From Halfway to America to the Gate to the World

At the end of July 2009 I was going by car from Ireland (the island halvway to America) to Hamburg (the gate to the world) in Germany. I love Hamburg, of course, but it was only for one reason I was moving: My daughter. She became really ill and therefore I needed to come closer to her – I needed to be able to reach her whenever it was necessary. Unfortunately I neither got a job really close to her nor in Sweden, but Hamburg is not so far away from where she was living and I could go by car to her town. Since the year 2000 there is a bridge between Denmark and the South of Sweden and it takes not more than five hours driving between Hamburg and Malmoe. Therefore, I was very happy, that I have got a job in Hamburg. Leaving my teammates at HP in Leixlip made me a little sad, because I enjoyed so much working with them and also enjoyed the all over atmosphere at HP. I found a female friend there, who is German, and the life was becoming brighter, because I had found a nice room, too. The owner of the apartment were Irish, but she has been living in America for lots of years, before coming back home to Ireland just for healthy reasons, which means she was an open minded person. Also my second hand car was a reason why I, at that time, was happier in Ireland than before and the photography club I joined as well. I was looking forward to stay in Ireland until my retirement, but one can make a lot of plans, life will tell you other things.

On Friday morning, the 24th of July 2009, I was packing as much of my stuff which fitted into my car. I was unhappy, that I have to leave my ironing board and the dryrack, but it was impossible to press them into the car as well. It was already difficult to see out of the car back- and sidewards and my co-driver was my laundry basket, filled with my hangers. My shoes did not fit in somewhere else, though I had them in a black plastic rubbish bag, which brok during my journey. That night I was with my son Samuel and his girlfriend in Tyrrelstown, Dublin 15, because I had to drive to the ferry very early next day and also I liked to be with them for my last hours on Ireland.

It was really an adventure to drive with such a well filled car throughout Europe. I had organized my nights staying at youth hostels, because I have had very lite money for the trip. My route was going from Dublin Port by ferry to Holyhead, driving southward to London City and staying there one night, because I have been in London as a 19 year old and wished to see how much London has changed. I hoped, I could get a glance of Liverpool, Birmingham and Oxford as well.

The sun was shining from a cloudless sky, when I was leaving Dublin – a very nice good bye. I did not know anything about Holyhead and the area around. Therefore I was really surprised about the two languages which were used here on all signs and also that this part of the UK was so like Ireland. The other language on the signs was not Gaelic but Welsh. Holyhead is on the Holy Island which is a part of the Isle of Anglesey or in Welsh Ynys Môn. It took really a long time to leave that island behind and on the way to the mainland I was a really lucky one, because, when a carriage with a caravan lost a wheel and that wheel was running all over the road, I was close to drive just into the wheel, but managed to come around. If I remember right, it took two hours to leave the Anglesey Island and by that I understood, that I have neither time to go to Liverpool nor making sightseeing in Birmingham or Oxford as well. I just stopped at a motorway recreation center for a short while eating something I bought in a shop there, because the restaurant was too expensive for my purse.

London is not the easiest town to find directions, but I made it quite well, even I arrived around 8pm at the Torquay Hostel which is located near the Bayswater/Paddington areas. There was no parking space, but the street and there were no place found. I asked the assistant in the hostel: “what will happen, if I will leave my car in the street but next”. He answered, that the windows of my car will be broken until next morning – it was not a save area. The guy was nice anyway and fixed so I could leave my car behind the gate of the industry next door. The youth hostel were not very clean, but it was okay. I was keen to see London and tried to go to the city by the Underground, but that was very expensiv. Though I stayed in the area and was looking around. Most of the restaurants were not English and the English ones were very expansiv, therefore I bought something to eat in an Arabic shop and was going back to the youth hostel. I was very disappointed.

