August 4th – Hook

One of the last things I remembered hearing from the night before was ‘Drink up Adam, this a revenge!’. It certainly was, and were it not for my alarm clock on my phone, I would have overslept big time (that’s forward planning for ya!)

I awoke as groggy as could be, wondering just how I was going to avoid any sort of sea sickness on the return ferry today, when Roos suddenly took to speeding about her home in a small panic. She had lost her keys at some point last night – a key ring which had her house key, bike key, goodness-knows-what-else keys, and it had vanished. I was under the impression that it may have had something to do with me losing the two tickets last night (though she denied this), so I got changed and sat in the lounge, a little unsure of what my next move was to be.

Roos seemed convinced it had nothing to do with me though, and soon after our 9:00am wake up call we were heading towards the beach area of The Hague – a popular local holiday spot for the Dutch! I had my eye on the clock the whole time, aware my ferry was leaving at half past two. We arrived at around half past ten at the seaside, giving us a scarce ninety minutes to have a look around.

I saw a pier, some amusements, a few seagulls, and generally everything you’d expect to see down at Brighton. For the first time in the whole trip, I began to feel a little longing for my home country. It was, after all, just across the sea. I bunkered down in a nearby diner with Roos and had – you guessed it – fish and chips (of a sort). The waiter spoke funny, and then asked me where abouts in England I was from. When I replied ‘Notting-ham’, he told me that that was not a Nottingham accent. I suddenly realised he was half-scouse, and his accent had nothing to do with being Dutch (just shows how much your ears get accustomed to new accents!). It is true, when I’m abroad, I slow my pace of talking down a little bit to help with communication. I don’t do it to offend, it’s just that my natural speed of using English is so fast, half of all English people I meet have difficulty keeping up!

 

Fish N’ Chips – There’s always a point towards the end of every expedition that I want a local variant of this dish!

We left the jolly mood of the beach behind, and I left a rather hung over Roos at the train station, after she helped me get my ticket back to my final ‘port of call’ – The Hook Of Holland. Just before we split however, she got a call from her mum telling her that she’d left her keys at the house when she went out last night. She never took her key ring out with us. Needless to say, that was a big relief – for both of us!

Now, before I go any further this post, let me just say one big cultural difference is the fact that trains are just really REALLY slow over here. The Hague to ‘Hoek van Holland’ is twenty miles, tops. It should not take over an hour to make that journey by train. I was sweating like a dog in a kebab shop en route to the docks, wondering if I’d miss my ferry. I had to make a change as well – some sort of cross-train-thing with the line to Rotterdam. I figured that for the main ferry between England and Holland, there’d be better transport links set up.

However

I made it back to the docks with thirty minutes to spare on the clock. Heck, even I knew I was cutting it fine. A half-arabic guy joined me and we ran to the check-in gates, only to find that they were all closed. The place was shutting down, and the staff seemed convinced that we had missed the ferry and we were not getting on – even though it was right outside the dock window!

Looking around though, I made my peace quite quickly with this fact  – the place was like a darn airport. Upon revision of my ticket, it did say (albeit in rather small print at the very bottom of the last page) that check-in closed forty five minutes before sail. That’s right – all across The Netherlands, no link missed, only to miss the final connection by fifteen minutes. Luckily, myself and this guy went to the reception desk, and the lady there was really friendly and sympathetic (it must happen a lot to be fair). She managed to relay our tickets free of charge. For the arabic guy, the same time tomorrow. For me, the night cruise in four hours time. I thanked her, and then I did what any Brit would do – I went to the toilet, took a massive dump, and re-assessed my life.

Hussein

Looking around, the half-arabic guy had sorted all his stuff out. We stood outside a little lost – and bemused – by our predicament. I called my mum to let her know I was going to be about twelve hours late getting home, and then considered going for lunch. The arabic guy had a better idea though. We went back to the station platform, where he had concealed the last of his marijuana before entering the docks. Since neither of us were going anywhere anytime soon, he asked if I wanted to share the last of his ganja with him. We both laughed, said ‘f*ck it’ at the same time, then sat down at the station platform and started blazing (only in Holland).

He told me his name was Hussein, and he was from Afghanistan (yes, really!) We talked a bit about our lives, our hopes of travel and our job prospects – you know, the usual. His train turned up about thirty minutes later, and we bid each other farewell, knowing we’d most likely never see each other again.

This left me at a loose end, so I took a walk in a random direction to explore the local port. About two miles down the coast, I came to a beach. The place was like a retirement village for over-50s Dutch people. There were also several WWII museums, with people dressed in wartime garments stood outside them. I grabbed another of the local Dutch delicacies Roos mentioned – Haring (that’s ‘herring’ to us Brits) in a bun, with onions on it, and a can of Heineken. I bet the check-in people loved me for eating that! (Well, if you’re gonna keep me hanging in a fishing port for four hours…)

Eventually, the storms appeared on the horizon, and I made my way back ahead of time, just reaching the docks as it started to downpour. I killed another hour inside the docking station blogging, before the check-in gates opened. I was one of the first people on the ship.

Stena Line could not have fooled me any more. When someone says to me to me ‘ferry’ I think of the Isle Of Wight boats. Namely, a leaky tugboat with a greasy diner selling hot dogs, rocking to and fro like a catamaran on a windy day. I was expecting rain macs, shaking hands holding a cup of hot coffee, and a few seats inside that people literally committed murder over trying to get custody of. I walk onto the boat and I’m greeted by something that reminded of ‘Poseidon’. Not that it was going to sink, but the ship was like Titanic. It was two football pitches long, easily. Servants helping people to their rooms, a shopping area, a cafe, about five bars, a club, a casino, a play area, a gaming corner, an internet room, a restaurant-for Pete’s sake, I’m going to England, not cruising around the Med’! Yes, it was lovely and swish. Had I known this prior, I was would been at the check-in two hours early. I thought this was going to be some sort of Olympian endurance test against the elements. Not… frigging… Cruise With Stelios!

Classy – My cabin (top and middle), and the restaurant (bottom). ‘Five star’ is really the only term I could use to describe the Stena Line boat, though that may be only be just because my expectations were so low! With the exception of incredibly bad internet connectivity (which is quite important on ferries to and from countries), everything was great!

One big bonus though was having my own cabin. In this, I charged up my phone, my iPod and my laptop. The key card went wrong immediately, but I managed to sort it. Then (because I’m using a Macbook, naturally) the internet went wrong too. This was a bigger problem, because I needed to book some more train tickets for when I arrived in Harwich. I called my mum and directed her on what to do on the internet over her end. This was hassle, as my mum hardly books anything online ever! We did eventually manage to get some form of ticket booked in the end – it brought the total cost of me missing the initial ferry to around £70 (I’d lost my previous pre-paid train tickets).

Then, feeling rather lost, I had some lasagna, grabbed a shower and went to bed. It was to be the last push home in the morning. The trip had one more surprise in store for me yet.

Sunset – This was the last view of ‘The Hook’ before we set off ourselves into that there sun. The industrial surroundings, and the fact that my journey had been so epic, made it the perfect finale to the trip, and possibly the most beautiful sunset I’ve ever seen in my life (and believe me, I have seen some incredible ones!)

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