After Germany the week before last, my most recent continental trip has been to Vlaardingen in the Netherlands, where I spent a most enjoyable couple of days at the end of last week. This was centred around a symposium at the town’s excellent museum, right at the side of its old harbour, with the symposium’s theme focusing on the new book on naval ideology edited by Alan James, Gijs Rommelse and myself. Completing the team of speakers was Professor Andrew Lambert of King’s College, London, talking about aspects of his recent and prize-winning book Seapower States. The symposium, co-organised by the Netherlands Institute of Military History, went very well – we had a really interested and engaged audience, including a couple of officers of the Royal Dutch Navy, who asked many searching questions and who, of course, all possessed pretty well flawless English. Dinner directly alongside – indeed, effectively above – the constantly busy waterway of Rotterdam harbour as the sun went down was a particularly memorable experience!
There was also a chance to explore Vlaardingen, a historic town which formerly had a particularly notable fishing industry, the central focus of its museum. By chance, I stumbled across a name very familiar to me, one of the members of my semi-serious trope in this blog, the Dead Admirals Society!
To get to Vlaardingen, I decided to take an option I hadn’t used for many years, the ferry from Harwich to Hoek van Holland (Hook of Holland), primarily because the Dutch terminal was only ten miles or so from my destination. This was a delight, and infinitely preferable to the experience of flying these days – the tedious shuffle through security, the wait at the gate, the painful process of getting to and from one’s seat, the rubbish leg room, the possibility of ending up sitting next to ‘the passenger from hell’ (aka, to some, a baby). Yes of course, flying is faster, but ‘faster’, one of the principal obsessions of the modern age, most certainly doesn’t mean ‘better’. (On the exact same topic, don’t get me started on the subject of Google Maps or satnav generally. Just don’t.) Compare all that to the chance to stretch one’s legs, have a nice meal with a sea view, have a snooze in a comfortable cabin, then go on deck to watch shipping going by, then repeat, all for much the same price as a flight. Sadly, the Harwich-Hoek route is one of the last survivors of the truly iconic ferry services that used to cross the North Sea and the English Channel. When I’ve mentioned my mode of travel to others during the last few days, they’ve come up with happy recollections of the ferries that used to run from Harwich to Hamburg and to Esbjerg in Denmark, while when I was in Gothenburg a few years ago to research The Lion of Midnight, locals still spoke fondly of the ferry which once operated between there and Newcastle, but which ended in 2006 (two years before the Newcastle-Bergen service, the last Scandinavian route, also finished). All of these, of course, were ultimately killed off by the godsend / scourge of modern travel (delete according to preference), the low cost airline. However, the ship on which I sailed, Stena Britannica, is one of the two largest superferries in the world, and one of the staff aboard said that in summer, they were often full and carrying some 1200 passengers per sailing. Despite all the disquiet about the environmental credentials of the even larger cruise liners, presumably one voyage for this ferry must be ecologically friendlier than the number of flights that would be required to shift the same number of passengers; so perhaps, as both awareness of and anger about the climate situation increase, the short-sea ferry might make a comeback. One can but hope.
In addition to getting all my European travel for a while done and dusted before the B-word (cheer, rant, weep profusely or drink copious amounts of vodka, again according to preference), I’ve also been in the recording studio! My chats with Hugh Bicheno about historical fiction, and with Jane Dismore and Patricia O’Sullivan about non-fiction, will be going out on North Herts Radio in the near future, and as soon as I know them, I’ll put the air dates and details in the news section of this site. Don’t worry, because it’s an online station the broadcasts should be accessible anywhere in the world!