Haret AlfasiThe Long Way To Italy | Autumn 2016

Day 2: A day on a ferry to The Netherlands

A 5:35am start saw me dashing into the shower, praying and swigging down a cup of tea that Saqib had kindly prepared me. I would’ve loved to finish the cookie as well, but I really needed to start making a move! (It was such an amazing white chocolate cookie!) 

 As per the night before, the trip to Harwich was uncomplicated and functional. Get from A to B as quickly as possible and don’t miss that ferry I kept telling myself. Alhamdulillah, I arrived with ample time rolling into the port an hour early at around 8am. The customs officer was very pleasant after I explained that I wasn’t able to access my emails to give her the reservation number. The numberplate and passport sufficed luckily so all went well there. She was gentle and her Dutch accent hooked me instantly. It’d been a while since I last heard it so I took the time to thank her in her mother tongue and eased into the throttle. I was stopped a few meters up ahead by inspection officers who wanted to check the identity “under the helmet”. They also asked to check the waterproof bag with the camping stuff and one of my panniers. We took the time afterwards to have a little chat and I was on my way thereafter. 

As I waited for the ferry, more “last-minute” stuffs happened. I needed to tell my bank that I was travelling and transfer some money to my current account. The first task went smoothly but the second one pulled up an error in the online banking control panel. Gaaaaaaaaaaah. It can really be difficult to stay positive at times especially when the cause is small niggly things that should’ve really been sorted out days ago. Silly silly silly me. I decided to give them a call and just as I was about to be connected to the operator, the embarkation coordinator (just made that job title up now, haha) signalled for the bikers to start making their way. Forget the call! I hopped on the bike and rode into the ferry. There were only two other bikers with me this time: Bart, a Polish truck driver who had recently quit his truck driving job to tour the warmer countries of Europe, and another seasoned biker (I didn’t catch his name, haha) who was making a short hop to the north of Germany. We spoke next to our bikes, exchanging stories and plans and then made our way up to the passenger decks. 

Let me say that this ship is not like your typical P&O ferry at all! Floor after floor after floor! Gosh. The cabin I’d booked was in the 10th floor, and I could even grab the elevator to get to it! After throwing my stuff in the cabin, I headed to the passenger deck for some signal and to make that much needed call with the bank. Fifteen minutes later and everything was sorted, Alhamdulillah! A few minutes later I spotted Bart who came over to speak to me. We chatted and spoke some more about our plans, and he then kindly pointed my attention to a free and excellent navigation app on the Play Store that didn’t need my password…..and the maps were downloadable for offline use! AMAZING! Thank you SO MUCH Bart…..much much appreciated :D. I started to download the key maps while keeping in mind not to download the bigger countries (Germany / Italy / Poland) as I didn’t want to use up all my mobile data bandwidth. I felt a little more at ease as up to that point I was still wondering how I would go about the navigation bit once I arrived. 

After spending a little more time with Bart, I decided to slip back to the cabin, grab my laptop and try to sort out this Google thing again and also book myself a place to stay for the night. Airbnb is a service I’d never used before so I thought it cool to give it a try. Their verification process had me though, since they ask that you upload photos of documents/IDs to verify who you are. I swear regardless of using either the laptop webcam or the phone camera itself, the verification simply wouldn’t go through -_-. That negative creep beamed at me from the corner once again so I shooed it off and REALLY tried to keep as positive as possible. Speaking to a friend on Whatsapp helped immensely on that front until my phone started beeping and looking at me angrily so I could charge it up. Just as I was packing up my stuff, my nostrils were tickled by a scent so yummy and delicious that only in that moment reminded me of the measly calories I’d eaten up to that point. Turns out I was in the truckers’ lounge and they were being served an open buffet! Watching these long distance drivers fill those plates up and polish them down had me salivating but I simply didn’t have the cheek to go up and serve myself as welll xD….also for the fact that with all that biker gear I would’ve stood out like a sore thumb! Instead, I opted to retire back to my cabin, shower, pray and write this up.

