On Stenna from Hook of Holland to Harwich

On Stenna from HvH to Harwich

Today’s ride from surprise hotel in Tolsedt was 300 miles and took a shade under 6 hours of riding. Phew! The last 2 or 3 hours was like riding round the M25 continuously i.e. lots of traffic, high speeds, lots of concentration needed.

Where can I start? The journey on DFDS from Lithuania to Kiel was great, apart from the first few hours of rough sea. The rest was very calm. I had a good cabin with a view forward and the contained time suited me perfectly with nothing to achieve except a few practical things.

The ride down from Kiel to Hollendsteder was not very satisfactory. I found myself doubling back for 5 miles there (and 5 miles back) to get petrol when, if I had just carried on for half a mile more I would have saved the massive detour. Then I stopped again having got drenched in a downpour. As often happens, once I managed to force my limbs into, or rather find where they have gone to in my waterproof, it has stopped raining. Then there were so many roadworks leaving narrow lanes marked with yellow lines and lots of spray from large trucks. It was rush hour too with heavy traffic on the roads.

Once I arrived at Hollenstedter Hof (I had a bad feeling about this in advance) and about 7pm they told me there was a ‘problem with the room’ but they had reserved a room for me in a hotel 6 miles down the road. I won’t go into the detail of my annoyance. Suffice it to say I won’t ever be returning and plan to give a poor review. Basically they overbook and give away the rooms, expecting a proportion of people that book on-line to not turn up. However, clouds have silver linings and after some wobbly junction events the ride over to another small town Tolstedt was through some of the most beautiful evening landscape of the whole trip – which has been dominated by riding on busy trunk roads and motorways. The evening was gloaming and the animals were in the fields – a rare experience on this trip. On my arrival and park up behind the hotel – an old coaching house like Hollendstedter I think – a mysterious and unsmiling man with a dog called my attention. I thought he was going to tell me not to park on that particular spot but instead directed me to park inside the old stable building. This was welcoming. I found this hotel an authentic, if not refurbished since the 1970s, place. It seemed a family business with people who seemed to have an interest in it (rare actually on this trip). Nothing was written in English but key people – like the middle aged waitress – has enough English to communicate. For dinner in their restaurant I chose some fish and potatoes with a delicious white wine, watching a party of white haired locals having a ball (metaphorically) and two eastern European men on another table locked in quiet conversation. With the aid of the wine I felt a glow of multiculturalism.

The room was fine but the bathroom really old fashioned with one of those old fashioned back to front continental toilets that Zizek writes about. I didn’t sleep that well, awaking at 1.30 still cross with myself for not asking more probing questions at the hotel with the ‘problem’ room. Then someone started coughing at 6 am closely followed by someone operating a food mixer in the kitchen below. But I got back to sleep. Breakfast was normal for these places and the bill came to just €45. I packed up the bike in the comfort of the stables where there would have been room for four horses, now converted into workshops, and rode off through the opened double doors and wobbled over the now wet cobbles, not pausing, because there was nowhere I was able to stop, to close the doors behind me. I was really pleased I had encountered this place compared to the H hotel which has pretensions to something better but actually ends up having little character. In nearly every hotel I have stayed at on this late in the year trip, I have felt that I have been the only, or one of very few guests. That has its pros and cons, I suppose.

I took a nice road for about 20 miles through some lovely countryside, riding at a discrete distance behind about 10 D-plate bikers (big fat rear wheels) before inevitably surrendering to the motorway to take me west to Hook of Holland. I stopped three times on the way – for petrol and to eat and just to get a break. From the Utrecht ring road nearly all the way to HvH is hell with unbelievably heavy traffic and some typical aggressive driving (and to think people warned me about bad driving in the Baltics).

