Posts Tagged ‘Calais’

One really nice thing about being so far north in the summer is that it’s light all the time. Seriously, all the time–from about 4:30 a.m. until well after 9 (glimmers until 10). It was a little surreal to be running around, packing the car trunk around 5:30 a.m. and it’s full blazing daylight, but no one else is stirring on the block. We had completely packed the night before for our two week trek to Sardinia and back, so we practically had it down to a science.

We had taken Juliet to the cattery the night before so we were able to leave doors open while carrying bags out which was simultaneously convenient and really disorienting. I’d given anything to have been able to kiss her goodbye again this morning but we were halfway around London before I knew it, zipping to the ferry in Dover.

Guess who popped up in the back seat, ready for adventure?

I really like ferries. I may have mentioned that before. They’re civilized little cruise ships which is fun on a small scale. You drive up, get in your lane, get packed into the decks like mall parking, then hop off and wander around, checking out the food court, the gift shop, the lounge area, get a nice hot tea and watch the water. Note: crossing the English Channel is *nothing* compared to the Pentland Firth to get to Orkney. It’s like a sheet of glass by comparison.

The white cliffs of Dover in the background–the last time I’d see them for 2 weeks.

We landed in Calais about an hour later and made it to Reims by lunch, or what we thought would be lunch. As it turns out, you lose an hour in the crossing and it was now 2:30 and guess what? They don’t serve lunch then. Give it up. You can ask, you can have researched and found a nice, reasonable, highly rated cafe and there may be tons of people sitting there eating food, but you will not get a table. They don’t serve lunch then. We walked up and down and finally found a bar that took pity on us and made us a sandwich with brie, lettuce, tomato…and ham. I really specifically remember saying “cheese” and shaking my head to the ham, but they were so nice about it that I managed to sneak the ham out and into my napkin and smuggle it out to throw it away at a motor services plaza a few hours later.

While at the motor service, we encountered a Lamborghini Murciélago that everyone was very interested in, and the driver seemed to be very pleased with this. (I’m basing this on how he had the car angled in the parking lot and kept revving the engine. I have no idea why some drivers seem to feel this will make me attracted to them. Nothing could be further from the case.)

It looked painful for him to get in the car.

Bear was listening to the new Stephen King book, The Wind Through the Keyhole, that I got for him for the trip. We’re both big fans of the Dark Tower series and it was an important part of the time when we first met and started dating. He had bought the first 4 books on audio cassette and was listening to them when we first met. He came by the office where I worked to ask if I wanted to borrow them, which was both very nice and yet extremely inconvenient because I was trying to avoid him like the plague at the time. It wasn’t working though because as it turned out, unbeknownst to me, he was very much in love with me (“smitten” was the word he used) and was trying to figure out if I liked him. It was a long story after that, but all’s well that ends well and 11 years later here we are.

We made it to Lyon and drove up and down the river front there by the Rhone which was very pretty and reminded me of the Seine in Paris, then found great parking about 20 yards from the sushi place Bear had picked out for dinner. We hadn’t had sushi since leaving the States and were very ready for a nice roll or two. Things took a turn at first when I tried to order the vegetarian menu and was told by a very nice Japanese waiter that you have to call a day ahead for that. At least I think that’s what he said because I don’t speak French or Japanese and he didn’t really speak English, but somewhere in the universal traveller’s sign language we got that established.

At that point I had a choice — to stick to my ethical guns and crush Bear who had worked so hard to pick this place out and get me here, or I could go pescetarian for the night and have a little fish. I went with option #2. I blindly ordered a platter which turned out to be some excellent sashimi, so overlooking the fact that I hate fish and sashimi, it was really good.

Even the salad had fish in it

What made the whole thing worth the price of admission though was what happened when the dinners were delivered. Bear always puts the pickled ginger in his soy sauce and crushes it with chopsticks to release the flavor, then dips the sushi in it. He did this for the little appetizer first course pieces. Then the main head chef came out to deliver the dinner and explain each piece. He must’ve heard there were two clueless Americans in the house because he took his time and might have even looked up a few words first. Then he looked in Bear’s dish of soy sauce and blurted out, in English:

“What is this?”

