Wednesday, December 24, 2008

A new day dawns

With the car and the costly insurance ($AUD 2k!) sorted we are ready to head to the continent. As soon as we had the cover note in our hands, I had booked a space on one of the SeaFrance ferries that ply the waters between Dover in England and Calais in France.

We then let our hair down a little, catching the Tube into Leicester Square and queuing with all the other hopefuls for last minute tickets to a live show. Derek Jacobi is starring in 'Hamlet' - but nothing available, Spamalot is a sellout as is Mamma Mia. BUT we get tickets in the 7th row off centre for We Will Rock You playing at the Dominion Theatre. We walk about a km and into the theatre where we are shown to the Box Office. We explain that we already have tickets and the ushers look quite perplexed. It is only then that we look at our watches and realise that it is only just past 5 pm! It is SO dark outside that we think it is much later. We head out into the street and in a quiet little back alley find an authentic Italian restaurant. As we are seated, the maitre’d tell us he needs the table by 7 – whatever! The food is F A B U L O U S! Back to the theatre and a bunch of middle aged women behind us with one of them more vocal than me – I know it’s hard to believe, but she was. Made me realise how grating it can be –hmm, so feel free to tell me next time!!

Today, the day dawns grey – typical for this time of the year in London. We know that we need to be moving early to make sure we are in Dover in time for the ferry. As we pull away from the Mayflower at 8 am, the dawn has broken sufficiently (just) for the street lights to be extinguished. Wow – it is hard to get used to such short days.
The trip to Dover is uneventful with our route out of London skirting around the southern England Canterbury and Salisbury Plains. We pass through interesting countryside – over hill and dale, with Michael constantly remarking about the various war sites we are passing. We don’t have time to stop today however and he makes many mental notes for when we get back into the UK.
On to Dover and a 30 minute wait in row 229Z, for the ferry loading to begin. By this time we are starving as we didn’t get breakfast before we left. As soon as we are onboard, we go up to the top deck and find the restaurant where for the princely sum of 10 pounds each we have a full English Breakfast – worth waiting for. The journey across is pretty uneventful.

I am surprised at how calm the crossing is – I look out the window and notice that there is almost no movement of the vessel against the horizon, despite my stomach feeling like we are lurching wildly. It is only when I see the movement reflected in a glass panel on the other side of the restaurant that I realise (and Michael explains) that my brain is deceiving my eyes and that the ferry is bowing into and out of the swell quite a bit. Ahh be still my screaming nerves! Only one way to cure this – go shopping! The onboard shop certainly has any number of bargains. We get three novels, one litre of Gordon’s Dry Gin and one litre of Baileys for just over 40 pounds. That made the alcohol worth 10 pounds a bottle! All too soon, the sales assistants are telling us that the shop is closing and we must pay. It is only then that we realise that we are docking in Calais already. And Michael has not even been out on deck yet to get photos! Wow, another task for the return crossing. Back to car and a shorter wait for disembarkation. We arrive on French soil about 2:30 pm.
France is very well, French! Not a single sign in English or even bilingual. Thankfully, we are able to follow road numbers and major town names. Without these, we would be lost. Upon leaving Calais we travel towards Dunkerque and as we approach the evidence of those desperate days of 1940 are subtle though not erased. Although we are travelling the ‘coast’ road, we barely see any sight of the water at all. All too soon we are out of France and into Belgium. I draw Michael’s attention to the border sign – the EU one – now that there are no border posts, it is almost an anticlimax! Michael is most taken with the wind turbines and takes many many photos.
We are heading towards Oostende, turning for Brugges before we reach there. We are excited to be heading into Bruges as Fliss has told us about a wonderful shop for HOT CHOCOLATE called Catherin’s in the main street of the old town and we’re determined to try it! I mean, Belgium is the home of wonderful chocolate as we all know. But we had not counted on the local conditions. Of course, we are days out from Christmas (and the last weekend before!) and the traffic in the centre of the City is absolutely crazy. And there are more people wandering on foot than there are cars!!! We soon realise that this is not the time to be trying to wander and just looking around. So we decide to push through the Ghent. Ha ha same story!
So off to Brussels. A beautiful City but, my god, what a mistake. It takes us all of 2 hours and a quarter tank of fuel to get out of Brussels. It is only now that we realise that there are Christmas markets and celebrations such as fairs in ALL the European cities. It is now well and truly dark. The lights look amazing and the streets are all decorated making a beautiful sight. As we decide to get to a smaller town for the night, Michael suggests that we try Liege further to the south. Eventually, we manage to get on to the correct road (many of the inner streets are closed) and head away from the mayhem and happy revellers.
Liege turns out to be a city almost as large as Brugges. We manage to get right into the centre of the City to discover that there is an Opera playing and indeed just finishing as we get there, so more traffic with people trying to leave. The streets are cobblestoned, narrow and one-way. We have driven passed the Mecure Hotel and when we are unable to find anything else with vacancies, we go back there and book in.
There is a Thai restaurant just down the road and as it is 9 pm now we decide that we had better try to get some dinner. The food was very good and the Thai chicken salad one of the best we have ever tasted. By this stage we are tired and pleased that the bed is comfortable and we sleep very well.

1 comment:

Kamala said...

For Michael - when I was in California, I went to a wind farm near Palm Springs. There were hundreds of them and they are fascinating to watch slowly turn. I love reading the blog and wish so much that I were there with you sharing the joys and the bad traffic :) - Kamala