Gareth and I meet at 13:30 on Wednesday, in time to catch a 14:00 train out of Liverpool Steet station. After a quick stop at Burger King, we climb aboard our National Express with some difficulty, lifting our bikes up a steep staircase in to the carriage. The narrow doors are at either end of each carriage and with no obvious space to accommodate bikes, we’re stuck standing between carriages.
As we contemplate the hefty £27 we have each paid for the privilige of enduring the rough journey standing in between two toilets, the controller passes through and informs us that we’re breaking the law. He angrily tells us that we must move our bikes to the guard’s van at the next station, Colchester (I can’t help thinking that he could have pointed us towards this van when we boarded at Liverpool Street).
Ten minutes past Colchester, we reach Manningtree, where we must in any case change for a service to Harwich International. A grumpy Station Master meets us at the guard’s van and hastily leads Gareth and I, as well as a handful of other cyclists, to the opposite end of the platform, where we are eventually given the all clear to cross the tracks. As we do, the mumbling Station Master tells us we should have allowed more time to change platforms, seemingly blaming the National Rail timetable on us.
Twenty minutes later, we reach Harwich International station, which is attached to the ferry terminal. In a crowded lift up from the platform, I accidently trigger the emergency alarm, prompting an automated message to repeatedly tell us, “Keep calm, help is on its way!” We kept calm and we’re on our way before the help arrives.
With two and a half hours until the ferry, which departs at 17:45, the initial plan was to have a leisurely pub dinner in Harwich. However, owing to a lack of pubs, and indeed a lack of hunger, we decide instead to get food from a local supermarket and take it on-board the ferry for later.
Arriving back at the port, we queue for check-in with a line of cars and eventually reach customs. While most of the cars are waved straight on through, I am singled-out for a customs search – of my panniers. I get stopped every single time I drive out the country, but I was not expecting this on a bike.
After some time waiting to board, we’re led around a spaghetti of ramps and bridges and eventually on to the ferry. There, we’re presented with some incomprehensible system of cables and clips to secure our bikes on the car deck. After 20 minutes trying to attach the bikes with these mysterious gadgets, we eventually give up and lock-up to the nearest pipe.
We make our way up to the cabin, and we’re greeted by countless hostesses on the way. We have an inside cabin, which is cheaper and less susceptible to turbulence than an outer one, although of course lacks a window. Other than that, it’s a modern and confortable cabin, with a small bathroom attached and a television (showing mostly Danish channels).
Just before 17:45, music suddenly greets us from the ceiling speaker, apparently signalling our imminent departure. We go out on to deck and watch the British shore disappear in to the distance. A wise Danish gentleman, who himself has just cycled to Cambridge, points at the clouds and explains that a weather front is just approaching. His prediction: we’re in for a wet trip, but the wind will at least help carry us East.
We spend half an hour enjoying the sunshine and then return to our cabin for a budget dinner of jumbo sausage rolls and pasta salad, accompanied by a few bottles of my favourite Danish beer, Tuborg. Immediately afterwards, Gareth falls straigh asleep (he’s inexplicably been awake for about three days straight – let’s not get in to that) while I take a walk around the ship, and learn some facts about our home for 18 hours tonight, M.s. Dana Sirena:
- Constructed: 2002/2003
- Dimensions: 200m x 25m
- Weight: 23,000 GRT
- Speed: 22.5 knots
- Capacity: 600 passengers (in 196 cabins) + 435 cars
Although the ship is pleasant, and I would highly recommend this company for a leisurely trip to Scandinavia, they do somewhat take advantage of their captive customer base. Dinner in the restaurant is upwards of £40 per person (hence our supermarket stop-off) and drinks in the bar (which tonight hosts some questionable singing) are expensive too. At 22:00, I retire to bed as well.
An hour later, we’re both abruptly woken by terrifying noises from the cabin next door. Or above. Or below. It sounds like we’re surrounded by screaming women and demonic laughter. The mixture of crying and laughing, of both adult and children, is particularly disturbing. What happened that night remains unexplained to this moment.