But I arrived, eventually and thankfully, at the ferry port as I have so many times before at the end of various trips short and long, but all adventurous in some way. I had barely time to wander to the terminal and buy some crisps before we were already able to board at about 7pm. Quite a few Brits (always depressing to get back to the sound of voices you can understand) in the queue, many in campervans though one in an exquisite white Lotus Evora. I am not interested much in cars but this was a beauty. I wonder if Lotus is still a British company. (They coast just over £30,000.)

Once on board, I parked up on the ferry in front of a young man on a black KTM 990 Adventure – a rather tall and intimidating but hard core machine. I brought him over a strap from the ship’s collection but he told me that he had his own (remember that I do too). Before I had finished my rather haphazard fixing down, he had fixed his bike with matching black straps (matching not only each other but the bike) and was already helping a couple with bicycles to do the same. (In the morning he was off and ready to leave by the exit door before any other bikers were even on the scene.) I climbed the stairs from level 3 to 10 where the cabins are. In the self-service restaurant I ate fish and chips with mushy peas with acceptable and nicely chilled white wine (I have done this before – it’s a reward to myself for the achievement of getting through all that Dutch traffic). The ship seems quite empty, with many apparently solitary men – and women. No families. And the staff standing around waiting to act. Music was playing over the public address system. So many places I have visited – hotels and ferries play canned music but this was playing British pop music at its best and I realised that there is one thing I am proud of about being British and that is our pop and rock music (that’s probably all). I returned to my cabin where I am writing these few notes and collecting my images (sipping Latvian vodka), footage and GPX tracks to assemble a coherent account, when the evenings get a bit long, of one more motorcycle trip – my 10th year since learning to ride a motorcycle. I have had to put my boots in the bathroom of this cabin as they now smell terrible. I think they could be irretrievable and I need some new ones.

Postscript: I woke around 4.30 and stayed awake until 5.30 when they rouse the passengers with the whistling Dutchman. I made it back in one piece from the ferry terminal in Harwich to Cambridge. The total riding for the whole trip looks like 1,830 miles. I don’t know the distance of the travels by sea.

It was an exhausting trip with lots of motorway work, heavy trucks and traffic and heavy rain. Its what I expected, though, from this trip at this time of year and to these parts of Scandinavia and Eastern Europe. Next year, for the sake of variety, I will choose a different model.

