Thursday, November 27, 2008

A weekend in Paris: Part 1

Lying awake in bed at 11pm, we were too excited to sleep. In just a few short hours we had to get up again and drive to London.

At 3am on Friday night, we were meeting Geoff on the outskirts of London, before driving to Dover, and catching the ferry to Calais, France. From there we would drive to Paris.

As well as driving on the right hand side of the road again (not a big deal for us, of course, but more so for Geoff who forgot twice), driving in France is more of an expedition than in Britain. For a start, there are a whole lot of additional requirements under "Things you need with you in the car":
  • reflective roadside triangle
  • fluorescent vest
  • spare bulbs for your headlights
  • first aid kit
  • mini fire extinguisher
  • GB sticker for the back of your car (denotes RH drive car)
  • headlight covers/ stickers (to point the headlight beams in the opposite direction)
Also, the signs were in km not miles, so they required mental calculation sometimes. Entering roundabouts on the right took a bit of getting used to.

Dover is very picturesque, with the white cliffs towering over the houses all stuck together. We went through customs on the UK side first. The sailing was at 6am. I stood outside on the deck in the cold, watching the sun rise, for much of the hour-long trip, since I didn't want to feel sea-sick.

The English Channel is the busiest shipping lane in the world. I counted about 9 boats on each side just heading out of Dover!

We decided to avoid the toll motorways and drive through the French countryside instead. It was absolutely gorgeous. Little villages every few miles, each with its own church and houses stuck together. (I don't understand why there is so much space and yet the houses are still stuck together.) The sky was dark and heavy. It snowed the first snow of the season, splatting on our windshield.

We stopped off in Arras, about 2 hours' drive from Calais, to see a site of particular interest to New Zealanders. The Wellington Quarry was one of a number of chalk quarries around the town of Arras. In WWI, New Zealand sappers were tasked with linking up the quarries with a series of tunnels so that 25,000 men could hide in the tunnels undetected for several months, before a successful attack on the German front lines. The New Zealanders were all "bantams", guys who were too short for the army. They named the quarries after their home towns, e.g. Wellington, Auckland, Blenheim, Christchurch. The Wellington Quarry has been restored, and turned into a museum. (I think they confused Australia with NZ here. The koala on the left is not a NZ national symbol, but an Aussie one. The Kiwi is, however.)

The black writing and numbers are how the men found their way around.

In WWII, the tunnels were also used as air raid shelters for the townspeople of Arras. The writing on the walls from that time is red.

Soldiers drew graffiti on the walls. This one commemorates a fallen comrade. Look for the crucifix and the sad face.

It was very damp and cold in the tunnels, and the chalk walls were wet. Occasionally a large drop of water would fall. One can only imagine the plight of one soldier, who complained that his bunk bed was dripped on constantly and he had to sleep under a waterproof sheet! Above ground, it was snowing.

Here's a tunnel dug by the sappers, with one of the original mining buckets. British engineers built a small railroad to take the rubble out.

When it was time for the battle, the men were told to leave their greatcoats (heavy jackets) behind, even though it was freezing. They went up these stairs, and a hole was blasted to the open trenches. The sign on the left you can see in the photo, says "No 10 exit to circular trench". Many men died in this battle.

When we finally got into Paris in the evening, we called our friend Tui and met up with her. It was awesome to see someone we actually knew! It's a bit lonely out here in the country.


Anonymous said...

We took the trip across the Channel from France to England and I remember the water being very choppy (as your picture shows). Our ship had a shopping area, which is pretty much where I stayed for a good part of the trip.

I'm anxious to see how you liked Paris. I always thought it would be this romantic, beautiful place but I found it to be a little dirty and the people were not especially nice. That was years ago so maybe it's changed since then. I'm looking forward to reading more of about your trip.

Anonymous said...

Tina.. World War 1 not WW2 I suspect for the tunnels?

Having just returned from France and Paris.. and Calais..2 months ago it was interesting to read your comments. We were lucky that the day we wandered about in Paris (saw much less than you guys but did go up the Eiffel tower), it was much warmer. Having said that it still was windy all day and rainy towards the end... And our impression of Paris in Sept was that it was overcrowded, very very expensive, and not that friendly....

Enjoy Xmas with Yvonne, and Andrew!

Love Wal