A Quick Hop Across the Channel, and About Dreaming a Little

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April has been a very blah month for me. It has rained almost every single day, and I have felt like I’m under house arrest. Except when I have to go to the market, and get completely drenched in the constant rain. A trip to the coast was a very welcome reprieve last week, but I have really been itching to go somewhere. Finances have been tight, with taxes and our car breaking down. I was disgruntled. Isn’t it amazing, how now matter how good one’s life may be, we can still find ourselves in a funk? I think I am prone to melancholy when I don’t feel stimulated. I love being at home on my own, but it’s hard to feel inspired and energized when I haven’t seen or done anything new in a long time. I know– first-world problems!

We have family meetings each week, and our closing discussion is always plans for the week ahead. For many weeks, I had been asking Jeff if we had the means to go somewhere. Being the responsible fellow that he is, the answer was always no. But last Thursday, I finally got the green light to check out our options– anything under £150. My first instinct was to check Groupon for some good getaway deals in our neck of the woods. There were some hotel stays with breakfast, but many were teetering on the edge of our price limit. Then I came across one in Scotland. I put it into google maps to see how long the drive would be. Seven hours. Then, I’m not sure why, I put Lille, France into the search.  I didn’t even expect it to work– you can’t just drive across the English Channel.  Or can you? It came back to me with 4.5 hours! I wondered how one would drive there, and saw that you can take a train or ferry. With your car. Did you know this? I had absolutely no idea. I don’t know why I even put it into the search– maybe I just wanted to go badly enough. I revised the destination to be a town on the coast, closer to the arrival port of Calais. Total trip time, including train: 3.75 hours! So, we could get there and back in a weekend, but what would it cost? It turns out that, for a two-day trip, the train costs £60 (35 minute crossing time) and a ferry (90 minute crossing time) cost as little as £25! Again, did you know this?! We heard the weather might be pretty bad, and the ferry might have to cancel voyages, so we opted for the train option.

I found a cheap hotel for £60, and we were set! I didn’t book anything until Friday afternoon, and it was really surreal to realize that we would be in France in less than 24 hours. We left the house much earlier than needed, since we were nervous about long lines of traffic trying to get to the Channel crossing. We needn’t have worried. Our drive to Dover was only 2 hours and 15 minutes,  and we actually spent several hours waiting at the terminal for our appointment on the train. Still, we arrived in Calais at 2 p.m. (1 p.m. British time) and zipped down the highway to the cute little town of Boulogne-Sur-Mer just 20 minutes away.

It should be noted that we left England in the pouring rain, and we also arrived in France in the midst of a deluge. In fact, the rain hardly let up the whole time we were there. But it was just nice to have a change of scenery, even if it was still raining. We spent most of our time there walking around in the rain, often completely soaked, then ducking into restaurants and shops. I guess that if we had been planning a vacation for months, and were really invested, this would have been pretty lame. But we had just barely made plans, and getting there so easily seemed miraculous in and of itself– everything else was just bonus! And mostly, we were there to eat. And eat we did! (Ahem, this is where we got a little bit flexible with the budget…)

 Since we were right on the coast, I had to take advantage of the wonderful, fresh seafood. I had Moules et Frites for two out of four meals.

 The first one was in Roquefort sauce. SO good!

 We stopped for several espressos, and enjoyed a three-course fixed-price meal for dinner. And, this was the one major downer– camera drama. I brought four rechargeable batteries. FOUR! Yet somehow, none of them managed to hold a charge, and I was without my camera just a few short hours after arriving. And I couldn’t find the right kind of battery locally. It took a lot of work to keep this misfortune from robbing me of the thrill of exploring a new place. But I prevailed! It was so beautiful and quaint and cool… You’ll just have to take my word for it, until I can go back again and get it all captured to share. I did manage a few:

And a HUGE highlight was getting to do some shopping in a French grocery store! You don’t get to do much of that unless you take your car, so this was really fun. I will share my cart-ful with you tomorrow. Also, I did take some pictures with my phone, and I will be posting some of those on the And Here We Are facebook page, in case you’d like to see some of them.

We came back so refreshed, even though we only spent about 24 hours in a new country. It was incredibly stimulating to land in another world, and just take it all in. And so, I guess the moral to this weekend story is:  dream a little. Just go ahead and check out all of your dreamy options, even if they seem out of reach– who knows, you may find something that you didn’t think you could so easily grasp! Now that we know we can cross the Channel so easily, I have a long list of all the places we must find ourselves in soon!

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23 Responses to A Quick Hop Across the Channel, and About Dreaming a Little

  1. Robyn April 30, 2012 at 3:48 pm #

    mmm-mussels in a pot-my favourite. My favourite place for lunch (on a saturday) in the UK is Mussel Inn. mmmm

    • Ariana May 1, 2012 at 6:36 am #

      We are not too far from the coast here, either, so now I am inspired to cook mussels at home as well. That inn sounds good– where is it?

