Tag Archives: English Channel

My French Connection

Hi ho, hi ho,

It’s off to France we go.

With a hop and a skip,

And a tunnel train trip,

We’re off to Wimereux.

It was actually four weeks ago that we went but I couldn’t replace go with went and make it rhyme.

On the verge of giving up on my French lessons, I remarked to himself before the trip, ‘I’m hopeless at French, I can’t remember anything. What’s the point of learning if you can’t remember?’

I’m the dummy in my ill-advised advanced class who tries to keep a low profile and goes home to look up the same words and phrases over and over again, then crams for the next week and writes little cheat notes I hide in my notebook. I was going to give my brain one last chance to redeem itself on a five day trip to the French coast, not far from where the train spits us out in our car.

I got on surprisingly well at hotel check-in leaving himself dumbfounded as I spoke in secret code with the receptionist.

‘What’s happening?’

‘I’ve got the key, the lift is over there and we’re on the third floor, room 307,’ and I strode off self-importantly. I gained confidence with each shop and restaurant encounter, even responding in French when I was spoken to in English.

My only disappointment was at tourist information where I asked about local walks speaking politely in French. The assistant threw a stream of unintelligible gobble-de-gook at me even after I asked her – in French – to speak more slowly. I grabbed the map she’d been jabbing at for reasons only known to her and left, bemused at her insensitivity working as she was at a seaside holiday resort close to the tunnel and ferry port of Calais, one of England’s main entries to France.

Perhaps she just doesn’t care for les anglais. Not that I’m English but she wouldn’t know that as we didn’t chit-chat and exchange pleasantries. I wasn’t able to tell her that my father had served in the American Army, landed at Normandy, fought for and was wounded for her country and she had better buck her ideas up.

beach toys
No sand castles in France – only sand châteaux

On the lookout for stamps on our last day I popped into a likely looking shop and asked. Himself stood by as I showed off my language skills. When we stepped out onto the street he said, ‘She said to go to the tabac. It’s just down here on the right,’ and he pointed it out to me. Hmm.

The tabac was only able to supply stamps for Europe but I was directed to the post office for stamps for the U.S. Feeling pleased with my French conversation I stopped to browse some English language newspapers for a bit of light relief before leaving the shop. Himself looked up from The Times and said, ‘She told you to go to La Poste, back to the church and turn right.’

Well! He dredged that up from two years of schoolboy French *! years ago!

I wasn’t feeling so clever then so went for a little nap on the promenade. Can you see me? Look closely:

Wimereux promenade, France

Here I am:

Wimereux promenade, France

 

Road Trip!

As we left a sleeping campsite behind and headed towards Dover, the stresses and strains of the last three months – an international move and corporate harassment – seeped away.

For the moment the monumental planning tasks for the move and our impending trip were complete and we were still on familiar roads.

Approaching check-in at the Channel Tunnel, reservation in hand, we were both spooked when the self check-in computer screen greeted us, “Hello Mrs. C. Welcome to EuroTunnel.” Without a word or screen touch from my driver, we were checked in and the smarty pants machine spat out our boarding pass.

“It knows me. That’s a little creepy.” The adventure into the unknown had begun.

*****

The unmanned all-knowing computerised check-in at EuroTunnel:

EuroTunnel 200

EuroTunnel was celebrating 20 years of operation and the terminal building was heaving. Les Anglais on holiday. Even Snow White and Cinderella were there. Look closely under the W H Smith sign:

EuroTunnel

Attendez! We’re next!:

EuroTunnel

Oh very funny. France this way. Follow that car to the train:

EuroTunnel

On our way into the train, like a rat up a drainpipe, I had hoped to elucidate you with a quick snap of the Folkestone White Horse, an ancient Celtic carving in the chalk cliffs of Dover. However the carving is only 11 years old:

Folkestone White Horse

Follow the leader into the train:

EuroTunnel

In a car, on a train, under the English Channel. I’ve never quite been able to get my head round that:

EuroTunnel

And away we go. Italy beware:

France

To those of you who commiserated with me on my last post – A Catalogue of Disasters – many heartfelt thanks. Your kind words were most appreciated.

At the moment our brains are dulled with French food and wine to the extent that we are unable to stress about anything for a few days.

Race from Coast to Coast

I’ve got a bit behind with posts. This was our journey south through England and France:

We never learned to take account of differing altitudes while traveling throughout the U.S. so why should we behave any differently in France?

