Last Thursday – the 28th of May – was our wedding anniversary. Eleven years, which according to Google was our steel anniversary. To mark the occasion I romantically gave Sue the opportunity to spend the day in a steel box with dinner on a large steel vessel. We are busy people and as we had to be in Rotterdam on Friday to complete on the apartment on Pannekoekstraat we thought it a good opportunity to do a roadtrip with a van full of stuff.
Safe in our hired Intack Self drive steel box, we headed off at 8am to Dover with some CDs and a packed lunch.
You may be thinking – why Dover when you can get a ferry direct to Rotterdam from Hull? The answer is cost. It is eye wateringly expensive. It would have cost about £800 (€1120) as opposed to £190 (€266). It was bad enough having to pay the extra to take the van overseas.
Our DFDS ferry to Dunkirk was at 18:00. We got to Dover, having sung along to at least four compilation albums, a couple of hours early. In time for a walk on the beach and an icecream.
We were put right at the front of the boat between two wagons. The LWB HighTop Transit that had looked enormous in our drive looked tiny. We sat in the restaurant on the crossing and watched it being sprayed in seawater like a pebble wedged between two boulders.
Google maps had detailed a route for us with a strange warning. An ominous yellow triangle containing a forbidding explanation mark and the legend THIS ROUTE CROSSES THROUGH BELGIUM. What could this mean? Would we be safe in our Ghent Campanile hotel room we’d pre booked? Would the streets be lined with beer brewing monks bombarding us with waffles and chips dunked in mayonnaise. A bit disappointingly, no – The only Belgians we spoke to worked at the Campanile and were lovely. They didn’t even tie us up in red tape.
I love Schengen. Crossing borders with no hassle is very civilised. The checks in Dover were easy. The French seemed happy to let us in even if we never put our feet on French soil. I do think they need to mark the borders better though. How about an arch over the motorway with flags and examples of national identity. Onions, wine and fromage for France; Beer and waffles for Belgium; bikes, clogs and tulips for the Netherlands. Given the British fear of Schengen we could be represented by barbed wire, queues and suspicion – oh, hang on – that is what greets you when you enter the UK.
While we were travelling, Mr Cameron was in The Hague meeting with Mark Rutte, the Dutch Prime Minister. No doubt in perfect English. We mentioned this to Ernst and our Notary when we were finalising the apartment purchase. They laughed and said – Oh yes – he’s trying to change Europe. We joked and said that first on his agenda was to get everyone else driving sensibly on the left like we do. We joked but…
Whilst on the continent, Sue adopted the role of driver whilst I navigated. This suited me down to the ground. Sue is a much better driver than me. As a team we did really well. We navigated the motorways and the urban streets of Rotterdam without hitch. We didn’t fall out once. Parking by the apartment is expensive, (50c for 18 minutes). The van was also rather large and finding space would have been tricky. Luckily there was a temporary loading bay and Rotterdam has an extensive park and ride scheme.
Our road trip concluded on Monday with a marathon drive from Rotterdam to Dunkirk and then from Dover to Blackburn – about 12 hours including the ferry trip. There were a lot of trucks on the two lane Belgian motorways and we were victim to a lot of elefantenrennen. The only real fly in the ointment was the embarrassment at how non UK nationals must feel as they get checked, grilled, searched and checked again before they are permitted to tread on British soil – At least we should do it with a smile. I fear that this will only get worse as all the emotional arguments ahead of an in-out referendum seem to be coming from the little islanders. The ones who’ve forgotten two European wars in the last century and think that those foreigners should do what we tell them or we won’t be in their gang. It might be alright once Mr Cameron has explained which side of the road they should be driving on.