Twitchhiker | Paul Smith's travel tales from here and there

Day 1 – all aboard for Amsterdam
02/03/2009, 10:55
Filed under: twitchhiker project | Tags: ,

Twitchhiker - goodbye England

It’s just after 8pm on Sunday evening and I’m somewhere in the middle of the North Sea – on board a boat, thankfully. It hasn’t gone that spectacularly wrong just yet.

Is it a boat? Or a ship? A ferry, even? Watch with less-than-interest as I confuse my nautical terminology on an adhoc basis throughout this post.

Day one has been amazing, so long as you don’t consider me tearing around like a mad man trying to do all those last minute chores I’ve had four weeks to complete. My up-until-now calm resolve imploded on itself around lunchtime and I allowed myself a few tears to leak away the stress.

Packing was remarkably easy. I’ve two messenger bags with me – one packed with clothes, the other chock to the brim with tech. I’m of the firm opinion that underpants are good for two days and socks can be aired after use and rotated every three days; a handful of t-shirts, a shirt and a couple of jumpers, a spare pair of trousers and a towel. In the tech bag, my laptop, camera and the legendary Power Monkey, wires and adapters for all occasions (except, I suspect, the occasion I really need the wires and adapters for) and miscellaneous paraphernalia.

When the time to leave Jane arrived, the tears were all mine. Every time I’ve doubted myself over the past four weeks, every time the situation has overwhelmed me, Jane has picked me up and dusted me down, held my hand and stroked my cheek. As independent as I believe myself to be, I’m going to struggle without her.

Two camera crews had descended on Central Station to interview me. They were keen to interview not only myself but other Twitter users  – there’d been chatter over the weekend about a send-off from local tweeps. So when I arrived outside the station with only myself for company, I assumed the next month would involve me holding a man-size tissue to my face to wipe all that egg off. I needn’t have worried. Around 20 people turned up to wave me off – some I knew, plenty I didn’t. Plenty of folk from the Newcastle Photo Walk turned out (a group of Flickr users who found each other through Twitter) as well as the whole team from (which, in case you haven’t tried it yet, is a cracking way of finding tweeps with the same interests as you).

My friend Kelly from Century Radio also arrive with a carrier bag of crap and other oddities, including:

– a copy of Good Old-Fashioned Advice by Michael Powell
– a magic set
– earplugs and eye mask
– a battery-power pocket casino
– a bottle of Moet (from Jon, who was on-air at Century at the time)

The earplugs will no doubt come in handy and I’m tempted to keep the magic set to amuse myself, if nobody else. The Moet will be gone by morning. No point lugging the extra weight around Amsterdam with me.

In between filming a miasma of cut-away shots and interviews for the television crews, I met @minxlj who had provided the ticket for my trip to Amsterdam. A home-grown bleach-blonde, pierced rock chick vessel of Heaven’s beauty with a penchant for web design, I presented her with my gift for helping me; a copy of Pete McCarthy’s book Road to McCarthy. I had wanted to hand over my copy of McCarthy’s Bar – the book which originally piqued my interested in travel – but it was ruined in a flood some years ago.

In return, Leanne (to address her by her slightly less devilish real-life name) handed over a small dog/mouse/rabbit-faced clay figurine of a pig, which held a plaque reading Bon Voyage. In quick succession, I exchanged that gift with the the second person to help me, technically the first I’d be taking advantage of (I received the ticket for the ferry crossing before accepting the lift to the terminal). Lindsay, known to Twitter as @rivets, was a tall middle-aged university lecturer who’d worn his skin through thick and thin. A face full of mischief and tall tales beamed as I swapped my figurine for a small orange metal tin bearing the name BIFURCATED RIVETS. Lindsay has collected dozens of them; it was a small and pretty thing, pleasing to the eye, so I felt no need to ask why.

On the way to the port, we discussed summer holidays and the English abroad, and my chances of making it to Campbell Island. Lindsay confirmed what I already knew; it’d be impossible to travel the majority of the distance by land in such a short period of time. I could do little but agree, and hoped at some point soon I’d get lucky and land a flight somewhere.

Once on board the ferry, I rang Jane to tell her I was there safe and sound, and then Jon to thank him for the Moet. I took photos of Tynemouth and the rich red sun setting over Newcastle, and finally got to grips with the Nokia N95 and TwitPic. I have a feeling I’ve already gobbled up far too much of my data allowance already; hopefully the team at O2 Litmus will take pity on the imbecile and his inability to grasp the basic fundamentals of international roaming.

I’ve only been for a short amble on deck and throughout the bar – pausing for a reasonably priced bottle of Stella Artois – but two facts concerning the other passengers are undeniable; there are far more men then women travelling to Amsterdam – I can’t for the life of me imagine why – and the majority of them are whistlers. In the terminal, on deck, squeezing past one another in the corridors – all of them are whistling in the most nauseatingly good-natured manner.

Gah. The boat’s just begun to nod from side to side. I haven’t ate since 9am this morning and my stomach isn’t convinced it can live on Stella alone. Still, I’ve just cracked open the Moet and intend to chug down a fair bit of it before I spruce up for dinner. I’m not able to post this until sometime tomorrow from Amsterdam, so I’ll let you know whether drinking lager and champagne on a sea-faring boat before dinner is a sensible idea.

[12 hours later]

Well. That didn’t go according to plan. I don’t care where in the world I am, I’m not parting with £12 for a prawn cocktail. It’s just not going to happen. Consequently, I sank a bottle of Moet and then refused to eat anything in the restaurants on board. I now have both a head and a mouth that feels like a bison has shat in it.

I’m also out of credit for my mobile, and I’m not entirely sure how. I wrote an article about international roaming last week, so I know I shouldn’t have burned up £7 of credit on a phonecall of a similar length. I’d accepted an incoming call from a local radio station for a live interview, when the line went dead. I suspect that MCP is some sort of satellite network covering the North Sea, but I haven’t seen any literature to warn me that I’d have the arse well and truly ripped out my wallet for using it.

It’s probably best this has happened at the beginning of the trip; as grateful as I am for the ferry trip to see me on my way, I’ve been out of contact with Twitter for over 15 hours, and it’s going to be another two until I have any chance of finding a broadband connection. I have to move on from Paris by Wednesday and I’ve no way of seeing or confirming any offers, should there be any.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I may have to go and vomit.

[1 hour later

I didn’t vomit. Instead I parted with £14 for the breakfast buffet. Technically it wasn’t my money; I frittered away a whole £10 on the Blackjack table last night, and saw a six-fold return. I had expected a thin seam of gold to run through the centre of the sausages, but instead there appeared to be only salt.

I can’t believe I’ve been without Twitter for the best part of a day. What the hell was I thinking?


14 Comments so far
Leave a comment

Good luck on the voyage.

I’d happily offer to help you in someway, but I’m currently doing my own travels halfway across the globe, so the only think I can give you is my well wishes.


Comment by Dean Roskell

Hey…..well done, ‘getting off the ground’ is the scariest bit! As for the ‘roaming’ unless o2 take pity on you it’s gonna cost in my experience….though I twittered and blogged my way around Europe for 3 weeks for £15 approx… o2 if you can and explain.

Good luck with your onward journey :O)

Comment by gemmak

Good Luck with your journey, I think it is a fantastic way to raise money and awareness.

your blog makes for a great read too 🙂

~Buffy x x

Comment by Buffy

Your hygiene regime sounds fine as long as you
are not doing any serious exercise. If you find yourself hiking up mountains in hot weather you might want to change your pants (briefs) more often!

Comment by Simon

Earplugs are a definitely a good thing to take. I’ve got through many pairs on my round the world trip so far. And they’re not just for hostels!

Comment by rosieniven

Well done, Paul. Keep going. Keep mentioning the charity, though – some people I am talking to are missing this somehow.

Comment by Adrian

Hopefully you are back in credit and back in action 😉 DM me or Drew if you are running low again.

Comment by James Parton

I wasn’t running low – some bloody satellite network was thieving a pound a minute for incoming calls. Thanks to you and Drew for keeping me in action 🙂

Comment by Paul

Good luck Paul – sounds like you’re up and running. If you get stuck in Europe, I’ll try and work my networks to get you moving again!

Comment by Nicola Braden

Hey Twitchiker just realised you have a remarkable likeness to “The Diceman – Russell Harris “, could the Twitchhiker be Diceman of the naughties ?

Comment by Manny

“bleach blonde rock chick” – cheers honey, make me sound as classy and awesome as I really am, eh? LOL.

Oh and by the way it was a PIG not a dog/mouse, silly. Your brain was clearly addled by fear by that point. My precious Piggin’ Bon Voyage, who has sat patiently in my home office for years amongst his kin, didn’t even get his due appreciation…*sniff*

Comment by minxlj

There. Go back and read it now. Sorted. If you don’t like it now, then it’s ultimate proof that’s there’s no pleasing some people.

Comment by Paul

Just passing by.Btw, you website have great content!

Don’t pay for your electricity any longer…
Instead, the power company will pay YOU!

Comment by Mike

Laughing my head off now…bless you Paul, you are a sweetheart! LOL now everyone you meet is going to expect a similar standard 😉 Clearly they can’t even come close to me, that’s just silly, but maybe they are all fair-to-middling attractive ;-p

I’m sure the pig is pleased with his description too, I’ll ask Lindsay 😉

Comment by minxlj

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