Das Boot

Dan was quite sure he’d died and gone to heaven.  This morning he’d woken up in the campervan and now he was in the engine room of a U-Boat.  He pinched himself to make sure it wasn’t a dream.  Do days get any better than this?  Rosana looked unimpressed.  It was cramped and hot.  She wanted an ice cream.

After our trip to Helgoland it was time to grudgingly accept that we needed to start heading back in the vague direction of France and our ferry home.  But the trip wasn’t over yet and the maritime museum in Bremerhaven sounded good.  There are two parts to the museum, the bit inside the building which has some fantastic exhibits, then there are a number of old and interesting ships moored in the harbour.  One of which was a Type XXI U-Boat.  It was a massive step forward in submarine design when it was introduced and it’s a fortunate thing that only two made it into service at the tail end of WWII.  If they’d been introduced earlier the outcome could have been very different.  As Churchill famously wrote, “the only thing that ever really frightened me during the war was the U-boat peril“.  And these were the most perilous of the time.

After and afternoon climbing in and out of various ships’ engine rooms we tracked down some ice cream and had a think about what to do next.

“It’s a shame we didn’t get to Borkum, it looked nice”

“I’m quite sure it’s on the way home.  We can get a ferry tomorrow”

Our planning sessions were becoming very effective, but given our recent history of catching ferries we decided it was prudent to go and find the ferry terminal this evening and check that there were actually ferries tomorrow.  Not only were we able to find the terminal, but we found the nearest car park as well.  We had a plan.  All we needed now was somewhere to sleep.

We perused the Bord Atlas.  Not to far from the ferry terminal was a restaurant that was offering free camping and showers if you ate and drank there.  No discussion was needed really, We parked up, made ourselves clean and ate well.

Meeting Long Anna

A group of school children cheered enthusiastically from the decks above as Dan sprinted along the quayside, his hastily packed rucksack swinging wildly behind him, sprinting towards the gangway and the ship’s crew waiting patiently to cast off the ropes.

The van hadn’t been parked so much as abandoned.  The car park attendant had seemed rather surprised that we were intending to catch the ship moored at the dock and scheduled to leave in approximately thirty six seconds.  Rosana had leapt from the van and hurriedly bought the ferry tickets before convincing to the crew to hang on for one more passenger.

But we were onboard the Atlantis, that was the important thing.  The memories of being horribly lost in Cuxhaven now beginning to fade,  the Bremen Donkey had kept his promise.  We got ourselves some coffee and settled in for the journey to a remote lump of rock in the North Sea known as Helgoland.

The first thing that you notice as you approach the island are colourful buildings.  These are now a mixture of shops and homes and holiday lets, but they were once the local fishermen’s cottages.  Further up you can see the lighthouse and radio masts.

The island has two distinct personalities.  On the one side there are the red cliffs, home to immense numbers of seabirds.

As you follow the cliff top path you eventually arrive at Lange Anna, a precarious looking seastack wearing a hat of seabirds.

As you descend from the cliffs on the walk back towards the harbour the islands beaches present themselves.  We’d hoped to find seals here, but no joy – we’d used up our luck today just getting to to the boat on time.

The Town Musicians

As we sat alone in the car park at the Emden Knock ferry terminal we pondered our next move.

Find another ferry to Borkum or do something different?  The map came out again.  The guide book came out.

Bremen looks pretty”

“Let’s got to Bremen then”

Decision making at it’s finest.

Another Umweltzone to contend with, but a large car park on the outskirts of the zone and next to the train station solved that problem.  Bremen is a pretty and lively city full of old buildings, pieces of art and narrow streets surrounding large and open squares.  The most famous piece of art is the Town Musicians and it’s good luck to rub the donkey’s nose.  We rubbed his nose and hoped for better luck catching ferries in the future.

Over coffee in one of the city’s many cafes we wondered about where to go next.  It had to be Helgoland,  a lonely rock in the North Sea.  When would we get the chance to go there again?  There were various ferry options, plus the possibility of flying.  The ferry from Cuxhaven looked like the best bet.  We found a campsite in Dorum in the ACSI guide which wasn’t too far away, plus had a most unusual lighthouse next to it.

We settled in under the most colourful sunset.

