Calais

Pyrenees Trip - Days 13 and 14

Saturday 28th July, 2007 On the saturday, we drove north to Pas de Calais. We were going to overnight in a place called Marquise, near Boulogne. Staying in a place called hôtel des deux caps.

First we had the drive. Though it was one of the shorter legs, it was probably the most problematic as we had to go past Paris. Now, don't get me wrong, I like Paris - but driving anywhere near it is a nightmare. There isn't a traffic issue until you get into town itself, it's a road issue - it's not easy to navigate. There were no obvious signs saying 'The North' or similar. There is no ring road or through road (on the motorways). Instead, there are lots of bits of road that and the route involves several changes of road (with the French system of giving roads several identifying numbers, it got confusing).

Somehow, we ended up heading west and going past Versailles. Our only serious error in the whole trip.

We decided to go around Paris completely rather than to try and find out where we should have gone, and turned off the N12 at a place called Mére, before heading cross country, crossing the Seine at Meulan and eventually finding the A16.

Going wrong is not a big deal on a journey - it's realising that you're wrong and fixing the problem that matters.

The hotel wasn't difficult to find. The only problem with it was that it's on a little one way street, and a church was next door. A wedding was taking place, and so we could not park easily. We parked in a not-good place long enough to get the bags out of the car, and I did a lap or two as the wedding was finishing - I grabbed one of the resulting clear spaces.

The room was a model of compact living, very small - but perfectly adequate. The bathroom was essentially built into a walk-in closet. It would suffice for us, however.

MusselsLow tide at Cap Griz NezFishermen at Low Tide In the late afternoon, early evening, we drove to the beach at Cap Griz Nez. The tide was out, and so we had a nice expanse of flat sand to walk on. There were a few rocks about with shellfish attached and horses galloping up and down, all very nice.

We had taken rooms above a bar/restaurant, and so in the evening we ate 'in house'. It was nice stuff. It hit the spot well - although the place had a fault in common with several other restaurants we'd been in of putting beers on the menu which weren't available - this happened several times on our trip.


Sunday 29th July, 2007

On the way back to Blighty The next day, all we had to do was go home. We checked out of the hotel and drove past Cité Europe to get some fuel - the place itself was closed except for the cafés and amusement section. Then to the port, and onto the ferry. We used speedferries again.

Flag on Speed One Unfortunately we had to drive around inside the ferry some way, and were as far from the exit as it's possible to get (minus one car) - and so we'd have a little bit of a wait getting off. Nevertheless, total crossing time, including unloading, was still faster than the traditional Dover-Calais routes.

It was a little bouncy on the return, but nothing at all serious - some folks were making a big meal out of it. The best place was on the deck of the speed-cat, where it was nice and windy. I pulled out the GPS which I'd kept in the bag during my trip, and saw that we were doing 35 knots. None too shabby.

I kept the GPS (a Garmin GPS 60) with me in order that when taking a photo in a place unlikely to be easily found later on Google Earth, I'd know where it was for geotagging purposes, this would allow me to use Picasa and Google Earth to place all the photos from the trip on the surface of the Earth, and hence give a map in flickr. Note that if tagging prior to upload with flickr (which I'd recommend, as the tag is then in your local copy of the picture), you have to tell flickr to respect existing geotags, this is not enabled by default.

You can browse all the photos from this trip using the map, zoom in for more detail. Click on the circles for popups showing the photos taken in that location. Be aware that there may be too many photos to show on one page - at the top left you'll be able to flick between pages.

Calais

Yesterday we took a little trip to France. It was a cold and clear day, and it was an early start. The salt on the road made driving a pain as it was hard to keep the windscreen clear.

The White cliffs of Dover

A view back to England

Monica eats breakfast

Monica tucks in to her Breakfast

View of the French Coast

We approach the French Coastline

We boarded the 09:30 Sea France ferry, eating breakfast on the ship as is our preference. It was a millpond on the water, and very cold indeed on deck.

The aim of the day, apart from having a nice day out, was to obtain some Belgian beer. We fist visited the warehouse stores near Calais (follow the motorway round, take junction three - this is before reaching the A16/A26 junction). Majestic wine were doing some good deals on Hoegaarden and Leffe, but it was a limited range. 'Cheers' had a wider range (including Kwak) but were out of stock. Cheers also annoyed as they were asking to see inside people's coats as they left, as if I'd get a crate of ale up there! Ah well, they lose my business in future.

We then drove along the motorway east toward Belgium (signs for Dunkerque and Ostende). If you've never driven in France before it's quite easy, as you come of the boat you can't go wrong at all, they guide you on to the motorway network before you know where you are. The hardest part is when OFF the motorway!

We were headed for a place called Poperinge, which is just inside Belgium. In particular to a place called Noel Cuvelier's Beer Shop. We took the A25 south and drove through Flanders. There was mist rising from the fields, very atmospheric. Very flat, it isn't hard to imagine why this area was a World War 1 battlefield.

Monica in the beer shop

Monica makes her choice at Noel Cuvelier's beer shop

At junction 13 we turned left into Belgium, driving straight over the border. This is a flemish part of Belgium. Staying on this road took us through Abele (though there was a signpost off to the left which we ignored), and soon we saw a big sign on the left for 'Beer Shop', it proclaimed 250 varieties. We continued into Poperinge as we had heard that they did not accept plastic at the shop. We later noticed that they seemed to have the facility, but it was too late as we'd already got the cash!

We found it rather tricky to get cash in Poperinge as many cashpoints are for only those who bank with that particular bank. In the main square of Poperinge (it's not really a square, more a semicircle with cars parked in the middle) there is a yellow fronted building which houses usable cashpoints.

The beer shop is generally excellent. It's essentially a general store, selling tinned food, cheeses, sweets etc, but it also stocks a vast selection of beers, along with many of their glasses. Mort Subite Geuze (my current favourite) comes in at 86 cents a bottle (33cl), this would be 2 to 3 pounds at home, if you can find it, here it's nearer 50p.

A view from the coastal road west of Calais

This is a view from the coastal road west of Calais

It was cold at Blanc Nez

Here I am at Cap Blanc Nez, it was rather chilly.

Sunset at Cap Blanc Nez

A view west from Cap Blanc Nez

After stocking up, we headed back for the coast, stopping at Cap Blanc Nez near Calais. The coastal road which runs from Calais to Boulogne (passing through Sangatte) is absolutely beautiful. Hilly, nice beaches, a well kept secret. Erm.... forget I told you that. Don't go.

We stopped for a bite to eat by the coast before heading toward the boat, stopping at Intercaves in Calais itself to get some wine. Intercaves is on the Rue Mollien about 500 metres from the Hotel de ville. They specialise in boxed wine, and it's good stuff - when you go in the guy plies you with drink. The open boxes all have dates on which detail when that box was opened, this is to demonstrate how well the wine keeps once open. They also do a loyalty card scheme :)

To get to Intercaves find the town hall, and head down the Rue P. Bert which runs between the town hall and train line. Intercaves is a small place on the right. It's easy to get from there to the car ferry, just take the first left and follow the signs.

To get there from the Car Ferry, follow 'direction centre ville' and you will come to the Rue Mollien with Intercaves on the left. Parking is a little tricky, but not impossible.

A nice day out,despite the cold. Calais had wonderful Christmas decorations set up, very pretty indeed. It was the first time I'd driven in Flanders (though I've been close many times). The area has a certain quality to it.

We will certainly go back to Noel Cuvelier's!