Finding out about rail-sail put a new positive twist on my short-distance travel abroad. I welcomed the chance to be able to visit our Irish or Dutch neighbours without having to drive or fly. Because let’s face it, flying has in the last few years become tedious – or is it just me? Instead of feeling the buzz of excitement before the flight, I just accept my fate and hope for a reasonably painless experience with few delays, little hassle, short queues, and no security alerts. Circling over London waiting for a slot to land just makes me want to groan!
Going by rail-sail, on the other hand, gives me the excited holiday feeling as soon as I close my front door. Train journeys have a certain calm and nostalgia about them, especially if you are not going to work at peak times in cram-packed carriages! When you add a ferry crossing to it, the sedate travel package is ready.
I first heard about rail-sail from an ex-colleague, who was telling about this great value travel bundle to Dublin. One ticket covers your train journey from a nearby station to Holyhead and the sailing across to Dublin – what’s not to like?! Inspired by him, I booked the same trip. Although the Irish Sea can be notoriously choppy, it was showing its calm side on both legs. What a way to arrive at Dublin, sailing past lighthouses and seeing the green landscape of the emerald isle get closer and closer. I’m not sure how I would have felt if we had hit a storm though!
The Dutchflyer ticket to The Netherlands works slightly differently: it covers the journey from any Greater Anglia station (in my case London Liverpool Street) to any Dutch station including the ferry crossing. Whether it’s been a day trip to Rotterdam (yep, I’ve done that, leaving home before 5am and returning after midnight!) or a longer stay exploring Dutch cities and towns, I’ve always chosen an overnight sailing both ways. I simply like the idea of strolling in in the evening after a hassle-free check-in, enjoying a drink at the bar, and watching the lights on the shore slowly disappear when the ferry glides into the night. I also get easily bored on long journeys so sleeping through the trip is ideal! Crawl into bed in one country and wake up in another just ready for breakfast.
Especially on the outward journey I also like having what they call an outside cabin. Despite its name, you are definitely indoors: you basically have a cabin with a window big enough to sit inside! On the way back an inside cabin (with no window) has been fine for me. I always end up walking for hours on end on city breaks so by the time I get back to the port, I’m usually absolutely exhausted and fall asleep even before we sail. Scenery and harbour lights aren’t of any importance at that point, regardless how beautiful they might be!
I only wish I had checked all ticket options and known about rail-sail when I first sailed to Rotterdam. I had booked the UK train tickets to Harwich and the overnight ferry crossing to Hoek van Holland separately, but for some strange reason, I didn’t buy the tickets for the Dutch train on the ferry as recommended. It’s definitely a wake-up call when you stand at the railway station at silly o’clock in the morning and realise you need either a Dutch bank card or coins to buy a ticket. (Of course, I had neither.) No wishful thinking miraculously changed my Euro notes into coins either! Luckily the conductor let me buy a ticket on the train although I was politely but firmly reminded that I could have got the ticket on the ferry… Talk about learning the hard way!