  2. Marisa April 30, 2012 at 5:11 pm #

    Ahhh – Reason number 1 why I want to live in Europe – the ability to be in another country in a matter of hours – or even less (I don’t count Canada as another country – lol!) Lucky you – what a fun adventure! And I’m of the mindset that spur of the moment adventures are often the most fun. And so exciting. And who cares about the weather really – like you said it was raining at home anyway – so why not enjoy the rain in France instead?

    Looking forward to seeing more pictures on fb as well as your grocery haul!

    And you know where I feel like heading on my spur of the moment jaunt? Portland! Seeing that video you posted really got me itching to head down there. I used to have a friend that lived there which gave me a great excuse to visit every few months. But now that she has moved I haven’t been back since last June. Now I need to dream a little too and figure out how to make it happen 🙂

    • Ariana May 1, 2012 at 6:43 am #

      I agree that one of the coolest things about living in Europe is… access to the rest of Europe! When we lived in Germany for 7 months, we were so focused on settling in that we didn’t travel much at all! Then when we found out we were leaving, we were so upset that we hadn’t gone anywhere. That experience has definitely made me sure to take advantage as much as we can, and England is a great place to travel from, being the hub for super cheap airlines like Easyjet and Ryanair. But I would rather drive, anyway– that gives us SO much flexibility. The only thing is that the longer time you spend across the Channel, the more expensive the tickets are. But you can take up to 9 people across in one car!! Next on our list is Brussels, which we could also do in two days.
      Marisa, you should totally go visit Portland. This is a great time of year, too! Let me know if you would like any recommendations, especially for restaurants! There are many days that I just wish I could spend the day in Portland, walking along the river, and eating in so many wonderful places there. And, of course, shopping at Anthropologie downtown. Portland is such a great city to visit because it is so walkable– small enough to be able to reach all parts of downtown on foot, plus really great public transportation.

      Also, WE were there last June! Maybe we walked right past each other…

    • Marisa May 1, 2012 at 11:11 pm #

      That is SO fun that we were in Portland at the same time! It really and truly is a very small world. Makes me wonder who else I might have passed even just today who will become my friend tomorrow 🙂 That trip in June was the time I met and fell in love with the Mississippi Ave. area of Portland. We went to a show at Mississippi Studios and we also happened across this big bicycling event – races for all levels and then a parade of bikes on Mississippi Ave. It was really fun and so completely Portland! Most of my time in Portland has been spent in the Hawthorne area which is also a really great part of town. Just love it there! The next time you are in Portland we’ll have to make a point of getting together – that would be too much fun!

    • Ariana May 2, 2012 at 1:00 pm #

      Those are definitely the most “Keep Portland Weird” places in the city– all of the stereotypes and such are most manifest on Hawthorne and Mississippi, for sure! I remember seeing a group of nude cyclists ride by on one of the art evenings on Mississippi!

      Yep, let’s try to see each other there next time!

  3. Great Scott April 30, 2012 at 6:18 pm #

    I’m with Marisa – last minute trips are SO much more exciting and who cares about the weather so long as you aren’t stuck at home in it! Love that you got the green light to have a foodie weekend in FRANCE! Awesome!!!! Looking forward to planning a little double date family trip with you guys soon! xoxo

    • Ariana May 1, 2012 at 6:47 am #

      Yep, it totally caught me by surprise that we were there. Jeff and I still couldn’t believe it, even when we got home. I went to sleep last night thinking, “Was I really in France yesterday?” It all happened so fast. I hope the wonder doesn’t wear off– it is super cool to be able to cross over in just a few hours. There is another line that takes you over to Dunkirk, close to the border of Brussels. There are quite a few other arrival points, actually, so we are overwhelmed with the possibilities.

      And we are super excited to spend time with your family soon!

  4. Hausfrau May 1, 2012 at 10:24 am #

    Good for you! Glad you had fun, even in the rain. Isn’t it nice to find you can be recharged pretty easily and inexpensively via a quick getaway like this? And sometimes last-minute trips are especially nice, since you don’t really do any planning ahead of time.

    • Ariana May 1, 2012 at 2:46 pm #

      Yes, I agree. I wouldn’t say it’s super low-maintenance to be revived by a visit to another country, but I sure am glad we’re able to do it! And yes, the last-minute thing is such a great way to go– it’s kind of a thrill, making the plans all of a sudden, and just taking off. You hardly have time to worry about the details and can just show up and see how it all goes.

  5. monika May 1, 2012 at 2:49 pm #

    This is what we used to do on the weekends — just head somewhere in the car — just for the day. That is the wonderful thing of living in Geneva — it is so central! Can you imagine — only 6 hours from Barcelona! Three and a half on TGV to Paris! Three hours via the Mont Blanc Tunnel to Torino!

