FS Title

Four Star
Part One

Since all that carry on at the beginning of the summer season, things have sort of got back to normal. Den and I have been doing back-to-back tours with no more than a day in the UK between since Spring Bank. At least after this tour we get a few days off while Betsy gets a thorough service and a few things sorted out.

No matter how many times you do this run down to Dover, it never gets any less tedious! So far we've had two lots of roadwork's and three accidents and we've only just crossed into Kent! At least I get to spend the week with Jools; she's learning the tour so it's my girlfriend on the front seat instead of punters. For now she's catching forty winks. Hmm might have to negotiate with Den over our accommodation, I'm sure he'll go for it; we've been sharing for eight weeks after all.

It's been a while since I've done this tour, Goslar and Berlin. It's not really that bad as tours go - just one long day to Berlin, the rest is pretty relaxed. For example, tonight we stay in Antwerp, a bit off course but we'll easily be there for about six. And that's the pattern all week, except Berlin we never do more than a couple of hundred kilometres between decent stops and the excursions don't involve long drives either.

We were back to a crawl on the M25 but we broke free when we reached the M2 slip and I started my last tea run this side of the Channel. There's a good load this week and I don't think we'll have any problems. No walking sticks, only two singles although the rest aren't all couples, there's those brothers in 5 and 6 and the father and son in 9 and 10 and of course two lots of lady friends. I yawned as I waited for the water to boil, yep I'll be ready for a few days at home.

This week is a bit unusual, with only two coaches going out and Mand's trip only being a five-day; we are on our own for the ferry. Well if you ignore the twenty other coaches from other operators and parts of Europe! We were actually running a bit early so I managed to get us on a slightly earlier boat than our booking. Having done it so often, Jules, Den and I were pretty much on automatic, the promise of lunch now foremost on our minds. Of course with any tour, the ferry is the first chance to root out the daft and inattentive passengers even though on first look we should have a good bunch here.

“If you can return to the coach as soon as the announcement is made please, so that's deck five, yellow zone. Enjoy the crossing”

I jumped down to the deck to help the passengers off of Betsy. They filed off, one or two were a bit shaky getting down but they all seemed pretty able. Finally the last couple were off and Jools joined me to wait for Den to lock Betsy up.

“I hope there's something better on the menu this week, that pie last week was terrible,” Den grumbled as he joined us.

“Well there's always the curry” Jools offered

“I'm off curry at the moment eh Chris?”

“Yeah that stuff in Ostend the other week has put me off a bit too” I agreed. I'm sure it was horsemeat, all yellow and stringy then it was covered in bilious green curry sauce! I nearly gypped just looking at it.

We climbed up to the public decks and on up to the drivers lounge. I hadn't spotted any of the usual crowd on the dock, the earlier sailing I guess, so it really will be a quiet crossing! To be fair, the pie this week was a lot better, steak and kidney, one of my favourites but Den dipped out and went for fish and chips.

“So what's on the menu tonight guys?”


“Nada” I agreed.

“Oh come on guys, there must be somewhere to eat.”

“Well I guess we could go up to the old town,” I allowed.

“I can't believe you've not been to Antwerp Julia” Den mentioned.

She shrugged, “just lucky I guess.”

“Aw its not that bad.”

“Well Mand hates it, says it's dirty and smelly.”

“She has a point Den.”

“But there are some nice bits. Talking of which, I take it you two want to share?”

“If you don't mind Den” Jools agreed.

“Well as long as you don't come to me complaining about his snoring”

“I don't snore!”

Den and Jools exchanged looks.

“Well okay maybe a little”

At least the weather is better this week, last week is was wet and windy and yesterday was pretty choppy. Today though it was like a billiard table with blue skies and cotton wool clouds. The fact we lost one old couple when we loaded back up was a bit ominous though - they weren't the only ones but its not exactly difficult to find deck five, the main car deck even if you don't arrive in the right zone. Somehow they had ended up in the cargo decks two levels below us. I thought it was too good to be true.

We weren't delayed too much and we hit French soil just turned three local time. After negotiating the wacky races of Calais dockside we joined the motorway and set off north for our overnight at Antwerp. Once everyone settled we did a tea run, I took the orders and Jools brewed up. It's not too far to Antwerp, a couple of hours or so tops so we are going straight through to the hotel.

Past Dunkirk and into Belgium, only the road signs indicated that we'd crossed the border. The huge apartment blocks over on the coast stood out clearly today, the only things breaking the low horizon. Everyone tackles the boredom differently, Jools sleeps, I read, the coach was quiet for the most part. Only one couple of women were talking and they were going at it like an Olympic sport!