Island Hopping

We arrived in Norden on market day which was handy as we needed some supplies, like potatoes, bread, mushrooms and ferry timetables for the islands of Norderney, Juist and Borkum.  And maybe Helgoland as well.

We like a good market and a foreign market is an enjoyable challenge.  Our first problem was passing the cheese man.  These guys know how to sell cheese.  You know how the little old lady on the cheese counter at the supermarket always looks bored?  Yep, nothing like that.  Little tasters were set out for the many many many different cheeses he had for sale.  We left slightly fatter with a few local cheeses in our bag before remembering we didn’t have a fridge to store them in.

We found the grocery stall and managed to buy vaguely the intended amounts of mostly the things we wanted.  This is one of the joys of shopping in foreign markets, you might not get what you want, or the amount of what you wanted, but it keeps meal times interesting.

The ferry timetables showed we could get to Norderney the next day, leaving from Norddeich just up the road.  Juist was out as the route is governed by the tides and the ferry times didn’t work for us.  We were in the wrong place to get to Borkum.  Armed with this information we went to check out Norddeich and find a nice spot for lunch by the sea.   Without much in the way of warning the sky went black and the rain came.  Oh man, did the rain come.  And the thunder and the lightening.  We watched half drowned walkers and soggy cyclists pass as we sat in the warm comfort of the van eating delicious cheese sandwiches.

The storm passed quickly so it was time for a wander along the beach, breathing in the sea air for the first time since leaving Dunkerque all those days ago.  We considered our camping options.  There was a nice looking little campsite very close to the ferry terminal, but no so close that it would be a bother.  It was a bit pricey, but we factored in the saving we’d make on parking and the fact that we’re quite lazy and made it our first choice.

We drove onto the site to discover pitches surounding a large pond, or a small lake, depending on how you wanted to look at it.  The pond/lake was guarded by a killer whale, but it was on a leash so there was no worry about it demanding fish.  Parking up out of the way we went in search of someone to pay, but had no luck.  There were a couple of motorhomes already parked up and a helpful lady from one of them explained that someone would visit us later to collect payment.  She showed us where the bathrooms were and where we could get fresh water.  We thanked her and moved the van onto the best pitch on the site.

Then we met our new best friends, Scruffy and Fatty.

Scruffy, wearing his oh-so-cute red neckerchief, barked at anything and everything.  Well mostly, sometimes he’d stop barking and attack Fatty.  To be fair, Fatty, wearing her oh-so-cute red neckerchief, gave and good as she got.  You have to wonder about people who lock themselves in their motorhomes watching TV when they could be watching the Scruffy and Fatty show in live action 3D.

It’s only a short ferry journey to Norderney.  We added our bikes to the pile and headed off to find the ferry’s cafe for some coffee.

We spotted seals lounging on a sand back during the crossing and once on the island rode out to the lighthouse and around the wild life reserve.  It’s a lovely little place, with lots of birdlife and you can climb the lighthouse to get great views over the island.  There are a few campsites around but they looked crowded and busy, we were happy with our little waterside pitch on the mainland.

As we rode back to catch the return ferry we spotted a supermarket.  It was here that we hit the biggest language problem of the trip.  With each other.   We should explain that we don’t share the same first language, often leading to interesting conversations…

“Ohh, let’s stop and get some Bratwursts.”

“Ok.  You look after the bikes, I’ll go in.”

“Cool.”

Later, on the ferry…

“Oh man I’m looking forward to those Bratwursts for dinner”

“Eh?”

“The Bratwursts”

“What are they?”

“Erm, the sausages you just bought at the supermarket, you know, the thing like a chorizo.”

“Ah.”

“What?”

“I thought you said breakfast.”

Tears flowed.  Angry words were exchanged.  “So, erm, what have we got for breakfast anyway?”

As we settled in for our second night next to the lake/pond, enjoying a decidedly non-bratwurst based meal, there was still no sign of anyone to pay.  We left early the next morning, finally finding the campsite owner as we tried to slip €30 through the letterbox of the nearest farmhouse.  We’d got up especially early as we wanted catch the ferry to Borkum.  It was a reasonable distance away and there was only one a day and we didn’t want to miss it.

We missed the ferry.

It was Monday morning around 9am.  The ferry had left on Wednesday.

Fridge Status: Don’t even think about being switched back on