My New Year’s post.
This year I’ve struggled. I’ve tackled my New Year’s post for a number of days, from a number of angles – and still didn’t manage to adequately (or eloquently) express my thoughts.
And then this morning I opened my email and there it was – written for me by a person I met over two years ago.
In 2011 I went to Liverpool and had the great pleasure of meeting Paul McCabe. You can meet him on this post here. Paul doesn’t typically travel solo but he has been following the blog and Solo Travel Society on Facebook since our meeting. Last year he was inspired to take his first solo trip. While I receive many emails from people before or after their first trips, I’ve never had anyone write me the whole story before – beginning to end.
The main point of my 2014 New Year’s post – the one I’ve been trying to write – is the importance of the journey. So, after summarizing my thoughts on this matter, I’ll give you the story of Paul’s journey.
- Enjoy the journey… It took me a while to figure it out but, after completing a 10k fun run in 1982, I finally realized that I much prefer completing things than doing them. Upon reflection, I saw that this applied to my work life as well. So I quickly shifted gears and began managing events and projects – until, that is, I began Solo Traveler. This blog is definitely not a project. It’s a journey – and it has taught me (is teaching me) lessons about life. I have learned to enjoy the journey by continually evolving, by regularly finding new ways to make it interesting, by learning to be in the moment and by taking pleasure in your participation. Learning to love the journey is important. After all, the finish line will arrive soon enough.
- The Solo Traveler journey in 2014. Every year new features are added to Solo Traveler. Sometimes this has occurred at the beginning of the year. Frequently, it’s happened during the year from a sudden stroke of inspiration – usually provided by you, the readers. At this point, you can anticipate two new features in 2014. (Doubtless, there will be more.)
- The Solo Traveler Book Club
A book club on a blog? How does that work? On the first Monday of the month on the Solo Travel Society on Facebook and in the Solo Traveler Newsletter, I’ll announce the book of the month. Watch for it! There will be a short introduction by an ST reader telling you why you will want to read this book. At the end of the month, that same person will write their review. The discussion about the book will take place in the comments on the post. Fun!
- The Solo Traveler Accommodation Guide
In March we’ll publish The Solo Traveler Accommodation Guide with B&Bs, hostels, inns and boutique hotels recommended by you and other bloggers who travel solo. I’ll be posting a form this coming Monday January 6th so that you can contribute your recommendations. We’ll end up with a resource that’s valuable for all solo travelers. Useful!
- The Solo Traveler Book Club
- The height of your journey is defined by you. In the TED Talk below, Diana Nyad describes how she completed her swim from Cuba to Florida in August 2013 at the age of 64. She tells us about the journey to her success (almost 40 years long) and how reaching her goal was bitter-sweet. Her message in this video are many but two are very important to the journey:
- Never ever give up!
- You can chase your dreams at any age.
So now Diana Nyad…
And now, Paul…
Solo travel from Liverpool to Arnhem – May 2013
I’ve been steadfastly absorbing all the stories and advice on Solo Traveler for quite a while now and the site finally inspired me to do some solo traveling myself.
For a long time I’ve wanted to do some cycling in Holland as it’s mostly flat and very Cycle friendly. In December 2012, I noticed a coach offer from London to anywhere in Holland for £50 return, plus for an extra £15 they would include coach travel from anywhere in mainland UK. Total £65 return. A bargain. Here was my opportunity.
I identify Utrecht to Arnhem (36 miles) as a ‘Good day’s cycling’ and plan to stay in Arnhem for a couple of days sightseeing and return from there. Planning an invasion of Europe is never easy (just ask Napoleon !), so I seize the moment (Carpe diem) and make the coach booking for the following May 2013. I now possess a return coach ticket; Liverpool – London – Utrecht….& back the same way.
