Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Back across the 'Pond'

We made a good start from Pontorson this morning to drive to Calais.

It was a good day for driving - overcast with light rain from time to time. The french countryside is very pretty - even in the dull of today. We pass plenty of agricultural land - some planted, some ploughed, some fallow and some supporting healthy looking cattle. We also pass by the signs for plenty of towns and cities with names that Michael recognises from the WWI and WWII battles of so long ago. Towns like Le Hamel, Saint Omer, Lille, Amiens, the Vallee du Somme etc.

As we get closer and closer to the centre north of France, the traffic picks up - both heading for the capital, Paris and the port exits at Calais. The directions from Earth Google are good and we make the trip in good time - with a few comfort stops, we are in Calais checking in for our journey at 13:39. We were offered the earlier crossing at 14:20 pm (we had booked 15:50 pm just to allow plenty of time) and make our way through deserted alley ways where in busy times there would be hundreds of cars, queueing line after line waiting not too patiently for their boarding. Then all of a sudden we are at the head of the ramp going down to the train loading. Although the cars ahead were in the D queue and we were in the E queue, we just drove on and were not stopped - therefore making the 13:50 train. There was only one other car behind us (an E car also).

You just drive onto the train at the rear and then drive down the train. The carriage is just wide enough for one car and a walkway on either side. There are small windows set in the doors and at the end of each carriage a roller door comes down to isolate the four vehicles in the carriage. The carriages are lit and you are free to get out of your car (although they suggest that you stay with the vehicle).

Safety instructions are posted on the walls and are annonced over the PA system in both French and English. The crossing takes just 35 minutes from Calais to Folkstone in the United Kingdom which is a little further inland than the port at Dover. There is quite a lot of motion and I feel a little queasy - kind of like feeling seasick - I'm sure it is all a trick of my mind! And we arrive just after we leave thanks to the quirks of the time zones!! Not quite as glamorous as the ferry crossing - but much easier and faster for sure.

It feels kind of strange and also comforting to be driving on the left side of the road again, but really, it is easy to adapt to driving on the right! The traffic into London is heavy all the way from Folkstone and gets steadily heavier as we get closer to the City. Google Earth does it again, getting us to Stratford without any trouble - finding the correct street though is a little harder and all it takes is to miss one turn and you are stuffed because all you have is written directions, and not a local street map. However, I pull over and Michael asks a local car detailer who gives us street by street directions including information how to get around the road closure in the street where our booked accommodation is.

The Marlin Apartments at Stratford are newly built and we learn later that this is the area where much of the 2012 Summer Olympics will be focussed, so lots of new building is taking place. The complex is security gated and we are glad we have booked a car space because there is not much parking outside - turns out there is not too much inside either! Someone wants to visit a guest / resident, but refusing to sign the visitor's book, is denied entry - so I guess we won't be disturbed too much. The apartment is complex, but large enough to contain all we need to have a very comfortable week. Michael is happy because it backs on to the rail line - a little noisy but the double glazing does what it is designed for.

Craving vegetables, Michael heads to the closest supermarket and we cook just veges for dinner - yu-u-um. So we are here for the week - off to have dinner with Anna, Gary and the boys tomorrow. Quiet day planned tomorrow to do washing etc.
P.S. The Pond is what the English call the English Channel!

No comments: