Getting the ferry from Dover to Calais was a revelation to me. It was so easy, so stress-free. I would do it any day of the week, over flying. Flying has become all about security – have I decanted my liquids into 100ml bottles? Does a lipbalm count as a liquid even though it’s actually solid? (yes) Does 100g of creme comply with the 100ml rule? (no) Do I even want to fly now that I’m so stressed about the whole thing? (no). So getting the ferry was a breeze. They have numberplate recognition so after our passports were briefly looked at at customs, we rocked up, were greeted by name, and drove straight onto the boat. It took about 5 minutes from arrival at the port to boarding the boat. No doubt part of that was luck, but still!
The ferry itself was nothing like what I remembered from my childhood – it was spruced up and very posh, like a cruise ship – all wood panelling, costa coffee, and duty free shops. (The ferry on the way back was a rust-bucket, but that’s another story!). Unfortunately I soon felt sea sick which was only mitigated by staying on the outside deck. So I spent the whole journey there and back sitting outside in the cold. However, it was a quick crossing – about an hour and a half, so it was fine.
I had bought a road atlas of France, and we took the most scenic route along the coast from Calais to Boulogne-sur-Mer. We went via Sangatte (which I thought sounded familiar and wanted to visit, envisaging a quaint fishing village. I had to be reminded that Sangatte is the refugee camp for asylum seekers!). I understand that this closed in 2002. Today Sangatte is a pleasant village along the road, backing onto a wide sandy beach.
We dawdled along the coast, stopping at Cap Gris Nez, a viewpoint from which you could clearly see England and the white cliffs of Dover. I was astonished that we could see it so clearly – I was expecting a dot on the horizon, but as it was a sunny clear day, the white cliffs were clearly visible and not that far away!
We stopped near the docks of Boulogne-sur-Mer for a walk, and walked right down to the end of the small pier to watch the sun set. It felt like quite an industrial town, but it also felt safe and several people had come down to the docks to buy fish and chips and watch the sun set. We drove into the town later on, and found the area near the Cathedral. This was very pretty so we had a wander around there before heading to bed.
The next day we drove South, stopping at Le Touquet. This is a lovely old beach resort, and large grand hotels greet you as you arrive. We had bought some bread, cheese and ham at a supermarket en route, so we had a picnic under the shade of some pine trees (outside said grand hotels) which was lovely. The town was fairly lively and touristy but very pleasant, and the beach had vast white sands, and we collected some beautiful shells to take home. There is a water park on the beachfront with slides etc which looked good for kids, but it was closed when we went.
We then drove South to Amiens. There is a motorway (an “autoroute”) which would havebeen quicker, but we wanted to dawdle through little villages and see more of the countryside. Plus there are tolls to use the autoroutes. So we took the small roads and drove through wide open fields of corn and small villages, and in a couple of hours we reached Amiens.
The road into Amiens town centre (from the East – through the Saint Achuel neighbourhood) was very bizarre as the houses looked like Victorian terraced houses from England. We felt like we were in Leeds, not France! We arrived in the town centre just before closing time, but just had time to look around. Amiens has a very ornate Cathedral (photo below). I understand that there are “son et lumiere” (sound and light) shows there in the summer, but sadly we missed this. I’m not sure if this makes up for it, but we did however see some very cool parking metres which were able to detect how long a car has been parked there, and show a countdown clock. So if you’re another driver passing by looking for a space, you know how long it will be until the space is free – genius!
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