We made good time and we reached our turnoff at Gent barely an hour after landing. A few more people seemed to take interest in the passing view, not many trips come this way and the place names are different even if the scenery is much the same! We picked up a bit more traffic as we closed the distance to Belgium's second city and Den switched on his new toy, the sat nav.

'Take the next left in four hundred metres'

Useful but that voice is irksome!

Jools was paying attention now, it's not compulsory for the host to know the way but it doesn't hurt. We joined the Ring and were soon heading towards our river crossing, not the Kennedy tunnel but the smaller St Anna tunnel under the Schelde. We emerged into Antwerp proper and our electronic navigator started again.

'Turn left in two hundred metres'


“I remember this now” Den mentioned as we pulled up at the traffic lights. “We need to go along where that bus is if I remember rightly”

“Don't we have to do a u turn or something?”

“At the other end of this dual carriageway”

We made the turn and Jools was the first to spot our overnight accommodation, the Holiday Inn Express on the opposite side of the road. It took only a few more minutes to get turned around and parked in front of the featureless building.

“If you can all wait on the bus for a few minutes while we get you booked in please, come on Jools”

“Oh right”

We walked inside and soon had Marcus on the desk organised! There's one good thing about these places, the quality is consistent so I'm pretty sure we won't have any complaints about these accommodations.

“Okay then Jools, I'll go fetch the kids”

“Leave me with this stranger huh?”

I rolled my eyes and returned to the warm evening outside where Den was already unloading cases.

"All set Chris?"

"Yup, lets get the bodies inside"

"Make sure they get off the centre door"


For such a simple task, it seemed to take forever but eventually we got to our room and some time off from the customers. Its a bit strange not sharing with Den but I think I prefer Jools! With long practice, we were both showered and changed within the hour and we headed down stairs to find Den.

"Ah there you two lovebirds are"

"Give over Den, the passengers might hear."

"I'll swap if you want?" Den offered.

"Please Den, take me away from all this" Jools quipped.

"If you insist my lovely" Den put his arm around my girlfriend and headed for the door.

"Hey wait up you two!"

Last time we were here Den and me ended up in Maccy D's then afterwards found the old town square full of restaurants. This time we are heading straight to the old town. It's not a great distance, easily walkable, so we set out for the riverfront. We strolled along in the early evening sunshine, Jools draped on my arm. There were plenty of people out, lots of bikes as well as dog walkers and other pedestrians. We paused briefly to look at the outdoor exhibits at the grandiose maritime museum, then using the cathedral as a point of reference, headed inland towards our destination.

The little roadside cafes and restaurants were already quite full, I spotted a table at one but on getting there, the waft from the sewers put us off! Undeterred we headed into the square proper and were soon seated at a table overlooking the town hall and the passing human traffic.

It was really quite pleasant, its okay living full board but it's nice to get away from work, if only for a few hours.

"So what's for tomorrow guys?” Jools enquired as we enjoyed an after dinner beer.

"Another easy day" I started, "eight thirty start, across into Germany and through the Ruhr."

"That's all factories and stuff,” Jools mentioned.

"Not all" den advised, "We go the south route past Dortmund, it's not quite so dismal that way."

"I'll take your word for it."

"Well we stop at Möhne for lunch then its on to the hotel, we should be there about five."

"In that case, who's for finding a bar?"

"There's one at the hotel,” I pointed out.

"I guess that'll do" Jools pouted.

“Good morning everyone.”

An assortment of greetings echoed back down the coach.

“Sounds like there were a few heavy nights.”

A few chuckles came by way of confirmation.

“Well for those who haven't read the itinary I'll run through today's ride. Once Dennis has got us out of Antwerp we'll head for Eindhoven in Holland before we cross into Germany near Venlo. There'll be a comfort stop soon after the border then it'll be straight through Germany's industrial heart and past Dortmund to the Möhne Dam for a short stop and lunch. Then its back on the motorway past Kassel and we should arrive at our four star hotel in Braunlage about five.

Jools and myself will be round for drinks once we get on the motorway. So sit back and enjoy the ride.”

I sat myself back down in the courier seat.

“The water on Den?”

“Of course.”

“You can mash this morning Chris” Jools instructed.

“Yes sir!”

“Its like working with a double act” Den grinned as we bumped through the roadwork's which seem to be a constant feature of the Antwerp ring.

There's not much traffic at nine thirty on a Sunday morning on the Belgian motorway system so we made good time as the early morning haze burnt off. By the Dutch border the temperature outside was already in the low twenties and we'd finished the day's first refreshment run. With two of us working it speeded things up a lot, Jools was keen to catch a few more minutes sleep while I settled on my CD player as we trundled through the Netherlands and into Germany.

