My final stop in the continent had proved to be a very relaxed one, not just because of the brownies on offer in Amsterdam, but because once again I was all alone. The guys had gone home or met up with their girlfriends and after a few days enjoying the company of Georgie and Holly, they too had returned to England. So, after ten weeks and over 4000 miles, it was time for myself to head home as well. At the time, I wasn’t annoyed as I should have been at my friends for leaving me to complete the final 400 miles alone. Not only was I left to pay for a couple of expensive Dutch fuel stops and the ticket for the ferry, there was also the risk I wouldn’t make it. The financial burden was frustrating enough but what really angered me was my best mates had ditched me on the other side of the channel and flown home, after I had driven them across the continent and organised the trip, just for the price of fuel. Bani, at least, apologised and chipped in for the ferry which offered some redemption but as I drove across the Netherlands, it was on a sour note. Being behind the wheel of Fanny is where I can usually be found at my happiest, especially when the passenger seats are occupied by my mates and the speakers are blaring out my favourite tunes, but being a few people light and it being the end of the trip, I wasn’t as content as I was on the other legs. The journey home after an incredible expedition is never the pinnacle of joy, but normally reflecting on an abundance of fantastic memories is soothing and a good time to appreciate how lucky I am, but the hours’ drive down to the Hook of Holland was tainted by a bitter taste of abandonment. The famous Tulip laden fields and Cliché windmills dotted on the hills did offer some cheer at least before the dull prospect of a seven-hour ferry, but the final drive on the continent wasn’t one I’ll look back on as an outstanding final hurrah.
The ferry was a dull experience. Ferries are probably my least favourite type of travel. I love driving, it’s freeing and I’m in control. Planes and trains are simple, you have an allocated seat and you know where you stand, its just a simple remain in your seat and occasionally move to use the toilet. A Ferry is a whole different ball game. The plethora of shops, restaurants and even cinemas give an amazing choice of activities that provide the opportunity to effortlessly kill time on the journey, but yet the range of time consuming places just bewilders me. I feel lost as soon as I board a ferry, I don’t know what to do with myself. Should spend a fortune on fish and chips or get a ticket to the latest blockbuster? Maybe go to the sundeck or have a beer at the bar. All these relatively amazing things to do for a mode of transport and I do what I do on any other. I nap. As soon as I’ve finished examining the map, I find the quietest seating, and nap. I may not even be tired, or even intend to snooze but the inevitable lulling of the transport and having nothing better to do sends me to sleep. Of course, there are a thousand things I could do instead of napping. Productive things such as writing up notes or sorting through photos, leisurely things such as the onboard cinema or a dip in the swimming pool, but all require thought or movement and the long day of travelling on a slow ferry is draining. So, I nap.
This ferry, however, was different. There was an exceptionally attractive spectacle on offer. Am I talking about sun deck surfing or rock climbing with an ocean view? Or a breath-taking show or water skiing in the wake of the cruiser? No. something beautifully simplistic- The Manchester Derby. City v United, Red v Blue, Mourinho v Guardiola, this football rivalry is legendary and luckily enough, they were showing it on the ferry. Even from the neutral position of an Arsenal fan I was delighted to find that the game was being shown live, providing at least two hours of entertainment, and something to do other than nap. I’ve spent many a weekend vegetating on the sofa watching back to back games of whatever sport was on, occasionally doing a circuit of the kitchen to restock on snacks and drinks, usually at half time, before resuming my loafing, so I was very accustomed to killing time with a game of football. It even turned out to be a good game with Man City clinching a 2-1 win with a Kevin De Bruyne strike, and before I knew it I was already half way across the channel.
Remarkably, the van started first time to crawl off the ferry into Harwich and I was back on English soil. Luckily, I didn’t have to drive all the way across the country back to Gloucestershire as I had the pleasure of stopping at family friends for the night, if I could make it. I’m not sure what the ferry had done to Fanny, but whenever I slowed down and let the revs drops, for example on approach to a roundabout, the engine would cut out. This is a far from ideal situation, especially when the brakes stop working with it, and caused a few hairy situations as I struggled into Essex, mostly by free-wheeling up to traffic lights and nervously observing traffic coming into junctions to slink to the Lewin residence. There was no way I was breaking down in England, after all that the van had gone through to get this far surely it could handle the last few hundred miles. Fortunately, the roads were quiet and I could avoid any serious, news-worthy misdemeanours as I coasted inland, apprehensively approaching junctions and frantically trying to restart the van with every deceleration. It required more focus and energy than any of the drives around the rest of Europe. Luckily, I had napped.
I’d struggle to name a place I’d rather stay the night than the Lewin residence. The combination of Julie’s exceptional culinary expertise, life-long friends, and the luxurious spare bedroom is unbeatable. The sensation of a proper home cooked meal, never mind eating at a proper table rather than foldable camping surface in the van, was wondrous, as was a king-sized bed compared to the back of the van. An evening catching up with my favourite family was ideal after a long day and I considered just staying there, but I don’t think my own family would’ve appreciated the move so it was just for the night. A proper English breakfast nearly changed my mind about leaving but eventually the time came to leave for the final drive of the trip back home.