Arrived at Middlesbrough for 10 to 11. Bus was already there. Driver explained that I’d have to change coaches at Hull. Eh? That’s where we get on the boat anyway.
Then he told me to sit in seat 9D. I had asked and despite what National Holidays had told me, it seemed that seats WERE assigned. (As you’d expect). I wasn’t the only passenger to comment on this.
I found out by chatting to the nice young couple next to me that most people on the coach were for Amsterdam – hence changing coaches.
Long break at Ferrybridge (where else?).
We didn’t get time in Hull. Boarding the ship was a farce. The Driver said it would be a bit manic and it was. He also said “but it works.” It doesn’t.
Since they have a number of coaches going to Amsterdam, and some to Bruges, they swap everyone round onto their destination coach but you can’t actually swap until all 5 coaches are in. I understand why but there are a couple of points here.
The drivers give you the impression that if you’re not on THEIR coach you should get off and wait for the other coaches to come in.
What they DON’T tell you is that in fact, you can get off, use the toilet facilities at the port building (There aren’t really any other facilities) and THEN get back on the coach you were on until the other coaches are in. What’s the difference?
Well under the way they do it, you end up with a lot of unhappy people standing around in the colder terminal, or outside, constantly looking at the time, and wondering where the other coaches are.
Instead, people could be sitting on the coaches, which keep their engines running, in the warm and in comfort.
Another thing is the staff. I tried asking a lady who appeared in charge (Jill I think) about the coach arrangements, and she bit my head off. No other way to put it really. All she had to say was, “the other coaches aren’t in yet, but if you like you can sit on the coach you came in, and that’ll be warmer than standing around in the cold rain.” People who had done the route before obviously knew this, but I didn’t. Would it really have hurt just to tell me politely? I was polite to her. The drivers were pretty snappy too, and I wondered if it was just me but later I heard other passengers saying how rude the staff were.
Now I get that it’s a complicated situation, and often people don’t follow instructions and make it worse. On the other hand, they have to accept that every time they are going to get passengers, who have never done the route before, and don’t know how it works. It’s a natural human thing to ask questions of those in charge, and being snapped at doesn’t improve the matter for anyone.
When we finally left the coach to walk to the boat, we were assured that there would be people “every step of the way” to show us where to go. There weren’t.
When I ventured to ask two port staff which way I should go, as it wasn’t at all clear, they pointed and growled “Well that way if you’re going to Belgium, isn’t it?” as if I was completely stupid.
I haven’t done this trip before, and no, it wasn’t obvious as there appeared to be two ways to go. This lack of customer skills was made all the more apparent when I boarded the P and O ferry. The ship staff couldn’t have been nicer. They were helpful, pleasant, and answered questions nicely, even though they must have heard them a million times. They also looked after people in wheel chairs – I shudder to think how the coach people might deal with that.
Dinner was ok with plenty of choice. I did notice that although they have allergy signs, they are NOT obliged to say what spices are in a dish or whether there’s chilli in it. As one with dodgy innards, I can assure it would lay me just as low as an allergy. It seems however, that you are obliged to ask the staff about the content of every single dish for this information.
I did get asked THREE times what I wanted to drink, ie alcohol, even when I had a cup of tea in front of me. Aggressive marketing!
The couple next to me asked the waiter if he could bring some tap water. Good idea, I thought, and when he returned, asked for the same.
No. Single travellers have to get their own water from the machine. He pointed roughly as if it was outrageous for me to ask, even though he had just brought some to the other table. Sigh.
Quite a choppy crossing with force 8 winds, and we were sailing against the wind all the way. Should work in our favour in the return.
Boats don’t bother me so retired to my cabin and slept restfully not minding the pitching and plunging at all. I think older people, not steady on the pins, would have to be careful in the Shower/loos. There are things to grab onto but the loo and shower are in the same cubicle. I actually found last time that the easiest thing to do was to sit on the loo, with the lid closed and shower that way.
The engines were quite quiet as well – I found last time that their happy droning helped me sleep.
Wednesday in Bruges
Had a reasonable night. Boat was pitching lot so rough seas. Not too noisy though which surprised me. Apparently I’m allowed to leave my case in the cabin, as I have the same one on the way back, so that’s less to carry. Just taking essentials and anything nickable.
Fair choice at breakfast but not, alas, the range of nice continental breads that we got at Newcastle. Just boring white rolls and ordinary toast. So it was adequate but not outstanding and actually the sausages weren’t that nice. They did have people to point you to tables and there was self service tea and coffee, so it wasn’t the bewildering nightmare we had when we went to Amsterdam on DFDS.
I seem to spend most of my time being growled at. I got back on the coach and as it was only a short ride to Bruges and the driver didn’t say, I assumed that I could sit anywhere. After all, National Holidays had specifically told me that seats weren’t assigned, right? WRONG!!!
A very miserable Yorkshire couple got on and yelled at me that I was in their seat, and I mean yelled. No please or thank you just shouting. So I got up and asked the driver nicely, where should I sit please? He growled at me as if it was obvious (it wasn’t). Is it because I am a solo traveller? Why do they all shout? Does my face say “I’m available, please have a go at me?”
