Sailing to Continental Europe in Style
There’s an episode of Sex and the City in which Carrie and Samantha decide to cross the USA by train for Carrie’s book signing in San Francisco. Before they leave they discuss at length how glamorous it will be, how indulgent and vintage inspired. They may even squeal a bit, I can’t remember. They arrive at Central Station in smart travel outfits, weighed down with hatboxes and matching Louis Vuitton luggage.
This is sort of how I anticipated I would arrive at Harwich Ferry Terminal when my boyfriend and I decided to get the Stena Line ferry across to the Hook of Holland on the latest leg of our travels – a week in Rotterdam for the North Sea Jazz Festival before we settled for six months in Amsterdam.
You can see where I was coming from, right? Jazz, overnight cruising, a new life in one of the most cultural cities in the world… damn, I nearly got a new credit card to get the matching LV luggage.
If you remember, Sam and Carrie board the train full of expectation, but within hours they are confronted with the less than elegant realities of a too-small cabin and a bar full of beer-bellied long-distance freight drivers. Despite a few attempts to resurrect some elegance, they disembark at San Francisco 100% less composed than when they boarded in NYC.
Was this to be our experience too?
In a word. No.
In three words. No, thank God.
Our Comfort Class cabin was generous in size and luxurious in style, there was no doubt about that. Dark wood finishes, curved art-deco-esque bathroom with a surprisingly large shower and a TV and mini bar to play with. (P.S. A cabin with TV is worth it for Kennel Cam alone – this channel allows you to view all the pets stowed away in the kennels – we watched it for a full thirty minutes before bed, waiting for a cute black labrador puppy to wake up and do a dance for us… but he was fast asleep, and so should we have been!) With windows that we could watch the world literally sail by from, I realised that this was a truly elegant way to travel .
Sex and the City 0 – Stena Line Ferries 1.
“Come on, it’s dinnertime,” my boyfriend said as he tucked our (mismatched, scuffed) suitcases to one side.
Just a short walk upstairs we enjoyed a three course meal in Stena Hollandica’s restaurant at a table weighed down with cutlery and glassware all atop a bright white table cloth. As we watched the last pinks of the sunset fade away through a perfectly round port window, I sipped a glass of Chardonnay and compared this with flying.
Well, there was no comparison. If you were lucky enough to get complimentary refreshments on the short flight from the UK to the Netherlands, they wouldn’t be much more than a packet of peanuts and a plastic cup of warm white wine. Not that I have a problem with that – but it just didn’t make me feel like a movie star, and this did.
Sex and the City 0 – Stena Line Ferries 2.
The boat departed at 11.45pm and while there’s a bar, a casino and a cinema to pass the time in, we knew the boat’s wake up call would sound out at 6.30am and with a comfortable cabin awaiting us we decided to call it a night. After that half hour of Kennel Cam watching, I slept soundly until 5.30am. But it wasn’t the boat or the sea that woke me up – it was my boyfriend.
“Come on! Let’s go up on deck and see the sun rise!”
I was dishevelled and suspicious (and a little grumpy) at first, but after more of his poking and insistence,I wondered to myself, Could it be that the romance of this slower, more stylish way to travel has infected my usually unromantic boyfriend? Wow.
Sex and the CIty 0 – Stena Line Ferries 10!
We found the sundeck bar, a large open space area and bar that is no doubt a popular spot during the sunny day crossing. Not unsurprisingly we were the only people around. We’d missed the sun’s first appearance but the sky was still crisp and clear and the sun’s low rays were bouncing off the North Sea – a section of ocean I’d never thought could be so blue. It was beautiful and ethereal. You don’t see this from a train or a plane.
Yes, more points for Stena Line…
I took a few photos up on that deck and as I was doing so, my boyfriend grumbled about being cold and so he went inside. I smiled to myself; it was nice while the romance lasted.
When I was finished and went go back inside myself, I saw a nearer door than the one I’d walked through. Always happy to find a shortcut, I opened it and walked through. I was greeted by a room full of truckers wearing vests, dirty baseball caps and of course, big round beer bellies. They looked up from their breakfasts and coffee mugs at me and I looked back at the door I’d just walked through. “Truckers’ Bar. For LKW Drivers Only”. One of the men grinned at me and pointed to go back the way I’d come. I sleepily smiled back and red-cheeked, quickly left.
Sex and the City 1 – Stenaline Ferries… Well, let’s just say that StenaLine Ferries won by not shattering my expectations.
It may have taken a little longer, I may have slept a little less and eaten a lot more – but never before have I been so aware of my journey to continental Europe. There’s something about taking things a little slower, and making travel a bit more stylish, to fully appreciate all aspects of your journey.
So tell me, do you agree? Have you ever caught the ferry before? Or what about the train and the Eurostar? Or will you always fly?
For more information about the Harwich – Hoek van Holland route go to Stena Line’s website. There are direct trains from Hoek van Holland to Rotterdam, and there are trains from Rotterdam to Amsterdam (and numerous other Dutch and European cities). And a quick top tip, if you do decide to get the train from this station make sure you have coins for the ticket machine!