When I was about 7 or 8 years old, we went on a family holiday to the Netherlands. We drove to Harwich, where we took the ferry to the Hook of Holland and then drove to Groningen, where my aunt lived, and where we were staying. I have fond memories of this holiday, for a number of reasons. We borrowed bikes from friends of my aunt, and rode around on the lovely cycle paths. My dad was mistaken for a Dutchman and was too polite to admit that he hadn’t understood anything a very enthusiastic gentleman was saying. We went to a brewery and my parents got quite drunk, then on the drive back to my aunt’s we got pulled over by the police. We went to a swimming pool with an amazing slide, though my mum said she didn’t like it as some of the “big boys” (who I guess were probably all of 13 or 14, but looked like mountains to me) were quite rough and kept pushing in the queue for the slide. I had really long hair at the time, down to my waist, and one night I had an epiphany and decided to cut it all off the moment I got back to the UK.
But I also remember the ferry. After carefully lining our car up between the painted lines in the cardeck, we took our bags and went to the reception desk of the boat, where we got the key to our cabin. While we queued up, I looked around at all the other passengers. There were lots of families – I remember a friendly American family in the queue behind us – and also lots of people without families. Grown ups, but not parents. Young adults (though they all looked very mature to me). They all had big rucksacks and sleeping bags and, very excitingly, they weren’t staying in a cabin with their parents and younger brothers, but instead were going to camp on deck. They had picnics and cans of beer, and were laughing and messing about while they laid their sleeping bags out. I thought they were the coolest people in the world and I decided that when I was older, I would like to be like these people and sleep on a ferry.
Many years later, and I’d held on to my dream of sleeping on the ferry. I’ve taken overnight trains in faraway places, and I’ve taken ferries – I’ve even slept on ferries, if you count falling asleep on a bench on one between Tallinn and Helsinki – but I really wanted to take the overnight ferry to Holland.
I put together a plan. I was going to take my bike and cycle around the Netherlands. I asked a friend to come with me (he said yes and then said no). Personal circumstances got in the way and I had to postpone the trip. I planned another trip. I asked another friend (she said yes).
I looked up the ferries. Hang on – cabins are now compulsory? And expensive? My dream of hanging out on the deck with a picnic and a sleeping bag lay in tatters.
We booked the day ferry.