On DFDS from Klaipeda to Kiel

Today has been quite a day. From the moment I woke up I heard rain hammering down on the roof of my hotel and my weather app presented me those iconic grey, grey clouds with three drops of symbolic rain at every single hour through the day. There was going to be no escape. So I stayed in bed late and emerged down in the bar at about 9.20 where the hotel person (I can’t give her a precise job title) told me that my breakfast was getting cold. I’d mentioned that I would be down at 9 am yesterday but did not realise it was being taken note of. I ate and drank more or less everything but did not have much appetite as I was feeling apprehensive about a day of riding in heavy rain – the journey from Riga to Klaipeda is about four hours or so. I put on many layers including my merino wool base layers bought specially with this trip in mind. I packed up the bike which mercifully I had wheeled just enough to be under shelter last night and headed off, dropping the key on the bar on my way out.
The first thing I realised is that I was hot. Wet does not always mean cold. The traffic was heavy and the road was terrible including my dreaded wet cobbles but I left town on a major road and the traffic eventually thinned out. What traffic there was were large trucks bound for who knows where.
Before I had quite left Riga, I remember being stopped by red lights at a busy junction. In the rain I noted one man, in a turquoise jacket and baseball cap but with a doughy face, pale in complexion walking across the road. He had had an air of happy, though slightly lumbering optimism. No umbrella-less and rain-coatless walk in the rain was going to stop his enjoyment. His head was high and his shoulders were unhunched against the weather. Then crossing the other way was a slightly older and shorter man in wool cap and trousers tucked into wellington boots. He had an umbrella but it was broken. He too, had a kind of indefatigability. The lights changed and I rode on.
It won’t make exciting reading to hear that I rode for about 4 and a half hours in heavy – very occasionally thinning – rain. Crossing the non-existing border from Latvia into Lithuania was unremarkable apart from those signs of now disused border and customs buildings. Most of the journey was on A roads with a 60 mile per hour limit and the last leg, a turn to the right, meaning changing from driving south to driving west carrying with it a huge change of wind direction and force. The last 100 miles then was some of the most scary riding I have done with some sudden gusts of wind blowing me leftwards into the next lane. Sometimes overtaking (better than following the trucks spraying out huge amounts of water) meant that it was impossible to see where I was going. Given that, I passed a line of 8 motorcyclists struggling with the wind and riding in convoy at 50 mph. Once in Klaipeda the traffic was heavy and the road surface dreadful in a wide range of different ways. But with a combination of GPS and the miraculous I found the terminal and parked up. I made straight for the terminal building still wearing helmet, gloves, waterproof and high vis and gingerly removed most of it piece by piece and sat down in a mixture of shock and exhaustion and a puddle of water. But also huge relief and sense of accomplishment.
186 miles in 4 hours and 12 minutes today.
After half an hour of sitting in a stupor, I saw two others on bikes – a nice Moto Guzzi and a red Ducati Monster (really not ideal touring bikes especially in wet and stormy weather – having no wind protection to speak of) follow my steps and come in from the gale and rain and gradually become human (actually they made less of a fuss than I probably did – but then watching people you only ever, more or less, see the outside). They turned out to be a sweet German couple, entering middle age, on their way home. We got out in the rain to queue to board the boat to Kiel. The rain stopped for much of the time. And to cut a not very long story short we (three people on bikes) dived down the steep ramp to deck 2 (we will have to ride up that steep ramp again – always slightly scary) where we fished around for straps to tie down bikes as well as possible in what I suspect will not be the smoothest crossing. Being well prepared I brought my own ratchet strapping with me (for the first time) and needed it as the boat ran out of their own. I even, laboriously, worked out how to thread it.
There seem to be no lifts on this boat so we struggled up from car deck 2 to the cabin deck 6 with helmet, two bags and by carrier bag full of Latvian food and vodka up steep gangway metal steps. Getting out of my huge amount of clobber in the not too large cabin involved a huge amount of effort, sweat and contortion.
My cabin must be under the bridge because it is facing forward and I watched the guys draw in the ropes (using heavy machinery) before the ship left the side, half an hour late. We are moving slowly through the spit along side Klaipeda, north I think, before turning westward into the Baltic itself. (I just watched our progress on Google map on my phone). I am not expecting a smooth sailing and will be relieved when it is morning. I wonder if everything will slide off my little table here and crash onto the floor. I wonder how my position on the boat will affect the journey and if there is somewhere, dead in the centre of the boat where you get a smooth ride like a magic carpet.
Announcements are first in Lithuanian (I think) then German, then English and finally Russian. It is very exciting, very hard-core.
We have just turned out into the Baltic and already, even though we are still close to land, we are rolling rather scarily. I am never going to sail this route again.
Ha ha. It was very rough for the first hour or two. I felt my body being pressed into the mattress first this way and then another. I was amazed at the permutations of irregular movement and sound that the sea offered, much more complicated and unpredictable than a regular swaying from side to side that might have some of the reassurance of a mother rocking her baby to sleep. But sleep I did. I can’t remember at what point I gave in to the day’s exhaustion, helped by only a tiny piece of the Latvian vodka. I woke at some point and realised that it was completely calm. My phone by my pillow showed that we had changed time zone.
Price of the ticket seems to include breakfast so I queued with the stocky men whose idea of a continental breakfast has little in common with the croissants and jam version. In fact the ship has an unusual clientele (as well as an unusual breakfast menu). The largest group is the stocky men, presumably from Lithuania. My stereotypical belief is that they are going to Germany for work. (I invent a whole back-story about their families at home.) But who knows? Then there are a very few couples, mostly speaking German quietly. I always wonder who travels by sea nowadays. It is so different to air travel, so less processed even though the ships are all temples to consumerism – some more than others. There is a bar open – and even though it is just gone 8am, there are men with already half finished pints of dark ale. I noticed one man sitting alone, with large features, perhaps handsome or even heroic at some point in his life. He was slouched, with rather a large stomach though he was not overweight. He was staring absently or perhaps unhappily at the table on which his nearly empty glass, as well as a number of other glasses sat. Perhaps his expression was not unhappy but just the kind of repose that all of us might suddenly glimpse in a mirror unexpectedly. If any of these men will be driving off this boat – in cars or in charge of articulated lorries – I certainly want to avoid them.
I know two more words of Russian now in addition to normalya, spaseeba and Zapata (don’t worry I won’t make any jokes). That’s Dobray ootra – good morning. I actually tried this when passing my two German motorcycling friends. I wasn’t sure of their reaction.
The sea is calm and we just passed what was possibly an island wind farm but with only one turbine spinning. I was almost disappointed to see on Google map that we are more than half way on this journey. I realise part of me never wants it to stop (now that the sea is calm). I want to stay suspended in this liminal place without responsibility, more or less anonymous and solitary. An hour or so later, the sea is still remarkably calm.

