Leaving Europe

Monday 18 to Tuesday 19 September

Bruce has got a British passport. He can come and go to Europe as he likes, for now. That will change when Brexit comes into effect.

I don’t have that luxury. I am limited to 90 days in Schengen Europe every six months. And my time was running out. We had set foot into the Schengan area in Zurich en route from Evan in New York to Hayden in Berlin. The immigration officer asked how long I was staying. I said ‘just less than 90 days’. It was the truth, that was our plan. He pointed out that I didn’t have an option.

So we left Berlin on day 86 of my visa. That allowed two days to get to the ferry to England and two days to return to France to return the Renault at the end of October. It took quite some planning.

We farewelled Hayden and Andrea, big hugs and kisses. And we farewelled their friends, Sin Nombre (koala), Pepe (lemur), Paco (donkey) and the rest of the clan, and drove west.

It was a long day of motorways, an opportunity to nearly finish knitting a little cardigan for Heidi, Hayden’s friend Mike’s daughter.

We planned an overnight stop in Oldenzaal, just across the Dutch border, and an easy drive to Hoek von Holland the following afternoon.

The Erve Hulsbeek hotel was set in a parkland, that would have been a popular destination in summer. Late in September it was grey and damp. We stretched our legs, wandering around the resort, then retired to the dining room for a lovely Dutch meal.

The sun shone on Tuesday and it was an easy drive for us, until we reached the Dutch roundabouts – they confounded us, as each lane had its own exit. More than once we were in the wrong lane, forced onto the wrong exit and drove around blocks to re-enter the roundabout and hope to get the exit right.

Hoek von Holland was a quaint town. We wandered around then found a nice café for lunch. The ferry was set to sail at 2:15pm.

We arrived at the ferry terminal in good time, but the customs officers pulled us aside – they didn’t like our French red number plates. These number plates are temporary, usually used for importing cars, in this case into England. Fortunately, their English was good enough to explain their concerns, but they weren’t about to let us onto the ferry until the car had been cleared.

It was an anxious hour, as we waited, and they rang various establishments, including Renault and the French tax office to clear the car. We got the go-ahead, just as the ferry’s gates were being closed. We were so glad to be on that ferry, particularly when I was running so close to the line with my Schengen visa. I couldn’t afford another night on European soil.

It was 7:45pm and nearly dark when we arrived at Harwich in Essex. We had booked the Court House pub in Great Bromley, about a 13 mile drive.

By the time we exited the port, darkness had set in. Here we were driving on the right side of the road, in a right-hand drive car on a country road in darkness. Of course, that left me, as a passenger, in the centre of the road. I can’t tell you how very pleased we were to arrive at the pub.