into the current conditions and their view of what is likely to happen in the near future, which added greatly to our experience. While Viet Nam is by no means a wealthy nation and there is relatively little foreign investment (or tourism), conditions seem to be improving rapidly. The country is rebuilding itself from the bottom up and there is a strong feeling of optimism. Private homes and small businesses are popping up everywhere. It will be interesting to see how the country develops and how the communist leaders cope with the changing situation. Viet Nam has potential.
I've recently added more travel pictures and other, hopefully interesting, content to my web site. I invite you all to have a look and send your comments. Work-wise, the 'dot-bomb' slowdown has forced me back into my role of consultant and put my e-business project on hold for the time being. As the economy rebounds, expect to see it resurrected.
I'll close by sending you my best wishes for the holiday season and the coming year. Thanks for last year's cards, letters and photographs. I look forward to hearing from you all again in the coming year.