Monday April 13: The Last European Roads

After living for at least 25 years in Hamburg and all its 44 years in “das Vaterland”, the 1800 finally travels its last roads in Europe: Brussels to Zeebrugge:

Chris left for the airport with Karl early in the morning so I was on my own for this leg of the trip.  Only about 110 km in length, about 2 hours, it would be the less strenuous and shortest leg of the whole journey from Berlin.  I couldn’t help but feeling a bit antsy as I was going at it alone for the first time.  I quickly banished those thoughts as I was reminded of the French guy, who when stranded in the African desert south of Morocco, without any meaningful tools, wrought a 2-wheeled conveyance out of the deceased 2CV’s parts: …and there aren’t that many parts in a Deuche to start with… This guy has all my admiration.

I banished all negative energy and focused on the positives; gorgeous sunny day, the car started right up and felt as if it had been built a a year ago, not 44 years ago.

Having watched the Top Gear gang so many times take the Eurostar or the ferries to Calais, it was very cool to see the road sign telling me that I too, could just keep going, if I wanted to, and find myself in the UK Monday night:

To Calais...

To Zeebrugge...

Several weeks ago I had reserved a spot on the next sailing to Baltimore with Wallenius Wilhelmsen and my contact Steven Van B. indicated I should get the customs paperwork from an export broker called Zeemar located about a mile away from them.  I set my GPS for Zeemar’s but once I got there all I could see was a huge Norfolk Line ferry terminal (ferry to Scotland!) so I left and headed for the Wallenius terminal.  Once I arrived there I took some parting shots of the car in its ‘maritime’ setting.

At the port

I parked and went inside.

Wallenius terminal

In my iPhone, I had all the information that Steven had sent me and he had indicated that upon arriving I should contact Paul Jonckheere at Wallenius.  Well, I got in line and told the nice lady that I was there to ship the car and gave her my booking number.  She asked if I had the customs paperwork and I said no.  She worked at her computer terminal for a while and made some phone calls and told me to wait.

Waiting in line

She seemed to know what she was doing.  About 30 minutes later a port worker in a day-glo vest shows up to take the car so we walk up to it and asks me if I have all I need out of it as he is ready to take it.  Mhhh, don’t these people want their 1,076 Euro for shipment and insurance?  I hadn’t paid yet.  The  guy of course could care less about the fact I hadn’t yet paid.  What he was there to do was to drive it into the shipping staging area.  At that point I called my contact Steven and related all this.

Turns out I did have to go to the broker, Zeemar, and get the customs paperwork initiated.  He would then contact Paul J., who needed to fill out my paperwork.  What’s crazy about this is that their workflow processes didn’t catch the fact that I hadn’t paid and that the car wasn’t ready for export since the customs paperwork wasn’t done.  I really thought she would catch it and and we would then be forced to take care of whatever was required to insure the car was ready for shipment.

So out to find Zeemar again.  I park at the Norfolk Terminal.

Norfolk Terminal Building with Zeemar brokers lurking somewhere

The Scottish brochures were alluring and for a few seconds I had visions of the Truf Grün 1800 gently carving the sweeping, and equally green, countryside… SNAP!  Back to reality, I gotta find the concealed customs broker!

I walk around to the back side of the building, where you would expect to find the dumpsters and the turned over shopping carts and this is what I see:


OK, see that door next to the pallets and dumpsters?  Why don’t we go in?!

Zeemar brokers World Headquarters

YES!  They’re real!  Judging from their choice of location and the DOD in letting themselves be found, you’d think these people represent the dark underbelly of the exporting business or are a front for other less cheerful businesses.  Man…

I finally got back to Wallenius and before I could find Paul J., I see a transporter nearby with RH steering BMW’s.  took a look and saw they were bound for Australia.  You really feel like the world is a small place when right here in one location you see this, you see my car headed for the other side of the world and a Belgian blonde picking up her incoming Lexus RX 450h hybrid SUV with North Carolina plates — that’s the strength of the Euro right there.

Bound for Down Under

So I find Paul J., confirm the export paperwork is being processed by Belinda at Zeemar and pay him the 996 Euro plus 80 for maritime and port insurance, all in cash.  I could have wired it beforehand but ATM money provides a better exchange rate than my bank (and most banks) and there’s no wire fee, usually around $50.  I haven’t tried to withdraw large amounts of cash in the US recently but I was amazed the ATM’s there dispensed me 500 Euro in one transaction.

We went over to the car, checked it for a third time that I had collected everything out of it.  I took many pictures all around documenting the condition of the car.  Paul asked me if it had US plates since apparently those would likely be stolen off the car but seemingly nobody cares about my cool German plates –that’s how I like it.

I had reasearched Belgian Rail at and  my route back to Karl’s house in Belgium and thanks to the wonders of efficient urban public transportation I could do it all via train and bus.  I could have walked the 5 km from Wallenius to the train station (about 45 minute walk) but decided to have Paul call me a cab for 10 Euro.  I got to the station ten minutes before the next hourly train to the Brussels Nord station.

Train station at Heist, near the ports

The train pulled into the station 10 seconds before the scheduled time of 1:11.  Wow.   The trip took the promised 1:26 to the Gare du Nord station in the heart of Brussels.  Form there on I took bus 61 from the station for 2.50 Euro and it dropped me off a couple of blocks away from Karl’s house.  I just feel so gratified by being self-sufficient in a foreign land!  I even had time to stop at a small neighborhood store, buy the latest edition of Gazoline and sit on a park bench to read it.  It doesn’t get any better than this for a car vacation.

All in all, the car performed better than expected for a 44 year old car in which we put nearly 2% of its accumulated mileage in just 4 days.  We received numerous thumbs up and admiring stares throughout the trip and it brought us in touch with interesting people and events we would have otherwise not experienced.  I believe that while traveling, you should put yourself in situations that you never find yourself in at home, and this trip certainly did that, on both ends of the scale.

As I write this on Sunday April 25, the car is on board the Tapiola somewhere on the Atlantic, having departed Shouthampton as its last European stop on 4/20.  It’s scheduled to arrive Baltimore this Wednesday the 28th.

I will soon write my next post covering the activities required to successfully extricate the ship from the port.  I plan on flying there and drive it back around 800 miles home to Milwaukee.  Stay tuned!


2 responses to “Monday April 13: The Last European Roads

  1. Leyendo tu relato casi me de la impresion de estar alli gestionando los papeles. Recuerdas el 2002 tii que fuimos a ver en el 1983 cuando ibas a comprar tu primer carro? Si mal no recuerdo, estaba en Santa Maria, tenia bastante oxido, y costaba $2,000. Creo que has hecho un fabuloso upgrade!
    un abrazo, chema

  2. Loved the blog Luis! It brought back great memories of those places (having shipped a not so classic SAAB through those same ports) and of my old 2002 many years ago.

    Thanks for the vicarious adventure.


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