Aldeburgh to Amsterdam – Sunday 19th March 2017
After a long time waiting and planning and saving and waiting some more, The Road to Happiness has finally begun. We’re suddenly a week in, and it seems unreal that we’ve passed through Amsterdam and Osnabrück already. It also still hasn’t really sunk in quite how big an undertaking this is either, yet.
We began our journey in Aldeburgh, where Phil grew up, and had family visiting to see us off. While lovely, this of course meant that we were on the back foot from the very start. Phil spent the morning cooking pancakes and hotdogs, and Hannah playing with kids, when really we should have been doing last minute checks and packing. Time marched on and we had to head off, officially beginning our 12,000 mile adventure!
The adventure began with a lift to Ipswich Hospital to visit Phil’s mum (who broke her pelvis just a couple of weeks ago!), and then a mad dash to Ipswich train station only to watch our train pull away from the platform while we were in the ticket hall! Our first disaster turned out to be a blessing in disguise. We said goodbye to Phil’s dad and promptly went over the road to the Station Hotel for a Sunday roast. Deliberately missing the next train, we eventually schlepped back to the station to take our first train to Harwich International.
We embarked at Harwich easily, and made it to our cabin to drop off our bags before exploring the ferry. We were travelling on a Stenaline Rail and Sail ticket. This meant we could get a train from any Greater Anglia station in the UK to Harwich International, take the overnight ferry across to Hoek Van Holland, then take the train to any station in Holland. At only £70 each it was an absolute bargain!
Amsterdam – Monday 20th to Thursday 23rd March 2017
We awoke to a grey and misty arrival into the Netherlands. And it began spitting with rain as we disembarked, the surly weather accompanying us all the way to Amsterdam. We followed the instructions to get us to our first night’s accommodation, which went according to plan, but Phil had neglected to contact our Airbnb host to let him know we’d be early. Thankfully, after a terse few minutes waiting in the wind and rain, our host, Ton, called us back and arrived to take us to our boat.
Hannah on the Woonboot:
We were staying in a beautiful converted barge in Amsterdam, the Woonboot, which Hannah discovered on Airbnb, for £78 a night. Ton, our host, was great. He had worked as a youth counsellor, taking disadvantaged and struggling teenagers on adventure and camping trips, and helped them negotiate their paths into working adulthood. In his downtime he liked to create small sculptures and artworks, with which he filled the boat.
I must confess, we weren’t the most committed or adventurous tourists in Amsterdam. With such a long journey ahead of us we decided just to take things easy, splitting our days between strolling the Amsterdam canals and streets and popping into Brown Cafés – not to be confused with ‘Coffee Shops’, which sell weed, but no booze. The city is full of quirky and beautiful buildings; from off-kilter merchants’ houses, leaning at odd angles so that goods could be winched up to upper floors without hitting the façade, to wonderful gothic churches and cathedrals.
H. with Maartje van der Meule at Bodyworlds: The Happiness Project
Monday, we strolled the streets and stopped by Café de Barones for a tiny beer. On Tuesday, after walking to and failing to get into the Van Gogh Museum (it was closed preparing for the return of two stolen works), we spent the afternoon relaxing on the boat. Then on Wednesday we were up early and had a full day of tourism. We visited BODY WORLDS: The Happiness Project; actually got into the Van Gogh Museum this time; had incredible peanut butter and chocolate cake from De Koffieschenkerij; then met up with our friend Simon at Café Gollum, who happened to be in Amsterdam for work. Great booze and great company.
Osnabrück – Thursday 24th to Friday 25th March 2017
Thursday morning we were up early again to make our coach connection to Osnabrück. We had said we’d travel through Europe by rail, but the coach was half the price of the train, and took about the same amount of time, so it was a bit of a no-brainer. We went with FLiXBUS, and our tickets cost us £17.36 each. Osnabrück wouldn’t necessarily be on everyone’s itinerary, but Phil spent some time here with the Army many years ago, and it was en route. We stayed at the Ibis Budget right by the train station for £47.75 (booked through Booking.com).
After dropping our bags, we took the bus out to the now derelict Roberts Barracks on the outskirts of town. The whole place was a little eerie. We found some buildings abandoned, many demolished, and a number joined by glass walkways and turned into flats. The Officers’ Mess was very odd to see – deserted, carpeted and crumbling – especially as Phil had been so unhappy there. We toured through the old barracks for a while, then, with the cold finally getting to our bones, decided to head back into town; the highlight of which was seeing a punk urinating on the doorhandle of a black Merc. That and Hannah trying her first Currywurst.
Hamburg – Friday 25th to Tuesday 28th March 2017
We took the train to Hamburg from Osnabrück, which cost £21.20 each, using a £16.50 Bahncard25 discount card (which hopefully will pay for itself in a couple of train rides). Finally we picked up some warmer weather and the sun has joined us. I am writing this post from our Hamburg Airbnb accommodation, on the day of our arrival; so more on Hamburg next week…!
Hannah and Phil x