4.21.09 One month- On to France!

Calais Travel Blog

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4.21.09 One month- On to France!

We’re in France- life is exquisite. I’m sitting on a grassy area in Orla’s nice chair, overlooking a cliff where black rocks sit down below in tidal pools leftover from an earlier high tide. The sun is slowly setting right over the white beach that is intertwined with riverlets that stream from the moss-covered rocks and a nearby waterfall.

We’re in France! We have to pinch ourselves- it is so picturesque and the sun so nice and warm.

While yesterday was difficult, today was Terrific!

We drove just 18 miles or so to Dover Castle. Since the sign said "no buses", we carried on to the car park where the kind parking ticketer said that along the edge, taking up just one parking spot but not in the way, was fine. For 80p per hour, we were set.

We hiked up the hill to the magnificent Dover Castle, set on the hillside overlooking the white cliffs of Dover. The kind lady at the ticket office told us that we were to take the Folkstone shuttle for cars, not the Chunnel for passengers- which had us paying attention. Since we were really short on time, she immediately called for the secret underground passage tour for us and 25L later we were running through the gates to meet our tour. We can sliding into the tour office, saying "We made it!" He said, "and just in time!" and pointed to our group heading out a nearby door.

The hour tour of the fascinating tunnel system of the WWII staging area for the "Miracle of Dunkirk" and the "D-Day Invasion" to reclaim France were fascinating. The "white cliffs of Dover" were hollowed out limestone cave system and we saw the place where troops ate, slept, command center, and hospital- fascinating! We could see the Dover Castle up above, but sadly did not have time to explore it. We got A20/M20 roadway directions from our kind Tunnels Guide (get help from every resource), bought a few postcards, and ran down the hill to Sugar at 12 noon.

About 19 miles later, we arrived at Cherton, where the shuttle goes. The Eurolink takes passengers only between central London and central Paris. How convenient would that be? But the signs and GPS led us right to our vehicle shuttle through the Channel Tunnel, shortened to Chunnel.

A kind lady at the first gate got us through the car (not the truck) area when we gave her our booking number for the 2:19 pm crossing. She offered an available space on the 1:19 pm, which was terrific. That had cost about 40E more when we’d booked, so I was happy to take it standby for free.

We followed her directions to British Customs, who just said to "have a nice trip." Then went through inspection where the nice girl checked that our propane was turned off.

Then we went through French inspection (all while driving through in the campervan), where they barely glanced at our passports. As he was handing them back, I asked if we could please get the French stamp in our passports. We knew that it was our responsibility to document the 3-month Schengen Agreement timeframe for non-EU members and he kindly met our request- very nice!

We were first in line (Line 11) in the Campervan line. In fact, we were the only ones in our line. There were only about 20 cars, one bus, and us on the entire crossing! We were the last to load. Apparently they do that because of the campervan propane. We did not know this. The person who needed to push the remote control to lift our crossing arm had disappeared and with less than 10 minutes before the sailing only we were left with nobody in sight!

Jazy, who is such a great sport, ran probably a ¼ mile back to the guy in the booth who’d sent us to Line 11. He was the only soul around for miles, it appeared. As soon as she’d reached the booth, the crossing arm guy reappeared from behind the stationary catering truck and raised our arm. I beeped the horn and moved forward and Jazy ran the whole way back. As she neared the crossing arm guy, he mentioned that she might need to hurry to make it. Some help! She’d been so far away that she never heard the horn. It was a looong way! Jazy was a great sport and we complimented her profusely. I am blessed to have a daughter with her Dad’s forgiving and gentle spirit after that one!

Steve, who works on the Shuttle, running 3 roundtrips a day, kindly talked to us and returned to answer our many questions. Did you know that the shuttle is ½ mile long? Each door is air pressured down from the ceiling to create separate compartments. We stayed with Sugar the whole time and were the only ones in our compartment. Normally, each compartment can hold 4.5 cars, but were designed 15 years ago to hold 5, until cars got bigger.

Steve was very kind answering our questions on the middle tunnel that is for emergency evacuations on foot, the security with the detection devices for gas leakage and auto foaming for fire. In fact, you have 25 minutes in which a vehicle can burn before the fire reaches the next compartment. We had to leave our vents open and windows halfway down so that fire retardant could reach the interior of the vehicle to extinguish a fire inside.