In Riga

I am in Latvia.
Today’s riding was 188 miles (mysterious – I thought it was going to be more) 4 hours and 10 minutes riding time.
gpx tra

Last night’s hotel near Tallinn: you’d have to call it traditional in design and style (like my hotel in Germany). Keys on heavy weights, hotel information in a heavy plastic folder in the room with every sheet in a separate A4 sleeve, the scent of air-freshener and other cleaning fluids, a feeling that the building has been heavily smoked in for years and that deep cleaning has been used at some point in the past to expunge those unenlightened years but not quite managed, the universal soapy dispenser in the bathroom with the optimistic ‘body/hair’ label. In other words is concentrated detergent with some scent thrown in. There was a restaurant and I was not optimistic. I arrived upstairs where the restaurant is behind a door identical to all the guest rooms. The lights were off and a waitress sat at a computer screen giving the impression that no one expected anyone to arrive. In the end I ordered only what seemed to be local dishes: pork with sauerkraut and potatoes with some picked gherkins thrown in and it was delicious. Washed down with a local beer. I did wonder whether these places are much better off serving local food instead of some invented cosmopolitan dishes. I followed this with a glass, down in the bar, of Estonian vodka.
At night, I seem to sleep poorly and dream of the next day. I had to achieve the journey but somehow not by travelling but by some other abstract activity.
Breakfast was mediocre and there was a heavy mist when I left. I got so soggy that I stopped at a bus stop half an our down the road to Riga and climbed into my Mr Balloon man overall which also kept out the cold. I was warned by the paranoid WikiTrip that driving in Estonia was very poor and often dangerous. I found it fine and I was the one breaking the very low speed limit.
The border into Latvia took me by surprise. I thought it would be very close to Riga. It was marked by two large ALKO stores with full car parks at each one.
I bought petrol once over the border and for the first time had to pay, using an automatic machine which asked me to say how much fuel I wanted before filling up. So I guessed – low – not wanting to pay for petrol that I couldn’t squeeze into the tank (I no longer have a large 33L tank which I had on my old Adventure – which I miss). I had heard of this on YouTube vids of journeys into Russia and far beyond.
I arrived in Riga about 3pm, feeling that it was much later in the day, and kept to a route that one day I will find out on the GPS track.

