Day one: trip to FranceJuly 23, 2009
At a quarter to eleven Marcus arrived from Bussum (where he lives) to Amsterdam. We parked his car in our garage and before we took our car we said our goodbyes to Monling and left for Boulogne-sur-Mer where we would spend the first two nights.
We drove in rain until Gent (Belgium), then the weather cleared. It was dry while we had lunch in a highway restaurant. We decided to have our breaks ‘healthy’ so Marcus went for a sandwich with salmon and a large portion of the famous Belgian “groentjes” (salad). Because they ran out of Brie cheese he ordered a sandwich with normal cheese for me. What a pal! We both had a delicious jus d’orange.
We were served by two lovely girls whom only spoke in French but that didn’t matter: I found Marcus to be fluent in French. A good start of our trip together! A trip that started when Marcus asked a few weeks ago where I wanted to go if it were up to me. He proposed to drive (since I’m not allowed to drive anymore), offered to help to wash my back, put cream at those places that I couldn’t reach or see myself (no, I don’t mean that place), remind me of my complex medical regime and most important: call the nearest hospital if I had a seizure.
Finally, after giving this some thought and talking it over with my wife, we accepted his offer with both hands. We agreed on a limited our trip of 5 days (4 nights). About the destination I didn’t have to think long: the swamps of Maroille.
I had seen these swamps on channel 70 (still beta) that UPC (my local cable company in Amsterdam) uses to transmit in HD quality. For more information on their HD broadcasts just go to this web adress myZen and click on the box in the lower right corner (The Channel Presentation), then click on Music (to start it when it doesn’t) and then on Nature. If you click on Nature you get a choice of nature by feature. Among them is the feature Rivers and the last in the list of Rivers is Maroilles. Changes are that you’ll get a black square presented but look again in a few days, it may have disappeared (it’s still a beta website remember).
I like to watch their tv broadcasts (that are a combination of HD quality broadcast accompanied by good ambient music) because they mostly calm me down at night and at times of great stress or loneliness (they even got an award for this interactive HD channel)! I noticed there was a beautiful place called Maroille in the weekly loop. For the pronunciation of this tongetwister click on the link, click on the little blue triangle button and you’ll hear Maroille. We looked up the coordinates of Maroille (they show them on tv at the beginning and end of each segment) in Google Earth and really found a tiny town called Maroille (very famous for its cheese).
The next biggest town to Maroille was Clairmarais. We decided that we still had energy and time enough to visit Clairmarais. Clairmarais is famous for its swamps so we set off for a walk. Soon we realized that the swamps were a bit disappointing (at least in Summer) and decided to take a short cut and left for another (time) killler: “L’ascenseur des Fontinettes” (or L’ascenseur des bateaux”).
L’ascenseur des Fontinettes
At three o’clock we arrived at the “boat elevator”. A short friendly man with eyebrows the colour of his fair hair could only speak French. With the help of Marcus he understood that we were very interested in this mighty piece of engineering that only recently was decommissioned (1886-1975). Then he told us that he would put a DVD on explaining to us in English why this lift was necessary, how it was constructed and why it was, at the end, decommissioned. How very informative!
Then I realized that I had forgotten to charge both my Canon photo and film camera and also I didn’t remember where I packet the chargers. A bit annoyed with myself we went on our way to Boulogne-sur-Mer where we arrived at 18:30.
We were awaited at the counter by a kind boy and girl. They showed us our room (the boy carried ALL our lugage), showed us the chair for my shower ritual and brought us additional towels while Marcus was parking the car. He came back beaming that we had probably the largest garage in the back building and went directly for the mini-bar. I had a bottle of Schweppes and he had all alcoholic beverages he could drink. Holiday!
At 20:30 we went downstairs and asked the receptionist where best to eat: Chez Jules! We walked straight to it. Chez Jules is famous among the British because Boulogne-sur-Mer is the main port for Dover in France. It’s an authentic French restaurant with an Italian twist. To elaborate on that: Marcus had as a starter ham & melon and later as main dish lamb. I had a salad with goat cheese and as main dish I had a pizza with cheese from the region.
At around 24:00 we were back in the hotel. We asked the receptionist when breakfast would be served and I would like to know what the difference between a sauna and a hammam is (answer: “something between sauna and a Turkish bath”). Tired we went to our room.