We really couldn’t have been luckier- just a couple of days before European countries closed their borders to travellers from Britain we made it back to the Netherlands in the nick of time for Christmas!
We had gone to England from the Netherlands because our Schengen visa-free period on our Australian/NZ passports was almost up. To avoid being penalised for overstaying we went over for a little more than two weeks in order to return to Europe using our UK passports.
After our two-week quarantine was up we headed for the ferry terminal in Harwich. Fortunately, we were allowed to stay the night in the car park at the terminal so we couldn’t have been closer to the queue to get on the ferry.
We woke up in the dark before 7am and were shocked to see cars and trucks already lined up at Border Control – the ferry wasn’t due to depart until 9am – and the queue was moving already!
We dressed hastily hoping that we hadn’t got the time wrong or the ferry wasn’t leaving earlier than advertised. We were in the queue within minutes and were through passport control by 7.30am.
The officials at border control were very thorough, inspecting underneath the van with powerful spotlights, checking through the interior and filming the whole search! Finally they were happy and we drove through into the queue for boarding which happily was at a standstill and gave us time to enjoy a cup of tea and eat breakfast!
We were on board before 8.30 but 9am came and went with no sign of departure. At 10 am a message came over the public address to say they were still loading trucks onto the ferry. Finally at 11 am – two whole hours late – the engines fired up and we slowly moved out of the harbour into the murky grey channel heading for the Hook of Holland.
We wondered why on earth we were so delayed but once back in the Netherlands we realised that there must have been a rumour that European borders would be closing and some trucks had made a run for it out of Harwich.
The irritation of being delayed two hours faded completely when we realised how fortunate we were to have escaped getting trapped in a British port car park over Christmas along with the many thousands of truck drivers trying to get back to their families.
The day before we left England we had a quick visit to the pretty historic town of Bury St Edmunds – our first and only opportunity to buy some Christmas gifts.
It felt quite strange and a little bit weird to be wandering around the shops after two weeks of being confined to barracks but good to experience some “real life” again.
The following day we left our spot at the bottom of Simon’s garden in the depths of the Norfolk countryside and before heading for Harwich drove to Cambridge where we had a wonderful visit with my sister and her husband.
Unfortunately due to the new Covid restrictions, my other sister who lives in London was unable to join us as planned but it was great to also catch up with my nephew, his wife and their daughter.
As we were not allowed to meet inside we wrapped up warmly and had hot soup in the garden – luckily it was a very sunny and reasonably mild day.
Our two hour delay aboard the good ship Stena Hollandica meant that we arrived late for Jonathan‘s birthday celebrations.
We were talking so much that I completely forgot to take photos but we took away some precious memories instead.
Our daughter Hannah and her husband Pieter had organised some very special food to be delivered and Hannah made the birthday boy’s special favourite- apple pie!
The following day we had our first Christmas celebration with two friends of Hannah and Pieter’s which was a lot of fun.
As all the shops except for supermarkets were shut there was no last minute shopping to be done so we wiled away the days before Christmas with wrapping presents, more entertaining, going for lovely walks and watching our favourite Christmas movies.
Christmas Day itself was a whirl of eating great food, present giving and games. We were so immensely grateful that we were able to spend the festive season with Hannah and Pieter. Our original plan was to spend this time with our son and daughter-in-law and other family and friends in Australia but getting back there was almost impossible.
We counted ourselves extremely fortunate that we not only had a welcoming family in the Netherlands but also narrowly escaped getting stuck and spending a lonely and miserable Christmas in a traffic queue of thousands of vehicles in England!