Actually, here it is – very direct as it turns out:

Riga, or the slice I saw, was a mixture of decrepit building, dug up pavements and some occasional very obvious investment. Again, I am grateful for the GPS that brought me through completely impenetrable one way systems (I can see that wasn’t the case) to the door of the Two Wheels hotel. I got a key to the large gate and could park at the back and under cover which I appreciated as it started raining an hour or so after arriving, but not before I took a fascinating stroll to a supermarket about a mile away, past the same mixture of falling down buildings and some beautiful renovations. I bought some supplies for my many hours on the boat tomorrow night. I learned that there is a huge variety of vodkas on sale and bought three different brands all at about 7 Euro each.
I then set off on foot in only a light jacket toward historic Riga a mile or so away down a busy dual carriage way. But it started to rain and I was badly dressed. I sheltered under an underpass then ventured out again but the rain was heavier so I turned back to the hotel to pick up an umbrella. Once back in my room with the rain sounding harder and the light starting to fade, I decided I would miss out on exploring my second Baltic city. But I got a real taste of it and its ‘lived experience’ that perhaps a stroll through its pretty historic centre would not give me.
Back in this highly themed and small hotel I optimistically headed to the bar – the website did not give much hope of a square meal but I had a passing burger and local beer (about 9 Euros in total). I seem to be the only guest.
Tomorrow heavy rain seems forecast all day so I anticipate a wet ride. I am not worried as I have the right stuff to wear and from what I can see the DFDS terminal at Klaipeda has buildings (unlike Viking Line inStockholm) – a shop, a cafe where I can spend my time waiting to get on the boat that leaves at 9pm.
I will not be in a hurry to leave. Breakfast starts here at a decadent 9am. The ride should take 3 and a half hours. So there is plenty of room for manoeuvre.
As I said the hotel is themed for motorcycle adventure. There is a motorcycle in the corridor downstairs. The room is a little overdone but has a great shower room, a large glass box. The bed is highly inviting.

In Tallinn well sort of

I’m back on the road, well 12 miles today plus a few hours on the boat from Helsinki to Tallinn. I’m in the hotel that I booked a while back. I knew it was not in central Tallinn but I was more interested in getting off on the road to Riga the next day and in somewhere with secure parking. I imagined dropping in to the local supermarket or taking a walk into the centre of town from here. Actually I am 5 and a half kilometers from the centre and actually not near anywhere at all. This is a pleasant place, where the slightly affluent suburb meets the country with rather attractive villas and allotments – but not much else.

Thankfully there is a restaurant here though I don’t have high hopes. As long as it is not an alcohol free establishment (unlikely) I will be satisfied. It is sweet here but slightly odd. The person on the desk speaks great English and is very keen to be helpful leading to some comedy misunderstandings which I won’t go into. My bathroom has an odd smell as if people have been using it to go and smoke cigars for generations. I paid an extra 8 Euro to bring the bike inside the gates (everyone warns me about theft in Estonia and about dangerous driving so I am extra careful on the road) and another 8 Euros for breakfast. There are no other vehicles inside.

The sun is shining into my attic room and the weather is showery and a little cold.

Tomorrow I head down the coast to Riga which is just over the border in Latvia. Its just over 300k and Google maps says about 4 hours.

Today’s journey from my Air bnb in Lautassari went extremely well (I always imagine every possible disaster – the bike has disappeared, it wont start, I slip over on the cobbles, the terminal has mysteriously relocated hundreds of miles away, it will be pouring with rain, the bike falls over on the boat, there is an unspecified problem on disembarkation, I have a heart attack, I lose my sight suddenly, I am hit by a reversing truck at the terminal…) They fitted my bike in behind the trucks which is where I am comfortable. I was the only bike rider on the ferry. I felt so organised. In my small rucksack I had a packed lunch and remembered a beanie to fend off the wind. I managed to spend most of the journey on the sun deck though the wind was fierce and most people emerged in shirtsleeves for a minute or two then retreated. Inside was heaving with people forced to constantly consume because the only inside seating is in restaurants. There was a ‘family cafe’ area and at the end of the trip the floor was covered with food (I remember that). Given what I had read about bad Estonian driving the trip from the port to here was very easy.

So my regret today is not tarrying in Tallinn before heading over here. I had plenty of time. I should have planned it. WikiTravel paints a rather bleak picture of Estonia and warns travellers about saying anything to locals about the former USSR because of ‘sensitivities’. I just hope I can order my meal tonight and a glass of wine without needed to refer to this.