My odyssey commences on a Thursday morning, returning to Liverpool the following Tuesday evening. 5 nights. Observing all the craft and tips gleaned from ‘Solo Traveller’, I invest in a money-belt and an inflatable pillow. Total cost; less than £4. Result. It proved to be money well spent. I select my ‘Outbound’ & ‘Inbound’ coach journeys from London to be overnight trips thereby saving on accommodation, again all thanks to tips from other Solotravelers. My bicycle is a full size Mountain bike but will fold-up & can be carried in its own designated bag. Hence, there is no extra cost attached to carrying it on board the coach. It’s not light either, but is just within baggage limits. No paratrooper would ever want to be issued with it but it serves its purpose for me.
I’ll arrive in UTRECHT early on the Friday morning, so will explore there & stay alone overnight at ‘The City B&B Hostel’. How could I resist not booking myself into an 8-bed mixed dormitory!! My cycle sojourn to ARNHEM will commence early on the Saturday & I’ll arrive Saturday evening at ‘STAY OKAY Hostel’ for (2) nights. Saturday & Sunday.
I’ll leave Arnhem by train to Utrecht on the Monday afternoon in order to catch the 10pm evening bus from Utrecht back into London at 7.30am Tuesday then take the 10.30am bus from London & arrive in Liverpool 5pm Tuesday.
Perfect……..what could possibly go wrong…….??
Well, the journey was a complete success BUT it did have moments which sent my pulse racing. “Hey”…..isn’t that half the fun….read on at your peril.
The epic journey started out fine, my wife and grandson waving me off in good time for my 11am coach from Liverpool. No problem.
I have time to kill & the coach station is quiet, I inquire of the lady at the information desk if she could possibly tell me if my connecting bus to Utrecht was heavily booked or not ?? After a few clicks of the keyboard, she smiles broadly & assures me “Only (5) passengers Sir”. I depart Liverpool satisfied I will have a good chance to stretch out & have a sleep later. A nice feeling. The Liverpool bus is comfortable & less than half full. Fine. I arrive on schedule in London Victoria at 4.30pm. My bus to Utrecht departs at 9.30pm, so I have (5) hours spare.
I disembark & quietly queue to recover my cycle from the hold. “Gulp”…..there is the cycle…..protruding from the bottom of its bag. A huge split. It will be impossible to continue with it in its bag. (another Gulp).
Nevertheless, I assemble the cycle & pedal to my favourite restaurant in London; ‘The Czech Restaurant’ in Hampstead. I’m cycling and I’m hungry and thirsty and have no idea how I’ll repair the bag. The beads of sweat on my brow are mostly stress-related as it’s easy cycling. I arrive, lock the cycle & order a beer and Halusky (gnocchi) with bacon.( Fantastic). Having sated both hunger and thirst, inspiration kicks in and I request a staple gun. It arrives but is useless. Then I remembered that I have ‘cable ties’ in my rucksack. Eureka. After a few stabs with the dinner knife all was repaired.
I pedal back to London Victoria, buy fresh water, a sandwich and get my flask re-filled with Hot water (Englishmen can’t survive without Tea) courtesy of one of the many ‘Take-aways’ outside Victoria. More tips from ‘Solo Traveler’. I then disassemble the cycle and gingerly insert it into the bag…..I ease it into the air….it holds. Huge relief. Crisis avoided.
I report to check in at 8.30pm as detailed on my ticket…..however departure is now 9pm….the schedule has changed since my booking. (I know, I know….I should have checked). I make the check-in….just. Now I make my way to the assigned gate to join the 5 other passengers……(Ha Ha). The scene I encounter is like an Indian or Japanese train at rush hour. Lots of bodies and lots of luggage, all frantically attempting embarkation.
Departure time is looming… I look forlornly into the luggage area of the coach and there appears to be nowhere the cycle will fit. The driver helps; he somehow gets the cycle aboard, a feat worthy of David Blain or Paul Daniels. I squeeze onto the coach, I take the final vacant seat – everyone has a rucksack (just like me !!). Luggage appears to be everywhere.
