Stranded at the train station - languishing in Lille

The Kid was beside herself with glee, ecstatic that she wouldn’t have to endure le dreaded walking and aimless meandering around town for at least the next couple of hours, as we were instead scheduled to recline in comfortable leisure in a speeding train, heading to Bruges via Lille, France.  Little did we know then that our early morning departure was all in vain for we were destined to spend a good chunk of the day sequestered in a hustling and bustling train station, hapless prisoners subject to the whims of track breakdowns, repairs and cancelled trains.  Literally kicking our luggage along the curb, as we once again miserably schlepped our over-burdened bags to the station, Miss Spoiled Princess lamented her unfortunate predicament of having to trudge - one pink sneaker at a time - to the railway station. Why was her mean ol’ Auntie so damn frugal, unwilling to fork out a couple of Euro for the convenient luxury of a taxi ride?   Why couldn’t she instead be driving around Europe in chauffeured limos, jetting around in private jets and sailing the seas in luxurious yachts?  Like seriously, her cheapo Auntie has absolutely no qualms about dishing out several hundred of those colourful bills for the latest haute couture designer satchel, so why therefore scrimp on fast and efficient metered cabs?  Well, Kid, in my own defense….hey, hold on a minute here….who’s writing this post, you or I? 

Yikes!!  Now that I’m back on track here…I’ll just carry on with the rest of the story….

Even though we had to wake up at the crack of dawn in order to high tail it to the railway station, transfer trains in Lille for the short hour and a half long commute to Bruges, I was pleased as punch for having seamlessly plotted our journey, envisioning a noon-ish arrival in the medieval canal lined town.  What I hadn’t anticipated for, were the minor hiccups that every globe-trotter eventually encounters, the sort of roadblock that leaves one at the mercy of those mischievous gremlins of travel, delighted at being able to throw a wrench in your plans and trip you up a bit.  The travel gods must have been laughing it up at our expense, for today was our turn to miserably languish the day away, wasting endless hours sitting on the cold hard benches of Lille’s bustling railway station. 
It was too good to be true, the pair of us, effortlessly cruising into town, precisely on schedule, as per our meticulously detailed itinerary.  This was more our speed, luckless pawns in the untimely breakdown of a portion of this well-travelled corridor, the tracks requiring urgent repair, resulting in the cancellation of our 11:08am train.  With the next train departing at 1:08pm, we now had several hours to fritter the day away - not enough time in which to actually leave the railway station and explore this corner of France but way too much time in which to become expertly acquainted with the nooks and crannies of this transportation hub.  To be perfectly honest, I’d much rather be languishing in a quaint outdoor café, lunching on moule et frites and sampling the local brew in pretty as a postcard Bruges, than having to resort to mercilessly kicking the vending machines into spitting out a few cans of soda and a couple of packets of stale crisps in a gritty railway station.

And then, lo and behold, just when I thought that I’d heard it all, the Kid once again astounds and astonishes me, by uttering six words I never dreamed would effortlessly roll of her tongue by asking just one simple question – Auntie Nora, can we walk there?

Come travel with the Kid and I as we jump back into time to medieval Bruges, our arrival delayed due to the unforeseen complications of modern rail breakdowns.  Come hang out in railway stations, sit back, relax, read a magazine or two, as you wait for the next train to yet unexplored destinations en route to new adventures.

Next week – Still languishing in Lille?  Bruges?  Where do my pink-sneakered feet take me?  Stay tuned!!

Shops closed on Sunday? Looks like we're back to wandering, meandering and strolling!

Whether ambling, meandering, wandering or merely strolling, the Kid and I were doing what we do best, and that was walking.  Yes. Once again, our poor tuckered out tootsies were hoofing it across town, yet, this time, on the search for sustenance in a sleepy eyed French town, one, incidentally, that was locked and shuttered down on this Sunday evening.  Lacing up her sneakers, the reluctant niece hesitantly broached the prospect of perhaps hailing a taxi to whisk us to our destination, thus avoiding the dreaded aimless traipsing through yet another foreign ville.  In your dreams Kid, besides, how else is one to garner a sense for a not yet familiar location, randomly discovering pocketfuls of memories along the way?  So, it was on a late summer’s eve, that we schlepped (thankfully, sans le dreaded luggage!) up and down the deserted rues and avenues of this maritime port, not another soul or tourist in sight.  How could this be?  It was only 7:00pm, unquestionably early for hustling and bustling metropolises such as London and Barcelona, yet, eerily quiet on the desolately abandoned streets of Calais. 

