We check out of our hotel in Bruges and hit the highway north. We have a date with my godparents and cousin in Coevorden far away in the north of Holland near the German border. It will take us about four hours to get there. Not far by Australian standards but it will require us to pretty much cross an entire country here in Europe.
The drive is pretty. We drive through flat green farmlands where cattle graze. Villages slip by with reed-roofed houses. We cross a low rise where the temperatures are below freezing and ice crystals have dusted all the trees. Everything is white. We contemplate stopping but the ollie bollen (deep fried dough and sultana balls) are calling.
We arrive in Coevorden just in time to walk from my godparents’ house to my cousin’s house. My cousin’s wife is cranking out the fresh home made ollie bollen like a champion. They taste as delicious as I remember from last year.
My cousin’s kids and their friends are lighting fire crackers in the street. They are young but the fire crackers are less insane than those we will fire off at midnight. The kids are loving it. It’s our second New Year with them in a row and the kids are now talking about “Paul and Andrew who come every year”. It’s adorable.
We head back to my godparents’ home for dinner. My cousin, his wife and their kids come too. We sit in front of the open fire chatting. There’s a year to catch up on. The kids gently correct my Dutch when I use the incorrect words or grammar. I appreciate the help.
The kids go to bed and we play a present game. It’s odd to have gifts on New Year but in Holland gifts aren’t usually exchanged at Christmas so it makes sense. The game is a laugh. We have dice and cards that dictate what we can do with the gifts we select. Everyone has bought three gifts valued at about three Euros each. We select and unwrap gifts according to the cards and dice. We also swap and steal gifts according to the same cards and dice. Three hours pass and we end up with a selection of gifts each. It’s all random fun and we’ve laughed our guts out.
And then it’s time. The clock strikes 12 and it’s hugs all round. Outside the fire works have begun. Last year we stood in the street where there were lots of young people but this year we’re in my godparents’ backyard. The difference is that it’s less scary and more enjoyable. There’s little risk tonight of fire works hitting us if they go wrong. And we can duck inside when it gets too cold. It’s a blast (no pun intended). We stay out in the cold as long as we can keep our eyes open and then we climb the stairs to our bedrooms (yes plural). My godparents have bedrooms for their grandkids and tonight that’s where we will sleep – each in one small child’s bed (the children are not there off course).
So ends 2016. A challenging and unsettled year. There’s been lots of fun travel. I’ve had four different jobs in three different industries. I’ve felt unsettled about the future, trying to find a way to have flexibility, income and freedom all at once. But been a good year because Paul became my husband, giving me a travel buddy for life 😉 .