On Stenna from Hook of Holland to Harwich

On Stenna from HvH to Harwich

Today’s ride from surprise hotel in Tolsedt was 300 miles and took a shade under 6 hours of riding. Phew! The last 2 or 3 hours was like riding round the M25 continuously i.e. lots of traffic, high speeds, lots of concentration needed.

Where can I start? The journey on DFDS from Lithuania to Kiel was great, apart from the first few hours of rough sea. The rest was very calm. I had a good cabin with a view forward and the contained time suited me perfectly with nothing to achieve except a few practical things.

The ride down from Kiel to Hollendsteder was not very satisfactory. I found myself doubling back for 5 miles there (and 5 miles back) to get petrol when, if I had just carried on for half a mile more I would have saved the massive detour. Then I stopped again having got drenched in a downpour. As often happens, once I managed to force my limbs into, or rather find where they have gone to in my waterproof, it has stopped raining. Then there were so many roadworks leaving narrow lanes marked with yellow lines and lots of spray from large trucks. It was rush hour too with heavy traffic on the roads.

Once I arrived at Hollenstedter Hof (I had a bad feeling about this in advance) and about 7pm they told me there was a ‘problem with the room’ but they had reserved a room for me in a hotel 6 miles down the road. I won’t go into the detail of my annoyance. Suffice it to say I won’t ever be returning and plan to give a poor review. Basically they overbook and give away the rooms, expecting a proportion of people that book on-line to not turn up. However, clouds have silver linings and after some wobbly junction events the ride over to another small town Tolstedt was through some of the most beautiful evening landscape of the whole trip – which has been dominated by riding on busy trunk roads and motorways. The evening was gloaming and the animals were in the fields – a rare experience on this trip. On my arrival and park up behind the hotel – an old coaching house like Hollendstedter I think – a mysterious and unsmiling man with a dog called my attention. I thought he was going to tell me not to park on that particular spot but instead directed me to park inside the old stable building. This was welcoming. I found this hotel an authentic, if not refurbished since the 1970s, place. It seemed a family business with people who seemed to have an interest in it (rare actually on this trip). Nothing was written in English but key people – like the middle aged waitress – has enough English to communicate. For dinner in their restaurant I chose some fish and potatoes with a delicious white wine, watching a party of white haired locals having a ball (metaphorically) and two eastern European men on another table locked in quiet conversation. With the aid of the wine I felt a glow of multiculturalism.

The room was fine but the bathroom really old fashioned with one of those old fashioned back to front continental toilets that Zizek writes about. I didn’t sleep that well, awaking at 1.30 still cross with myself for not asking more probing questions at the hotel with the ‘problem’ room. Then someone started coughing at 6 am closely followed by someone operating a food mixer in the kitchen below. But I got back to sleep. Breakfast was normal for these places and the bill came to just €45. I packed up the bike in the comfort of the stables where there would have been room for four horses, now converted into workshops, and rode off through the opened double doors and wobbled over the now wet cobbles, not pausing, because there was nowhere I was able to stop, to close the doors behind me. I was really pleased I had encountered this place compared to the H hotel which has pretensions to something better but actually ends up having little character. In nearly every hotel I have stayed at on this late in the year trip, I have felt that I have been the only, or one of very few guests. That has its pros and cons, I suppose.

I took a nice road for about 20 miles through some lovely countryside, riding at a discrete distance behind about 10 D-plate bikers (big fat rear wheels) before inevitably surrendering to the motorway to take me west to Hook of Holland. I stopped three times on the way – for petrol and to eat and just to get a break. From the Utrecht ring road nearly all the way to HvH is hell with unbelievably heavy traffic and some typical aggressive driving (and to think people warned me about bad driving in the Baltics).

But I arrived, eventually and thankfully, at the ferry port as I have so many times before at the end of various trips short and long, but all adventurous in some way. I had barely time to wander to the terminal and buy some crisps before we were already able to board at about 7pm. Quite a few Brits (always depressing to get back to the sound of voices you can understand) in the queue, many in campervans though one in an exquisite white Lotus Evora. I am not interested much in cars but this was a beauty. I wonder if Lotus is still a British company. (They coast just over £30,000.)

Once on board, I parked up on the ferry in front of a young man on a black KTM 990 Adventure – a rather tall and intimidating but hard core machine. I brought him over a strap from the ship’s collection but he told me that he had his own (remember that I do too). Before I had finished my rather haphazard fixing down, he had fixed his bike with matching black straps (matching not only each other but the bike) and was already helping a couple with bicycles to do the same. (In the morning he was off and ready to leave by the exit door before any other bikers were even on the scene.) I climbed the stairs from level 3 to 10 where the cabins are. In the self-service restaurant I ate fish and chips with mushy peas with acceptable and nicely chilled white wine (I have done this before – it’s a reward to myself for the achievement of getting through all that Dutch traffic). The ship seems quite empty, with many apparently solitary men – and women. No families. And the staff standing around waiting to act. Music was playing over the public address system. So many places I have visited – hotels and ferries play canned music but this was playing British pop music at its best and I realised that there is one thing I am proud of about being British and that is our pop and rock music (that’s probably all). I returned to my cabin where I am writing these few notes and collecting my images (sipping Latvian vodka), footage and GPX tracks to assemble a coherent account, when the evenings get a bit long, of one more motorcycle trip – my 10th year since learning to ride a motorcycle. I have had to put my boots in the bathroom of this cabin as they now smell terrible. I think they could be irretrievable and I need some new ones.

Postscript: I woke around 4.30 and stayed awake until 5.30 when they rouse the passengers with the whistling Dutchman. I made it back in one piece from the ferry terminal in Harwich to Cambridge. The total riding for the whole trip looks like 1,830 miles. I don’t know the distance of the travels by sea.

It was an exhausting trip with lots of motorway work, heavy trucks and traffic and heavy rain. Its what I expected, though, from this trip at this time of year and to these parts of Scandinavia and Eastern Europe. Next year, for the sake of variety, I will choose a different model.

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