June 8, 2014
London. After a final day in London, exploring John Keats’ stomping grounds in Hampstead Heath and then taking a quick peek in the British Museum before they closed; we packed up our belongings, said goodbye to our gracious B&B hosts and found ourselves at the Liverpool tube station.
“That line is actually down,” the man at the window stated nonchalantly. “so you are going to have to take the Colchester line and transfer to the Harwich line when you get there.” He pointed out our route on a map.
I looked over at Steve whose slanted eyebrows mirrored my own.
“The train leaves at 21:00. Are you trying to catch a ship?”
“Yes! It departs at 23:15. How long will it take to get to Harwich?” I ask.
“Oh, about an hour and a half. Maybe two, with the transfer.”
We should have known better, I thought. We should have been here early to be sure everything was set to run smoothly. But how were we to know? We were still newbies to the travel life. This was our first major shift in our trip as England was the first country on our roster. And our first rookie mistake? Leaving ourselves only fifteen minutes of leeway before our ship departed. With or without us.
We bought the tickets and found a bench to park all of our belongings. Worry was a shadow following us around the station. I took out the paper with our ship information and started to read it over.
“Oh no.” I said, wide eyed. “This says that patrons must be at the boat to check in at least forty-five minutes before departure! We’re screwed!” Tears sprang to my eyes.
“How could this happen?” Steve exclaimed as I put my head in my hands. “How did you not see that before? I told you that we should come to the station earlier! Oh no! You said. It’ll be fine! You said!”
“I know!” I bellowed. “I messed up! Next time, you plan all this stuff out!”
A few moments later, I felt a hand on my back and looked up to see that Steve’s face had altered from annoyance to apology.
“I’m sorry, babe.” He moved his hand back and forth in a comforting manner. “We’ll figure it out.”
We’ll figure it out. This had become our mantra.
“Know what?” I brightened. “Why don’t I call them? Maybe this isn’t a hard and fast rule? Maybe they will understand? I mean, it’s not our fault that the trains are messed up, right?”
Steve shrugged. “It’s worth a shot. Let’s find a payphone.”
Just as in the states, payphones were not frequented much anymore in England, so it took us awhile to find one. The metal contraption looked ancient, an antique from the eighties. We put in some money and attempted the number.
“Please try again,” said a very polite British voice.
“Try a one in front of the number.” Steve suggested.
“Please try again,” Ms. Polite said again.
On and on this went until, finally, a nice gentleman showed us what to do and I got through.
“Thank God!” I shouted into the phone.
“Hello, Stenaline help desk. How may I assist you today?” another almost too-polite voice.
“Yes!” I started excitedly. “Hello! I’m here at the…”
“To continue your call, please deposit additional coins,” interrupted a female British robot.
“Oh no! Already?” I began to get frantic. “Steve! More coins!”
I shoved them in with force, as if the phone were trying to spit them back out at me.
“Hello? Hello?” I said to a dial tone. “Oh my God! Are you serious?! More coin please!”
“We’re running low on coins.”
“This should be enough,” I said determined, starting the process over again.
“Hello, Stenaline help…”
“Yes! Sorry, I just called. I’m on a payphone at Liverpool station. Our train has been delayed,” I explained as a way of summarizing our situation. “And we aren’t due to be at Harwich until about 11, um 23:00.”
“But you are to check in forty-five minutes prior to departure, ma’am” the man helpfully explained.
“Yes, I know, that is why I’m…”
“To continue your call, please deposit…”
“OH MY GOD. Steve, more coins!”
“This is the last of it!” Steve said frantically. “I’ll go exchange some paper!” He ran off into the crowd as I tossed in all of the coins.
“Hello?” I asked hopefully.
“Oh thank goodness. Yes, I was wondering if we would still be able to get on the ship?”
“No ma’am. You must be there to check in at least forty-five minutes prior to departure.”
My heart dropped. I gulped audibly.
“Okay,” I said, my voice hitching. “So what can we do?”