So much for my long anticipated shopping excursion, constantly on the lookout for one of a kind European treasures, my purse strings itching to acquire whether a bauble, a trinket, a souvenir, or just about anything, actually.  Padlocked shops and locked doors instead greeted our inquisitive stares.  Disappointment mounting, anxious to indulge in a wee bit of retail therapy, we plodded on, hopeful that the next corner would lead to a welcoming storefront, eager to trade designer duds for hard-earned Canadian dollars.

And that is how we stumbled upon the Burghers of Calais.

Rodin’s Burghers, the six of them, their history dating back to 1347, proudly proclaimed their presence squarely in the center of the Ville, imposing bronze figures a testament to the perseverance of a town besieged under the brutality of Edward 111’s English army.  After more than a year long siege in which the townsfolk were literally starved into submission, six outstanding citizens of Calais chose to graciously offer their lives in exchange for the liberation of their fellow townsfolk, a selfless offer of hope that resonated with the British Queen, who miraculously, spared their lives.   

Quite the impressive history indeed, for this French shipping port, a parcel of land situated in a most desirable geographical location, a mere 26 miles across the Channel from Dover.  Even though Calais was completely re-built after having been virtually decimated during World War 11, it still retains a fragment of its ancient heritage, with its town hall Belfry considered to be an UNESCO World Heritage site.

With a little bit of knowledge gleaned and enough National Geographic digital moments to fill countless scrapbooks, the Kid and I trod on, tummies grumbling, in search of fabulously French gastronomic cuisine.  Trudging away from centre ville, we eventually stumbled across a row of assorted dining establishments, which, thankfully, were open for business, catering primarily to tourist menus and appetites.  Hopes dashed of savouring foie gras and other French delicacies, we eventually settled upon the classically Italian pizza Margherita, Coca Cola for the Kid and a pint of Guinness for myself. 

Note to self – Traditionally, shops remain closed on Sundays in the majority of French towns, except for certain designated tourist venues, so, if planning on spending a leisurely Sunday indulging to your heart’s content, do a bit of research beforehand, so as to avoid disappointment - a fact that I should have remembered and stored in the recesses of my mind, having traipsed through France countless times.  Once again, this seasoned globe-trotter seems to repeatedly delight in wandering the planet in a slightly clue-less manner, as if viewing the world for the very first time. Yikes!!

Come explore deserted rues and avenues as we discover the six Burghers of Calais and appreciate the stoic perseverance of the remarkable inhabitants of this French maritime port ….come stroll with us through history.

Next week – Bidding adieu to Calais en route to ventures unknown.

Sirens blaring, horns blasting.....our welcome to Hotel Meurice

Dejectedly plunking our burdensome baggage on the pavement, seconds away from unapologetically  kicking it to the curb and just walking away, le Kid and I were beyond fatigued, hopelessly lost somewhere amongst the criss-crossing rues and avenues of a sandy beached fishing port.  Mentally preparing ourselves for the not so remote possibilities of having to spend our first and only night in Calais sleeping on a park bench, fighting the squirrels for a couple of nuts and shuddering at the prospect of having to now scrap with the birds for lukewarm bath water, we were in quite the conundrum indeed.  It was le Kid who initially spotted the police cruiser parked at the far end of the deserted avenue, a beacon of hope to two stranded foreigners who were clearly incapable of getting from Point A to Point B without incurring some form of haphazard roadblock. 

Clearly convinced that we were beyond clued-out, the kind gendarmes pointed us in the correct direction, indicating that Hotel Meurice was located a mere hop, skip and a jump away, just around the corner from where we were currently standing.  Yikes!!  Who knew?  Note to self – try to remember to pack that “oh, so handy” map on future transatlantic sojourns.  After all, having to rely on pure instinct alone is not the most reliable or desirable method of arriving at your destination, that is, if you don’t mind spending the majority of your annual three week holiday traipsing around foreign lands in a discombobulated state of aimless wandering. 

Hopes dashed that she wouldn’t be escorted to the hotel in a fleet of “sirens blaring and horns blasting totally cool” (her words, not mine) patrol cars, my niece was on the verge of tears, crest-fallen that her “once in a lifetime chance” of joy-riding in such a vehicle had been quickly squashed by an “unbelievably mean ol’ Auntie”.  Like seriously? Just wait Miss Kid, you’re still young, plenty of time in which to possibly finagle a way in which to accomplish said goal.