“Uh, ginger?” Bear said hesitantly. “I put the ginger, um, in the…”

“Never,” he muttered. “Never,” then began flicking the ginger out with Bear’s chopsticks while shooting me glances that seemed to say, “And you let him do this?”

The chef then decided that we were in danger of ruining basically everything so he decided to give us a lesson in how to eat the sashimi in particular, how to either dip the roll fish side down or to take the fish off to dip and then replace on the rice roll with the skill of a surgeon.

“On tongue!” he said, showing us how to flip the roll and eat it fish side down. “Never rice.”

We repeated everything he said as soon as he said it while nodding at each other — yes, yes, never rice.

I guess we weren’t convincing enough because the chef then picked up one of the rolls and actually fed it to Bear to make sure he did it the right way. I was prepared for him to come and do the same to me, but Bear was his favorite so the chef actually did it *again* just to be sure. Bear was in heaven — all that had been missing in his life was his own personal sushi chef to come feed him so now he wouldn’t even have to lift a chopstick. I was trying not to giggle at the whole thing and I think a grain of rice tried to lodge itself in my sinus cavity in the process.

Interior of Wasabi in Lyon, France

That said, it was an excellent dinner (for all that I never liked sashimi even back in my carnivore days of eating full sushi) and we topped it off by finding the hotel on the first try. I even got a great Internet connection and was able to log in and work for a few hours to help off-set being out for travel. That let me sleep a lot better knowing that I was able to still help out even while on the road.

Tomorrow — Southern France and the ferry to Corsica


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On Easter Sunday morning, we went back to the same Halal Bakery and Butchery and then went to Père Lachaise Cemetery to find Jim Morrison’s grave. Finding a grave cam be a little more complicated than you might imagine because it’s hard to plan ahead and keep everything alphabetical.

This guy came and flopped down as we walked past, opened his shirt and there were EKG studs stuck all over him. They weren't hooked up to anything. Moving on!

We’ll skip over the part where Bear thought we were looking for division 30 number 6 and it was division 6, number 30. No need to mention that’s nope, none at all. But we had a lovely tour of the cemetery. It was really gorgeous and along the way there was Murat, Seurat and Oscar Wilde and some very nice America school kids on spring break who had a map. Gotta love a map.

One of many roads a man may walk down...wait, that's Dylan

Even though I do enjoy some of The Doors’ music, just basic hits really that you can’t escape having heard at some point, my interest in Jim Morrison’s grave was a little further off the beaten track. One of my favorite singers in the 80s and early 90s was Steve Taylor, a somewhat off kilter, clever, satirical songwriter who took aim at his own faith but without being insulting to the faith itself. But God help you if you were a televangelist, a hypocrite or got into the media for all the wrong reasons. Most famously he had a song (“Colour Code”) regarding the Bob Jones University policy of not allowing interracial dating , a policy which has recently been repealed. But back in the 80s, when it was still in effect, Taylor would call up the university before the start of each tour and inquire if the policy was still in place and then keep playing the the song until finally the policy was repealed, probably more because of media attention than his efforts alone, but hey good for you man!

I had this poster on my bedroom wall plus the t-shirt and an autograph too.

My favorite Steve Taylor album was I Predict: 1990  and when I was in high school I managed to talk my dad into driving me four hours to see Taylor play at the first stop on his tour for the album. It was at the Tampa Fairgrounds and the conditions came together perfectly for an outdoor concert. He went on stage at 10 p.m. and the wind had just cooled things off when the man absolutely exploded into the stage with “Jung and the Restless”, a scathing indictment of a misguided psychoanalyst, then went charging through the catalog and winding up with an encore of “Jim Morrison’s Grave,” a song about the perils of seeking immortality through celebrity.

I get weary, Lord I don’t understand
How a seed got strangled in the heart of a man
While the music covers like an evening mist
Like a watch still ticking on a dead man’s wrist
Tick away

Ironically, that concert was the night before Easter, so it seemed really fitting that we be here in the cemetery on Easter now, seeing the actual grave, where Steve Taylor had filmed the video, surrounded by reminders that fame and renown in this world are fleeting at best and while the pieces may remain, like a watch still ticking on a dead man’s wrist, that life and resurrection aren’t found in these monuments of stone.

Jim Morrison's grave

We made one more stop at a bakery on the way out of town, taking a different route up to Calais to catch the ferry back to Dover. We stopped for lunch at a cafe in Calais and I’ve learned that my standby food in France will forever be a cheese omelette.

