Because we had Skip with us, we couldn’t just fly home to the UK like normal people. Instead we had a three-day, twelve-stage epic public-transport journey through four countries. I guess going overland and by ferry might have been greener than flying?
The Night Before
Lizzie was out of the water, in a cradle in the yard, ready to go into the shed for the winter. The mast was off and all the sails had been dried and packed away. We had a long evening of cleaning, sorting and packing and were pretty knackered when we eventually made it to bed.
Day One (two buses, three trains and a metro)
We got up early, walked the dog and left the boat at 0730, ready to catch a bus at 0800. We had to transport a load of power tools home as well as all our clothes, so we had a heavy holdall each, some other smaller bags, and the dog.
The first bus took us to Sonderborg. While waiting for the next bus, Skip and I went and bought some brownies from a bakery that Catherine had spotted on an earlier visit. The next bus journey was longer, a couple hours to Flensburg which is just over the border into Germany.
Here we had to lug our stuff a mile and a bit from the bus station to the train station. Luckily we had plenty of time so stopped for a rest in a park. Skip was full of energy, so we disobeyed the “dogs on leads” sign and found a quiet corner where I could throw the ball for him.
We got a train to Hamburg, then another to Osnabruck (wherever that is) and finally another one to Amsterdam. The first train was fine, but the second sat in the station for 45 minutes before leaving due to a “technical problem”. This meant we missed the third train, and we thought we might be stuck in Osnabruck for the night, but another train to Amsterdam eventually appeared on the departure board.
At this point we were very glad that we had decided to break the journey in Amsterdam rather than trying to get the ferry that night, which should in theory have been possible.
On this train we got charged €40 for the dog! We had pre-booked our tickets, and knew that technically we needed a child’s ticket for Skip, but when we tried to book his ticket it asked us how old the child was. Should we enter his age in dog years or something? We researched online and found that most people don’t bother with tickets for their dogs, and that you have to be unlucky to get questioned about it. We got away with it on the first two trains, but the German ticket inspector on the third train was a fierce woman who demanded payment, so we paid up immediately. Once the same train passed into the Netherlands the Dutch inspector was a lot more cheerful, and didn’t ask to see Skip’s ticket.
Arriving in Amsterdam at about 9pm, we dumped our heavy bags at the left-luggage lockers and took the metro out to Wibautstraat. For once I was able to obey the “dogs must be carried on escalators” sign. As usual Skip was amazingly unfazed by everything and really enthusiastic about boarding any form of public transport for some reason!
The Volkshotel was really friendly and seemed genuinely interested in our sailing trip, and Skip managed to charm everyone as usual. We each had a long shower (very luxurious after the standard four minutes you get in a marina) and then had a relaxing evening in the hotel bar. Another time we might have tried the rooftop hot-tubs, which did look good!
Day Two (a walk, a bus and half a ferry)
Free of our heavy bags, we had a really nice morning ambling back in to the centre of Amsterdam via various parks and gardens. By 2pm we had retrieved our burdens and were waiting for the DFDS bus out to the ferry port at IJmuiden. Having seen the weather forecast, Catherine nipped to the nearby chemist and invested in some sea-sickness tablets.
Gradually other passengers accumulated around us, for some reason pushing right up against us despite the acres of space. I still don’t quite know how they did it, but somehow we were gradually displaced from our bench and despite being the first people at the bus stop we found ourselves in a heap on the floor, pressed in on all sides by people and luggage.
Eventually a bus showed up. My expectations of a nice orderly English queue were also shattered as a crowd of elderly Brits elbowed us and each other out of the way in their rush to be first on the bus. A young mother, standing with her pushchair as the grannies jostled past, sighed and pointed out that this was just the first bus of many, and that the ferry didn’t leave for hours yet…
We had sailed through Ijmuiden to Amsterdam several months before, so it was interesting to see the same sights from the road. At the ferry port, having the dog allowed us to bypass the check-in queues (take that, rude grannies) and we excitedly boarded the ferry and deposited Skip in his kennel.
Catherine had promised that our ferry cabin TV would have a special channel allowing us to watch Skip and the other kennel inmates, but disappointingly our cabin didn’t even have a TV. There was, however, a great view of the port of IJmuiden from the deck of the ferry and we spent ages looking at the various interesting ships and gas platforms that were scattered around the harbour. Eventually the ferry set off, and as the motion didn’t seem too bad we headed to the canteen for our pre-booked “all you can eat buffet”.
The food wasn’t too bad, but annoyingly they tried to pull what is known in the trade as “a Ryanair”: although the price we’d paid included “all you can eat” it didn’t include any drinks at all, not even tap water. A sealed bottle of still water sat on the table to tempt us, but it was labelled “€6.50” so we refused to give in and tried to eat our money’s worth of salty food without any drink.
As the evening progressed the waves got quite large, and the captain announced that we would be heading West across to the UK and then up the UK coast, rather than heading in a straight line to Newcastle. The waves splashed over the boat in an impressive way, and they closed the outside decks at the front of the boat, but the motion was pretty benign compared to anything we’d had on Lizzie and we had no problem sleeping!
Day Three (more ferry, a bus and three trains)
We arrived in Newcastle and retrieved the dog from the kennels. He seemed pleased to see us, and relieved to have a pee ashore, but not unduly stressed by the ferry ride.
We got the bus to Newcastle train station, worrying because we knew we were too late for our pre-booked train. Catherine had booked the train using the official app, but a bug in the app had showed her the trains in Danish time for some reason! She had told the app to book an 11:15 train, but the ticket arrived saying 10:15. Luckily it turned out that the 10:15 train was cancelled anyway, so we were able to catch other trains, with an extra change to cope with the usual UK rail disruption, and eventually arrived back in Glossop.