We pulled off the motorway at Moers for the promised stop, it wasn't much more than a service station and shop so we restricted it to the thirty minute break that Den had to take. Then it was back on the autobahn past Duisburg, Essen and Bochum before starting the loop of motorway that takes you south of Dortmund. Then as if by magic we passed Unna and gone was the heavy industry, replaced instead by fields and a very rural landscape. I checked the map and warned Den to look out for the Soest turn off.

Twenty five minutes later we again left the motorway and rather than turn on the sat nav, Den relied on my map reading to guide us first to Delecke where we caught our first views of the Möhnesee then along the shoreline to the infamous Möhne Dam.

I let Jools handle the intro,

“Okay folks, we'll be stopping in a few minutes at the famous Möhne Dam, which I'm sure one or two of you will recall was the subject of the famous Dambusters attack of the second world war. When the wall was breached it caused widespread flooding of the Möhne and Ruhr industrial region seriously hampering the German war effort for many months. According to Chris here, if you look carefully on the middle of the dam wall you can see the extent of the breach. We'll be here until…”

“One fifteen” Den mentioned.

“Until one fifteen, so there will be plenty of time to take a stroll across the dam and get some lunch.”

Den swung Betsy into the car park where we joined a German coach in the shade of the coach parking area. We ushered our charges off and Den immediately went to fetch his bucket and mop.

“You two go look at the Dam, I'll meet you in the café in twenty minutes?”

“Okay” I agreed.

Once out of earshot Jools spoke,

“He like this all the time?”

“Like what?”

“Cleaning the coach”

“Well I usually help out, we only do the windows, its good for the punters and with all these flies about…”

“I suppose I shouldn't be surprised, Betsy always looks smart.”

'You don't know the half of it! ' I mused as we started across the dam.

The weather was perfect, mid twenties, blue sky, the waters of the Möhnesee reflecting the sun in a myriad pattern of light. We watched as the passenger steamer headed south across the expanse of water. At the far side I tried to point out the repaired section to Jools but the light didn't help in spotting the subtle colour variance. We beat Den to the little café and shop perched at the end of the dam, but only just.

“All clean?” Jools enquired.

“Bug free at least.”

“We eating?” I enquired.

“I guess so, if I remember rightly dinner will be about seven thirty.”

“In that case I'm gonna have the noodle soup and sausage and chips.”

“Piggy” I mentioned.

Jools just stuck her tongue out.

In the end she just had the soup but pinched some of my chips. We still had fifteen minutes before we needed to be back at Betsy so the three of us took the path down to the bottom of the dam. You can see the repair easier from the bottom but the climb back up was steeper than the descent seemed, Den was puffing a bit by the time we got back up!

All the passengers were back in good time, in fact we were all loaded and away before the one fifteen deadline. We made our way back to the motorway and with the sun now more behind us, continued our eastward journey.

The surrounding countryside took on a much hillier aspect as we turned towards Kassel.

“Tea?” Jools enquired.

“Love one” Den agreed, “the boiler's on.”

Jools hadn't been gone two minutes before she rushed back.

“Quick, stop the bus! We've got a fire!”

“Oh shit!” Den immediately eased off and I grabbed the extinguisher to try to tackle the blaze.

The passengers were already aware of the problem as smoke was pouring from the kitchen area. While I prepared to douse the flames, Jools tried to calm our cargo.

“Please everyone, stay seated until we stop then make your way to the front exit, we should have this sorted in a few minutes.”

Famous last words! Well not last thankfully. With Jools looking after the evacuation I concentrated on the blaze. The first extinguisher wasn't sufficient so I had to retreat for a second canister, by the time I got back the flames were licking the side door - shit!

“How's it going Chris?”

“Not good Den, get the luggage off and everyone away from Betsy!”

“The fire brigade is on the way”

“I think we need them, go!”

I lost track of time as I did my best to contain the flames, I was vaguely aware of sirens and blue lights before I passed out.

“Chris, Chris!”


“Thank god” Jools hugged me close and I realized I was laid on the motorway verge.

“Fire!” I shouted in panic.

There was a loud pop and I sat up to see Betsy well ablaze fifty metres up the road, the battle lost, the emergency services were pretty much watching as Den's, and my for that matter, pride and joy was consumed by flames.

I coughed violently and found myself in the care of a green suited paramedic before I passed out again.

'Chris? Can you hear me Chris? Quick get the oxygen' my mind barely registered that they were actually speaking German but there was another voice that I should have recognized but couldn't quite place.


The other voices continued around me for some time before I drifted back into full unconsciousness.


To be continued.

Maddy Bell 15.08.05


Pictures of Nena have been generated using Ania's 'Cherie' Fkiss doll on Angy-Chan's template and are Copyright 2004. They are used with permission, if you'd like to see more go to www.acharsi.prv.pl

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