The ferry from Dover arrived in Calais, and we headed down the stairs back to Nettle on the car deck, and followed the stream of cars off the ferry and onto French soil. Repeating the ‘drive on the right, drive on the right’ mantra, we followed Nigel’s directions towards the centre of Calais and drove around aimlessly for a little while looking for somewhere to fill our water tank (dammit!). We settled on following the “camping-car” signs to a municipal caravan park.
I jumped out, walked into reception, and got as far as asking if they had any space for us for tonight and being asked for…something…before I flaked out and reverted to English. We topped up our water successfully, took a walk through Calais, and stayed the night.
The next morning we bought deux croissants, s’il vous plaît from a nearby bakery and heated ’em up with the frying pan. We left the municipal caravan park and found a car park near the harbour amongst a horde of other motorhomes. The car park in question had a sign at the entrance that (presumably) said parking was for motorhomes and trucks only — a very good omen for us.
The motorhome beside us was occupied by a French family with a gorgeous little girl with curly white blonde locks who was playing with a dog outside. We were just commenting to each other on how cute she was when she started kicking the dog and stepping on it’s paws! What a little asshole!
I had an unsuccessful attempt to obtain either an iPhone 3GS or just a mobile broadband account/SIM card at the local Orange shop. While the French speaking went relatively well, and the comprehension too (with a lot of help from facial expressions and gestures), the French bureaucracy didn’t — you just can’t get a SIM card without a French address, and possibly some other things. That puts a spanner in the works.
We visited the supermarché — found a bottle of wine that turned out to be quite drinkable for €2.50, and held up the check-out while I ran back to weigh the vegetables, which you’re meant to do yourself — then drove onwards (on the right, on the right).
We headed towards the Somme region, and parked beside the road surrounded by fields, up against the edge of a lay-by. A very disturbed sleep, punctuated by passing vehicles beeping their horns in the night. Still not sure what their problem was, but presumably we broke some etiquette or other. Seemed more than a little petty through!
The next day we spent visiting Australian war memorials and reading about the Great War. The memorial to the 1st Australian Division, ‘Gibraltar’, at Pozières, and the Australian memorial at Le Hamel, which had panels telling the story of the victory there, led by General John Monash. Odd being educated about such things in this place.
We found a place to park for the night in a village near Le Hamel, beside a lake, and had a successful exchange in French with the gentleman who lived beside where we were parked, making sure it was okay that we stayed there (‘pas de problème!’).
Had cider while dusk settled around us, ducks and geese making dusk noises.
The next morning, after a couple-hour stop in a McDonalds car park to use their wifi, we visited the Australian National memorial at Villers-Bretonneux. Rows and rows of white headstones, some with names and regiments (Australian, Canadian, American, British…) but poignantly, many without names, and many without names or even regiments.
The walls of the monument carry thousands of names of missing soldiers, a confronting sight with so much more impact than statistics can carry.
The interior of the memorial’s tower carries a transcript of a speech by Paul Keating, in French and English, an unexpectedly moving tribute to those that gave their lives in the war. But with the most impact for me were the scars on the monument itself, left there by the Second World War, just a couple of decades later. We found the concept baffling: Another ugly outbreak of violence on an incomprehensible scale, within the lifetimes of those who lived through the last. I doubt I’ll ever understand it.