Really this post should be called ‘a series of unfortunate events – an attempted trip to Amsterdam.
My colleague Charlotte and I decided that we would take a very impromptu trip across to Amsterdam to visit my friend Rozemin who I met last year in New Zealand. Literally we booked up on the Wednesday afternoon, ready to leave on the Friday evening. Our one mistake – choosing to go by bus.
The bus (Flix Bus) was MUCH cheaper than the alternative flights and so we sold it to ourselves as an adventure. A 12 hour bus overnight on the Friday and a 12 hour bus overnight on the Sunday, where we would go straight into the office on Monday morning? Great plan. Great plan it was until we were left stranded. In Calais….
Charlotte and I boarded the bus at Victoria Coach Station, ready to leave at 9.30pm. We’d had a pizza, I’d taken a sleeping tablet – what could possibly go wrong?
We literally slept the entire journey down to Calais before embarking the midnight crossing over the Channel. We weren’t that enamoured with being woken up to go through border control, nor did we realise we would actually have to leave the bus whilst the Ferry was in motion; however we found a couple of seats on the ship and slept all the way until we made it to France.
As soon as the ferry arrived into Calais we headed back to the bus proceeded to fall back to sleep for another hour and a half, however, when we woke up we realised we were still on the full ferry – what had happened? Apparently the ferry door had broken so they couldn’t let anyone disembark. Charlotte and I clearly were not that bothered and ended up falling back to sleep for another 45 minutes or so; when we woke up however we realised our bus was still on the ferry, however all the other cars had managed to leave – were we dreaming?!
Our bus driver soon woke us from our slumber and explained that unfortunately, the bus had broken down, due to the motor overheating for during the two hours waiting for the door to open. We were told that we would have to exit the ferry by foot and wait at the P&O ferry terminal for our replacement bus which would pick us up and continue the remainder of our journey to Amsterdam.
We were soon led off the ferry by the ferry staff and, what continued for the next four hours was a complete disaster. Without going into masses of detail, we were lead outside into a car park at 4am where we were left in the freezing cold for an hour before a bus picked us up and took us to the ferry terminal. Once we arrived there we had no explanation from Flix bus for nearly three hours until, thanks to us calling them, we were informed that no bus would be coming and that we would have to make our own alternative means of transport to Amsterdam. We had literally been left stranded in Calais…
By this stage it was almost 9am and Charlotte and I decided that we should head into Calais town to decide whether we would call it a day and head back to England, or whether we could try and hop on a train and try and make it to Amsterdam. Unfortunately it swiftly became clear that the train wasn’t an option; it would take over 6 hours and therefore would only give us less than half a day in the city before we had to board the 12 hour bus back to London. Neither of us were a fan of that option. We decided to pop and get some breakfast at Boulangerie Fred (with the 15 Euros Flixbus had given us for refreshments) and mulled over our contingency plans for the day, before stopping off at the sites of Calais – erm, the Townhall.
After strong coffee, proper French pastries, and a pep talk from Charlotte (‘Mairi stop being in such a grump’) we headed back towards the train station and booked tickets across to the town of Boulogne-sur-Mer for a little day trip. Well we may as well make the most of the day we had in France, hey?
The train journey takes roughly 45 minutes from Calais. I slept the entire time which was good for both mine, and Charlotte’s, sanity…
When we arrived in Boulonge we decided to forgo the modern town centre and instead wandered up to the walled ‘Old Town’ through the imposing ancient gated archway. The fortified town which boasts 9m thick stone walls, is predominately medieval, but it’s roots date back to a walled Roman castrum established in the early second century with a view to invading England. The vast stone walls, still intact all the way around, were built on top of the Roman walls, retaining the rectangular shape of that original camp. Charlotte and I climbed up the steep stairs up to the top of the stone walls which gave us a great view up over the town.
Of course, you can’t fail to admire the imposing Notre Dame basilica, Boulogne’s biggest historic attraction, which towers magnificently over the red tile roofs. Built between 1827-1866 on the ruins of a medieval cathedral – and, before that, a Roman chapel – the Basilica of Notre Dame del Mer is named for the local legend that made Boulogne a place of pilgrimage in the middle ages; that a statue of the Virgin was washed ashore in the 7th century. Although destroyed during the French revolution, the statue lives on in hundreds of representations; in gold carvings, life-sized statues, and centuries-old pilgrim’s badges around the town.
After admiring the city from the heights of the wall, we wandered back down to street level and admired the quinisentially French buildings scattered along the cobbled, winding streets.
By this point Charlotte and I decided that we definitely deserved a glass of wine so stopped off at the aptly named Vole Hole for a quick one. This place was super small and rustic inside and full of locals enjoying their Saturday morning tipples.
After warming ourselves up we wandered out back into the town to check out Château de Boulogne-sur-Mer. This beautiful castle was built in the eastern corner of the medieval city and thus became an integral part of its defences. The castle was originally built in the 13th Century by the Count of Boulogne and his wife Mahaut and was the first castle to be built without a keep in the history of military architecture. Nowadays it houses a museum which, unfortunately we did not have time to visit, but it was definitely a great little stop off.
After wandering around the castle grounds Charlotte and I decided that we deserved a treat. After the day we had had we set out to find a nice looking restaurant to treat ourselves to a slap up French meal. In the end we settled on La Poivrière on the main street Rue de Lille. Admittedly this wasn’t the most amazing food we had ever eaten but we made sure we did it properly and went full on French. I decided on French onion soup to start, Beef Bourguignon for main and Crème brulee for desert – all tied up with a bottle of red of course.
Feeling much better, after our meal we headed back to the train station and made our way back to Calais and (eventually) back onto the ferry. We made ourselves at home with pillows, blankets, a box of chocolates and a bottle of wine, feeling very sorry for ourselves being on the way back to England when we should have been having a blast in Amsterdam….