Sunday, 14 June 2015

Belgium? But its not even Tuesday! (From England through France to Belgium)

I get up just in time to see the English dawn and to have a cigarette along the top of the cliffs.

looking for France
The lids are not on the garbage cans, so the seagulls are having a field day dumping full garbage bags all over the street and hotel property.
During a slow but included breakfast, my suspicions are confirmed.   Many movies have included jokes about the number of forks in a place setting (remember Julia Roberts?).  Apparently the English dispense with such nonsense. Every time I sit down at an English table to eat, there is only ONE fork. But there are always TWO knifes of slightly different size.  Gotta be different than those bloody French !!!

Time to head off; I have along day ahead of me. I leave at 9:15, even though my ferry from Dover (15kms from here) does not leave until noon.  Good thing too ;-)

At this point I'm not yet aware what's in store for me ...
Then it's time to curse Google Maps. Again.But properly this time. I already carried my bike up the stairs seen in the right of the picture below (Think e-bike + full panniers = NOT lightweight). Then I discover that the map wants me to push my bike into that vaguely vagina-shaped dark opening beyond the bridge.

It also looks like the Eye of Sauron in Lord of the Rings, which doesn't exactly strengthen my resolve. (Strange how the Lord of the Rings people could get away with that ...)

The eye of Sauron (not my picture ;-)
Unfortunately I'm rarely one to flee from a challenge.  The few stairs at the viaduct in Morlaix, when even Google admitted that their map was flawed, were a child’s play compared to this. This path is STEEP. There are STEPS in it. It is so NARROW that over large distances either the pushing human or the bicycle are on track, the other has to travel through the green stuff. 

And I'm lucky: someone only very recently cut down all the brambles and stinging nettles that are everywhere on British bike paths.  When I get to the top 1) the bike is trailing a tail of those cuttings and 2) I am literally drenched in sweat. I can feel it EVERYWHERE.

I welcome the light breeze that does its bit in evaporating the sheen of sweat that covers my body. Of course, I can't resist the sign for a memorial:
Visiting the Battle of Britain memorial is mandatory since it is right along my route.
This symbolizes young me/pilots n during WWII sitting atop the cliffs of Dover, waiting for and hoping for their friends in those little spitfires (and later the bombers) to make it back across the channel and then to have enough altitude to land atop the cliffs

Dover has a castle
I finally get to the ferry terminal and from the bicycle lane (right next to the motorcycle lane) have a prime view point of the trucks and buses driving off the ferry.  So many nationalities. Highshool students on bus trips from Germany and the Czech Republic. Big Rigs from England, Austria, Germany, Poland, Turkey, etc. etc. all bringing stuff to England.
I bought the ferry ticket on-line and I splurged a tiny bit.  For transporting a bicycle and a human on the two hour ferry ride from Dover to Dunkirk, DSFS charges 20 Pounds.  When they wanted to charge me 4 pounds as credit card surcharge, I at first balked.  Then I upgraded.  
Le Velo in the front row of ferry boarders

For another 8 Pounds, one can travel the distance in a deluxe lounge with ocean view, layback chairs, magnetic key-card entry, private charging outlets, separate loos, and WiFi service.  At least that’s what they advertised.  

I paid the 8 pounds extra for the lounge and saved 4 Pounds by paying with PayPal.  No regrets, except that the Wi-Fi only works when close to port, but not in the middle of the channel. They even have their own small lounge bar with free coffee/tea and cookies/Danishes (the latter vanish very quickly).

The view from the royal lounge seat ;-)

And there they are, the White Cliffs of Dover.  Again, didn't think I'd see them in my lifetime, but hey, they're along the way  ;-)

Bye Bye England !

Now what?  The crossing time is 2 hours.  
1) Put up my feet.
2) Lift up the glass ;-)

When I leave the quiet of the lounge to have a cigarette on the sun-deck and to find some real food, I am glad I paid the extra; the rest of the ship seems to be a beer-bottle-swishing pandemonium of Truckers and Teenagers.  Am I too young to become a snob?
During my second cigarette of the 2 hour crossing I see land.  La France!  But that is Calais. To get to Dunkirk the ferry has to travel along the coast towards the East.  Why did I chose Dunkirk if my target Saint Malo lies in the West? To cycle the coast of Normandy as complete as possible, true to the motto: It’s not the destination that counts; it’s the journey!
Soon it’s time to reset my watch yet again.  It’s one hour later in Europe than it is in England!

There is a spiralling staircase leading down to the deck that has access to the smoking area. 15 year old German kids are lined up along both sides of the staircase, having a great time watching smaller kids trying to squeeze through.  After standing there for a few moments with obvious intent and none of them moving, I only say in German “I have to pass through there”. When no reaction is evident after 3 seconds, I just bulldoze through.  My feet will be stepping on their feet, so not my problem. What works for cattle gates at Canadian airports also works for German teenagers.  The end their staircase blockade right after that because they probably didn't count on someone leaving marks on their immaculately white Adidas sneakers (been there; done that)

The front viewing lounge of the ferry. Considerably nicer than the one on BC Ferries ;-)

With my feet relaxed after having been put up for an hour and my battery and laptop fully charged, it is time to put wheels onto French soil again ;-)

The ferry terminal is NOT in Dunkirk.  I had read before that it is 10 km from Dunkirk but I didn’t know it was in the middle of an industrial area from hell (read refineries). And it is not obvious how to get through it. 
 Then I see a group of bike racers in front of me. They had been on the ferry and they spoke Dutch/French=Belgian.  Belgium is right behind Dunkirk !  I catch up with them, ask them whether they’re going to Dunkirk and Belgium and follow them when they confirm my suspicion. The road goes left right doubles back on itself and I would’ve never found this myself without a Google

Dunkirk (Dunquerque) (Duenkirchen) (Church in the dunes)

I know Ostende is in Belgium !

This is what a very large fraction of France looks like !

I'm so horribly lost without Google Maps. After consulting my laptop and this morning's map, I decide that I should head towards Hondschoote 

Hondschoote in the distance

and from close up
I'm dehydrated and famished.  I see this pub.  When in Belgium/France (On which side of the border is Hondshoote anyway?  There is no sign of a border to be seen; but at some point one notices road signs in a different language, like gevaarlijk something or other) one has to get used to 'pubs' that are packed all the time.  But you don't get food in those pubs.  All these people are here to drink ;-)
It's a kind of Farmers Festival today

Even Fiddle sounds with Jewish/Gypsy/Levantine undertones are heard (not in the video though)

But my odyssey isn't over yet.  Like the British, Belgians like to send you all over the place to see their beautiful country, but not to where you want to go. After criss-crossing the country side following the mostly incorrect directions of country folk, I finally reach my destination.  My hotel is hard to miss ;-)
The address is easy to remember and find: Yes I'm supposed to sleep in the tower
I finally get to my destination in Lo-Reningen at around 6:30 pm. The family that runs the hotel seems to have some kind of family event, so I'm rushed to my room without any ado. I drop everything and just step into the shower!! The hotel restaurant is closed (event), so I decide to give the Zwan or similarly named restaurant across the road a try.  And is this food ever goood.  When they asked me whether I wanted mushroom sauce over my steak and I agreed, I had no idea they would whip it up from scratch.  And I'm not even in France!

After dinner, I manage to make it back to my bed. Barely.

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