Pondering the Resurrection...and why I ate so much

We also learned that if you show up really early for the ferry and there’s not many people on board that they’ll just shove your butt on it two hours early without even asking how you feel about it. In this case, I was really happy but it was a little unnerving too.

A word about ferries. They’re cool and this one was much nicer than the crossing to France. It was a much newer ship and no large groups of hyped up school children. We had a tea from the Costa coffee bar, sat down in comfy seats, I read my book, Bear had his iPod, and it seemed like no time at all before we were driving off and back into England which looked no worse for wear since we’d left it. And yet somehow it looked a bit less cool because we were used to it and we were heading back to work and worst of all, Baby Juliet was at the cattery for another day so we didn’t even have her to greet us.

That aside, Bear has evaluated this as the best birthday ever, even surpassing #27 when he got front and center seats to Van Halen and got to meet them backstage (turns out he’s much, much taller than they are), so I think my work is done here and I can rest on my Wife Laurels for at least a week or two.

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Like the Rolling Stones (whom I prefer to The Beatles), we gathered no moss following the Loreena McKennitt concert and drove straight to the Dover ferry to cross the Channel to France for the full birthday weekend in Paris.

Bear goes to Paris

We arrived at the ferry just in time and spent the crossing in the lounge upstairs listening to a pack of wild French school children rampage through the upper decks. They had way too much energy for one in the morning, but I still managed to catch a cat nap on the crossing. Then magically you all get back in your cars and drive off in a very orderly fashion.

Then came the adventure of driving on the right hand side of the road again (at 3 a.m.) after getting used to the left side for so long. Our hotel was right on the water in Dunkirk and by that I mean it was on a shipping quay in the marina next to a construction site. That’s what you get when you let me book the hotel. Cheap first, safety second. Actually, it was a really nice little place but in a very odd location. They had been extremely nice when we wrote to say we’d be coming in around 4 am and they set up a lockbox for us so we could get our key and check in on our own,

But finding the hotel was the first issue and we went all over the town looking for it. Eventually we actually stopped to ask the police which lets you know how desperate Bear was because he wouldn’t ask a Google maps car driving past if he saw one. Eventually I saved the day (she says modestly) by realizing that there was a museum on the map very near the hotel and the GPS actually knew where the museum was. (Uma the GPS was refusing to acknowledge the hotel or any street name within a 5 mile radius.)

The next morning, we got to meet Sophie at the desk who had helped us by email, and she was very nice. We did however have a cultural exchange moment in which we thought she was saying everything was good to go and in fact she was saying that the credit card I put the reservation on wasn’t going through so we still owed her money. Big difference.

Good morning, France!

We drove around the Dunkirk town center and finally spotted a genuine French bakery and descended like the pack of starving wolves we were. Two cute girls were working there and they seemed very charmed and patient with us. They thought we were English and by the time we convinced they blurted out, “Why did you come here for?!” as if to say, “You had America, why Dunkirk?” Considering the effort that had gone into evacuating most English speakers from Dunkirk during the war, they had a point.

Brunch for Bear

We got the usual pain au chocolat, of course, and something else that I suspect was a brioche with raisins and gulped them down in the car before hitting the road to Paris. Bear had been listening to the same Vangelis album since we left St. Neots and we finally agreed maybe it was time to switch and he picked the Revenge soundtrack. Again, one of my least favorite movies but the music is fine so now I associate the French countryside with blood, death and revenge in the Mexican high country.

Somewhere along the way Bear decided that the area we were driving through looked just like South Dakota. I don’t remember this many trees in Dakotas at all. Beer says that there area, but in the areas around towns. I don’t remember any towns either.

We arrived without incident and even managed to find the hotel without running up on a curb which is something of a miracle for us. The Etap hotel is designed like something out of Space: 1999 and it’s all very compartmentalized for budget travelers. Hello, Munk! You can park underneath in something that I initially thought was the Catacombs and then pay quite a bit when you finally leave, but compared to not finding parking at all you’ll find it very reasonable.

