Please note the following blog post has been written as part of a paid collaboration with P&O Ferries.
Exploring Europe with P&O Ferries
A few weeks ago I was invited on board P&O Ferries Pride of Hull to experience their Hull to Rotterdam crossing, followed by a short road trip, from the Netherlands to Germany to Belgium and home via P&O Ferries Calais to Dover route. I was apprehensive at first, we are still living in a pandemic after all, so I needed to weigh up the pros and cons of finally leaving my little bubble in the middle of England.
I was pleasantly surprised by the experience, having the safety of my own car and not having to come into close contact with strangers on public transport was a relief and I believe will be the most popular way to travel for the foreseeable future. We enjoyed a contact-free check-in process at Hull and as soon as we stepped out of the car on the ferry we were required to put on our masks (I ordered some cute ones especially for the trip!). As it was a night ferry (the crossing was 12 hours in total), my sister and I were in a cabin, another relief. The cabins are all cleaned from top to bottom before and after every passenger, Ellie and I had also brought with us our own antibacterial spray just for extra peace of mind.
P&O Ferries have taken a number of precautions on board. These include one way systems so you don’t have to pass people in corridors or on the stairs, mandatory mask-wearing and regular antibacterial hand sanitising stations. Fresh air is circulated throughout the ships and is also available out on deck, and everyone we came across was happy to adhere to the new guidelines.
Our cabin keys and tickets were paper and printed especially for us so we knew they hadn’t been touched by multiple people before us. Once we left our bags in the cabin we headed down to get some dinner. There are a number of options on the ferry, an a la carte style restaurant and a world buffet. We opted for the world buffet, however, P&O Ferries have made some changes to the process to ensure passenger safety. We were told to sit at a specific time and only a small number of passengers would be invited up to the buffet at each time, we did not serve ourselves but were served by chefs who stood behind a see-through barrier. We were then handed a clean tray with our food on at the end, we sat down and ate our curry before heading out on deck!
Whilst fresh air is circulated throughout the ship, Ellie and I wanted to go outside and enjoy the sunset, we were treated to a beautiful night so spent some time on deck admiring the view before heading back to our cabin where we laid our weary heads and slept for the night.
The next morning we woke up to a view out to Rotterdam Port and grabbed some breakfast (croissants and pain au chocolat!) before freshening up (the cabins have full equipped bathrooms with showers, luxury toiletries and even our own dressing gowns!) and then it was already time to head down to the car to disembark. In true Hannah fashion, I was the last person to arrive to my car so the whole car deck was empty by the time I drove off! Oops!
Passport control was also contact-free, we flashed the Dutch border force our passports and off we went, on the road to Amsterdam which was just one and a half hours away. I was originally a little nervous about driving on the right-hand side of the road but got used to this quickly.
I had never considered getting the ferry to the Netherlands before, I was glad we had the car as we were able to park at the hotel and didn’t have to fight our way through a busy train station with bags. We noticed our hotel had social distancing markers on the floor, hand sanitising stations, and only two guests were allowed in the lift at once (there were bubbles you had to stand on in the lift). Once again we sprayed everything down and then we went straight out to see the city.
Amsterdam is easy to navigate on foot, it was one of the reasons I picked to go here as once again we could avoid trains, trams and buses! That first day we walked 25,000 steps so certainly didn’t feel guilty when I ate two chocolate stroopwafels at lunchtime. We spent the afternoon strolling through the picturesque canals, snapping photos at every opportunity, before having an al fresco cup of tea and hiring a pedalo so we could enjoy the water!
In the heart of the city, in particular between the Paleis and Damrak, we felt a little concerned by the lack of face coverings. There was a one-way system on the busy shopping streets but people were getting a little too close to us. We made the decision to leave this area straight away, there were plenty of other beautiful areas to enjoy that were much quieter. However, since leaving Amsterdam have brought in new regulations, face masks became mandatory in busy areas from 5th August. I was relieved to hear this.
We had a look at Anne Frank’s house from the outside as Ellie and I both love history! You can go inside the house, it is now a museum, you must pre-book tickets online, this means the museum owners can control the number of people in the house/area at one time so it doesn’t become risky to anyone.
That evening we took another wander around the canals, there is a point known as Brug Van 15 Bruggen where you can spot 15 bridges all from one spot!! We waited for sunset and enjoyed a glass of wine on the river edge, watching each canal light up every few minutes or so. We noticed it was extremely quiet, we only saw a few people, the city, in general, was quieter than I have ever seen it before.
Not far from the Netherlands/German border is Bremen, the 10th largest city in the country. It is around a 3 hour and 40-minute drive from the centre of Amsterdam, which makes it much quicker than the quickest public transport route which takes 4 and a half hours.