Stepping foot in resplendently charming Hotel Meurice (5 & 7 rue Edmond Roche) the exterior façade of this three star guest house does not do justice to the quaint and homey warmth emanating from the interior of this gem of a find.  Located virtually in the centre of town, the hotel is an affordable luxury in the middle of a nondescript ville.  Greeted by the welcoming bienvenues of the hotel staff and a leashed rescue dog, our Calais digs were one of the unexpected highlights of our one night stay.  The grand old sweeping staircase invoked memories of the old-fashioned kind and was a comforting leap back into the tranquility of a by-gone era.

Checking into our upgraded suite (in retrospect, I believe that that the hotel staff took pity upon us, two weary sweat drenched wanderers in dire need of a hot bath and a warm bed), both the Kid and I gawked in disbelief at the luxuriousness of our palatial French salon, grateful to finally stretch out our limbs and dreamily languish – that is, at least until supper time and our frenzied search for dinner on a Sunday evening in a town with early closing hours.

Who says that meandering aimlessly for hours on end doesn’t have its perks?

Next week – Discovering Calais – Come traipse with us on adventures unknown as we amble up and down the avenues (yes, once again!) in quest of sustenance and National Geographic digital moments.

There's a shuttle bus? Who knew? Our marathon trek to Calais centre ville

Schlepping (yes, once again!) our over burdened baggage along the narrow walkway, confident that “le centre ville” is just a hop, skip and a jump down the road, Le Kid and I dutifully trudged along the barely trodden path, hoping beyond hope that the next step would finally lead towards civilization.   After all, we were merely following the arrows that pointed “vers le direction de ville”, guiding us to accompany their trail as indicated on “les tres helpful” signs plastered about the exit doors of the Calais Maritime ferry terminal.   So, who were we to question said signage?  Mind you, our first clue should have been that the directions didn’t list exactly HOW many kilometres town was situated from the ferry terminal or perhaps we merely failed to notice the distance indicated.  Details, actually, whatever, surely it couldn’t be “that” far now, could it?

The term “kicking your luggage to the curb” took on larger than life magnitude as we blindly stumbled along the walkway, suitcases in tow, two clueless Canucks - a slightly scatter-brained Auntie and a “know it all Kid”, plodding along a now busy motorway.  Yikes!!  Le walkway had somehow transformed itself into Le drag race, with speeding cars whizzing along the thoroughfare, an unsettling welcome to the outskirts of Calais, kilometres away from our desired destination.

You would think that I (yes, me), a seasoned traveller of more than 30 years of traipsing the globe and then some, would have figured out a quicker route from ferry terminal to town.  But then, the best of us inevitably trip up and either neglect to read signs properly or completely miss viewing the tell-tale indicators of easy transport, via the conveniently located shuttle-bus into town, situated a mere footsteps away from the Calais Maritime terminal.

Perhaps I’ll just chalk that momentary lapse in judgement to having imbibed in one too many flutes of bubbly on the ferry crossing across the channel.  Yes, a perfectly plausible and highly believable excuse, n’est-ce pas?  Yikes!!

Fatigued, cranky beyond belief, having now traipsed hundreds of footsteps along the concrete pavement into a mirage of a town, Le Kid close to bawling uncontrollably that her delusional pink-sneakered Auntie had led her down a path of “no return” to routes unknown, miles from the comfy hominess of Hotel Meurice, a destination we were unsure of ever hoping to reach anytime soon.

Hopping in a cab was no longer an option as it would be foolhardy for such a vehicle to abruptly screech to a halt and pick up two stranded passengers without incurring a multi-car pile-up in the process.  Definitely not the desired welcome to the sandy beached fishing port, a stay in the local hospital not our first choice of five star accommodation.  No, just best to trudge on and hope for the best.

Placing one pink sneaker ahead of the other, we finally made our way towards the outskirts of town, where we happened to spy a police cruiser snaking its way along the deserted avenues, perhaps on the lookout for morons like us, traipsing into Calais on foot, unaware that shuttle buses and taxis were a quicker form of transport into le centre ville. 

This is primarily one of the motivating factors of why I write this blog, in order to give other slightly clue-less globe-trotters a few helpful tidbits of information in the hope of enlightening them to not make the same unbelievably moronic choices on their travel sojourns as I have.

And, on that note, today’s Wednesday “helpful advice column for clue-less wanderers” signs off, as I dig in the archives for even more examples of aimless meandering, which I will certainly share with you in next week’s blog post.

Come travel with the Kid and I as we forgo the comfort and convenience of air-conditioned buses, choosing instead to hike along the edge of the motorway, cumbersome baggage in tow…..come travel with us to adventures unknown…

Next week – Leaving my pink-sneakered footprints all over Calais.  Stay tuned!!