Soon we depart, bang on schedule. I’m as alert as an Owl despite being tired.
Dover appears and we board a huge ferry to Boulogne, An incredible amount of people are also on board. I find a quiet corner & snack on my sandwiches and wash them down with the hot tea whilst watching the scramble of people at the many food outlets. Got to keep the budget tight….it’s more fun too. Acknowledgements here again to Solo Traveler.
We arrive in Boulogne in the early hours of the morning and dis-embark, Customs control there is like a scene from ‘Check-point Charlie’ – amazing. After a short delay we’re off in our coach…..Utrecht looms up at approx. 7am, a tad early.
I depart the coach & assemble the Horse in UTRECHT coach station. Believe it or not I’ve enjoyed the journey even though I’d hardly slept, only cat-napped. I find my accommodation at City B&B Hostel easily in less than 30 minutes. I check in and learn that the bunk will be available at Noon, so ‘No Problem’. I paid the princely sum of 24 euros for 1 night.
Occasionally in life you meet real life Angels…….Evelyn (the lady who runs the Hostel) is one of life’s true Angels. She explained that ALL the food is FREE in the kitchen and at any time of the day too. She also reminded me that I must make sandwiches in the morning to take with me on my journey tomorrow. So I dutifully snacked on sausage, ham, bread cheese and tea, then took a shower. Now refreshed, I dumped my rucksack at reception, chained up the cycle and explored Utrecht on foot and bus. My plan was to return in the early afternoon to catch some sleep. It was a doomed plan.
I wandered Utrecht, it’s a fine city, the canal area is beautiful. I decide to take a bus journey around the city. My own ‘sight-seeing’ bus. I end up in a shopping mall and hunger again kicked in…..I spy a pub called ‘The Lazy Waiter’ it sells food too….just the ticket. I enter & order Pork Philippine style with chips & a large Heineken. Very Dutch. The food is excellent & warrants another beer, which duly arrives.
Soon I’m chatting with some friendly locals………men and beer will usually result in a conversation about football………which is exactly what happened. Some local guys had just completed a Fire-fighting course and were in high spirits. Their English was excellent and we share a few beers and other “wonderfully funny stories” (It’s a man thing).
Tiredness is now kicking in, I jump the bus back to the hostel… it’s around 8pm…I enter, the place is buzzing……..all kinds of people are cooking all kinds of different foods and offering to share with everyone else. I’m offered some Spag’ Bolognaise by a Croatian couple, I accept a small portion, make a coffee, proffer thanks and hit the sack……I’m asleep in seconds.
I awake at 7am, shower and dress and descend quietly to the kitchen. Only Evelyn is there….she’s cooking lots of pancakes in readiness for everyone. She greets me and asks would I like one ?….obviously ‘Yes please’ I respond…the next hot pancake is presented to me, I make some tea and enjoy.
“Would I like some scrambled eggs too ?” chirps Evelyn again….”Why not” I reply, as I have a heavy day’s cycling ahead of me. Moments later, a plate of hot fluffy scrambled eggs is slid in front of me. Amazing. Evelyn then brings me some kitchen foil and instructs (nay, demands) that I make some sandwiches for my trip. There’s a table groaning under the weight of fresh bread, hams, sausage, cheese etc. I obey Evelyn, thank her profusely and depart….it’s 8.30am.
The cycle to Arnhem was interesting and safe as you’re never really in traffic in Holland. Yet, despite having good maps and excellent signage, I still managed to get lost a couple of times. The 36 mile trip finished up a 50 mile trip. I get to Arnhem and encounter my first hills, I arrive at the Hostel around 6pm…….energy levels very low……I shower and head to the centre for food.
At this point the solo travel part of the trip ceases. I’ve arranged to meet an old football friend from Liverpool who I’ve not seen for a number of years. We spend 2 fun packed days exploring Arnhem and the surrounding areas. Excellent. Go there.