We headed straight for the Medieval centre of the city, known as Schnoor which is the old fishing quarter. Most travellers will find themselves stepping into a real-life fairytale scene with rows of 15th-century cottages lining a maze of winding streets. These sweet buildings house restaurants, toy shops, galleries, pubs and even an ice cream shop, it’s the perfect spot for those wanting to pick up a few traditional souvenirs, including the most beautiful wooden toys for young children, this is a wonderland for people of any age.
We were surprised to have the place largely to ourselves, this is one of the most quaint quarters in Europe and yet we passed barely anyone as we wandered the streets. We even enjoyed a pint of beer and an alfresco dinner, all served by a friendly gentleman in a mask, we were seriously getting used to the masks by now and the requirement to sanitise our hands, you would almost forget this wasn’t normal a few months ago.
The 15th century Marktplatz (main square) is flanked by cloisters, guild houses, parapets and a breathtaking cathedral that was built over 1000 years ago, it also boasts the oldest coffee shop in Germany.
The next morning we woke early and drove 3 hours to Monschau, a fairytale village that has been plucked straight from the story of Beauty and the Beast. Close to Cologne, Monschau is an easy visit for those staying in north-west Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg as it is nestled close to all four borders.
Most famous for its spectacular Christmas markets, Monschau is a different type of beautiful in summer, the whole village is in bloom with flowers sitting above the babbling river that flows through the centre of the village. A popular place for day-trippers, there is no train station here as it straddles a river valley, making it best visited by car.
There was plenty of parking in town, as it was a very hot day it was busy but visitors happily kept a distance from each other, and once again, masks required in all indoor areas except when eating. We strolled through the medieval streets before enjoying a refreshing drink in the town square and heading back to the car ready to get on route to Bruges, 3 hours away.
This is what I love about driving through Europe… there are beautiful places to stop around every corner, making driving not a challenge, but an enjoyable experience.
A small country located to the south-east of England, Belgium is a popular choice amongst British travellers, and it’s easy to see why. Belgium is sprinkled in picture-perfect destinations such as Ghent, Brussels, Antwerp and Ardennes, but for Ellie and I, it was the Medieval city of Bruges that drew us in.
Bruges is a captivating, historical city so richly preserved, making it the ideal break close to home. The city is pocket size, making it easy to explore on foot. We found parking simple and were able to park in the city centre for less than €20 for 24 hours, for the rest of our time we explored on foot as we didn’t want to miss a thing. Divided up by canals, Bruges was once one of the greatest trading ports in Northern Europe in the late Medieval times before declining until being restored to its former glory in the 19th century.
Tourism is expertly managed, especially now. For a Friday afternoon in late July, my sister and I found the city eerily quiet. Once again, masks were mandatory, but here it was stepped up a notch with them being a requirement even on the streets, not just in buildings. This is where Ellie and I felt the safest as it was clear the government, residents and tourists alike were all taking things seriously. The only time masks were taken off were for eating and drinking, which was easily done in the quiet central market square, and for a quick tourist snap when no one else was around.
Bruges is a place to walk and wander, making it ideal for nervous travellers that want to stay out of public areas such as churches and museums. Whilst the history is fascinating and museums offer a great insight into the city, you can still appreciate it from the outside. There are plenty of quiet corners of the city, especially in the evenings and mornings, and the canals were far quieter than I have seen before.
Calais to Dover
After a final walk around Bruges on a warm Saturday morning, we made the 1 hour 20-minute journey to Calais, a busy port on France’s north-east coast, just 20 miles from Dover in England. Sad that our European tour was at an end but excited for the journey home by sea, we made a smooth entrance driving onto the day ferry. It was at this point I realised how thankful I was to have my car with an unlimited luggage allowance! Let’s just say I went a little crazy in Bruges buying all the chocolate and gifts to take back home for my family who were taking care of Baxter!
When we got out the car we put on our masks (these are also mandatory on the day ferry) and checked into the P&O Ferries Club Lounge. The upgrade meant we could relax in a dedicated lounge so travelled in luxury! We were greeted with a glass of champagne and tea and coffee making facilities are available free of charge, as well as soft drinks and snacks. Masks were worn but could be taken off when eating. Lunch could be ordered from a special Club Lounge menu meaning we didn’t have to venture into other parts of the ferry if we didn’t want to (I still went for a snoop though as I love feeling nostalgic on ferries because they were a huge part of my childhood holidays).
P&O Ferries have been accredited by Visit Britain with the ‘We’re Good to Go’ slogan across all their ships, this means they have followed all Government and industry COVID-19 guidelines with an effective process of cleanliness and social distancing. The day ferries offer all the same precautions as the night ferries – one way systems, enforced mask-wearing, hand sanitising stations, social distancing markers, fresh air within the ship and also fresh air out on deck.
Travellers can book with confidence as customers are able to amend travel dates with no amendment fees. P&O Ferries have been navigating customers safely to their destinations for over 180 years and continue to do so today!
To book visit http://www.poferries.com/