Benny and his friend Griffin at Ocean Beach in San Francisco.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Dover to Calais

View of the Channel from Dover Castle.

On the train to Dover.
Our trip to Dover was quick and easy, although I tried to enliven things by lingering by the vending machine as our train pulled into Canterbury East Station. (That Coke machine had my 2 pounds!)  Ron and Benny stood on the platform yelling and waving my backpack and we hopped on the train with seconds to spare. They probably would have left me there, but I had the tickets.

Benny at the Churchill House.
We pulled into Dover Priory station and marched up the hill to Churchill House, a B&B just below Dover Castle. All the rooms were named after Churchill's family or favorite homes: Clementine, Patricia, Blenheim. We stayed in the Winston Room, which turned out to be our favorite B&B room in England — it was a shame we were only staying for one night. We wanted to catch an early ferry to Calais the next morning so we ordered the earliest breakfast possible R 7 a.m. which the B&B owner reluctantly accepted. ("We were hoping for a bit of a lie-in," he said mournfully.)

View from Dover Castle.
We had two orders of business that day: buy tickets for the Tuesday ferry and tour Dover Castle. Ron and I had given the castle only a cursory look when we drove around Britain in 1997, but it deserved more. But first we went to the city's tourist center, which was housed in a tall, ugly public-housing-looking building on the edge of town. This building reminded me of Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking Glass, where Alice keeps walking toward a hill, but never gets any closer. I never saw such a town for getting in the way of such an ugly building, which was playing peek-a-boo around all the historic buildings. Finally we cut through an alley and found ourselves there and bought tickets for the 9:25 a.m. ferry and entry to Dover Castle.

St. Mary in Castro and Roman lighthouse.
Dover isn't a single castle, but an extensive complex, from a Roman lighthouse to the medieval towers. Underneath lies a network of chalk-cut tunnels originating from medieval times and extended during the threat of a Napoleanic invasion. Military personnel worked in the Secret Wartime Tunnels during World War II, especially during the evacuation from Dunkirk and the Battle of Britain. The exhibit on Operation Dynamo, where the British evacuated a total of 338,326 allied soldiers from Dunkirk almost exactly 73 years ago (May 27-June 4, 1940) after France fell, was especially vivid. Scenes were projected on the tunnel walls as narrators described the evacuation. We also toured the medieval walls and keep, built by King Henry II, and admired the views, then we checked out St. Mary in Castro, a 1,000-year-old Saxon church next to a Roman lighthouse.

So close, and yet so far.
The following morning started with a great breakfast, where we met an American military contractor who just arrived from Germany and debated internet privacy with the B&B owner. He said the ferry terminal was just a short way around the castle and Dover Harbor, but he must’ve been used to directing car drivers, not pedestrians with big backpacks. We trudged and trudged, looking in vain for signs, until we stood on the wrong side of a spaghetti bowl of roads, looking hopelessly at our ferryboat on the dock. We tried to walk along the harbor to it, but were stopped by fences, so we circled around and went under an overpass until we saw the small station for foot passengers.

The ferry itself was wonderful ... we sat on the deck and ate crackers and apples since we were too cheap to stand in line for overpriced ferry food. From the port we took a bus to the train station, where I haltingly bought three tickets for Calais to Boulogne, then to Paris. We arrived at Paris' Gare du Nord at 5 p.m. — rush hour — but fortunately all everyone was going the opposite way. We took the subway to the Tulieries station and found the apartment on Rue St. Roch with no trouble. The apartment owner Mario introduced us to our tiny studio, I handed over a big pile of euros for the week, and we collapsed on the sofa. Then we dumped all the contents out of our big backpacks and stuffed them in the closet. No more traveling -- we had a week in Paris ahead and wouldn't need those big bags until we headed to the airport on June. 18.

Calais from the ferry deck.

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