Tuesday, 3 December 2013

The Saga of Travelling with Cats, Phase 2!

If you have not read Phase 1, this might not make much sense.

Fast forward two weeks of frustrated attempts to fly the cats into Ireland because that is not an option UNLESS you are coming from three or four airports in the states..(apparently its not the airlines, its the planes, yeah right!). Realisation dawned that we would have to buy a car ahead of schedule. It turned out to be quite difficult trying to buy a cheap car that was not going to prove to be rigged or stolen. We finally found one at a reputable dealer. Phew! We also  managed to get European Passports for the cats, which took a load off our minds.

So, its 4am Tuesday morning (Nov 18th!), the car is packed, the cats are in and we are on the road again. The plan is to drive from Dusseldorf to Galway via the Channel Tunnel and the Holyhead Ferry. It will take 19 hours and 6 countries (7 if you count Wales). We are psyched.

It is 6:30am and we are stuck on the side of the road in Belgium, 172.8km into the journey. The car hit the cheesegrater Belgian roads and the check engine light came on, then started blinking. A piston was clearly not working right and we ended up with something resembling a tractor with no power to accelerate. It was cold.

Sidenote: Do not ever get stuck in Belgium. Ever. If you have to push your vehicle over a border to prevent getting stuck in Belgium, do it. We got police who claimed to not speak English then was able to carry out a full conversation quite handily. When we called the AA, we got someone who apparently couldn't read a map or realise what "junction of N140 and E34" meant because "there are a lot of roads here, Sir. I can see 2 crossings over the E34 there, but one is the N132". My husbands response was simply: "Well, we are not there...obviously, because we are at the N140!!" (no I'm not exaggerating, and that isn't the half of it) and then tried to make us pay for when their vans apparently couldn't find us. Shysters doesn't even cover it. When they finally sent round a local contractor we had been there for 4 hours and the battery was dead from trying to not freeze. When we told him how long we had been waiting his first reaction was a shocked "F**k!" because he got the call 20 minutes before and came straight to us. "No, I knew where you were, it was easy to find...." Dont EVER get stuck in Belgium!

Anyway, the local pick-up guy was lovely and made a point of pointing out that he was actually Dutch. He brought us to the nearest Skoda dealer (cos we had a Skoda) and sorted out the paperwork for us quite handily. I dug into my emergency cash to pay him upfront (this is why you always have emergency cash when travelling) and we got ourselves and the cats inside the dealership. Luckily there was a spare office we could use and lock so I fed and watered the cats while the husband dealt with the car. And we waited, and waited.

Finally at around 2pm, or 8 hours after the breakdown, we were back on the road. It had been a burned out ignition coil ("babine" in the Belgian language) and they had the part right there so no problems to fix it. The delay meant however that we could not possibly continue with our original plan of driving straight through England and Wales to the ferry. A call had to be made. First my in-laws tried to rebook for us as we only had a Canadian cell phone which cost $1.50/min for calls. It turned out that the agent was on holiday that day and we had to book a completely new trip potentially losing all the money for the first booking. Then getting a tunnel crossing that evening, but no chance of ever making a ferry that day in Wales.

The second call went to England.

Luckily, my dad is currently working in England and he was able to put us up for the night, we just had to get there. With the new booking for the Channel Tunnel, we got to Calais with an hour to spare. Getting the cats checked in was nice and easy and we were even able to get an earlier crossing than we had booked, sweet! I will recommend the Channel Tunnel to anyone by the way, its 35 mins long and you barely know you're moving. Just about enough time to have a little picnic in the comfort of your own car, brilliant. Then it was off the train and up to Chelmsford in Essex where Dad brought us out for a lovely dinner and we fell into bed.

Out the door again at 4am and off to the ferry terminal. We had a sinking feeling as we neared the Welsh coast, there was a Force 9 gale blowing with gusts up to force 11. For those of you who don't know what that means..."F*cking windy" might cover it (see video).  But we decided that if the ferry was cancelled we'd find out fairly quickly so we got booked in and joined the queue. The ferry sailed, albeit with one hour delay as we had to wait for a window in the gale gusts as it was pushing us into the dock wall.

Unfortunately there are no pets allowed on the passenger decks of the ferry and the two little critters had to stay in the car. So we went up to the bar and got a sandwich and a pint and waited. We set off an hour behind schedule, heading into the wind. The husband and I are used to rough seas but many of our fellow passengers were not. Particularly one lady who didn't appear to know that if you are seasick, the worst thing you can do is sit in the pointy end with your back to the waves.

Tip for the seasick: Move. You get seasick (all other kinds of travel-sickness) because your inner ears are telling you that you're moving but your eyes are telling you that you're not and the resulting confusion turns your stomach. Do not try to brace yourself into a solid position, this is the very worst thing you can do. Take a hint from a salty instead, walk around and roll with the motion of the waves. And if you really can't walk around, find the centre of the ship, lengthwise and breadthwise and stay there as the centre moves the least.

Eventually, the captain got us to Dublin port and we took the wrong turn to Galway. Luckily, the toll booth people let us do a U-turn and we battled our way through Dublin traffic. I hate Dublin. We got on the right road and joined with the new Motorway that cuts straight across the country. We took a brief detour into Enfield to fuel up and find out if the cats could handle being out of their boxes in the car. It was pitch black outside so we set up their toilet and get them out. They loved it so it was back on the motorway again. We got dinged for tolls again entering from Enfield but what can you do? We got to Galway a lot faster than we expected (we're passing Athenry already? What the hell?) and picked up a Supermacs! Then on to Clifden.

We finally arrived at our destination around midnight, called people to let them know we had arrived and fell into bed. We had finally arrived. It was Nov 20th. 

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