A Trip across the Channel

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April 21st 2010
Published: June 22nd 2010
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Goodbye to DoverGoodbye to DoverGoodbye to Dover

The White Cliffs and Dover Castle

It seems ridiculous to live so close to the Channel without having popped over to France before so, finding incredibly cheap return ferry fares even in the midst of the grounded planes/Icelandic volcano fiasco, we decided to have a day trip.

This unfortunately meant a 5.20am wake-up call followed by a very early morning drive to Dover ready for the 8.15 ferry. At least I wasn't the one doing the driving! Despite the whole Iceland volcano thing there were a surprising amount of English cars heading over the channel.

Feel quite bad just going on a little jaunt whilst so many people are stuck but it won't really make any difference for car passangers. There were loads of empty coaches queueing for the ferry obviously heading into Europe to pick up people.

Had a reasonably fun crossing despite forgetting my sea-sickness bands. Breakfast, shopping (but obviously not buying due to the insanely high mark-up on ferries) and a lot of photos on deck soon ate up time (yes, certain people did insist on Titanic photos at the front of the ferry!)

First stop of the day was a half-hour drive to Dunkerque. Very glad I wasn't the one doing the driving as, aside from the whole driving-on-the-wrong-side-of-the-road problem, French drivers (if I'm allowed a stereotype) are truly insane drivers!

Not to mention the French road system. But at least, once we were in the town, it was easy enough to find a (cheap!) car park (England could learn a lot from French pricing!)

We headed to the tourist information to get a map (the satnav not working so great this side of the channel!) and found it very conveniently located in the 13th century belfrey of Saint-Eloi church.

After a meander around the market and a trip to see the Hotel de Ville we made the most important stop, lunch! Fortunately we had a semi-French speaker with us. One out of three isn't bad even though one of us decided to answer in German and I kept speaking Spanish!

Anyway, we managed lunch and then headed straight next door for chocolate-covered crepes (an obvious necesity as we had decided not to make use of being in a country where it is socially acceptable to drink before 6pm.)

Next stop was to ascend the 58 metres to the top of the belfrey - admittedly at least half of this was in a lift (second lift I've ever found in a church - still finding it a bit bizarre!) We would have to be up there for the hour so we came down practically deaf. Beautiful views from the top although it's scary how windy it can get up there. Best part was the teensy baby bird that was in a nest (and still half in a shell) on one of the outside windowsills on the way down the steps.

Next was onto the Church of Saint-Eloi across the street (which, rather confusingly, used to be attached to the belfrey but was rebuilt on the opposite side of the street after being destroyed by the Spanish in 1558 and didn't quite manage to reach the belfrey due to funding problems (apparently anyway, I was relying on translations at this point.)

Surprisingly large church for such a small town and we were soon adopted by some random guy, who I think (hope!) worked there, and decided to let us into the roped-off areas. The main attraction seemed to be the often-moved grave of Jean Bart, a rather well-known hero of Dunkerque whom I had never heard of before arriving here, and after whom everything in the entire town seems to be named.

Of course, a trip to Dunkerque (under the guise of it being 'educational' hence the excuse for history students taking a day off during dissertation-writing time) would not be complete without visiting the evacuation beaches. They seemed bizarrely tourist-friendly - bit weird to see people actually on the beach, a bit like having a fun-fair at the Somme.

After a quick trip to the beach (warm enough to have ice-creams, not warm enough to linger on the beaches) we headed back to the car for the drive to Hondschoote in French Flanders.

Visited the Saint-Vaast Church by the giant monument of the Battle of Hondschoot (which took place on my birthday in 1793 incidentally!!) Or I was born on the anniversary of the battle - whichever is the more important event.

Drove along to the town cemetery which was a random mix of the cluttered, dark carved tombstones and weeping angels (not at all scary until the Dr. Who episode) and the scarily clean and uniform gravestones of the Commonwealth war graves section.

Next door was, unofficially, the oldest windmill in Europe. The Noordmeulen Mill was operational up until fifty years ago but has since been closed - apparently it's considered a health and safety risk even by French standards!

It certainly looked old and rickety enough. Apparently it's the oldest mill due to a beam that's still inside with the date 1127 carved into it. At the very least it definitely dates back to 1547. An impressive age for a wooden structure either way, as the motto carved inside it read, 'Being strong is a good thing. Being a genius is a better one.'

After Hondschoote we had to hightail it back to Calais rather quickly in time for the ferry. We unfortunately had to pass the only lorry pile-up I have ever seen (French driving stereotypes still holding strong.) Rather horrendous and slightly worrying seeing as we would definitely NOT get on a later ferry due to the huge amount of stranded people but at least no-one seemed to be hurt.

We got aboard without too many problems though the amount of people waiting as foot-passengers was slightly insane. We felt rather bad just having been on a day trip especially once people started the 'how long have you been travelling for' competition - if he can be believed one man claimed to have come from Egypt via boat, train, foot and hitch-hiking!

I have the sneaking suspicion that it turned into a bit of one-upmanship, a competition we kept way out of and decided to go for comfort food instead.

Made it home to Dover just in time for sunset over the cliffs and castle.

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22nd June 2010

Nice to see a new blog up!! Great pictures... but none of weeping angels. Were you too scared to linger? :D

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