Archive for May, 2011

Poppies in Picardy

I’m not sure if I mentioned yesterday; my initial view, that the poppies were past their best was wrong! In the wet lands around the Belgian border and all across Picardy (yesterday) they are blooming everywhere. Obviously, some of the wheat, oats and barley being grown in this region have grown higher than the weed, but almost everywhere else there are huge seas of red.


Today, Monday, we set off in good weather. This got better and better as the day went on until mid afternoon, when it spoiled itself by raining heavily. However, our morning, lunch and early afternoon meanderings were blessed with good sunshine. We wound our way around the wet lands east and north east of Calais and around the canals which head for (from?) the St. Omar region. We’d done a bit of this last July with my brother Andrew, and Debbie but thought it would be nice to take another look. We also managed a sunny picnic by the Moulin, overlooking Watten.

The countryside around Nord Pas de Calais is varied to say the least. We drove to Watten via Wimereaux, Ambleteuse, Cap Gris Nez, Wissant, Guines, Ardres and Bourbourg – and the differences between the various farmlands is great. Different crops, different colours, different landscapes completely. After lunch we had a coffee in a bar and then drove back to Boulogne for a bit of hypermarket shopping.

Because there had been a smash on the motorway junction our road passed under we had to duck and weave to get back and the roads outside our hotel were gridlocked. We therefore dumped the car in a not too far away car park and walked to the bar where we usually have our morning coffee. Everyone was pissed!! The landlady was dancing on a table and they had loud music playing. They were worried that strangers were sitting there but soon came around and started chatting (!!) with us. Excellent.

We’re back to blighty tomorrow, but not home quite yet. We’re staying with Martin and Lin for a few days before I need to get back to a weekend of marking and a week full of work (mustn’t grumble!) 🙂


Le Sacre De L’Empereur

Yesterday, Napoleon Bonaparte was crowned Emperor in the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Boulogne, within the old walled town. A re-enactment of course, organised by the Association de la Grande Armée (with participation by de l’Association EMPIRE 1804) – whose members I suspect come from all over France. I assume (as one might) that this is a French version of the Sealed Knot (or LARP) and it made for a very interesting day. e.g.

Sadly, Boulogne does not seem to have the ferry trade it once had, so the ‘Spectacle’ (which the French do so well, and so often) was perhaps a little low key. The weather may have had something to do with that though because it was cold – damn cold!

We decided to stay in Boulogne on Saturday to watch the parades, which went on all day.

We’ve become fond of calling across the road from the hotel for breakfast pastries and the eating them in a local bar, where the coffee is magnificent. It’s a good start to the day and we were well fortified then, when we went into the old town to see what was going on. Many of the different regiments were beginning to assemble (representations of the regiments of course – not whole regiments!) and were practicing their marches (see above). They had all slept; bivouacked on the old town ramparts and some looked a little worse for wear. It was fun to see all the different uniforms and the way in which the whole thing was play-acted. Well done France – despite the appalling weather.

The old town restaurants were all booked up with camp followers, weekend visitors and Saturday revellers, so we had to drop down the road to the lower town for dinner.

Sharon had a fabulous salad that purported to be Niçoise (!!) and I had that evening’s ‘suggestion’ – Scallops with Spinach and Asparagus. This was also magnificent. I was presented with nine perfectly seared king scallops and a fistful of white asparagus on a huge bed of wilted but flawlessly seasoned spinach. The fact that it looked good and tasted good made the cost (€€€) easier to bear.

Today was mother’s day (fete de meres).

We set off for Cayeaux sur le mer in heavy cloud and intermittently heavy rain. We had to have the heater on in the car and we felt thoroughly miserable as we made our way. We visited the town with Andrew and Debbie last year and though it quite pretty and somewhere to come again. But, as we pulled in it seemed deserted. The rain had stopped but it was bitterly cold as we walked from one end of the huts to the other – probably ¾ mile. As we walked back along the town’s streets the weather seemed to improve and we eventually decided to stay and have lunch there.

The weather continued to improve, so we put out our chairs and read for a while before beginning our meander back up the coast via all of the towns and villages at the mouth of the Somme. This far south, the poppies are much more in evidence and some fields looked truly beautiful.

By now, some of the Somme area towns (Le Crotoy, Quand plage les Pins, Fort Mahon Plage etc) were beginning to fill up and parking was impossible in some of the larger places.

We stopped eventually at Merlimont Plage Plage, which seemed a little run down compared to the others but which nevertheless had a superb beach and a nice outlook. It reminded me of Byron Bay in New South Wales, but without the hippies.