Here is the odd GPS trail for today.


The little blob on this map is my 3.9 mile journey from the Viking Line terminal over to Lautassari where I am staying until next week.

The most challenging part of the last few days has been finding out where to park. The last yellow squiggle on the second map is me finding somewhere suitable. I have made a study of parked motorcycles in this neighbourhood and my conclusion is that bikes don’t have to display permits to park. So fingers crossed.

Helsinki is an undemonstrative city. For example, this is design week but they keep the events hidden. On Saturday morning, after my week at Metropolia, I retrace my steps to the port and get on the 2 and a half hour trip down to Tallinn. I’m hoping for some dry weather – at least for my setting out. From then I head down through three Baltic countries and sail off from Lithuania back to northern Germany.

From the rolling seas

Day 5 On the boat to Helsinki!

Out of my porthole (I paid 10 Euro to upgrade to an outside cabin and I am so glad I did) I am watching the many Islands of Sweden go past as we navigate out into open sea. So many summer houses by the sea that I can imagine in Bergman films. I am watching our progress too on Google maps.


The boat docks somewhere at 9pm – I hadn’t realised. At Marienham I think, an island in the middle of nowhere. I wonder why you would live there


This is my first experience of Viking Line. I liked being offered the upgrade – I presume they had empty cabins to fill but I didn’t like having to wait nearly two hours in the rain sitting on my bike waiting to be called on to board. Boarding seemed – I was going to say disorganised as one moment a truck rolled on (carefully I noted the drivers slowing down as they boarded with a huge thud for each wheel moving from the dry land to the ramp of the boat) but actually they wanted to fill up the space carefully with a particular combination of shapes so it was not disorganised from their point of view – just frustrating for me in the rain. Actually it was motorbikes – me and one more BMW GS being ridden by a couple of Finns went on last – sideways behind a trailer. It took a bit of working out how best to lash it down. There was a big bucket of straps but nowhere obvious to fix the bikes. But I did myself proud and I think set an example to my fellow bikers. The wind and rain on the quayside made me anticipate a not smooth crossing so I wanted to get this right. With all my care and unpacking exactly everything I needed for the crossing I was the last off the car deck. They were starting to turn off the lights while I was there. My cabin is fine. It has one sofa and the beds are still folded up – sleeper train style. Everything is unpacked and all the wet things are hanging out to dry and the things that need charging are plugged in (one by one). I’m showered and munching the roll I made at breakfast – German guest style.


Today’s ride was fine – two and a half, nearly three hours riding in the rain. But I had exactly the right clothes on so felt completely sorted along with extra layers underneath, waterproof on top and high vis and finally worked out how to turn the extra fog lamps on.

We have been sailing for over an hour and we are still passing beautiful old summer houses by the sea front or hidden by trees. Most are painted a deep orange but some are a grey-blue. They are actual islands that you have to get to by ferry. I wonder who lives here or owns them. I imagine established old Swedish families. We are travelling north between two of them. Today was a motorway day. I don’t think there was any other route from where I was staying to Stockholm. Getting in to the city was also fine with completely accurate instructions from the GPS that took me exactly to the ferry check-in. I had an hour or so to spare so perched in a bicycle shelter by the car park with my carton of Oatley and some of my stashed food supplies. There is a car alarm going off on the deck below. I will venture out to see what is on offer for dinner. This view is astonishing – to think that I would be completely ignorant of it if I had been inside the boat. So now we are travelling northwest. We go north for quite a way before finally turning east toward Finland.


Today was 136 miles riding and it took 2 hours and 40 minutes.


One Viking Line buffet dinner later. A mass of humanity. So many people have odd walks of one kind. Helsinki time is another hour ahead. Why are all these people going to Helsinki?

Later still…

Oh dear, this is a rough crossing. We are heaving and banging. We dock at Marienham in a while.