“Well, the next ship leaves in the morning. You can pay an exchange fee and change your reservation. Shall I start that process for you ma’am?”
Ugh, ma’am. I always, always hated that term. And now, I despised it.
“Um yeah, I guess.” I said, furious tears running down my cheeks. This meant that we would miss out on a whole day in Amsterdam.
“To continue your call…”
“FOR THE LOVE OF GOD! This is the most expensive phone call I have ever made!”
Like an answered prayer, Steve split back through the crowd. As I threw in the coins, Steve looked at me questioningly. I put a finger up, not wanting to waste a single expensive second.
“Yes, ma’am? Can I have your full name and credit card you used for your previous reservation?”
I slapped Steve on the shoulder and pointed to my pack. “My wallet!” I demanded.
It went along like this, pence after pence until the reservation was set. Reset, that is. I hung up like I had just finished a marathon, but coming in last place: both triumphant and displeased. I reluctantly explained our current situation to Steve. He was really looking forward to Amsterdam, so it pained me to have to be saying these words.
“Well, it is what it is,” he conceded.
“Yeah, well now we have a new problem to solve. Where are we going to sleep tonight?”
We stood by the phone in silent contemplation. I looked back down at my ticket. Liverpool to Colchester.
“Wait, Steve, why doesn’t it say Liverpool to Harwich? Why doesn’t it say our final destination?!”
We asked a nearby conductor what this all meant.
“Aye, yes that line is down. So this ticket, it’ll take ya to Colchesta and from there, you’ll haveta take a taxi to Harwich.”
We thanked him half-heartedly. I suggested that we go back to the teller who sold us these tickets without this additional information of having to take a taxi. My breathing had become short and concentrated. Is this what a panic attack felt like? Would I end up in an English psych ward instead of enjoying Amsterdam? Only time would tell.
We ran back into line with all of our belongings. A booth opened, but it wasn’t the man who sold us the tickets, so we let some people go ahead of us. While I concentrated on my breathing, Steve suddenly bent over and picked something up from the ground.
“A penny,” he smiled for the first time since all of this started. “Queen-side up! That’s a heads-up in my book! We can use all the luck we can get.” He lifted his foot partly out of his shoe and carefully dropped in the penny so that it remained heads-up. I smiled back at him.
Finally, our teller’s booth opened up.
“Can I help you?” he asked. I had the urge to throat punch him.
“Yes, um, you sold us these tickets?” I showed him my ticket. “And we want to go to Harwich. So why does it say Colchester?”
“Ma’am,” he began as I mentally throat punched him. “The Harwich line is down. So this ticket will take you to Colchester, which then you will have to transfer to another line, which will take you to Manningtree. From Manningtree, you will transfer one more time and that train will take you to Harwich.” He pointed everything out on the ticket as he explained, as if I was a bloody American moron. He definitely hadn’t said all of that the first time, I steamed.
So we got on the train. I put my head on Steve’s shoulder and looked up into his eyes, giving him a weak smile. He smiled back. “We’ll figure it out,” he said, then kissed me.
When we got to our first transfer, we followed a group of people out, down a flight of stairs, under the tracks, and to the other side, hauling our thirty-pound backpacks in tow. The transfer train left a mere twenty seconds later. The second transfer was easier to find, thankfully, as we were physically and emotionally exhausted by that point.
As we neared Harwich, my nerves started bouncing around in my chest. We looked out of the train windows to see very few lights peeking out from the darkness. Would we be sleeping on the dock until morning? In my world at home, things were planned, always. This was a whole new way of life.
Harwich International. And then, the train came to a solid halt at the very last stop. Our stop. During the train ride, I had prepared myself for sleeping upright on a hard floor or bench (if we were lucky). I looked into Steve’s deep blue eyes and smiled. No matter where I sleep tonight, I’ll be sleeping next to my partner in life. It’ll be fine. We’ll figure it out.
