28 Jun Calais
It seemed an appropriate place to end the continental part of the journey, not least because it’s one of the few points where you can get across the Channel ‘on foot’ as it were! Pitch up on spec for Eurostar and you’ll need a bank loan; our precious interrail passes pass out as soon as you reach Lille! But, with some careful research you eventually find that P&O still acknowledges that people wish to walk and you can travel with the Spirit of France as a foot passenger. But first, a tortuous trip from Koln north and across the low bits of Belgium and France. It took a long time. It was one of those days.
Once you get near those splendid French trains, les TGVs, things get difficult because les francais prefer that you make une reservation and this will cost you quelque euros, will be un peu complique and is better that you book en avance. Bien, alors, we tried to avoid the TGV. So, to cut a long story short, catching the 1143 from Koln, with some detours and changes, we stopped off at Brussels, where we encountered the most confusing queuing system ever invented where you have to take a number and wait your turn; a bit like the fish or cheese counter in Asda or a children’s shoe shop the week before term starts, only this one is for members of Mensa only! Then rerouted to Tournai, changed for Lille Flandres (where a heated and ultimately successful negotiation for a refund took place testing my French and my patience to their limits) and finally, Calais Ville arriving at 1800. Phew, alors!
The sun was shining after travelling through some torrential rain, and we had the sense that our day would improve. Mais non! The torture continued as we traipsed the streets of old Calais, having in mind some small hotel of the traditional French style with a little fish restaurant nearby……. We had taken the precaution of booking something online last night. As we trudged further and further out of town, the despondency grew, the romantic dream dissolved and we finally found the Cottage Hotel, (the name was a giveaway, I know), located tight against a main road, boasting a complete absence of tradition and romance, but a terrific view of the McDonalds ad on an adjacent billboard. This is motel land, plastic, deathly, soulless. Hilarious!
But Calais looked lovely as we walked through in the early evening sun, past the Hotel de Ville, graceful with its clock tower and colourful gardens and the extravagant theatre that would not look out of place in Paris or Vienna but looks very odd in the middle of an old port town. So we had a glimpse of the dream………