The next morning I left the youth hostel early and was driving into the city center of London hoping that the police will not catch me because in London there also is a ”Low Emission Zone” where I not have to go by my old car (I checked it up today: The Low Emission Zone (LEZ) affects older, diesel-engined lorries, buses, coaches, large vans (exceeding 1.205 tonnes unladen weight) and minibuses (over eight seats plus the driver’s seat and below 5 tonnes). It does not include cars, motorcycles and small vans (under 1.205 tonnes unladen weight)) but that I did not know when I was going to the center of London city and only saw the information for the ”Green zone” at the motorway. There also is a Congestion Charge for London Inner City, I read today – I did not know about that, when I was in the city. Fortunately I was there on a Sunday and Sundays are free of charge. You really have to check all the laws of the countries you are driving through otherwise you can get penalties and some countries have an own authority to get there payment for the penalties also of forreign visitors – so has the UK.

Anyway I was driving around in the city center of London and tried to get a parking space. The whole city was a traffic jam and I could not find any free parking space at all. I was driving around twice and looking for Trafalga Square but never made it. I came around the S:t Paul’s Cathedral and was astonished, because I did not remember that it was so huge. I did not come close to the House of Parliament or the Big Ben either and I decided that I have to go to London another time by plane or bus. I think that way will make it easier to see all the important touristic places. At the middle of the day it started raining and I was leaving London going South. I did not realize, which way I have to go to Southhampton, though I came to Brighton and I am very happy for that, because Brighton is such a beautiful town with such a beautiful beach. If the weather had been nicer, I would have made a rest there for a while enjoying it. Now I was continuing to Southhampton and arrived quite early for my ferry. I used the time for sightseeing, driving to the seaside by the Maritime Museum and looking at the old townwall with the ”Bargate”. The time was feeling long, but finally me and all the other customers could enter the ”Norman Spirit” going to Le Havre in France. The box for the assistant where operated for left hand driven cars as well as for right hand driven cars, which made it easy for all passengers to drive onto the ferry. I had booked a sleeping seat for the night and it was really comfortable.

Next morning the ferry arrived at the port of Le Havre and a new adventure started. I told myself that I have to drive on the right hand side of the roads and I made it without problems. I took a quick visit in Le Havre by car, but the town was still aslepp, though I was looking for the way to Paris. That was my destination, because beeing so close to that town made me choose the little longer route via Southhampton and Le Havre instead for driving through the Channel. On the way to Paris I stopped in Rouen, because one of my colleagues at HP told me to do so. She had described this town with very old buildings – it was not destroyed by a war. Rouen was easy to find using the motorway. I learned, that in France it is always easiest to find the motorway where tolls apply. There are toll stations with every bigger town and for each part you have to pay different amounts. From Le Havre to the French border to Belgium I paid around 20 Euros in street tolls. To return to Rouen: I found, that it is a really nice town and I bought my first baguette speaking French. I do not know French very well, but some words, which I can talk and also understand. Unfortunately it is not enough for asking for routes and understanding the answers. Anyway I was proud to make it in French at the bakery. The baguette was tasting very good, of course.

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I spent around two hours in Rouen and continued then directly to Paris. I like Paris, it is number two of the European towns for me, directly behind Hamburg. Yes, you read right. I think Stockholm is not such a very beautiful town, but I like Sweden for it’s nature. I have not seen so many towns in the South of Europe, may be I will change my mind when I know more of them, but I am not sure about that. When I was coming to Paris, I saw the Eiffel Tower very early, but I did not know on which side of the tower my destination was, because I had to go to the area Mont Parnass for a friend of my friend Yasmina was living there and I had to meet Yasmina at her friends (Jaques) home. It was difficult to find the right streets by all the roads going under the Themse, therefore I lost the directions. Suddenly I was on the Champs Elysees and a little while later by the Louvre but I did not find the area Mont Parnasse, therefore I called Yasmina (a woman I know from Dublin) and she gave me the direction. After a while I was close to her friends home, but she was meeting me for showing me the last few streets. I still had all my things in my car of course, though Yasmina was running on the pedestrians way and I was going by car. I think there are only a few people who would be so kind to make it that way. I really appreciated it.