Once checked in, we headed downtown on the Metro and got the two day visitor pass which lets you ride the metro as much as you want. Again, very worthwhile for about 15 euros apiece. We surfaced on the island in the middle of the Seine by Notre Dame and stopped for a quick lunch in a sidewalk cafe. I had a cheese omelet and Bear had a salmon sandwich that he said was one of the best he’d ever had.

Slammin' Salmon Sandwich

As soft drinks were 6.5 euros apiece, I stuck with water and thought it was very good water actually. You really can’t take these things for granted. We walked over to Notre Dame and were initially worried about the size of the line to get in, but it moved extremely quickly.

Notre Dame Cathedral

Detail of one of the three portals to the cathedral.

Once inside, we realized that they were just about to start the Good Friday mass, so Bear could tell I really wanted to stay and he suggested it. I got a little Magnificat guidebook from the attendants and we snagged decent seats fairly close to the front. The irony of this is that I’m actually on the Magnificat mailing list back in America, quite possibly one of the few Protestants who is. (I did it for book research as my last novel had a Catholic character whose foster father was a priest and I needed to understand some of the terminology and daily routine.)

I’m not really sure how to describe the mass (a tenebrae service that extinguished the candles in sequence to leave the congregation in darkness) or how I felt except that it was really remarkable to be thousands of miles from home and in another language, but still joined together with other believers in the same place at the same time around the world. Except for my Orthodox friends who persist in holding onto that darned Gregorian calendar. (Love you, Laura, Kristina, Frederica, et al!)

The mass was mostly a recitation of the passages from the Gospels of the events leading up to and including the crucifixion and they had different singers for the passages which included dialogue, including women for the servants at the fire who spoke to Peter. I even managed to translate some of the Antiphon that the congregation sang, based on the fact that the pastry shop in Tallahassee is called Au Peche Mignon (the little sin). I always had a feeling that would come in handy.

We got up to the part where they were about to start communion and made a decision to exit as I’m not confirmed in the Catholic church (out of respect for their general preference that you not take communion then) and there were about 872 other people in the building with us so Jesus might come back before we got through it all. This reminded me of an incident from about ten years ago when my best friend Laura became a believer but had a philosophical/aesthetic objection to our church’s use of grocery store wonderbread for communion (you could still see the sandwich crust shape, like someone had just taken a cleaver to half a loaf and chopped up some pieces). Half joking, half serious, I had bought her a pack of communion wafers from a Catholic supply store so she could take her own and palm a wafer during communion. The issue though was that these only came in packs of 1,000 so she kept the rest of them in her freezer since you need at most 12 a year. At some point she asked me why I had gotten such a big pack (it was all they had) and something was blurted along the lines of “Isn’t Jesus coming back any sooner than this?!?” I have no idea what happened to the remaining wafers as she happily sailed down the road to Orthodoxy and has a perfectly respectable communion now.

After leaving the cathedral, we spent a while walking quietly along the Seine, talking about the service and how amazing it was to have literally walked into the service, and looking at the bridges and the architecture. Note: I am not a huge fan of ornate, baroque style architecture with flourishes and gold leaf. I can completely understand why people love it. I am, however, not one of them. Give me a stone wall, a moat and something decaying please. Bear had an amazing time though, ambling along and staring. I just stared at him instead and was just as happy.

The Seine (no sign of any nets -- people outside of North Florida might not find that as funny as it really is)

We made it over to the grounds of the Louvre on foot and got some tips for when we would return the next day and the lines would be huge, then walked the grounds which  are huge themselves.

Courtyard plaza at the Louvre

We made it out to the Champ Elysses and picked up a metro to the Eiffel Tower area to find a restaurant in the district there.

Not the actual Arc d'Triumphe. It's more like a mini-Napoleon sized version.

The staff at Le Crocs d’Ogre were incredibly accommodating nad worked us in without a reservation. The French restaurant culture, at least in Paris, seems to rely very heavily on meat–boeuf, boeuf and more boeuf! I had determined to just order as best I could and hope God would forgive me for any slips in my vegetarianism. (Note: I don’t think it’s a sin to eat meat. I still eat bivalve mollusks myself. But I do think that there are better choices, for health, for stewardship of the earth, and for compassion. That said, bon apetit!)

Goat cheese appetizer

Grilled razor clams

We made it home by 12:45 a.m. and collapsed into the space bed, and even though I was happy that it had a good mattress something tells me that I wouldn’t have noticed.

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