In mid November, Scott and I packed our suitcases, loaded the car with our beautiful bottles of olive oil, left the dogs and hens in the capable hands of our Canadian house sitters, and set off for the UK.
Truth be told, we were a little jaded as we set off on our Big Adventure. It was not long since we’d finished our harvest, and this recent post about becoming a licenced producer and exporter of organic extra virgin olive oil will give a flavour of what we’d been up to in the run up to the harvest:
We had decided to take a little holiday on our way home, to recover from the rigours of the last couple of months, and so, we allowed ourselves the luxury of several days to enjoy the journey North to the overnight ferry to Newcastle.
Having met the Canadian House Sitters late morning, Day One was a leisurely four hour drive to the rather lovely town of Parma – or at least, a motel on the outskirts of Parma. Despite Parma’s reputation for being dreich and wet, we arrived on a fine, bright November evening. We walked through the modern city and into the old town. We enjoyed a little moonlight tour of the duomo and centro storico before outdoor aperitivi, and a delicious meal of locally produced dishes, including, of course, prosciutto di Parma.
Day Two, and on to the very edge of Germany, via a border crossing into Switzerland at Como, and the Saint Gotthard Tunnel through the Alps. It was at least 20 years since we had last driven this route, and oh my, I had forgotten how lovely it was!
We arrived at our hotel, fifty metres from Switzerland / Germany border, mid afternoon, giving ourselves plenty of time for an evening passeggiata through the Swiss town of Basel. We’d planned to eat fondue in Swiss Basel, but it turned out that we couldn’t afford it. Thankfully, German Basel turned out to be the ideal location for an absolutely stunning meal of schnitzel and kartoffelsalat, washed down with plenty of wine: Swiss Basel was scenic, but German Basel was a great spot for dinner!
Day Three, and we had plans for an evening with our dear friend Canadian Bob in Luxembourg. As Canadian Bob works for a living, this gave us loooooooaaaaaads of time to take the scenic route up through the Vosges National Park in France. We stopped en route for a lunch of Quiche Lorraine in Lorraine, and then took a touristy detour into the fascinating fortress of Ouvrage du Hackenberg on the Maginot Line. Curry with Canadian Bob at his “local” finished the day off perfectly.
Day Four, and Canadian Bob had already left for work by the time we surfaced in his gorgeous apartment. By now, we were back in the classic Benelux winter weather, with the cloud base about fifty feet above our heads.
With no wish to stop and admire the lack of views, we found ourselves on the outskirts of Brussels in glorious, autumnal sunshine by late morning. I was desperate to stop in the park at Tervuren, for a lazy lunch at Het Boothuis, but Scott wisely insisted that we press on, in order to reach Amsterdam in plenty of time for the only sailing of the day to Newcastle.
We lived in Brussels for five happy, if rather soggy years before our move to Rome, hence my longing for stooflees on the terrace at Het Boothuis. But the traffic between Brussels and Amsterdam can be dreadful, and there is only one ferry per day – to miss it would be a disaster.
A whistle stop tour of our favourite places therefore sufficed, including Tervuren Park, our daughter’s school, her favourite pub, the “musical roundabout” and our favourite tram stops (don’t judge). We even found time to wave to our little house in Sterrebeek as we drove past it.
On to Amsterdam, via The Dreaded Brussels Ring, Antwerp and Rotterdam. Back in the days when we lived in Brussels, I used to drive from Brussels to Rotterdam at least once a month, from where I caught the night boat to Hull. We laughed as we pressed on to Amsterdam, reminiscing about that dull, boring trip to Rotterdam that we had driven so often!
Everything had gone swimmingly until our arrival at Ijmuiden (which is so difficult to spell that I will stick with Amsterdam).
We’d had a lovely little travel-cation.
However! Having booked the ferry over a year previously, you can imagine our surprise when we discovered that our ferry was, in fact, cancelled. Apparently, we had been phoned to be informed of the cancellation, and were therefore rather stupid to be standing in front of the personnel inside the ferry terminal, having driven 1500 kilometres to catch said ferry.
One could even describe us as idiots.
We failed to convince the staff that we had not driven to Amsterdam from the middle of Italy to deliberately try to board a ferry that we knew was not sailing, and that no, we did not want to hang around in the port until the next ferry sailed, twenty seven hours later.
We were due at the pub in our Yorkshire village before the next ferry even sailed, so we got back in the car, and retraced our steps, Scott swearing at the now dreadful traffic, and me trying to get us booked onto a different ferry, leaving from Rotterdam, and sailing to Hull that evening. Yes, that ferry that we had already driven past a couple of hours previously. Because nothing says fun like adding four unnecessary driving hours onto the end of a 1,500km road trip!
As Scott fought his way through the rush hour traffic, I attempted to amend all of the paperwork on my mobile phone, and found, to my dismay, that as we would now enter the UK via Hull instead of Newcastle, at 8am instead of 9am, all of our paperwork was null and void, and needed to be started all over again.
We arrived in Rotterdam with one Passenger Locator Form completed, the second almost completed, and the customs clearance for the oil yet to be started. So we were sent to the naughty corner to finish all of the forms before being allowed to check in.
We made it onto the ferry with moments to spare, abandoned the car, stumbled to our cabin to dump our overnight bags, and fell into the bar for a well earned stiff drink, before a sleepless night hoping that our customs paperwork would be received and approved before our arrival in Hull at 8am the following morning ….
Friday morning, and we enjoyed our first British sunrise over the UK for two years. We made it through customs without any problems, then drove half an hour East, then one hour North, on roads that we have travelled so frequently.
Finally, we were “home”.
We unlocked the front door, and …
the rest of the story is for another blog post!