As I was staring at my gorgeous husband, lost in these Zen thoughts, out of the corner of my eye I noticed a mother and daughter anxiously waiting for the doors to open. As soon as the doors parted, they were off to the races; they took off like time was chasing them.
My eyes widened. Steve looked out the window and saw what I saw; thought what I thought.
“Let’s go!” I yelled excitedly.
There is no way, my brain was saying. I had already changed the reservation to tomorrow morning. It was 11:05pm (23:05), with the ship to depart in ten minutes. There was no freaking way we were going to make it.
But regardless, we ran as fast as two people carrying huge backpacks and operating on a few hours of sleep could run. I trudged forward with Steve right ahead of me. The attendants were yelling and pointing in the direction we needed to go, like cheerers at a 5K.
“They are letting on those girls!” cried one attendant. “You two better hurry up!”
We slowed as we saw metal detectors, hope falling short.
“Just keep going!” the attendant in charge cheered. “Go on around!”
And then, like Mecca itself, we saw the check-in counter. The mother and daughter had just finished up and were entering the terminal. We found our last bit of energy and sprinted.
“Reservation for Moore!” I chirped, flinging and nearly dropping my passport from the side-pocket of my backpack.
The woman looked startled but started typing on her keyboard.
“Were you two caught up by the train cancellation?” she asked obviously annoyed.
“Yes! Yes we were!”
“You should have called to let us know you were still coming.” She was still typing.
“We did! We called…” I began, trying to catch my breath. “…and the man I talked to… he said that there was no way… no way we would be let on the ship!”
“You didn’t call here. You called the Stenaline help desk. You should have called here.” I wasn’t sure if she was actually looking anything up on her computer or if it was just a decoy for her annoyance. “Well, you lost your deck cabin, but we have an inner cabin available. Is that…”
“Yes!” Steve and I both yelled at once.
“Okay, well hurry up then! They are about to depart!” As she gave us the key, I swear I heard angels singing. We followed a stewardess and ran onto the boat with three minutes left to spare. As we walked to our room, we just kept turning towards one another and smiling like we had won the lottery.
“That frickin penny! That frickin penny!” I chanted over and over. “I can’t believe this!”
To go from so deflated to so elated was unreal. We opened up the door to our room. It was small: bunk beds, television, tiny desk, hole-in-the-wall closet, and as promised, no window. But we stared in amazement like it was the penthouse suite.
After we settled in, we went out to explore and get some food. We stopped in the duty free shop and bought some sparkling wine; this was a celebration after all. It was getting close to midnight. When we stopped by a group of three attendants for directions, one said, “Oh the restaurant is all closed up. But the bar is still open for another twenty minutes or so.”
Our stomachs rumbled in longing, but nothing could squelch the natural high we had going on. “Oh, that stinks,” I said nonchalantly. “We’ve had quite a crazy night. Our train was delayed and we literally just ran on as the ship was leaving the port.”
“Oh!” another attendant said. “You are one of those groups. I’m sorry you have had a rough night. Please, follow me.”
Again, I looked at Steve with a mixture of absolute shock and sheer joy. He mirrored that look right back to me.
We followed the nice man to the restaurant counter and he briskly told the workers who were cleaning up to make us something. I automatically felt terrible, as I have worked in the restaurant biz and there was nothing worse than people coming in right before closing.
“Whatever is easiest for you to make.” I clarified and smiled at them.
A flamboyant Asian man with a never-ending smile showed us all of the cold cuts available, as if he were Vanna White and we were contestants on Wheel of Fortune. We settled on some wraps and a cheese plate, then found our way to a small table by the bar and sat down. The only other people in the bar area were a large group of loud, drunk, middle-aged men. I heard a mixture of English and Dutch within the group. We picked at our food, still reeling from our luck.
“Excuse me,” the chef, still dressed in his white garb complete with one of those tall hats, appeared at our table. “we whipped this up for you!” He revealed two steaming plates of pork roast, veggies, and chips (fries).