    I love France so much! And we spent a fair amount of time in Scandinavia and the Netherlands too. What is wonderful about the Netherlands is that it is very family-focussed. We spent one holiday on an island with no cars; our kids still talk about it! They were on their bikes all day, the beaches were endless (albeit chilly), and there were apple pannekoeken everywhere!

    So what did you think of France; what hit you about it?

    My friend Julie, who is a wonderful observer of social practices (she’s had to be; her dad was a diplomat) made 2 profound observations about the French which usually elude North Americans like us —

    1. When you enter a French establishment, it is considered polite to greet the owner or server — Bonjour Madame! Bonjour Monsieur! Especially small shops, stores and cafés are considered to be the personal space and expression of the owner, and you would never enter someone’s house without greeting them.

    2. The French respect you more if you complain, not less. You’ll actually get better service if you complain politely, but with well-founded grounds. My friend Julie recounted the tale of how she tried to get her French drycleaner to return her father’s lost shirt — it involved a lot of standing her ground; being forceful but polite. The shirt was eventually found, and she became one of his preferred customers. Dorie Greenspan describes a similar incident in a Parisian cheese store in her book From My French Table (well worth getting, btw).

    I’m so happy for you that you had this weekend outing; I hope there are many more in your future!
    (and yes, I am a wee bit jealous… ;-))

    • Ariana May 2, 2012 at 1:09 pm #

      Monika, you have to tell me about the island where you took your family– that sounds SO wonderful! Geneva sounds perfectly in the middle of all the good stuff, and I really prefer driving to flying places. This whole EuroTunnel thing has been a HUGE revelation.

      I really like France. We were honestly not that into Paris– people really were rude, and it was kind of at an overwhelming time in our lives when we should have enjoyed a quieter time in the countryside instead of in a big city (on subways all day) in Paris.
      On our visit this time, we observed that people were much more kind and friendly and helpful. We definitely caught the “bonjour!” when entering stores and restaurants, and I like that anyway. It was the same in Germany, only a more provincial greeting “Gruss gott.”
      I think I would have a really hard time with complaining bit, making a bit of a dignified stink. That would be hard for me, but I can also totally see it being true.

      The aspect of French culture that I had observed in French films and was confirmed this weekend was about family/ community. I felt deeply envious of long tables filled with friends and family on Sunday afternoon– you got the feeling that these groups met every week, and just spent time together having a drink or lunch and chatting for hours. You and I are alike in loving that kind of dynamic, and I definitely dream of taking part in a tradition like that someday. (I’m working on a post about that.)

  6. Emily (NewYork) May 1, 2012 at 6:46 pm #

    What a fabulous short trip! Looks like a beautiful time 🙂 I love last-minute trips (saves me from the stress of planning!) They can such a great time, even if you end up just…relaxing. I love France but, sadly, a trip to France (from NY) takes much more time, planning, and money!

    • Ariana May 2, 2012 at 1:11 pm #

      Hi Emily– Thank you, we had a great time. It is a real luxury to live somewhere with great access to other European countries. But from NY, maybe you need to plan a trip to England!

  7. Kelly-Marie May 3, 2012 at 3:02 pm #

    Wow it’s pretty easy and cheap to get there then although I’m down in Devon so it would take us longer to get there … Great pictures huni, your girlie is so cute eating her dinner with a big knife and fork .. bless her they look to big for her x x

    Thank you for linking up x x

    • Ariana May 3, 2012 at 3:38 pm #

      Hi Kelly-Marie, thanks for the visit! We are sticklers for table manners, so she is actually very good with the cutlery. She will be amazed by how easy it is when her hands grow bigger! 🙂

  8. Elie May 8, 2012 at 4:26 am #

    Funny enough, I did know that. I have done it myself about 15 years ago when I was an exchange student in Nottingham. The family and I took their Volvo station wagon on a ferry across the Channel and had lunch in France. It felt so exotic to me, but to them it was normal. Then when I told them that my family would go down to Mexico for lunch (from San Diego) they thought I was living the exotic life. To me, normal. C’est la vie.
    I’ll have to look it up in my journal or photo album to see if I went to the same town…

  9. Loulou in France May 8, 2012 at 11:35 am #

    Isn’t it wonderful that getting away for even a couple of days can bring such joy? I always find that it changes my perspective and gives me time to recharge. I’m always ready to face things I’ve avoided when I get home.
    Your daughter is adorable and those moules frîtes look divine!

  10. Ariana May 8, 2012 at 4:50 pm #

    Yes, it IS wonderful, Loulou! I love just being in a brand new environment, taking it all in. I marvel that many people grew up in that place, and what is foreign and exciting to me is basically their whole world. That blows my mind, every time!


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