I think I would have enjoyed the coach bit more if everyone wasn’t so aggressive. At least in Bruges I can scoot off by myself.
The driver was funny and no, it wasn’t intentional. He lugubriously told us that as he drove he would tell us about Bruges. This consisted of telling us where the “baccy” shops were and the beer shops. Also, he reassured us, there were these shops called Panos and if we went there, we could get the same food we were used to (!!) in Greggs and Couplands. Oh good…no need to eat that foreign rubbish then….
As soon as we left the coach I zoomed away from the mass. The way the driver directed went up through the Waterpark to Arsenal Street and it’s wet and soggy that way – the more so because it was raining. So I went the sensible way, to the right and along the paved track to Maria Street, and then left, which brings you up by the cathedral of the Virgin.
The crystal shop was still there but I noted it had reduced its prices from Fabulously Stupid, to Well That’s a Bit Expensive.
The large Antiques shop, which had the painting of Napoleon I lusted over had gone. He’s retired apparently. The owner – not Napoleon, obviously….
Went down to the Little Old Lady’s shop, where I got my nice plate but didn’t find anything. Then went over to the auctioneers which had an amazing 18th century Buddha which will go for 4000 euros at the very least.
Those with mobility problems will want to stick around the main square, where there are plenty of shops and eating places, but if you CAN wander, there are a lot of delights to discover in the back streets and along the canal.
Went to the nice tea shop – just off the main square, and had a laugh with the owner, as well as buying a load of tea. Then to the Matinee Tea Rooms where I had lunch as usual. This is by the canal where everyone takes photos. Some of their nice Home made Lamb casserole. Yum!!
Christmas market was much as last time and is pretty much what you’d expect, so went to St Salvador for some quiet reflection.
Nope. This is a cathedral – no place for silent prayer here! Went down to St Mary’s instead, where there was a chapel but it wasn’t very silent (despite the notice) due to all the tourists banging the door constantly.
Gave up and wandered back to the antique shop near St Salvador – the one I have never got in. I was beginning to think it was trade only but..it was OPEN!
Then went for a cuppa and so back to the bus. Oh Dear. Probably time to get shouted at again. (I wasn’t wrong).
Off we went! No we didn’t.
“I think I’m on the wrong road” announced the driver who assured he had done this route hundreds of times. A sign pointing to Antwerp appeared to confirm this.
Eventually we got to the terminal.
“All sorted!” shouted the driver. “Just go to the terminal (points) go past them other people and go straight to window 1. She’s got all the boarding cards there.”
So we did. Except it turned out that “all them other people” were also queuing for window 1. Did they shout at the 8 people from my party who pushed in front? No.
Did they shout at the driver? Don’t be silly. They turned of course, and shouted at me, even though I politely pointed out I was following the instructions from National Holidays. I added that I had no intention of pushing in front of anyone. Then I got shouted at by the people on MY coach who said they had no intention of going back, and pushing me in the back, growled that I should go forward to Window 2, even though I pointed out that was the wrong window. So they pushed me forward…and then I got grumped at by the P and O ferry lady at Window 2 because… That’s right. Because it was the wrong window and she wasn’t doing National Holidays tickets.
At this point I confess, I turned round to everyone and said clearly
“You know I would like to get through the rest of this trip without people shouting at me for simply doing what I have been told.” They all stared at their toes and pretended that they weren’t the ones who had just been having a go.
So if anyone asked, I would have to say “great ferry, Bruges was lovely, but the NH coach bit ruined it a bit.”
They just need consistency. To have ONE source of information and stick to that. They also need to be prepared to admit when things are a bit wrong rather than just being short or grumpy with passengers, who are only trying to make sense of an unholy mess. They also need to realise that on every trip they are going to get people who have never done the route before and may need assistance as to how things work.
Bruges is fine and almost everyone speaks English, so not to worry if your Flemish isn’t up to it. Most manage French and German as well. There are places you can get more cash if you run short of Euros and for eating, it’s best to look for places away from the main Square as that is where they expect tourists and also you won’t have to fight with the escorted tour guides.
If you have mobility issues, I’d check with NH first as their coaches aren’t well equipped. The Ferry people at P and O were very good with this. Bruges itself has a lot of cobbles so if you don’t do well with these, bear that in mind.
The Ferry was once again fine, and the info lady looked surprised, and even a little embarrassed, when I told her honestly that the ferry was the best part of the journey.
Disembarkation in England was fairly painless.
“Any cigarettes, any alcohol,” drawled the customs in a bored voice. “No,” I said. His eyebrows rose.”Well what did you buy?” “Six packets of tea, a pair of gloves and two antiques,” I enumerated. He found this quite funny.
Left the terminal and went to the coach where the port lady was nicely greeting the other couples. I just got a dirty look – I get the impression they really don’t like solo travellers which is silly, because they’re missing out on a whole potential market.
Approached the coach driver and braced myself. “Where should I sit, please?” I asked politely and he stared at me. “The seat aren’t assigned,” he growled, “sit anywhere you like…”
Welcome back to the muddle that is England!