Europe by rail, part 1 of 11: The British Isles

A trip around Europe with no plan beyond a backpack full of clothes and an Interrail pass. This is something quite out of character for me, but if I’d planned everything in any detail I would likely never have gotten started, and time was against me — even rushing it like this was putting me in danger of not being back soon enough to vote in the EU referendum.

The drama started while I was packing, as I suddenly noticed the absence of my credit card. There was still no sign of it in the morning, so I cancelled it online with no chance of getting a new one in time. I never did find it, even when I got back.

Early morning rush to catch the bus to the train station! Except the bus doesn’t go as far as the train station any more. So to the city centre instead and hope I wouldn’t miss my connection! But it was OK, because en route I realised that the ferry I’d expected to catch was going in the wrong direction, and the one I really wanted was departing nine hours later. Well, that saved me the worry of catching the next bus, which was extremely fortunate because that bus never came. I double checked the credit card situation with the bank while I was in town, and it looks lost rather than stolen, so that’s good. Still no bus (a common problem with British public transport), so I walked the rest of the way to the train station.

It was a fairly long train journey by my usual standards, and I found that I had forgotten how to open slam-door trains in the decade or two since they disappeared from the line of my childhood home town. I almost missed my second stop until I realised that the window could be pushed down and I could use the handle on the outside of the door.

England is a mixture of outstanding beauty and litter strewn dumps, and I saw both on the trip to the ferry port. The dumps I saw were in the run-down brownfield sites (next to the train line, obviously) within towns and cities. Urban wasteland.

The trip took me through the villages of Mistley (population 2,685) and Wrabness (population 400), both of which had their own stations despite their small size. I feel like some of our place names are jokes I don’t understand.

The residents of the streets near Harwich International don’t like the EU. I saw many signs saying “vote leave” and not a single “remain”. You might think a town next to a major shipping port might like the outside world, but it seems not. The signs had all gone by the time I’d returned, presumably out of respect for Jo Cox who had died the day before. The place is run-down and tired, with streams used as litter dumps and an abandoned house whose windows had been bricked up long enough ago that even those bricks had started to crumble and fall away.

Getting on the cruise ship itself was the first time I really felt like I was in an enormous vehicle. Jumbo jets, even 747s, are so narrow they just don’t have that effect. Everything was priced as you might expect for a captive audience, of course. The sailing was smooth, assuming it’s still called “sailing” now that sails are archaically obsolete.

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