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An Unusual Journey Home - Part 4: Denmark to the UK

We left on a Sunday morning and the drive southwards towards the German border was relatively normal. We had seen that the German state of North Rhine Westphalia, that we would normally drive through, was Germany's worst affected so we were keen to fill up on petrol on the Danish side of the border, but other than that things seemed little different to usual.

We had been expecting that Germany might man its own side of the border in response to Denmark's action, but there was no visible presence as we drove into Germany. The Danish border was on Corinna's side of the car and she looked back to see the barriers and soldiers.  

Our next obstacle to overcome was Hamburg. Don't get me wrong, as a city Hamburg is wonderful. But as a traffic obstacle between Denmark and Germany it is dreadful. It's a city on various waterways, with the accompanying bridges and tunnels, and if you get unlucky you can spend hours in traffic queues there. It's unusual not to stop there at least once on your way through it on the motorway. But we didn't stop this time though, we perhaps slowed a couple of times but that was all. That was the first sign of how different to usual this journey would be.

We continued our drive south to Bremen and turned westwards, heading on the autobahn towards the Netherlands. Normally, the main roads of NW Germany would be full, even on a Sunday. But things were far from normal and after Bremen the roads were extremely quiet. At times we couldn't see a single other vehicle in either direction on the vast stretches of road in front and behind of us. We were driving in the middle of the day on roads designed for the auto engineering excellence of Munich and Stuttgart to zoom along, often at limitless speeds. But here we were, in our modest 8 year old hatchback with a boot full of old lamps, driving on kilometre after kilometre of deserted autobahn.

Once we crossed the border into the Netherlands there was more traffic, but the roads were still relatively quiet and we made good progress towards our destination for the evening, the Casa Cava B&B in Dendermonde, Belgium. Dendermonde sits in a triangle between Ghent, Antwerp and Brussels, around 200km (120 miles) from the Euro Tunnel port in Calais, France. We usually stop somewhere closer to the mid way point but I wanted to be closer to Calais in case there was the possibility of borders closing the following morning, Monday. 

Having driven the best part of 1,000km (600 miles), over three national borders, in rather stressful circumstances, I was absolutely exhausted. It was 9 in the evening when we arrived at the B&B and the pretty residential street was quiet and still. Our host came out of her house on to the street to greet us and probably check out who these visitors were who had arrived on her doorstep as Western Europe was heading rapidly towards lockdown.

She took us round the back into a pretty little courtyard oasis overlooking fields, explaining, unsurprisingly, that we were her only guests. She told us that with no more guests expected for some time she had been lucky enough to find work with her former employer, which at least secured them an income stream.

She took us to the breakfast room / communal area, housed in a former brewery. I very gratefully accepted her offer of a beer as I had spotted a Leffe Blond in the fridge, one of my favorite tipples whilst in this part of Europe. It was a very welcome reminder of happier times, holidaying in France. I took my beer and drank it in our room - the Chardonnay room, and what a room it was - spacious and comfortable with a fantastic shower. I slept extremely well that night. 

We awoke to news that Germany had, seemingly without notice, closed their borders at 7 that morning. It hit us quite how soon after we'd passed through the country it had happened. But the more important news was there was no talk of the French doing the same and now that was the only border we still had to pass that we could be turned away from. On the basis that I am a UK resident and Corinna is a UK citizen we felt confident that the final border would be the only one that we could both be guaranteed to be permitted to cross.

We checked the traffic, it was still showing a 2 hour journey to Calais, but we were concerned that there could be impromptu roadblocks to limit movement, so we wanted to leave with plenty of time.

Breakfast was amazing. Despite us being the only guests there was a wonderful spread including homemade bread and granola, fresh pastries, and fresh fruit salad. We asked our host if we could take the leftover bread and pastries to eat on our journey and he not only very generously allowed us to but refused to take any money. We chatted and he explained that Belgium, which had been without a government for years, had formed a workable governing arrangement to deal with the increasing crisis. He told us he expected Belgium to enter lockdown imminently, and so it was to prove. We departed Casa Cava, vowing to return to this lovely place when this is all over.

We arrived at the Euro Tunnel in good time and were able to take an earlier crossing than the one booked. The terminal was almost deserted. We joked that the French border guard added 'and good riddance' as he bade us au revoir. It's hard not to be paranoid in a GB-badged vehicle in Europe at the moment, let alone at a time when countries are closing their borders.

There was one final step between us and the Euro Tunnel carriage. The UK border guard asked us how we were. I replied that we were very glad to be almost home but we all knew she was inquiring about our health, presumably she was under instruction to do so.

And off we drove, straight through onto the train without stopping in the usual queues. It was just so extremely quiet. Once we were parked up on the train we felt we could finally relax, we were home. 

 


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