“Wow! Thank you so much!” we exclaimed as the chef walked away smiling.
The waiter gave us a “you lucky dogs!” look and explained that as soon as the boss man said “fix them something,” the chef went right to work without realizing we already bought some cold cuts. We happily accepted the hot food and started in on our first bites. The waiter stood with anticipation as we nodded our approval. He put his hand over his mouth delicately, flitted his eyes and whispered, “and it’s all free!”
We thanked him again profusely and put in our drink order.
“That frickin’ penny!” I said again in bemusement. Steve reached down and tapped his shoe knowingly. We chatted about what we wanted to see in Amsterdam and how happy we were that we wouldn’t be missing out a day in that beautiful city.
When the waiter came back with our drinks he looked irritated. I looked at Steve with a question in my eyes, half-smiling.
“I hate Dutch people,” he announced without being prompted. He looked over towards the bar tender. “They act like they bought the world or something.” He smiled and winked at us. We laughed at our little inside joke and continued eating the tasty meal, putting aside the cold stuff for later.
“Is there anything else I could get you before I take off?” he asked.
“Oh no, this is great,” Steve assured him pulling out his wallet and handing him ten quid.
“Oh no no no!” The waiter waved his hands dramatically. “Really! It was my pleasure!” He walked away with a bounce in his step.
“He has to be one of the happiest people I have every met!” I said.
We finished up and went out to the deck for a quick view of what surrounded us. Although we could hear waves splashing up against the boat, all we could see was the shadows of night. It looked as if we were falling off the edge of the world.
“We’re crossing the English Channel!” I sang. Steve smiled and put his arm around my shoulders to shield me from the cool night air.
We headed back to our room, popped open the champagne, and toasted to our trip and our luck.
Steve’s luck I thought. My husband was the most superstitious person I knew, but it tended to work for him.
It was almost two in the morning and we had a long day ahead of us. Not to mention, we had only had about five hours of sleep the night before. We snuggled into our bunk beds, said our “goodnights” and “I love yous,” and fell asleep with the television on to live air of the stern camera: headlights pointing into pure darkness, the sound of water being parted.
I woke up spontaneously at 5:30 in a stupor. My eyes willed themselves into slits until the television screen came into view. The darkness had vanished and in its place was the front of the ship chasing the sky. We were in the sky, on the sky, below us and above us. Wisps of clouds streaked through bright coral and magenta and yellow water-colored light. Heavenly.
“Steve.” My voice cracked. “Steve.” I whispered a bit louder.
“Murhuh?” he made a half-human sound.
“Look, look at the screen.”
It was silent for a moment, and then I heard him say, “Oh wow. That’s beautiful.”
“I know, part of me wants to go out to the deck and take a picture, but my body hates me right now.”
“Yeah, me too.”
We both fell back asleep in a matter of seconds, images of sailing through the sky seared behind our eyes.
Hook of Holland.
‘s a little song I wrote
You might want to sing it note for note
Don’t worry, be happy!
The classic island song boomed from the ship’s loudspeakers and bounced off my eardrums. I looked at my phone: 6:30.
Steve and I lay in our separate bunks not saying anything but moaning audibly. Why did we stay up so late?
“Good morning everyone!” the captain said energetically with the rest of the song quietly playing in the background. “We have just docked and breakfast is ready to be served. Please go down to the kitchen hall and enjoy the buffet. And just a reminder, all patrons must be off the ship by 08:00. Thank you for riding with us on Stenaline and enjoy your time in Holland!” The announcement was then repeated in Dutch.
“Okay,” I broke through the moans and began using words again. “Alright, well, I guess we should shower and pack up.”
“Arrrghhhh.” Steve answered back.
“I’ll shower first.” I answered.
Somehow, we had made it to Holland according to plan. We were now officially in a different country where English was not the main language. More “figuring it out” was in order. We had to find our way to the right train and get to the city of sin in one piece. And remain in one piece for the extent of our stay.
On to the next adventure.