So, all was set. Get the ludicrously early 0638 train to Harwich for the Hoek van Holland boat on Monday morning. That in itself was not a problem as I have a sleep disorder and staying up all night is no problem for me. I managed to miss the bus by seconds as the driver (typically Transport for London) chose to ignore me running for it having obviously seen me so I jumped in a taxi from the local firm which I have used for 30 years and made the train with loads of time to spare. I don’t intend to make this site a marketplace but I like to pass on useful information as well as observations and I do recommend Dell Cars for a taxi in the East End.
Onto the train and everything was looking great. Nice day on the boat, quick train transfer to Leiden and meet my friend for dinner, what could go wrong? Everything, and completely my own fault! We were approaching Shenfield station and I decided to do my usual check. I habitually do it before leaving home and I really wish I had on this occasion. Ticket – yes. Wallet with cards – yes. Passport – oh no. Holy blazes, how can a man as well-travelled as me forget his bloody passport? Schoolboy error and utterly unforgivable for an experienced traveller but that was the situation. I knew there was no way I could make the morning sailing so I turned round at Shenfield, got off at Stratford and got a bus home to regroup and replan. A very tasty Eggs Royale for breakfast en route in my local pub softened the blow somewhat.
I knew I really had to get to Leiden as I had let my friend down a couple of weeks previously when she had invited me to Lubljiana and I had cried off after initially agreeing to meet her there. I love Slovenia and I always have a great time with my friend but events overtook me and so it was Leiden or bust as they say.
Back again that evening to Liverpool Street, not even sure if my partially used ticket would be valid as I did not want to be arrested for fare-dodging or, worse still, let my friend down again having promised her to be in Leiden. Another delightful man called Karl (culled from his name badge) dealt with me at the ticket office and assured me that my ticket was still valid as it was for that day and I could use it on the night boat.That was a good result as it saved me another £63.
I even had time for a pint in the Hamilton Hall which is a pub I am well acquainted with as it is the station bar there and is absolutely beautiful having been previously the ballroom of the adjacent very smart old railway hotel. If you ever visit, look at the ceiling which is magnificent. Don’t worry, it is a Wehterspoons pub which means it is very good value for both food and drink.
A pleasant and relatively uncrowded train took me onward to Harwich. OK, it was a bit full as far as Chelmsford but I did manage to get a seat which is rarely the case on a commuter train on the utterly disgusting British rail system now. Our rail network has been appallingly fragmented and sold off to (mostly) foreign companies who treat them as nothing more than a cash cow for their shareholders. The travelling public, who have to pay their obscene prices, be damned!
I got to Harwich a couple of hours before the 2300 sailing time and asked the guy on the check-in if there was a decent pub in the vicinity. He answered in the negative, saying that the port was a bit out of the way and suggesting I check in as the onboard bar would be open.
This is not always the case on international ferries due to international waters, licensing laws and so on. Well, that sounded like a plan to me.
The pedestrian gangway is being replaced at present and so a ludicrously short bus journey was required to get to the vessel.
There are two vessels plying this route, the Brittanica and the Hollandia and I was on the latter. Passengers are effectively restricted to three decks. 10 and 11 are the cabin accommodation and nine is the area for bars, the cinema which shows first run films at €8:50 for adults (2017 price), bureau de change, shopping and all the appurtenances of a modern ferry.
Your boarding pass also serves as your keycard for the cabin door and I got into my cabin with no problem. However, a problem did arise when I tried to use the keycard to turn on the lights as you have to put the keycard in a slot as is now so often the case in hotel rooms. Try as I might, I could not get it to work. Stena, the operators, very helpfully station two crew members at the stairway on each level to assist passengers and I just knew by looking at them that many were Philippino as I have spent a considerable amount of very enjoyable time in that lovely country. I was to be proved correct later on but back to the saga of the dark cabin.
I spoke to one of the crewmen on deck 11 and he said it was quite a common problem and gave me a plastic “swipecard” as opposed to the cardboard boarding pass, and it worked a treat. The treat was increased when the light finally did dawn as the cabin was a delight as I hope the images convey. I had sole occupancy of a double cabin with bunk beds which was very well-appointed with TV (UK and Dutch channels), en suite bathroom where the water in the shower proved to be piping hot and a good pressure, and I was very pleased with it. As always, my dear friend Mr. Gayton had steered me in exactly the right direction (he is a very experienced traveller) and I was very pleased with my “digs” for the night.
I have mentioned elsewhere that I stand 6’5″ in my bare feet and beds can be a problem lengthwise but I was able to stretch out fully and not touch the bulkhead at either end. I reckon the bed must have been 6’7″ or 6’8″ easily and as well as being a very decent length was extremely comfortable with the provided duvet keeping me warm enough. It was an inside cabin but that was no problem as it was going to be night and there would have been nothing to see anyway!
I dumped my pretty meagre kit and headed straight for the bar as I was thirsty as usual. The barman who dealt with me was extremely friendly and from his appearance, accent and occupation as a seaman I was sure that he too was Philippino so I decided to chance my luck a bit and show off. As we chatted (he spoke perfect English) I dropped into the conversation the line “Which island are you from, Luzon? For those that don’t know, Luzon is the large island in the Philippines which is home to the capital, Manila. In due course, I shall be writing a journal about my trip there here on the site. He beamed a smile at me in that ultra-typical Pinoy (Phillipino) fashion and answered in the affirmative, naming a place in Northern Luzon that I had never even heard of. He seemed somewhat amazed that I had even been to his home country and genuinely delighted when I told him I had spent five months there so we chatted some more as the bar was pretty quiet on a Monday night in early April.
Despite the smoking fascism that exists all over Europe now, Stena (the ferry operators) have had the common good sense to have a dedicated smoking lounge (just beside the Riva bar on deck nine) and so I stationed myself in there armed with a pint of Strongbow and my trusty Marlboro Lights to set about writing the start of this journal as I had set myself a task to try to keep one reasonably “live”.
Just a quick word about the smoking. I know it is ruinous for my health not to mention equally ruinously bad for my bank balance given the obscene taxes imposed by my Government but I have been doing it for over 45 years now and there is no way I’ll ever be able to stop. I do urge anyone reading this (if anyone does) and especially young people that if you are thinking about smoking then think again. It is a bloody stupid thing to do and I do not recommend it in the slightest despite smoking up to two packs a day myself although I am cutting down a bit. You literally might as well take banknotes out of your wallet and set fire to them, at least that way you’ll save your lungs! Here endeth the health lesson but I feel it is worth saying and so back to the journal which is what I am supposed to be doing here.
Suitably refreshed and with nicotine levels raised above the critical I adjourned to my lovely cabin, had a quick chapter of my excellent book whilst glancing at the BBC news and turned in for a wonderful night’s sleep. This may seem like a fairly unremarkable event but those that know me will know that I suffer from a sleep disorder, as mentioned previously, and am generally nocturnal and insomniac so a good night’s kip was a real added bonus.
I will actually get to the Netherlands in the next entry so stay tuned and spread the word.