Jazy and I were thrilled that we’d looked through our "All the Aires in France" book in advance and input the GPS for an Aire along the west coast, about 30 miles from Calais, where the shuttle entered. The roadways were sparsely driven highways and we understood the international signs. Road signs ringed in RED mean "no" and those in blue mean "yes".

As we exited for our Aire, we eye-spied a gas station and AHOY! Propane containers! We pulled over in a side area that looked like a bus stop, but it wasn’t at a bus stop, so we did like the truck a ways back and just parked there. We learned that in Central America- ha! Then we walked back to the Gas Station and started our French Immersion. Fortunately, the woman working there was very kind and practiced her English on us- both of which thrilled us.

We bought propane and it works! She did not want our Irish tank, so we kept it. To continue to propane story, we gave our British full propane tank to a nice couple we met at the Aire, Keith and Ann, who are from England. They can use it, we cannot, and we were happy to share.

So we paid just 5 E for a new French tank, then 16 E for the gas, so for 21E, we have propane! It connected just right (and don’t you know that I studied it carefully before committing this time!). We were so proud!

We carried on about 3 more miles to the campground, plus 3 for wrong direction, wigging out once when I forgot to drive on the Right side of the road and thinking I was going the wrong way down a one way, traversing one lane through a two-way street, etc- you know, the typical! Got to relax and go with the flow.

The Aire was well-signed and we could see about 7 other campervans there. It is gorgeous! An Aire is a free (or low-cost) parking location for motorhomes. Trailers (also called caravans) are not allowed. It is only for motorhomes. France loves motorhomes and each municipality…

Dinner calls (Lia), so I must leave my perch to go eat: vegetable soup, baguette with cheese, and French fries (but Lia wants me to write "chips").

I’m back- dinner was great! You should definitely travel with kids who are old enough to cook you dinner.

So back to describing Aires- Each municipality seems to set up special places for motorhomes to overnight for free or low cost, in the hopes that the motorhomers will spend their Euros at the local stores. This special aire, high on the grassy hillside above the breaking shore, is 3E a night. If you want electric, there is a little kiosk nearby where you can plug in with a long cord. There is also a location for grey water dump and chemical (toilet) dump, both of which are right near the little road.

When we arrived, a kind couple from England greeted us and were extremely helpful. I cannot tell you how much such simple kindness matters. For us, it was a monumental day, making it to the Chunnel, crossing the English Channel, and driving into France. We fought PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) from our entry into Mexico experience, to buy Propane in mostly Français, and to arrive at the correct location- what a tremendous journey for us. So to be warmly greeted by helpful Keith and Ann mattered- a lot.

When we bought our French propane tank for 16E, we paid another 5E for a new tank. She let us keep our Irish tank, so we put that empty tank in Sugar’s garage. And we have propane heat tonight! It was rather cold last night and we are cream puffs. Heat is wonderful!

Upon meeting Keith and Ann, I hit upon the great idea of giving them our full British tank. We will not use it- our regulator doesn’t fit and we will make sure we are full before returning through England and Scotland. They kindly shared some Cadbury chocolate with us and we think we won on that trade! J

They spent 20 years in Germany and now spend about 6 months of the year traveling mainly in Europe. They are attending a caravan rally in Holland soon and are travelling with 2 other nice couples here. We talked about the yummy potlucks at American rallies and laughed when they remembered that they call them "American dinners." We hope to get more camping recs from them.

We saw zero Amer5cans today. We did have Seabourne tourists on our Dover tour, and r

We walked 5 minutes to the local Boulangerie where we used our French and smiled a lot and buy deux baguettes and tres croissants dux chocolat. Charles says there is "life, liberty, and the pursuit of baguettes."

We visited the newspaper store next door to purchase a telecarte (phone card for a cabin, which we think is a payphone). We asked directions to a phone cabin, but didn’t really understand his directions- after walking up the street for awhile, we returned to visit la plage. Just obtaining a French phone card was more success than we expected today!

The beach is 150 steps down a wooden boardwalk, past a lovely waterfall, and over several little tidal rivers. We each got a small shell as our first-day-in-France souvenir. It is a lovely beach and we were warmed by the sun.

So here we are! The kids are playing with a nice French family with 3 boys. I’m watching the sun set over the water, listening to the waves breaking on the shore.

It is a lovely evening in France!






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photo by: tacco14