Fun on the Ferry & Undecided in Utrecht

Our extra day in the Lake District put us behind in getting to Edinburgh, and by the time we got there I’d managed to catch Toby’s illness and lost another day lying on Rob & Kim’s couch drinking tea. But in the end we made the most of our few days catching up with old friends and not being rained on, despite the odds.

Yesterday we packed up the bike and drove two hours down the coast to Newcastle to get the ferry to the Netherlands. Entering the belly of the ship in a big group of bikes made me feel like I was in a gang, finally.

Toby secures the bike so it doesn’t roll away if we have a Titanic moment.

And then he had to make the most of the time we had close to shore so could get the internet.

Last view out of Newcastle (first view was coal-related infrastructure).

This Dutch couple waved frantically to the Newcastle coal workers as we left port. Their enthusiasm was very entertaining. I don’t think anyone waved back.

We were lucky to get a very smooth crossing over the North Sea, including a good meal, a drink at the top deck bar overlooking the sunset, and buffet breakfast surrounded by tall, tanned, outdoorsy Dutch and pale, bloated Brits. The ship also had shops and cinemas and a “nightclub” but because we’re pensioners in disguise we just went to bed. The only downer was when we waited for the message for passengers with vehicles on deck 4 which took ages to come, and finally we went down anyway, opening the door to see a line of motorbikes with lights on and engines running pointed straight at us. Oops. We didn’t hold too many people up. Since I’m not an EU citizen like Toby I then held us up at passport control by having to take my helmet off and get a stamp in my passport.

Then we were on our way. The ship docks 18 miles from Amsterdam but since we’ve been there before we decided to head south to Utrecht, a smaller town I remembered being suggested by Lonely Planet for some reason or another. We still don’t know how to pronounce it – a British biker pulled up next to us at some traffic lights and asked where we were off to and we just had to shrug helplessly. We just put Utrecht into the GPS and away we went…

…straight to the Utrecht tennis club, which apparently is the geographic centre of town?

So Toby tried to get the GPS to take us somewhere more useful, like a tourist information centre.

Which we found, by ourselves, after paying 4.20 euro by credit card to park the bike in the centre of town and walking in circles for an hour before going into a library asking them to help us organise a hotel. The lady said “oh you need to ask the tourist information office” and at that point I basically sobbed “we can’t find it” so she very nicely pulled out a map and showed us where it was – about 500 metres from where we’d parked the bike.

So here we are in our hotel in Utrecht, having had lunch and dinner and a walk through the town centre once we’d recovered from the morning’s adventure. I think Lonely Planet must have been talking about the cathedral and the clock tower when it suggested a visit here – both are very impressive.

The pipe organ in the Dom.

The clock tower.

Thank goodness for that, because otherwise Utrecht would not have been a great call on my part. I haven’t seen a university but I’m sure it must be a university town, filled as it is with young people on bicycles who seem to have all the time in the world for shopping and drinking beer. The canals make it seem a bit like a mini Amsterdam with lots of trees and lovely old buildings and yes, all those bicycles. My favourite are the ones with children in baskets, standing on bars, sitting in wagons attached to the front – stuff that in Australia would look a lot like child neglect or endangerment but here it just makes sense. Adults ride bikes so how else would you get the kidlets home from school? While I waited for Toby outside a supermarket this afternoon not a car went by on the main road but there was constant gridlock on the bike path. If they weren’t such heavy smokers it would make the Dutch look really smart and super healthy.

Tomorrow the plan is to head for Paris in the hopes of scamming a free couch in the Curley’s Notre Dame apartment on Thursday night. We will see how that turns out…

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