My recommendations in Arnhem are;
- The www.stayokay.com/enhostel/
arnhem is clean, efficient, organised and a safe place to stay. They have their own ‘Pub’ area & everyone is happy to share their experiences.
- For a real Dutch pub with good beer & great atmosphere try The UNI Bar located in Walstraat 88, the table cloths like carpets.(!). Plus they have ‘Help yourself’ Fancy dress there too should the mood take you.
- Or for ex-pats The PEGUSAS bar, see www.pegasuspub.nl
- For food, I really enjoyed The BABO Café in Bovenbeekstratt, (The UNI bar is just around the corner from it). See www.babocafe.nl
- No trip to Arnhem is complete without a visit to the Airborne Museum which shows how a major battle of WW2 unfolded in the area. See www.airbornemuseum.nl
Now then……………let me pick up the story again as I leave Arnhem & am a ‘Solotraveler’ once more.
I present myself at the train station with my rucksack full of snacks and my cycle dutifully packed away thereby not needing a ticket for it. (‘Every little helps’…just ask Tesco !!). The efficient, comfortable train gets me easily into Utrecht in order to catch my 10pm bus to London. The bus station is in close proximity…no problem….the return bus is only 75% full, so it’s a tad more comfortable. Soon I’m snoozing & rapidly we’re approaching our ferry via Calais this time, we pass through customs without delay and are quickly on board awaiting departure..
Our Ferry departs…..it’s 3am in the morning. I snack as per the outbound leg and again the ship is full of many passengers. Soon the ‘White cliffs of Dover’ loom into view, a comforting sight. I make my way for disembarkation on docking along with many others…….I remembered faithfully my exit and deck number…these ferries are like blocks of flats. I enter the car-deck at the exact spot I left the bus………..Guess what…?
………..THE BUS HAS LEFT WITHOUT ME……….& it’s now 5am.
The deck is still full of frantic action as cars, vans, lorries and trucks are all trying to exit at the same time. I explain my plight to a ferry worker – he’s dressed in Hi-Viz gear and has a ‘Maddona microphone’ attached to his helmet. He ascertains whilst whistling furiously and making wild arm gesticulations to rapid oncoming traffic that no coach is awaiting me further up the line and that I am indeed ‘Stranded’………he tells me this is a daily occurrence…!!!
He advises me that a Port bus will collect me and to just wait…..Dover docks is huge to say the least…..I obey…….what else can I do ?. Soon a large ‘Bendy-bus’ looms into sight. It alights it’s Port workers and the driver summons me to the now vacant bus. I board the bus. He laughs and so do I, we both see the funny side. I ask him how can I get a taxi to the train station in order to get to London & catch my bus and be re-united with my bike which is still aboard the errant bus. !!
The driver simply replied “I’ll take you”…….then proceeds to accelerate through the dock roads like something from the Hollywood movie “SPEED” !!….. we pause only for me to pass through customs VIP style….… zoom……. no delay……… back on the bus… out the dockyard directly to the train station………!!!!!!…….. BAM, and after ‘High-fiving’ me, he’s away back to the docks ! Now THAT’S customer service.
I manage to catch an express train to London St Pancreas (£46), change to the tube & get to London Victoria, I hurtle around the corner to Victoria coach station…………incredibly I meet the lady who was sitting across the aisle from me on the coach….!!…… she had just dis-embarked but I’d again missed the coach……by about a minute!! aaaaarrrrgghhhhh.
I contact the ‘National Express’ people who were very helpful but explained that the driver will be by now sleeping and that bus is not scheduled back till much later. They took my details etc. Happily, I caught my connecting bus and my cycle was traced and was placed on another coach to Liverpool a couple of days later. I also received a refund for my expenses from National Express.
So in the words of George Formby….”Turned out nice again, didn’t it”. (Some of you may have to Google that).
Anyway………Solo Traveler’s tips helped at every stage. Thanks again.
Happy New Year to all of you & stay safe in 2014.