Happy New Year!
Wrapping up my travel adventures from my vacances de Noël during my first year as an assistante, I am presenting another post which combines several destinations (as I’d done in my last post on my day trip from London) since all of them were just short visits before I *finally* returned to France- to Normandy, at least.
At the same time, however, so much had happened at each of those places, some of which were just weird shenanigans which for me, a fairly drama-free person, just happened to have happened. More on that later; let’s get to the destinations!
After my last night in London, I woke up the next morning to check out of the hostel and hang out a bit at Camden Market and Primark before taking a regional bus over to Canterbury for the day.
What drew me to visit Canterbury was the fact that I, having been an English literature major back in college, was interested in seeing the setting of Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales. Having read it during school (and struggling with the esoteric Middle English), I wanted to see the place for myself and maybe, just maybe, be transported back to the fourteenth century. A dreamer can dream, can’t they?
I arrived in the town around 13h00 and had about four to five hours to spend before I had to leave for Dover. That said, I just walked around town (it was not very big), visiting the Canterbury Castle and of course, the cathedral. I was also interested in visiting St. Augustine’s Abbey but unfortunately I discovered that it was closed for the holidays. Aside from that, I wandered High Street, the town’s main road with tons of taverns, boutiques, and touristy things to do. Basically, I got done with the essential sightseeing stuff within two hours and spent the rest of the time just hanging around in some of the stores (including another Primark!).
My bus to Dover was due at 16h30, but apparently due to some crazy traffic back in London (where the bus was coming from), it didn’t arrived until over an hour later, which by then I was already pissed, standing outside of the bus station and freezing my butt off. Eventually, it arrived and I took it over, getting to Dover at 18h15 where my Couchsurfing host for the night picked me up at the bus station.
After picking me up from the bus station, my Couchsurfing host took me over to his flat, located in the city center where we did some grocery shopping for dinner before arriving at his place, an old apartment building with a spacious, but cluttered living room with tons of comfy, lumpy chairs and a piano keyboard (it’d been forever since I’d last played). Cozy place, to say the least. My host was pleasant, originally from Poland who moved over to England- first London, then Dover- for work. We had dinner together, talking and slowly getting to know each other, since we were still in that awkward phase of being friendly, but not that friendly yet. At least, that’s how it was for me.
In any case, it was fine. Again, my host was chill and laid-back…emphasis on “laid-back.” Funny enough, what I didn’t know from his Couchsurfing profile that he smoked weed…and a lot of it.
Now, I come from a state in the United States which has a pretty lax attitude when it comes to marijuana (and especially so now since it became legalized after the November elections). I have friends who smoke it and while I’m not in the position to judge them for that, just being around the stuff makes me uncomfortable. I don’t smoke, and for me breathing in the fumes just worries me about getting lung cancer and all of that (living in Europe certainly doesn’t help with secondhand smoke, but I’m digressing). Basically, being around marijuana makes me nervous.
My Couchsurfing host, however, did his best to be respectful, choosing to smoke his weed indoors, but blowing it out of the open window. Eventually, we broke out the wine bottles, him offering me some port wine and then later some of his “homemade” cider which he experimented with fermenting at home. It was not tasty at all, somewhat tasting of apple juice with alcoholic and without the carbonated texture. Regardless, it certainly did the trick as we got progressively drunk (stoned, for him), became more open and friendly with each other, and finally decided to pop in a movie to watch (Rain Man, I clearly remember). Let’s be honest, I don’t even remember the film ending, because by then, I was so drunk that I was ready to crash onto the mattress that he provided for me and just knock out until 8h00 the next day. Which was exactly what I did.
Woke up the morning after with a hangover and decided to leave early to explore a bit of Dover before catching my ferry to Calais, back to France. My Couchsurfing host was still sleeping, but I woke him up to say goodbye and thank him for letting me crash for the night. I also apologized for being so drunk the night before, and he was fine with it; he even told me he’d been too stoned to notice! Fair enough.
Still with a hangover, I made the trek to visit both Dover Castle (which I didn’t go into since it cost money and I didn’t have that much time, anyway) and the white cliffs, made famous by Shakespeare’s King Lear, which I also had to read for classes back in college. Did a very brief hike along the cliffs before making my way down to the port for my ferry, scheduled to leave at 12h00. What I didn’t know, however, was that one had to be there at least 45 minutes before departure, and I’d gotten there about 15 minutes beforehand; in other words, I’d missed the ferry that I was planning on taking back to France!
