Boulogne-sur-Mer…phew, quelle scorcher.

Alors, sacre bleu, what a week. As I already mentioned, it was Grand Daughter week, and Battleaxe and Philosopher bravely agreed to take her on a short visit to France. Readers will already know that she is not quite as other young people are…..

Sunset in Boulogne

    She had never been abroad before, and was very excited… hearing everyone speaking French, the signs, driving on the other side of the road, the food….
    Anyway, we went from Dover to Calais on the ferry. My first fear was that there would be long and frustration-maximising traffic jams to get to the port, but in fact, as we went on a Monday morning, it was quiet. No traffic, straight through security and check-in, so quickly that they put us on an earlier boat. The sea was pretty choppy, so I gave GD a sea-sickness tablet. Crikey, what a wonderfully sedative effect they have.  She sat quietly watching the scene out of the window.

    The ferry was practically empty, which again was a relief – I well remember trips when the kids were young, and having to endure long, fume-ridden, crowded waits on the staircases to get down to the car decks.
     I’d chosen Boulogne largely because it was near Calais and yet not Calais, and also because it is opposite Hastings across the Channel..  It is only 47 miles from where I am sitting – pretty much the same distance as Brighton. I  mentioned in a previous post that one of the principal triangulation points for the original Ordnance Survey in the 1780s was just up the road at Fairlight Head – where we walk in the Country Park. From there, they used bright lights at night to fix points at Boulogne and at Cap Gris Nez. This was part of the exercise to measure the distance between London and Paris. On very clear days you can see France from Fairlight.
      I had never actually been to Boulogne and was pleasantly surprised.  It has one of those enormous north French sandy beaches, an interesting port area with harbour-side walks, an old centre with ramparts and a castle, lots of shops and the Nausicaa – one of the largest sea-life centres in Europe. It also had beautiful floral displays everywhere. It’s barely half-an-hour from Calais – what’s not to like?

Vast beach
Fishing boat

Luverly flowers..

      The weather was totally, blisteringly scorching – some of the hottest days of the year.
      We had an excellent two-bed apartment right near the beach and the sea-life place – very quiet and exceptionally well-appointed. Battleaxe would totally recommend and would re-visit except sadly the owners are changing it to B and B next year – wouldn’t suit our circumstances at all.
       Our vist to the Nausicaa Centre was good, but a bit alarming. My heart sank when I saw crowded dark tunnels, lit by flashing green, blue and purple lights. The music and voice-overs are loud and boomy, and you lose all sense of location – above ground, underground, whatever.  There were disorientating light/virtual reality projections on the walls and on the floor – wading through tropical waves, mangrove swamps, and in one place, the floor moves to give you the sense of being in a ship on a rough sea. I felt sick the entire time and I don’t think Philosopher was too keen, but surprisingly GD seemed to love it….  Battleaxe warning – not for those with epileptic or claustrophobic tendencies.
      It was very educational, with lots of bi-lingual displays on ecology, global warming, pollution etc., but the attention span of certain persons in our party was too short for that, so we rattled round in double-quick time.

Jelly fish

      The best thing for me were the sea-lions, who looked very cheerful in their large, mostly outdoor enclosure. We watched their feeding/activity session – they are trained to perform various tasks for  fish rewards. Some things are practical, like lying still for examinations and opening their mouths for tooth-cleaning, but other activities give the animals excerise and something to keep their minds active. Clearly, animal rights persons would have a fit at the idea of a sea-lion show, and I doubt you would see such a thing in the UK, but it looked fine to me. The animals looked healthy and happy.

     No, I’m wrong.  There are lots of sea lion shows in the UK.  Virtually every zoo has one.  Why is this OK when other performing animals are frowned on?

     We ate in a proper French restaurant – again, quite a big thing for GD. I had the obligatory marmite full of about 1,000,000 moules, avec frites  – must be the most filling dish on earth.
     The old fortified town of Boulogne is very attractive – old houses and narrow streets inside wide, tree-lined ramparts. I was trying to think how many ancient ramparts in how many ancient French towns we have promenaded around… many, many. Zut, alors.
      Was thinking that all the French I ever learned I had learned by the time I was 16, and I have remembered enough of it to be relatively functional. It is truly terrible that a language is no longer compulsory to GCSE level. 

Gateway through the ramparts

Sensory garden in the Old Town – we had leisurely drink in that cafe

Notre Dame, in the Old Town

The ‘smell’ bit of the sensory garden – love the ‘nose hair’

     We went to a French supermarket, went for walks along the waterfront and on the huge beach. News was just coming in that five young men had drowned at Camber Sands.  It is hard to believe – we have taken GD there many times, and I have attempted to swim in the sea. Each time I almost had to walk to Boulogne to get the sea up past my middle. They must have been incredibly far out.  Having said that, I read that they might have got their feet stuck in quicksand. One time at Pett Level, I trod in a quicksandy muddy patch, sank above my ankles and it sucked my trainers and socks off – shluck – just like that. I had quite a bit of trouble to extract the trainers and get back onto solid land….

Beach huts…with legs

Beach huts
Beach at sunset

      Came back on the ferry on Wednesday – not much to add, except it was a boiling hot day. We tried to have our picnic at Dover Castle, but the woman in the ticket office said we’d have to pay £18 for a ticket to stop there. Wickedly, we stopped anyway, out of her sight. Actually, the Castle looked very interesting – Philosopher and I have never ‘done’ Dover, so will go one day. I don’t think there is much of interest in the town – it looked largely dug up by road works.
      The French trip was altogether successful, and we will happily do it again another time.

Back again on the ferry….

       On  Thursday we drove up to Birmingham, and delivered GD to her Dad. Traffic was terrible. Stayed with friends Sue and Alex, saw other friends and came back yesterday afternoon. Traffic was terrible…

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