After a six a.m. start from the south coast of England (after a long haul flight from Phoenix so we were foggy-brained at best) we traversed the English Channel in our rented car on a train through a tunnel. The ensuing two-day drive from Calais to the south of France while sleep deprived was not the best plan we’d ever come up with.

Every time my head bobbed up after a quick period of unconsciousness I felt compelled to say to Jimmy do you feel sleepy yet? Not that my question would have been of any use if he’d nodded off while my head was still lolling.

The first day passed pleasantly enough. I surprised myself by navigating a poorly signed detour through Rouen. I wished to avoid getting lost in Rouen as we had on a previous trip but the toll road that was to take us effortlessly through a city of nearly three-quarters of a million people was closed.

Uncharacteristically for me I had been studying the road ahead flipping pages in the road atlas so when at a roundabout without any detour signs and where every driver seemed to have a last-minute change of heart and swerved left or right in front of us making Jimmy’s knuckles pop white on the steering wheel, I was able to shout excitedly, “Evreux! Take that exit!”

From a calm scenic toll road south from Calais, to ten minutes of frantic city traffic in Rouen, we were suddenly on a tranquil country road beside a canal. We’d bypassed the city altogether.

The very sight of the canal was calming even though I was convinced we were lost.
The very sight of the canal was calming even though I was convinced we were lost.

“This can’t be right!” said Jimmy.

Oh please, just because I make the occasional blunder. “The canal is on our right. I can see it on the map. We must be heading south,” I said with confidence so as not to alarm him. And we were heading south fortunately for me.

The day ended on a disappointing note. Phoning ahead for a hotel reservation, I was able to make myself understood but didn’t understand a word of the barrage of French flung back at me. I was rescued from my stupid-foreigner shame by a kind and patient English-speaking hotel receptionist. Three years of study down the drain. I was deflated. When flummoxed, I can only manage to say je ne comprends pas, I don’t understand. Hardly a winning way to perpetuate a conversation. We got a room, no thanks to me.

The unexpected climb began on day two of driving, day three of travel. As we ascended into the mountain ranges of the Midi-Pyrenees the temperature began to drop. How had I not released they were there and why don’t I yet think to myself if it’s cold at 1000 feet it will be much colder at 4,000 feet? There was a clearly marked mountain range on the map of the whole of France at the front of the atlas.

It started to rain and I would nudge up the dial on the heater when I thought Jimmy wasn’t looking. He’d come prepared with a jacket. I’d optimistically (that’s being kind, I was stupid really) left my coat packed in my suitcase in the trunk under other cases. It wouldn’t be easy to retrieve. Each rest stop became more torturous. “Drop me by the door or I’ll die.” Pathetic.

By mid-afternoon and at 4,000 feet, it was 1°C.  As the rain splatted on the windshield, it suddenly dawned on me that’s snow!

Snow flurries became heavy snow which turned into a blizzard – a driving horizontal blizzard. What should have been a beautiful view at our elevation was reduced to distant grey hummocks then nothing at all in white-out conditions.

I hunkered down in my seat, nudged the heater dial again and pushed my feet into the corner of the foot well next to the heater vent because what was I wearing on my feet? Flip-flops!

I’d visions of spending the night in the car in a snow drift but we quickly descended from the mountain top storm and just as quickly the temperature rose to 13°C.

We’d one more short piece of toll road to travel before reaching our B & B near the Mediterranean coast in the Languedoc-Roussillon region of France. “It’s only eight miles long. It should only cost a euro or two,” I said judging from previous payments on short stretches of toll road.

But as we approached the toll booth, “Seven euros! How can that be?” It soon became obvious. As we rounded a bend the magnificent modern Millau Viaduct rose before us.

The Millau Viaduct snapped from the passenger seat. Photo doesn't do it justice.
The Millau Viaduct snapped from the passenger seat. Photo doesn’t do it justice.

At a cost of 400 million euros seven artful spans of cable supported a bridge on seven pylons that drove deep into the valley, the tallest of which is higher than the Eiffel Tower. If we’d had to descend into the valley and drive through Millau it would have added perhaps another 30 minutes to an hour to our journey which had started three-and-a-half days earlier with a taxi to the airport.

We’d had enough of traveling. Both for the time saved and the thrilling view it was worth every cent of the seven euros, or centimes as you sometimes hear nostalgically around here.