Tuesday 12 March 2013.
Having spent a week slowly packing and organising everything for my eight day holiday in Kempen in Germany (and traumatising the dog in the process), last night it was time for me to set off for Harwich to take the overnight ferry to the Netherlands.
Of course, we had a mega cold snap yesterday with plenty of snow and I became a bit worried I’d struggle to get to Harwich, even though it’s only a short journey of about fifteen minutes from my house.
Poppy the cockapoo was coming with me and although she’s visited Germany twice before we have always used Eurotunnel to get through the channel. However, that adds over three hours’ driving and I decided that I’d prefer to use the Harwich-Hoek van Holland route if possible. Dogs are allowed so I decided to give it a go on this holiday.
I chose the overnight sailing because I prefer it (day sailings are a bit boring, night sailings mean you are asleep) and because I thought Poppy would cope better with it. Dogs aren’t allowed in your cabin or general areas, they have to either stay in your car or in a kennel onboard. I had booked Poppy a place in the kennel.
Because of my nervousness about the weather I set off an hour earlier than planned. I drove at 40mph or less through lots of flying snow although fortunately not too much was settling. When I was almost at the port I parked the car and took Poppy for a short walk so she could do the required loo items – she wouldn’t have an opportunity on the ferry. This ended up being quite early (9pm) so she was going to have to cross her legs a fair bit for the ferry trip. It was also very icy around Parkestone – the car temperature gauge read -2.5 degrees celsius.
We checked in OK and drove onto the ferry over the rather exciting bridge (exciting due to the ice on a steep, narrow concrete structure).
I had meant to bring up her own basket and blanket to go inside the cage but forgot. I sat down to read quietly to help Poppy to settle and after a few whines and moans she just sat there, looking at me. I ignored her.
After half an hour a Stena employee checked in with me and said that the car deck was still open so I could collect the basket/blanket, so I did. When I came back the kennel area still just had Poppy in (it was the kennel for small dogs, there was another room for big dogs which had five dogs that had been exhibited at Crufts). I put her basket to the back of the kennel where it was darker.
I read for another half an hour and Poppy settled down to sleep so in the end I decided to go to bed – I was pretty tired. I left her in the room, knowing that there’s a camera feed from the kennels to the televisions in the cabin.
I could see her moving about and not settling but there wasn’t much I could do except go to sleep myself so I attempted to do so. I didn’t get to sleep till after 2am unfortunately, partly through worrying about Poppy (and occasionally turning the TV on to get a look at her – she was sometimes out of shot, therefore in the basket at the back, and other times standing near the bars and apparently panting). It was also quite hard to sleep because of the weather. Those ferries are enormous but even they can’t smooth out a shipping forecast like this one:
The television also had a channel which showed a view from the front of the ship. This was taken the following morning after only four hours’ sleep unfortunately – the Netherlands are in the distance.
I collected Poppy who seemed OK and we made our way to the car and left the ferry. I stopped once we were on dry land and out of the port area so she could stretch her legs which she seemed pleased about. Then we set off for Germany.
The drive to Kempen was OK if a bit slow. Although the skies were reasonably clear in Holland the temperature was minus 3 most of the way and I didn’t want to go too fast. I probably averaged 50mph on the motorways.
After a brief two minute walkies stop for Poppy halfway we continued on towards Germany and towards snow clouds. With fifty miles to go it had started snowing (and I slowed down a bit more in the car). When I was twenty miles from Kempen there was slush apparent on the Autobahn and some drifting of snow in the fast lane (I was in the right hand lane mixin’ it with the HGVs as I was going slowly).
I arrived in Kempen at 11:30am and had my first chance to see, in person, the accommodation that I may well be staying in for a year next year.
All seemed well except the chap (Frank) who is the landlord and lives downstairs with his wife and children said that their Internet had stopped working. They had a technician coming to repair it that afternoon but he didn’t know if it’d work.
So I put my German SIM card in my phone and discovered that the data wasn’t working on that either – how frustrating!
After taking the dog for a walk to appreciate the snow, I unpacked my gear (I had a car full of stuff!) and headed off to the nearest village, Sankt Hubert, to buy some lunch as I hadn’t eaten anything at all that day. I found an Aldi and bought some food for the day, then came back and got Alfie out of the car and reassembled him. It was time for a short cycle ride to find a Vodafone shop to get my SIM card working in my iPhone!
Poppy was left behind but she had curled up to sleep in her basket – I don’t think she slept much last night so was pretty tired (as was I).
Kempen is just three miles away from the hamlet of Escheln in which I am staying. The cycle paths had been cleared as well as the roads but there were a few snowdrifts along them – here was a good ‘un that meant I had to get off the trike and push!
I cycled all the way across the pedestrianised centre and found myself at a bike shop. I popped in to see if they had any tyres to fit my trike (they are expensive in the UK at the moment) but they didn’t have the right sizes.
I subsequently bought some on eBay at almost half the cost of the same tyres in the UK.
I then found a Vodafone shop and spent an hour with the very helpful chap there trying to get the data on my phone to work. After three calls to the Vodafone Helpline we got it working – phew, at least I had some internet capability!
I cycled straight back as Poppy had been left for almost two hours and I didn’t want her to fret in a strange place. She had clearly been asleep the whole time so I didn’t need to worry!
When I got back the Internet at the accommodation was working – hurrah!
I should sleep well tonight as I’m really tired after so little sleep during the bumpy crossing last night. Tomorrow’s weather starts at minus 10 but it should be a day of sunshine so hopefully I can go a bit further afield on the trike.