I’ve just been to Bruges and back without setting foot on a plane. Bruges, by the way, is a beautiful place; one of those living museums (like Venice and Dubrovnik) that still manages to give you a feeling of real life in a quirky time warp of its own making. But for me probably the best part of the trip was the luxury of travelling without wings.
Packing for the trip, I enjoyed waves of relief thinking we would not be forced through the cattle crush of airport security. Boats and trains have sharpened their search for potential terrorists but the process is still faster and much friendlier.
Then I remembered how much I enjoy travelling by boat. ‘Embarking’ has a ring of adventure, it feels like you are setting off not just getting on board: the journey more than a tedious means of getting from one place to another.
Admittedly, the shiny Blue Star ferry from Rosythe to Zeebrugge doesn’t creak as invitingly as boats used to – and there’s a lot of sales jingling on the loudspeakers to make sure we all know where to spend our money – but there is comfort, good food, windows to watch the sun set behind the Forth Bridges and the sheer bliss of being rocked to sleep in crisp white cotton sheets. You don’t get that on EasyJet.
We had a flat-calm crossing. Maybe the cabins wouldn’t be so blissfully womblike in a storm but I kept wondering – in the event of sanity returning to our management of the planet – how difficult it might be to re-adjust to a slower pace of travelling. Does travel really have to be fast to be efficient?
With wifi on board and mobile technology in our pockets it is possible to make good use of the time between destinations. I finished some work as we were easing our way into Zeebrugge (admiring the windmills lining the harbour): from sailing up the Forth at 5pm to disembarking in Belgium at just after 11 am next day, the journey felt surprisingly short. And so easy.
In fact the ferry was an afterthought – Sunday rail services from Scotland are so hellish we cut our losses on a Guardian Eurostar special offer by crossing direct to Europe by boat (even with the ferry cost it was cheaper than spending a night in a London hotel after an 8 hour train journey from Waverley to Kings Cross). But we made it home by Eurostar just a week too soon to see the grand new terminal at St Pancras Station for ourselves.
New high speed connections from Wednesday November 14 mean we can make the journey from London to Bruges in just three hours (1.51 hours to Brussels), shaving 20 to 25 minutes off all Eurostar journeys. But of course there will still be the same old slog on any other train journey through the UK.
From the old Eurostar terminal in Waterloo this time we made our way (none too swiftly) by tube to Euston to get the sleeper back home. A long trail but at least we had the relative luxury of a bed for the night. And more of those crisp, white cotton sheets.