At her friends home she served me a dinner and afterwards we were leaving for sightseeing of Paris and we did it in a very high speed. Fortunately all the important buildings are close to each other. We started in the Jardin of Luxembourgh and we were lucky because there also were a concert in the park. Later we were going by the underground to the Arc de Triomphe. It was so funny because she did not tell me where we will come out of the underground and the station is named Place Charles-de-Gaulle Étoile. When we came onto the street, I was screeming ”that is the Arc de Triomphe”. It was so amazing to see it in real and it is more beautiful in real as in television. Other stations of our sightseeing trip were the Sorbonne, the Notre-Dame, the Saint Stephens monument, along the Seine and finally the Louvre. We were also meeting a friend of Yasmina and going to a very well known café, where I ordered a cappucino as well as an ice coffee (my French has to be improved!).

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At last Yasmina and Jaques showed me the way to my hostel. Because I was not sure, that I will find the hostel by car and it seemed that there were no parking spaces either, I was going by metro to the hostel. Before leaving at Jaques’ I picked the most of my things out of my car and left my stuff in his apartment. It was very kind of him to allow that. It was somewhat difficult to find the way by the Metro and I was leaving too early, I first thought and by that an Odyssey started. I asked three times for the way, but it is very difficult to find French people who are speaking English. Some of them understand the language but they are answering in French and they always are asking surprised ”Don’t you understand any French”. I was a lucky one, who met a younger French guy, who had been working in London just for improving his English, but the result was, that I had to take a cab, because I was too far away from the hotel. Actually I had left the Metro too late. The hostel ”Hotel de la Felicite” were very nice, so were the room, the staff and the breakfast next morning.

The next day Yasmina could not be with me, because her father was very ill. Jaques was my guide instead. I planned to stay until high noon, but I was staying in Paris to late afternoon instead, because I hade not seen the Eiffel Tower and we were talking about the artists and the Montmatre and by that about the Sacre Ceur. I had to see them all! There is an amazing view from outside the Sacre Ceur all over Paris. I enjoyed the time with Jaques with all my senses! Last but not least, we were right in front of the Moulin Rouge. By the way, Jaques was learning English and so we profitted both of this day.

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The late afternoon I was going to Reims, the town of the Champagne. I had bad luck when I was arriving at the town, because the city was just one construction site. When I have droven around a while I was asking people for the way to the hostel CIS Champagne. When I finally found a guy understanding English and knowing the hostel, he could not explain in English, but stopped a car and ask the driver for help who was showing me by driving close to it. There were a road which was not permitted to drive in from my side and he left me there, though I was looking for another possibility into the area, which I found, but I did not find the hostel and had to ask some more for getting there. This other guy also was driving in front of me to show me the way and he used the unpermitted road – it was no other way to go there! I am very greatful to these French guys and I have got a good opinion about the French people. Anytime I would love to go back to Paris and France. By the way I spent next morning in Reims.

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This day it was time to go to Brussels. Going North, the city was on my way and I thought the town, where the EU headquarter is situated, has to be an interesting one and I also thought, that most of the people will speak a lot of languages, almost English in addition to French. Regrettably my experience is another, because I found few people speaking English and the assistant of the hostel, where I had booked for the night, were not service minded, but one thing at the time. The city was not signed very well and there are also a lot of underground streets, which made it difficult to get there I wanted, because I did not know in which direction I had to go. I did not find the EU headquarter either and the town did not seem to be big, but maybe I missed the most. At a square I found a hotel where I could ask for the direction and that was a good thing, of course, but after a few hundred meters I was wrong again and had to ask again. That time I met a business man (there were two, but only one of them were speaking English). He also knew, where I had to go and explained it very well. After a while I was in an area close to the hostel, I had chosen for the night (Gîte d’Etape – the youth hostel Jacques Brel) and prebooked, but it was like Soho and nobody was speaking English there. I called the hostel and explained, where I was and the assistent tried to explain the way. When I was asking more, he became impatient and told me he had no more time for me, because he had customers at the desk – therefore I did not become a customer of this hostel. In a strange way, I did not have to pay for that night either. I was leaving Brussels and Belgium instead – to the Netherlands. My goal was to stay for a night at a cheaper hotel somewhere on the way to Amsterdam.

