Thursday, August 21, 2014

DAY 67 – 21 August 2014; Antwerp to Calais

There wasn’t much of a distance to be done this day and very little scheduled in Calais. Hence, a late start was decided upon with nothing to be hurried with. I did get up early to finish the blog post and some documentation. Apart from that I had to make sure that the Navigator was ready for guidance out of the city. By 8 am we went down to the street to look for suitable breakfast. The first shop to the left of the hotel advertised “All Day Long Breakfast”, and that caught my eye. It was an interesting enterprise of two shops – one sold breakfast and the other beverages. Together they offered breakfast on tables placed outside their shops. It was a bit windy and we chose to sit inside the cosy restaurant that served the beverages. Moreover, the young lady serving in the shop was extremely friendly and welcoming. The coffee we ordered there was served with a biscuit, cream and sugar. The breakfast ordered next door arrived soon. A plate full of sliced cucumber, cabbage, grated carrot, a huge crusty bun, thick slivers of bacon and three eggs appeared in a large plate! We were certainly hungry, but not so hungry as to take all that down. However, large though it was it did not remain so within a half hour. After I had finished the third of the eggs that was served sunny side up I wondered if I had eaten it all. Once that was settled we walked out for a few more pictures in the square of the Ferris Wheel, the Central Station and entrance to the Chinatown. When I leave a city I often wonder if I will ever come back there. I had been back in Antwerp this time after 18 years.

During the journey we have been most careful with the water that we drank. It was mostly bottled water. I had tried tap water in many countries as also public taps in some of the city squares. It had not upset me in any manner. We walked into a store and picked up bottled water for the journey. The person who facilitated the check out in the hotel gave me clear directions to leave the city – he asked me to follow road signs for Ghent. Since we could not locate anyone suitable to affix stickers for Belgium Lal and I completed the formalities and shifted gears from the garage. Car parking cost Euro 15 after 25% discount offered by the hotel. The consolation, however, was that the car and its contents were safe. We had been fed some horrid stories about crime in places like Amsterdam and Antwerp. The problem seemed to emanate from immigrants, or so I was given to know.

The drive from the city did not pose any problems, more so because the Navigator seconded the directions given by the person in the hotel. The weather was bright too and it remained so right through the day. The drive to Antwerp took us past the Belgian cities of Ghent and Bruges and the famous town of Dunkirk in France. We reached the outskirts of Calais in about 2 hours; there were some delays thereafter due to road works. Locating the hotel was a bit tricky for the address I had mentioned it to be at the intersection of two roads and the Navigator was blind to such instructions! In the end we located the Balladins Hotel without much ado, navigating through narrow roads and challenging road crossings. Two ladies were at work in the hotel reception when we arrived. We had to wait just a while before the room was got ready. The twin bed room was really small with hardly any standing space. Using the table and chair was a challenge with my belly in total disagreement with the space provided! We had to spend the night there and that was that. The strong WiFi signal negated some effects of the small room. Once the Facebook, WhatsApp and Gmail were done we asked the ladies at the counter to affix green stickers on France. They were, as usual, surprised to hear of our story of travel from India by car. With that done there were only two more red dots to turn green. We had covered nearly 7400 kms in 19 Schengen countries in 29 days as against 15250 kms in 6 Asian countries in 38 days. It has been path breaking and deeply humbling at the same time. The experiences, the people, the places, the food, the weather have all been amazing.

My first task was to book for the ferry to cross the English Channel the next day. I was told by the receptionist that the Ferry Terminal is just 2 kms from the hotel. On the way there we saw some police action. Many young boys and girls of African origin were lounging on the road close to the ferry terminal. Some were even running with police guys trying to round them up. What it was for we did not know, but we surmised that they could be in the country illegally.  We soon got to the parking lot of the P&O Ports Ferry Terminal. The business was taken over by DP World with its acquisition of P&O Ports in 2007. The lady at the booking counter was extremely happy to hear that I had worked for DP World in India. She was shocked, to say the least, that I had driven to France in a car. She soon took my passport and took details of the car to find me a slot in the 9.40 am ferry to Dover. She asked me to be early, at least by an hour, to complete the immigration formalities. She did also mention that in case I complete the check in and immigration early I could find place on the ferry that departed an hour earlier at no extra cost.

Despite the large breakfast before leaving Antwerp the stomach started its protest once we spied the Ferry Terminal restaurant. At the entrance to the restaurant was advertised a buffet lunch for Euro 9. Lal and I plumbed for it. I asked for ham, potatoes, legumes, fries and sauce. A huge helping of each found place on a plate that I could carry only in a tray. Without knowing the size of the helping I had ordered an apple pie too, which came with another coconut cake! Cold water was provided free. Lal opted to have the Lasagne. With single minded devotion I attacked the food and finished it without leaving many traces in the plate. I walked around the large restaurant a bit to settle the food. The views of the terminal were amazing from the glass fronted 2nd floor restaurant.

It was siesta for a while after that. Once we woke up the receptionist suggested that we could go to the beach since the weather was glorious. She gave us directions but we ended up driving around the old city and landed in a large area full of super markets. We walked around there a fair while before getting back to the hotel. Once in the hotel we opened the bottle of Suntory whisky Rajesh had presented us in Den Haag. The smooth drink was helped down with peanuts and olives in brine. I ordered spaghetti and ham for dinner while Lal opted for the Salmon meal at the hotel restaurant. The package came with a bottle of beer and a dessert. I took the option of Apple Pie with cream. The food portion was just right and we enjoyed the meal. We would be exiting the Schengen territory early tomorrow. It has been a remarkable experience. 

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