While writing this, the speaker in my cabin blared the voice of a crew member announcing that we would be arriving at 6pm ship time and that all cabins had to be cleared by 5pm. I had 40 minutes to wrap up and leave the cabin so I gathered my stuff and was out the door by 4:45pm. As I walked back to the passenger deck, I spotted Steve and Bart in the outside deck chatting but I really didn’t feel like socialising. I spoke to the family a little on Whatsapp and shared with them the irks of being locked out of my email and the frustrations that were gripping me involuntarily. I really didn’t want this to put a downer on the trip, and it sounds seriously menial relative to bigger problems in life but the thought that had creeped on me was the fact that practically every online activity that I have belongs to that email. It hit me hard how much I depended on Google in that moment...and that....was scary. I meandered to the front of the ship to watch it cruise into the port. The windows were oval-shaped and the area seemed quiet enough. I noticed two middle aged men in khaki shorts, walking boots and white socks midway up the ankle playing a board game with extreme concentration, totally oblivious to the beauty of the blue waters and the gliding seagulls only inches away from them on the other side of the window they sat next to. I on the other hand found my eyes glued to the glass and watched with total awe as the ship actually parallel parked behind another ship! The process was crazy and carried out with such extreme precision that merely meters separated both ships at their closest point! I kept thinking: He’s going to hit it, he’s going to hit it! BUT HE DIDN’T xD.

My cue to rejoin my bike was seeing the hordes of passengers stir and start to float towards stairs and elevators that would take them to the lower decks. There’s always been something about *following* or *doing as others do when they do it* that irks me. A pet peve that I can’t quite explain, but that jumps at me at the weirdest of moments. Take for example meal times on airplanes. As much as I’ll eat like anyone else, the fact that I’m going through the exact same motions as everyone else at precisely the same time makes me feel a bit…..like a child in nursery xD. And so the same feeling swept me as I made my way down with the others. As I stepped out the staircase and made my way to the bike, I instantly spotted Bart and Steve removing the ratchet straps from theirs. They seem to have gotten well acquainted on the passenger deck and were also busily sharing contact details. I walked over, said hi, and instantly found myself as part of the conversation as they were xD. Turns out Steve HAD to be in Hannover that same night as a certain lady was waiting for him. A lady he hadn’t seen in 6 weeks and was (as he put it) very **keen** to see once again. I also learned that he was 57 years old and had been riding his 900cc Kawasaki Z1 since 1982! She really was a stunning bike that was super looked after. 

A few minutes later and the mouth of the ferry opened up and started spilling metal and tyres out like a cat coughing up furballs. As we rolled our wheels onto Dutch soil, we gave each other a final wave and from there we all scattered like dust in the wind. I started riding with no real direction. Initially I had wanted to ride to Amsterdam and find close accommodation in the outskirts of the city so I could quickly hop to it in the morning, but what ended up happening instead was me spotting a “Camping” sign almost immediately, haha. I tried to follow the signs as best as I could but for some reason ended up being taken to residential areas that got frustrating quite quickly. I parked up and decided to find nearby campsites on Google and found one that seemed good enough. Time to put the new navigator to the test! I punched in the address, flung my helmet back on and started crawling forwards.

Silence. Instructions….? Where the instructions be at?!

I parked up again and checked the settings. Right. Great. Audio instructions were a premium feature that you needed to pay for. I gladly did, haha. Still apprehensive at how it may sound and how accurate it would be, I put my helmet back on and braced myself for the unknown. It wasn’t…bad! A tad slow and crackly and I had to guess a couple of times when I arrived at T-junctions in awkward silence. I gave it the benefit of the doubt however as navigation software can really be lacking in urban areas especially if you start the route immediately in an area with lots of turns, roads and junctions. Fast forward a few minutes and I was in front of the campsite! Hooray! But the reception was closed! Damn. I walked round the building and found two security guards grabbing some fresh air. They spoke excellent English and explained that they could certainly assist me and that the campsite was practically empty! My sleeping bill for that night was a sweet €8.50. I rolled into the campsite and was greeted by a cute little girl who ran over excited at the sight of the bike. Other kids came over as well but I really had to get a move on so I gently rolled away with a tear in my eye from all the cuteness, haha.

My camping spot was comfortable and under a tree, a stone’s throw away from the communal bathrooms. My neighbours waved and beamed at me furiously as I rolled into the grass as though I were some famous pop star, haha. Bless their souls. I was knackered by that point for some reason so got the tent set up as quickly as possible (but ended up going about doing it in probably the least efficient way possible repeating tasks and going round and round in circles) and then threw myself on my inflatable mattress to catch my breath. A few minutes later I was back up and walking to the toilets to freshen up before praying and throwing myself in bed. Dinner tonight was a Twirl and a Snickers…….and that’s it xD.

I spoke to family and friends on Whatsapp and slept with the phone in my hand.