Most of my travel around this time was mostly UK orientated as foreign travel was exactly that to me, foreign. It was expensive, and although some people did go away to other lands it wasn’t for the likes of us at this point. But all this changed in the most unlikely of circumstances, marriage. During our courting days my wife and I had been away, but again, mainly in the UK, then we got married.
We had our first house, mortgage, but we were both working, no children and an opportunity arose for some thing called a Dutch Dash. This was a trip on an overnight ferry from the port of Hull to the port of Rotterdam, Holland (or Netherlands, both apply I think). It was a company called North Sea Ferries (now renamed P&O Ferries after P&O bought out the Dutch part Nordzee Veerdiensten). Basically the boats set sail at 6pm from Hull, and a corresponding one from Rotterdam, and you arrived at the opposite port at 8am the next morning.
The ships were called the Norwind, Norwave, small in comparison to today’s ferries. The same route today is now plied by the Pride Of Hull, Pride Of Rotterdam, and two more ships that ply the route to the port of Zeebrugge in Belgium, Pride of York (ex Norsea) and Pride of Bruges (ex Norsun)
The fair included all your meals, evening meal and breakfast, and you could go to the restaurant as many times as you liked and eat as much as you liked. A bit tricky if it was a rough crossing, which thankfully we only had one experience of, well my wife did, I was asleep. For the basic fare you got basic accommodation, in this case a reclining chair. Just like an airline seat only on a boat, you got blankets and a pillow and slept in the chair for the night, or should I say tried to.
Back in those days the UK did not belong in the European Common Market, as it was called then, so border controls, along with passport controls, were in place and duty frees were a perk to enjoy. Alcohol on board the boats was cheap, no tax to pay and all night to have a drink. No last orders, or if there was it was very late, and then you could get cheap alcohol and cigarettes, along with other goods, in the duty free shops. Entertainment was on board, groups, singers, along with the slot machines and small card table, quite an atmosphere once the boat left port.
You arrived next morning and were usually awoken by a bing bong sound on the ships intercom system, that’s if you got any sleep in the first place because being in this cheap form of travel, reclining chair, they were usually situated in the bar area so of course drunks and nearly drunks were in close proximity, but we were young and this was an adventure for us. The intercom would inform you of the local time, usually 1hr ahead of the UK, and that breakfast was now being served. But first off you had to get spruced up in the wash rooms, you and everyone else who had chose this form of accommodation instead of the convenience, and expense, of a cabin.
After a spruce up, breakfast, gather your stuff together, it was time to disembark, and set foot on foreign soil for the first time. That was after passport checks, baggage checks, and find the bus that would take us to Rotterdam itself as we were in the Europoort, which is over 20 miles from Rotterdam. Then the journey really began, driving on the opposite side of the road to what we have always been use too, everything written in Dutch and the fact that the bus driver had changed from Dutch, to English, to German, then back to Dutch when talking to passengers, it dawn on me how primitive we British are as regards to foreign languages.
And so we arrived in Rotterdam, past windmills, but not those postcard windmills you see so many pictures of, no, these were huge concrete monstrosities along side the river banks, the sort we are now seeing in Britain some 40 years later. Barges in the water that looked like they would sink at any moment as the tops were level with the water, and ships of every kind. This is a big port and full of petrochemical concerns that covered vast areas. And in the centre of Rotterdam, trams, lots of brightly coloured yellow trams, along with buses, bikes, cars, lorries, just a mass of traffic. It was time for us to explore this new city, new country, new continent.