It was becoming late, of course. Although it was daylight when I left Belgium the dark was falling soon. To my surprise, the motorway in the Netherlands were all illuminated and it was easy to drive. However, I did not find any hotel before coming to Amsterdam. In the outer area of Amsterdam I saw a hotel from the motorway, called Fashion Hotel, but it was not so easy to go there, because there were no way out from the motorway at this point. When I had left the motorway at the next exit, I have got a little help of some pedestrians. I made my way to that hotel. It was around midnight when I arrived. In real, there were two hotels and I chose maybe the more expensive, but it was a very good one and I felt like a queen that night. My car was save inte the underground garage and I was sleeping very well. As good as the room was the breakfast. There were nothing left to wish for. I had liked to stay in that hotel one more night, but I already had booked a bed at the hostel Linda at the city center.

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It is very easy to go around by car in Amsterdam, because the main road is going into the city center, just following a channel. Therefore I found the hostel Linda without any problems. There was a car park in the backyard, but technically it was not space enough for all cars of the guests. Therefore we hade to leave our car keys to the staff, that they could move the cars if necessary. I told them, that my car was a right hand driven one, but it seemed that was no problem for them. Anyway my car was not moved at all during the time I was there. In Reims my room mate was very annoyed, that I was snoring (sometimes I do, but not very often), therefore I decided to rent a single room in this hostel, changing my prebooking for a room for fourteen people. That was very fast done and I was leaving the hotel for enjoying Amsterdam. The weather was quite nice in the beginning, but later it was raining cats and dogs! I made a trip on the channels and than I was walking all around the city. I also were asking at the tourist office, what activity (maybe theater) they could recommend for the evening. It ended up with, that I bought a ticket for the Boom Chicago Theater, which plays satire in English. It was another strange experience, but before that, I bought a new pair of shoes, because I did get tired in my sandals by the cobblestones. I also came through the ”Red light district” and did not know that, before I was asked by a guy in his thirties if I already had some meeting for the night. Maybe I should have had a good time with this guy because the night in the hotel were a nightmare. The people next door or the other door were talking very loudly and the door and the walls did not absorb it. I did not get much sleep that night, but the breakfast was OK. I payed a lot for this room and felt sorry for, that I was not staying in the Fashion Hotel even the other night, because that one was not so much more expensive than the hostel Linda. I had to hurry a little to leave, starting on my way to Hamburg. It was the longest of the planned day trips during this week. The weather was fine and I came early (around 3 pm) to Hamburg and get the keys for my new home. Therefore I called the Backpacker Hostel, where I had booked a bed, and told them, that I do not need to stay there for the night and there was no problem with that – they did not even charge me. I emptied my car of course as soon as possible. When I had carried all my things in my new apartment, I took a rest and ate something followed by a phone call to a guy who offered me to drive to Sweden during the following weekend, helping me to pick up my furniture.

Hamburg is a really big town – twice as big as Amsterdam and with a lot more of all. When you know the directions in Hamburg, it is easy to find your way on the motorways, but if you do not know if you have to go to the South, the North or the City Center it is difficult, so it was for me. To meet Christian, the guy who offered to help me with my moving, I needed 3 hours instead for 30 minutes as it is usually for driving from Hamburg-Harburg (where my new home is situated) to his place. First of all, I was going to the harbour of Harburg and got lost there, though I had to go back to the point where I came from. After that, I was driving into the City Center. When I was arriving in the district of S:t Pauli I understood, that I was wrong again and asked for the right direction. A new Odessey began for me, asking several times and just missing one road and another all the time for whom can recognize the fourth to the left, the second to the right, straight on for around 5 km and than to the right again and in the next round about the second to the left when there are a lot of streets in and out from the round about. Anyway, Christian was not angry, when I finally arrived around 10 pm. The next day he was picking me up close to my home, by this we were on our trip without getting late.

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My New Home in Hamburg-Harburg

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At this weekend we moved all my things from the storeroom in Perstorp and some things, who was stored in the basement at my daughters home. Christian and I enjoyed a three hours walk in the forest av Söderåsen in the South of Sweden. When we had filled his van, Christian and I as well as my daughter were going to Hamburg. Guess that I was tired when we arrived at my new home and I had to start at my new occupation the next morning, but it was worth it. Finally I have to tell you, that I did not see any other Irish registered car since leaving the UK and some people were looking at me and my car as if we came from the space.