Thankfully, I was able to get the next ferry over and had to message my Couchsurfing host that I would be arriving later in Calais. Got the next ferry at 13h15 and spent the 90-minute ride feeling shitty, since the combination of being hungover, sleep-deprived, and exhausted from the hike along the cliffs just hit me full-force then. Tried to sleep it off, and I felt better as soon as the ferry docked in Calais at 15h30 local time. I was back in France!
My Couchsurfing host for my stay in the Calais region picked me up from the port and together, along with his friend/flatmate, we spent a couple of hours in Calais. We passed by the town hall, saw la Citadelle, an eighteenth-century fortress, and just explored the city center, whose architecture reminded me of Lille’s, considering the two cities are in the same region, therefore with Flemish influences. I’m also aware of the infamous “jungle” for the refugees, but didn’t see them when I was in town.
In terms of staying in his flat, my host didn’t actually live in Calais, but in Boulogne-sur-Mer, situated about half an hour away. However, he’d messaged me saying that he was planning to spend New Year’s Eve at a friend’s house in Valenciennces, which was located about 90 minutes to two hours away. I was open to it and thought that it would be nice to ring in the 2016 year with company.
We left Calais and drove over to Valenciennes, arriving there close to 20h00. Met his two friends and all together, we spent the night partying, eating pierrade (similar to Swiss raclette, but cooked on a hot stone surface and served with bread and chips) and drinking a shit-ton of alcohol. Seriously, I’d never went through so many rounds of beer, wine, cider, and then champagne once the clock struck midnight. Mind you, I was still recovering from my night of drinking in Dover, and the fact that I was the only female partying among four “bro” dudes, well, it was difficult to keep up!
Even long after we rang in the new year, we continued to party, playing Charades and getting introduced to South African rap music (by the French, of all people!) before finally (finally!) the bros decided to turn in at 6h30. There weren’t enough beds for the five of us to sleep in, so what happened was that my Couchsurfing host and his flatmate took the Clic-Clac and I ended up sharing the actual bed with his two friends. Was definitely a tight squeeze, and I was super uncomfortable sharing it with two other dudes (strangers, mind you), but nothing happened; I think we were all super tired from partying ten hours straight.
I woke up five hours later, unable to get back to sleep. The others were still in bed, so I just hung around the flat until my Couchsurfing host and his flatmate woke up three hours later and we finally left to head to Boulougne-sur-Mer, where they lived. Drove the two hours back, where we actually made a stop at the host’s flatmate’s family’s house (what a mouthful!) for them to pay a visit; we ended up eating dinner at their place where I was introduced to deer meat, which basically tasted like gamier beef. We didn’t get back to the host’s flat until 21h00, and I decided just to shower and turn in early; two nights straight of drinking and inadequate sleep took a toll on me, and so I let my host and his flatmate socialize with the two other Couchsurfers whom they were taking in for the night (along with a German couple under Airbnb- full house!), going to bed.
The following morning was my last day there: around 13h00, my host drove me back to Calais where I was to meet my BlaBlaCar driver to get back to Normandy. Said goodbye to my host, thanking him for long, but fun two nights, and headed back to Le Havre, where I then took the bus back to my small town, arriving in my flat around 18h30.
…and so concludes my vacances de Noël from last year! To this day, it amazes me that I was able to cover so much of the UK and Ireland in just two weeks. Granted, I was hopping from city to city, town to town, without much concern for taking the time to take in all of the sites, and looking back, I don’t think it was the best way for me to travel. Going back through what I’ve written on this blog about my time in places like Edinburgh and London, I think the fact that I rushed these cities, especially during the bustling Christmas season, left me with an underwhelming, even slightly negative, impression of them. It’s a shame, because I’m sure that the UK and Ireland have a lot to offer in tourism, as much as any other places in continental Europe. Since then, I’ve learned not to be so ambitious with traveling, taking it upon myself to slow down and take an extra few days in each destination and overall, just budgeting my time better. Lessons learned when traveling, am I right?
I’ve just returned from my current vacances de Noël, and I’ll be putting up blog posts about those travels soon. Hope you all had a wonderful holiday season, and here’s hoping to a lovely 2017! À plus tard.