So, OK, the plan is this: I'll write my normal style of rambling post. I'll hold myself back from the usual personal details about marital stresses or hormonal swings. Or, I'll write them as ever, then excise them and paste them all into one final, private post. I'll add Item's opinions when she's awake. And then I'll make one last post with all the links and information in it and SEO the heck out of it.
I'm titling these posts with phrases likely to be searched for, so that they might be useful for other families thinking about having a similar holiday. For my usual readers, hopefully, you won't notice all that much difference otherwise.
We've just returned from eight days on a houseboat in Amsterdam. "We" means myself, 40-something, disaffected, woman in the throes of an impressive mid-life crisis; The Boy, now growing a little old for that title, and otherwise known as my husband, Joe, or "that man always willing to grow a comedy moustache at the slightest suggestion"; and our daughter, Tabitha, known on these pages, since her occupancy of my womb as an unknown quantity, as Item. Five-going-on-six, she is always willing to throw an age-appropriate tantrum into the mix, making travel a whole new ballgame. For, while the Boy and myself had travelled (independently of one another) to Amsterdam before, our knowledge was based on the carefree experiences of youth, when the only thing one had to worry about was having a good time.
Traveling overland to Amsterdam from the UK
The Boy is not exactly scared of air travel. That is, where 'not exactly' means 'pretty'. He will do it. Months after we first met, he flew to Cork with me and I was entirely unaware that he had any fears around flying, although the near-full bottle of vodka he consumed in the departures lounge might have given me a good clue.
But those were in the early days of our relationship, when he was still trying to impress me. Now that familiarity has set in, he's not afraid to reveal his gibbering insecurities. Which, fine, it works for me, as I can paint us as a super-green eco-family (see also, we don't drive. No, not because we can't! Ho no - because we're saving the planet. Ok, we can't).
And so, it fell to me to find us a holiday that didn't involve plane travel (or one that was good enough for The Boy to suffer the pain). Never let it be said that I don't enjoy a good Google challenge. I mean, certainly not during working hours. But otherwise, yes.
Cue The Man in Seat 61. If you don't know about this site yet, you're in for a treat, and possibly an expensive one. It is a wealth of information about overland travel through the UK and Europe - and, if your workplace is unnaturally generous with the holiday entitlement (or you are a trustafarian), beyond.
With one tab open on that site, and one on holiday rental sites, I hatched a plan. A plan which generated a grunt of enthusiasm from The Boy, which is a whole lot more than my previous suggestions of Iceland, the Isle of Wight and Barcelona had done (when I Google, I start wide, and narrow down, ok?).
We would stay on a houseboat in Amsterdam. We would take the overnight Stena ferry from Harwich to Hook of Holland (a route known on the Stena website as HaHoo, a nice touch for any In the Night Garden aficionados).
The plan was in place.
And so we set out late on the Friday night. It seemed strange to have a full day before travelling, when we're used to being up and out in a terrible hurry to catch the first train. But the ferry sailed at 11 pm, and boarding was from 9 pm onwards. We left Brighton at around 5 pm, knowing it'd be a bit of a stretch for Item, but also knowing that she was very capable of staying awake until 10 or even later on her most mischievous nights.
To be honest, I probably hadn't fully absorbed what a long journey it is from Brighton to Harwich, through London. If we did it again, I might research closer ports with more of a train journey the other end. As it is, I'd say that we really felt every mile of our green, overland experience.
Item held it together magnificently through the train journey to London Bridge, the taxi to Liverpool Street, another train to Harwich, and through boarding onto the very impressive, massive ferry (really, it looked like a small city, all lit up in the dark).
And then, as we found our pleasant cabin (cabin 111 on deck 11, confusing us greatly as it was represented as 11111 on our tickets) with its four bunk beds and every amenity (including patchy wifi), Item, predictably overwhelmed, I guess, had a meltdown.
So... The Boy took her for an exploration. They found the soft play area. (A man in a) Curious George (costume) made an appearance, which clearly impressed Item as she didn't stop talking about it all week.
She went to sleep eventually, but it wasn't the peaceful crossing I might have dreamed of when I was first researching those travel details. Item tried every one of the four bed options. And at 6.30 am, with no preliminaries, a loud 'bing bong' awoke us from our fretful sleep to tell us it was time to have breakfast and disembark.
Transport from the port was relatively easy, again thanks to that Man in Seat 61, whose site even goes as far as telling you which platform connecting trains leave from. At Rotterdam station, we had the peculiar, but somehow inevitable, experience of bumping into a family from just round the corner from us in Brighton.
The Sprinter train took us with no greater discomfort than the discovery that, to the Dutch, 'coffee' means 'instant' (and, apparently, ask for a cappuccino if you want anything different) to Amsterdam central station. Once there, we discovered that the guidebook that described Amsterdam taxis as expensive was telling no lie, indeed, was admirably restrained.
20 Euros gave us the luxury of not worrying about which tram stop to exit at, and we were at the houseboat. In the rain, and with nobody in.