Earlier this year, our youngest son moved to Malmo, in Sweden. His partner is Swedish and, for the past few years, they’ve been living between Malmo and London. Uncertainty over the impact of Brexit on their way of life and their future, prompted him to give up his job, as executive chef for a couple of successful restaurants in London, and move to Malmo before the 31st of March. Of course, as we all know, the 31st of March has come and gone and nothing has changed, but the least said about that the better …
Like all mums, I was keen to see where and how he was living as soon as I could. I’m not entirely sure what that’s about. I think it’s partly about peace of mind and simple curiosity, but at a deeper level, it’s also about reducing the feeling of distance between us. Since I have been to his house and spent time in the town that is now his home, it feels closer, more real somehow. Now, when he talks to me about what he’s been doing and where he’s been, I can visualise it more easily. When we Facetime, I know exactly which room he is in, because I recognise the picture on the wall. I know what the view is from the window of that room, because I’ve been there and seen it for myself.
And so, we decided to visit in June, just a few months after he arrived himself. I’d have gone sooner, but waited until June as we were in the Hebrides in April, our baby granddaughter was one on the 29th of May, and our son and his partner suggested it was good time to visit from a weather perspective. To be fair, it also gave them a bit of time to settle in.
We decided to make the journey by car, partly because a European road-trip was an item on our 60’s bucket list and our son still had a few bits and pieces that needed bringing over, but largely, just because we could! Having finished full-time work in March, I’m still revelling in the glorious decadence of having complete ownership of my time. We could have flown over, spend a long weekend there and flown back, in four days, but instead, we took four days to drive there and three to drive back, on top of the six days we were out there. Time-rich decadence indeed!
A little bit of research indicated that Stena Line ferries seemed better value than P&O, and that Harwich was our closest port. The shortest route to Harwich, according to Google Maps, was via the M25, but we opted for the cross-country route via Cambridge. Our common sense and experience telling us that delays on the M25 were highly likely to cancel out any advantages over our chosen, slightly longer but more scenic route, that meandered along the A14 through Northamptonshire, Cambridgeshire and Suffolk.
And so, we set off just after lunch on a Monday morning and reached Harwich just in time for tea, driving past the ferry port and heading down to the old town in search of somewhere to eat. Harwich is a place of contrasts. A humdrum small Essex coastal town to the south, an international port to the north and an unexpected, tiny historical conservation area with a distinctly nautical theme, to the east. We were both charmed and delighted by the old town, which was not without it’s own contrasts. On one side of the estuary, the network of quaint medieval alleyways, and architecture dating back as far as the 17th century, overlooks the towers of multicoloured shipping containers and oversized cranes, of the humungous port of Felixstowe.
Relative to its size, old Harwich appeared to have a preponderance of small hotels and drinking establishments. The buildings, many of which had long since been converted to shops, or fish and chip shops, were small with overhanging upper floors, solid timber doors and cross-windows. My overactive imagination transported me back to the days when it would have been a bustling 17th century port, and the inns full of seamen and pirates, waving tankards of ale and singing sea-shanties.
Before I could get too carried away, my husband shook me from my reveries by reminding me that we had to find somewhere to eat before heading back to the ferry for the 9pm boarding.
We decided on The Pier, not because we knew anything about it, but because it overlooked the harbour, looked busy and inviting, and specialised in seafood. We briefly considered eating outside, to make the most of the views, but although it was a lovely June evening, there was a cool breeze blowing in from the North Sea that just trounced the warmth of the sun.
As it turned out, dinner at The Pier was a great way to start our Scandinavian adventure. I had the scallops with mushroom puree, pickled mushrooms and bacon jam to start, followed by baked spiced Harwich crab with skinny fries and pickled red onion. Mike had salt and pepper squid, his “go to” seafood starter, and the fish pie. As we were driving, we washed it all down with water and a single glass of house white. It was all divine! Great food in a beautiful setting that took us completely by surprise.
Completely and utterly replete, we headed off to the ferry port. Our boat was due to depart at 11pm but boarding was from 9pm. We had been advised to get there an hour before boarding at 8pm. To be honest, the early arrival was unnecessary. Boarding was very straightforward, involving a few simple security and passport checks, and we were settled into our little cabin by 10pm. We resolved to arrive for the return journey at boarding time exactly.
Travelling by ferry is not cheap. A cabin is mandatory for the overnight crossing, and as we intended to sleep for most of the journey, we went for the basic two-berth, inside option. Basically, bunk beds in a small, windowless cocoon. It was cramped and uncomfortable, and the feeling being completely cut off from the outside world was, frankly, a little claustrophobic and disorientating. All in all, at £50 a night, when you compare it to the average price of a room in a decent Premier Inn, not very good value for money. In total, the return journey cost us about £300 but it could have been considerably more had we chosen a more luxurious cabin (not difficult), and travelled in high season.
It wasn’t all bad. After a look around the ship, which boasted several lounges, bars, restaurants and a cinema, we snuggled into the bottom bunk, shared a bottle of wine and watched some TV, before tossing a coin to see where we would sleep. Unlike when we were kids, the loser got the top. I won …