25 September 2007

Day One, the Journey to Boulogne

So the morning arrived, in a couple of hours we would be heading off to Dover. It was I thought about time I did all that packing malarkey. So two hours later with my clothes in a bag, my wash bag full and my random crap put in place I sit there thinking what in gods name I have forgotten.

This is the curse of the start of every holiday. You should be excited, raring to go, and looking forward to a fortnight of relaxation. Instead you find yourself morosely sat on the edge of your bed trying to remember what you have left. Your wild eyes scanning the room for the vaguest hint of what vital thing you have left behind in the turmoiled warzone of a mess you left while speed packing.

Fortunately this depressing saga soon came to an end. As the hour struck 11 me and Keith chucked our mound of luggage into his pristine (Slightly bird shit covered) car. With a slight sigh of relief as the final stash of cargo was stowed we jumped into the front seats of the worthy BMW and set off. The car started with a growl, relishing the challenge ahead, the lights in the gleaming distance turned green, and we were off!

The first (not so glamorous) port of call was the Tescos car wash, when we entered the continent for the first time we wanted to impress. A BMW is the perfect car for this, sleek but with muscle, an engine that growls and with an elegance well known by all people far and wide, whether they pronounce it B M Double Yew, B M Doubla Vay or B M Voe. So after a quick wash the car arrived bright and shiny, with only the most resilient of bird excrement surviving the onslaught of a Tescos Own Brand car wash.

The day was still fresh, the ferry was far in the future of a promising day, which I though, was probably just as well as we gradually crawled through some of York's less versatile motoring roads. Fortunately however we had soon left behind the inter city madness of snail paced traffic and made impressive progress on the road south, giving Keith an opportunity to stretch his speedometer.

I have to admit I thought it was slightly disappointing that we were leaving the fold of Great Britain just as the sun was starting to shine through after a dismal summer of rain and overcast clouds. Thank God all the newspapers were talking of the heat wave currently sitting over the continent with the stubbornness of a fat man on two bus seats.

The journey south sped by, and soon we saw the famous white cliffs surrounding the most famous of English ports, Dover. This was where we first began to experience the first impossible signs of trouble. After speeding into the first check point we were stopped by customs who brought in a dog to search our car. The dog was pretty damn good, it was trained to sniff out drugs and money to such a degree that it could even tell where money had been.. Of course when the man asked us to remove all items of food and cash out of the car I managed to leave my wallet in there, fool I am. I was more than impressed when the dog delved into my bag and found the pocket where 10 minutes earlier my stash of Euros had been held.

As we passed this checkpoint we hit the French customs, who also decided to check our car. I have very rarely been stopped before for looking suspicious, so for the second search I began to suspect that Keith was involved in some international smuggling ring to be gaining this amount of attention. Fortunately the Frenchman's way of searching our car, looking in the boot, seeing how much of a mess it was and waving us on. So customs passed we went to check in to our ferry..

The woman at the check in booth as we drove up to it had on a terminally bored face of one really wishing they where somewhere, anywhere, else. She was also incredibly quiet. So when she said that the order reference number we had was incorrect we were slightly worried. Fortunately after searching for Mr Taylor she pulled up his reservation details and we were passed our tickets for a ferry nearly an hour earlier than we were expecting, fantastic result!

Of course it was only later that we realised Keith had handed over the reservation details for the hostel instead of the ferry.

After getting into the wrong lane, down to the quiet lady seeming to say 2, not 209 we finally boarded the ferry and quickly made our way onto the decks above. This was the last time in just over two weeks that we would be seeing our homeland.

The sun was out as we left England, a promising sign from the journey ahead. As per my workmates instructions I took a picture of the pig and the penguin (Our mascots) with the white cliffs of Dover towering into the sky behind them. In less than three short hours we would be abroad, in the land of driving on the right, croissants and porn on the bottom shelves. Needless to say we could not wait.

Boulogne was our next destination, as soon as we were off the ferry we set off, leaving behind Calais towards our first stop off. From what our guide said the hostel had a bar, internet and a large number of rooms, needless to say we had high hopes for this place. Celebratory plans for my 23rd birthday in a different country that night in the form of a few pints were already underway, I was looking forward to celebrating my aging by another year in a completely new country.

After several wrong turns in Boulogne trying to find the hostel we parked up on the street and attempt to find the place, needless to say the hostel had advertised itself incredibly well by hiding all signs to indicate its presence in trees and shrubs. The car park for the hostel looked depressingly empty, similar in attendance to an aged bachelors funeral. Still, we did not give up hope, after collecting our room keys with Keith's impressive French lingual skills and my English in a French accent we head up to the room which, while sparse, was much better than some hostels I have stayed in.

The real disappointment was the bar. While it looked quite nice it was very empty, the only person in there had a big dog and looked like he had been a resident, and a drug dealer, at the hostel for a very very long time. The pool table was alright though, so we made ourselves at home and went to order a beer.

This is where we experienced for the very first time a foreign measure of beer. Their measures are not quite the same as ours, but I shall attempt to describe them in detail here.

Take one glass approximately the size of a slim jim glass.
Poor beer into glass with no tilt, allowing a health head approximately 1 third the size of the glass to develop.
Charge the price of a full pint despite it being about a quarter of the size.

That, I think just about covers it....

After several games of pool (Which I won, *Dances*) we decided to try and find a more lively drinking establishment, by this point the bar had become so dead that even the barmaid had left, never a good sign when you are looking for a heavy first night. The streets of Boulogne are quite nice, they are well lit, so you can clearly see the untied dogs half your size growling at you teeth bared. Fortunately though we made it to the town centre without painfully contracting rabies, leaving us with the minor matter of finding a pub.

France is well known as being a country of culture, their cafes are open till late serving food coffee and beer. Unfortunately there are not many places which give the pub like atmosphere an Englishman needs to relax and celebrate in. Eventually after a large walk we came upon an Irish bar.

Finally! I thought.

It seemed that fate had dropped us into the perfect place, in the window was a huge amount of Irish memorabilia, guiness items and little Irish flags. With uncontained excitement I stepped inside, instantly all Irish familiarity had gone. Two Guiness pumps stood alone and dusty on the bar, like two statues commemorating fallen soldiers. The bar itself seemed quite posh, and my mounting fear was confirmed when I ordered two pints, it took all of my self control to stop shouting TWELVE EUROS!!!! at the top of my voice, yes that's right folks, our first pub outside of a hostel had pints for six euros a piece.

It wasn't long before we discovered that Irish all so meant no air conditioning, as we went in for a quick game of pool (and unfortunately I lost this time) it didn't take long for the heat to leave me and Keith a couple of sweaty messes. Needless to say by the time we had drained our drinks we went in search of numerous other establishments. Unfortunately all of them followed the cafe culture style, no real drinking entertainment was to be found in this town.

There was a nicer side to this town though. While prices were high there were a few places we paced which looked quite lively, and some of the smaller streets captivated my attention. I would have wandered down a few more of these but after a days travelling we were both tired and I was not in the mood for getting randomly lost.

So with an air of defeat around us we headed back to our hostel for our first nights sleep on the continent.

1 comment:


a l'air de l'amusement

I once slept on the beach at Calais. Why I did that will forever remain a mystery to me as it will to the gendarme who woke me up at 6am.

Fortunately "Fuck off" meant nothing to him......

Pool God eh? I challenge you. Anytime anywhere. This pool arm's sound as a pound.