We’ve just finished a picnic tea in our bedroom – as we had not eaten to planned picnic at lunch time.

Hesdin, Azincourt and Montreuil

For one reason and another, we didn’t get our picnic lunch on Thursday until we were on our way back from Le Creuset. By then, the deteriorating weather had thrown up some really strong winds. Nevertheless, we did manage to eat outside on a picnic bench; but we needed our coats on. By the time we got back to Boulogne, we could hardly stand, as the wind was so strong.

We decided to have a couple of drinks down in the lower part of town before returning for a light snack and bed. We had our drinks in Au Bureau, a popular bar in the large (Dalton?) square. I found WiFi there and thought I’d have a play with Foursquare – my use of this had now become a competition with Alison. However, try as I might I couldn’t get onto the Au Bureau router. I asked for the code and the waiter just shrugged his shoulders. So, I explored the other options and came up with Boing (mwa, mwa s-i-l). This allowed me on and I was able to ‘locate’ myself but actually posting anything was a nightmare. I suspect that downloads are pretty much unrestricted whereas uploads grind to an absolute stop at most times. One post managed to get through in about 90 minutes.

When we got back to the hotel, we tried their free WiFi, which works wonderfully well (see Flickr pics and YouTube video) – the only downside is that it works on just one machine at a time. This will make registering on Foursquare somewhat difficult. But never mind.

Today, Friday, we have done a tour of the Boulonnais countryside. We followed the Course Valley (Vallée de la Course) pretty much top to bottom – but zig-zagged all the way down and then carried on down the Vallée de la Canche to Hesdin.

Both valleys (there are several others) are very pretty and quite beautifully quiet drives. We were spoiled only by the weather, which was mixed to say the least. As lunch was to be another picnic, we had coffee in Hesdin, a town which originated back before the Hundred Years War, when this part of France was the Spanish Netherlands, before toodling up to Azincourt (guess) to find somewhere to set up and eat. Unlike yesterday, we were able to have a wind-free lunch, but only just managed to avoid the rain which came siling down just minutes after we’d finished. We didn’t ‘do’ Azincourt though because of the heavy rain.

We finished our trip at Montreuil, which is another ancient town, overlooking the surrounding countryside and ringed by imposing ramparts. As the weather had bucked up somewhat, we walked all the way around these. About 3-4 kilometres. Lovely.

Dinner. Somewhere. Soon!

Nord et Picardy 2011

[25/05/11] We set off from Slaithwaite (having bought milk and ‘sorted’ the post office) about 9.45am. An uneventful journey via M1 > A57 > A1 > A14 > M11 > M25 > M20 (+ 2 pee stops and a late lunch at Maidstone Services) saw us arrive at the Folkstone Euro Tunnel terminal in time to catch the 15.51pm departure – a whole half hour earlier than booked!

For the first ever time we were ‘inspected’ by customs and excise (slack day?) Which was interesting. We’d already passed over the video cameras in the road but now they wanted to check all the door handles for something or other – presumably, if we’d been handling explosives, we wouldn’t have washed out hands first and the swabs would therefore have picked it up. Anyway, we were cleared to go and off we went!

We both enjoy France, so simply arriving in Calais after a very swift journey under the English Channel was a delight. 25 minutes later we were booking into our hotel in Boulogne (Ibis Vielle Ville). We unpacked – which took ages because were had just bundled things into the car before setting off (both of us were out of the house form over 12 hours the previous day!) and went out for a walk. We’d already packed enough food for the day, so as the sun was shining – we made the most of it.

Full day 1 was Thursday and we’d decided to amble across country to Fresnoy le Grand, the home of Le Creuset. I’d been twice before, but Sharon had never been – so we’d made it a feature of one day out. We drove along A and B roads (N and D!), which made the journey slower – but much more enjoyable. The fields of wheat and barley had grown just enough to cover the poppies which must have been magnificent over the last few weeks. They are just starting to show in England, but the only ones we’ve seen over here so far, are those which live on the borers of fields and along the road side. However, even these are being out back – it must be trim the roadsides week over here as we saw many farmers out cutting the edges.

We had a late breakfast overlooking gorgeous valley just outside Boulogne at what I think was Quesques.

Fresnoy le Grand has changed much since I last visited, the factory has gone (it’s still in the town, but it’s  moved) and the pub/restaurant by the gates is closed. All buildings formerly between the pub and the factory shop are now a factory shop car park. Progress! We did find the town to be quite delightful but very closed. No idea why, but everywhere except the chemist was closed. Bars, Bakers, Butchers – all closed. Strange.

Anyway, it’s late now so I’ll finish. But as a reminder for tomorrow. Wind!