Wednesday, 27 August 2014
Monday, 25 August 2014
Sunday, 24 August 2014
Saturday, 23 August 2014
Friday, 22 August 2014
Thursday, 21 August 2014
Wednesday, 20 August 2014
Tuesday, 19 August 2014
As we moved through countries I gradually realised we'd moved into Germany and the first thing that struck me was the increase in graffiti. I think this surprised me because perhaps I imagine graffiti to be the preserve of a disaffected youth. Germany's PR machine has been persuading me that they're doing alright Jack (or whatever the German equivalent of Jack is). I might expect it in Spain where youth unemployment, or unemployment generally is shockingly high, but not in Germany.
We went through Cologne and along the Rhine. I saw vineyards planted on infeasibly steep slopes and then I started to feel hungry, and thirsty.
The nice attendant paid us a visit. We'd splashed out for a meal in the restaurant car and the reviews I'd read said that it was worth the expense. The advice was to book the early sitting at 6:00 pm to be sat eating dinner alongside the Rhine. Our attendant wanted to know if we wanted wine with our meal and recommended we find her at dinnertime to lock our cabin while we dined.
We'd had a sneak peek at the restaurant car earlier and it was a bit posh. It wasn't very posh but it didn't seem to be a shorts and a t-shirt environment. Dave and I changed into something more suitable but our children were immovable objects and turned up wearing their usual scruffy attire.
Dinner was good, the view was excellent, but there was a problem. I felt perhaps there wasn't enough dinner. If I added the calorific content then it was probably sufficient but I really was quite hungry. Luckily I had some emergency shortbread back in the cabin to tide us over.
After dinner it was back to the cabin for some post dinner entertainment. This comprised of Hannah teaching Ethan how to play Cheat and Dave and me teaching the children how to play Whist. The remaining bunks were assembled and we prepared for sleep.
There were blankets in the cabin and each bunk had a freshly laundered sheet fashioned into a sleep sheet rather like a sleeping bag liner. There were also pillows with freshly laundered pillow cases. There was a slight problem with the sleeping arrangements. One could argue whether this was a fault of Autoslaap or of us but Dave was too tall to fit in a bunk properly. Given that he regularly suffers with a bad back this was not ideal but he did his best not to make a fuss.
Monday, 18 August 2014
The intent behind this blog post is to inform. I'm imagining a reader who's conteplating this journey and wondering whether it would suit them. Also this post will be split into several parts, partly because it makes it more digestible for the reader.
Firstly, it was our choice to take the ferry to the Netherlands. I think that if you were to look at elapsed time driving and Eurotunnel would be quicker.
Whilst the ferry journey itself was excellent, getting off the ferry and through passport control wasn't great and probably took an hour.
Driving to 's-Hertogenbosch (also known as Den Bosch) was easy and took just over an hour. Finding the right turning for the Autoslaap (Motorail) wasn't quite as easy. It's clearly a niche service and, as such, had discrete signage. However, a couple of wrong turns and a lot of finger crossing seemed to work.
You need to remember that this isn't a big ferry port or airport used by thousands daily but is a small service used by a very small number of customers. Have faith and look for the tiny signs for Autoslaap. When these signs stop and you think "It can't be through there" it is.
We thought we were early but actually we almost the last to check-in. Bizarrely we were required to drive along the same platform used by passengers. All but the driver exited the car and took the luggage we'd need for an overnight stay on the train. Dave, our driver, then carefully drove the car onto the carriages designed to take cars on two decks. We were told to disable the alarm to prevent any embarrassing flat battery incidents.
We had time to kill before boarding and ate some amazing sandwiches we'd bought at motorway services just before the Den Bosch exit.
The station waiting area was unprepossessing but we weren't there long before required to board.
The train wasn't up to Richard Branson's standards and I think a fair description would be "ageing rolling stock". Everything was just a little bit worn but perfectly serviceable.
We left on time, and before long our attendant arrived with a choice of welcome drink: Lambrusco or orange juice (with bits, as the kids would say).
The train carriages were divided with a corridor along one side with cabins on the other. Our cabin had five chairs that could be transformed into four bunks.
We think there was a fifth bunk for someone short but it didn't have a mattress so we used it for luggage storage.
We started in seat mode but it didn't take long for the children's excitement to require that half of our cabin be turned into bunks.
We sat and watched the countryside roll past the window and then when the children bored of that they stuck their heads in books.
It's quite relaxing to sit and watch the countryside and towns and cities go past the window, and that's how I spent the few hours before dinner.
Sunday, 17 August 2014
Saturday, 16 August 2014
There were no queues in front of us at document check out boarding. We just drove straight on and started exploring straight away.
The ferry seemed very new and lacked the knocked about look that years of exposure to the public can create.
Our cabin exceeded expectations with five berths, a TV, and crisp, clean, white linen all ready to use.
We dumped our bags and explored the rest of the ship. Everything was very efficient and organised.
We noted our rather early (5:30am) alarm call and headed back to the cabin.
Sleep was interrupted by children sleep-talking, Hannah kicking first a book and then a towel from her bed to mine, narrowly missing my head, and Ethan choosing to lose a book with a great thud when it hit the floor.
Stena, it seems have a sense of humour. At 6:30 CET we were all woken to the tune "Don't worry, be happy."
Nice one Stena.
Friday, 15 August 2014
We needed a guide book and a map.
I spoke to Dave about which ones I thought would be a good idea, told him I'd placed an order and showed him the products when they arrived.
Yesterday he went into town and bought a guide book and map.
Apparently he was completely unaware I'd done anything.
The phrase "You never listen to a word I say" seemed appropriate.
Thursday, 14 August 2014
Today we start our epic adventure.
It's sort of a Planes, Trains and Automobiles adventure but with a boat and without the planes.
I'm apprehensive. Do you get nervous before a holiday?
Have we got all of the tickets and documentation?
There is one thing that could go wrong. Dave's car has a chip in the windscreen. If it were my car it would have been sorted within the week but Dave's been driving around with this for months, and I only found out a few days ago.
Calling Autoglass in the UK is nice and easy and simple. Fixing a windscreen in Italy when the train journey has rattled the windscreen into smithereens, will not be as simple. Dave says it will be fine. I am not as confident.
I could have insisted he fix it or I could have said "If he thinks it'll be OK, then I'll trust him." It was tough call but I'm going with trust.
Tuesday, 12 August 2014
Robin Williams was reported to have been found dead today.
It's thought he died by suicide.
He was known to be suffering from depression.
The news has been full of how great Robin Williams was with tributes flooding in from the great and the good, and David Hasselhoff.
The Samaritans have advice for the media on the reporting of suicide; I'm not sure all media outlets followed that advice today.
But the news coverage has allowed some discussion about depression.
The thing that, for me, makes today sad, is that a man died because he felt he wasn't good enough, and that is very, very sad.