You’d think after a day like yesterday, I would sleep like a baby, but no, I woke at 3:30am and couldn’t get back to sleep. So I wrote up my blog posts. No point being idle if I was awake.
Today I was taking the train to Hirtshals right at the top of Denmark and catching an overnight ferry to Stavanger on the west coast of Norway. I was really excited about getting to Norway as it is a much more mountainous country than Denmark and I had made plans for a few adventures.
I went down to the station, now brimming with confidence in my ability to negotiate the ticket system, and duly bought tickets for myself and the bike. I expertly ignored “Seat ticket” this time. I couldn’t however see when the trains to Hirtshals were actually running on the departures screen so I went to the information desk to ask. “Catch the train for Hjorring and then change to the Hirtshals train there. Did you already buy tickets?”. “Yes” I said proudly. “Oh dear” the lady replied, “the tickets are only valid for two hours so you’ll need to catch the 1:20pm train. What time is your ferry leaving?”. “8pm” I replied, grinding my teeth slightly. “Oh well, there are some nice little cafes there you can relax in”. I hoped she was right. The one hour trip would put me in Hirtshals at 2:20pm.
I thought I was going to have the better part of the day here in Aalborg to relax, buy a nice gift for my wife and maybe explore a little more but now I had to go back to the hotel, get my stuff and come straight back to the station for my train. Bugger.
The train ride was pretty uneventful apart from a lady telling me that “this area is reserved for bicycles” as I strapped in my bike bag next to some other bikes. “This is a bicycle” I explained. She mumbled something in Danish, clearly unconvinced but went on her way. I thought it was pretty obvious there was bike inside. The thing is very ‘bikish’ in shape and even says on the outside “Handle with care – Bicycle inside”. Maybe I’m just too bicycle-aware. Or maybe she’s just a bit thick.
The train connection was made and I arrived in Hirtshals. There, finally, was the North Sea. I thought I should locate the ferry terminal first, before settling in somewhere pleasant for the rest of he afternoon and early evening so I asked a lady where the Fjordline terminal was. “Just go down this street and turn right and you’ll see the sign.” I followed her directions and yes, there was a sign pointing to Fjordline. I walked on, in the lovely sunshine, enjoying its warmth and the gentle breeze.
I shortly came to the Colorline terminal, Denmark’s other ferry operator, and scanned the maritime industry landscape for Fjordline. I spotted it a few hundred meters away closer to the sea and strolled on, pulling my suitcase and the bike along behind me. It was a bit hard to tell exactly how to get to the terminal as I wasn’t by the waterside and there were buildings and depots of various kinds obscuring my view of what lay between it and me. The signs for Fjordline kept appearing though, so I plowed on.
After a few more minutes of following the signs and walking along roads at a 90 degree angle to where I actually wanted to go, a sinister thought began to form in my mind. Could this damn terminal be on the ‘other’ side of the harbour?
About 1km further on, sweaty from the effort of dragging my two disobedient encumbrances along and seeing a sign for Fjordline now pointing left at an intersection ahead, my sinister thought had evolved into a rather depressing reality. The terminal was on the other side of a narrow harbour and I was going to have to walk around the end of the harbour and then the same distance I just walked in the other direction. A giant ‘U-shaped’ waste of time.
Walking along the sea wall through sand drifts and along pavers that in places looked like they’d suffered a recent earthquake, my two charges complained loudly and tugged on my arms. The casters on my bike bag making some especially unsettling noises. I prayed that they’d hold out until we got to the terminal, now only about 800m away. I quickly exorcised visions of me carrying the bike bag over that final distance.
Finally we get there. I can’t help noticing that I’m including my luggage in the story as living entities. Such was my misery, I turned them into company.
The lady that had given me directions was of course, completely correct. She’d just neglected to mention that it was a 3 km walk along a route unsuitable for pedestrians and that I should definitely get a taxi.
I checked in and sat down on a hard wooden seat in a pretty uninspiring waiting area. I only had four hours to kill before boarding.
For three and half hours, it was just me and another guy lounging around in there. At about 7:15, people started flooding in, old people to be more precise. Now I’ve nothing against old people, I like them, (they can be a little slow-moving at times), but when you see such an overwhelming majority of what you would otherwise expect to be a reasonable cross-section of the community at large, well over the age of seventy, you can’t help but start wondering if you’ve done something terribly wrong. Now that I’ve experienced the journey and had a bit of a think about it, the ferry is made for old people – it takes its time. This allows time for oodles of B-grade cabaret entertainment, buffet-style dining so you can maximise your kroner by making a food pyramid on your plate and you can bring your own car so you can enjoy the comforts of home while you travel from museum to museum. Young or middle-aged people would have been sitting in an aircraft at this point.
I watched the ferry arrive and dock and it looked pretty impressive from the outside. As I walked along the gangway and on board, I was taken aback by the salubriousness of the vessel. This was like a swishy modern office building! Groups of elderly folk were already sitting at one of the various bars on board, drinking beer and wine and laughing their falsies loose from their moorings. They can’t have been on board more than five minutes before me yet here they were, already in the swing of things. I guess they’re not slow at everything…
I found my cabin and dumped my stuff. It was pretty small but I managed to wedge my bike in behind the door, effectively stopping anyone from breaking in, or me getting out without climbing over it. Where you would expect a window or better yet, a porthole, there was a mural of somewhere in the South Pacific. I’m fine with a grey, stormy North Sea, really.
Wallet in my pocket, I hit the scene on the entertainment level. I found a booth near the bow where I could see both the sunset and the dance floor. After chilling out for a while and waiting for one of the waitresses to ask me what I’d like to drink, I went up to the bar where the barmaid told me sit down and raise my hand and someone would come and take my order. “Can’t I just order a drink here, now?. I don’t really like the idea of sitting down waving my hand in the air for five or ten minutes like a school boy” “No sir, you must sit down and someone will come to you”. Lots of bloody rules by the looks of it. Stupid, nonsense rules designed for old people. Where else can you find a bar that refuses to serve you a drink when you ask for one?
At about 9:30pm, the entertainment started and consisted of a bald, stocky fellow announcing the menu for the evening. First off was a Danish favourite, “Lykkehjul” or in English, “Wheel of fortune” or even more aptly, a hand-painted, rickety spinning wheel where you could win vouchers to museums and bottles of wine. Then came the live entertainment. Two guys and two girls, dressed up in cowboy outfits doing a medley of Dolly Parton hits. It was time to call it a night and retire to my thatched bure in Fiji.
The ferry arrived in Stavanger at 6:30am so I’d set my alarm for 6. I needn’t have bothered, I woke at 4 and tossed around for two hours before hauling my carcass and my two belligerent children off the ferry and into the waiting arms of a Stavanger taxi driver.