Monday, 24 September 2012

London to Berck-sur-Mer

Since the day when I finally submerged under a mountain of black depression and gave up on living, Sue has always keep a watching brief, never really convinced that I was able to function free of the possibility that I might crack again.

Today, she says, she believes its unlikely. All it took was a difficult day with the weather, with people and then having to drive a strange car on the wrong side of the road through traffic and safely to our destination. Apparently, now she believes. I've lived without trust for such a long time, I never believed it would be offered again, so tonight, I'm feeling pretty happy.

The rain which arrived in earnest in London yesterday mid morning, showed no sign of abating as we moved from our hotel to St Pancras railway station after an earlier than usual breakfast. We had chosen an easier option and spent extra on a private transfer from the hotel to the station. It allowed us to control time factors. As a result, we arrived in time to catch an earlier train to Dover and even better, the earlier ferry to Calais. In the end, all this gave us was a longer time to wait in Calais Ferry Port as the high car operators didn't arrive until just before our previously arranged time of arrival.

No blue birds but still the white cliffs
Leaving England, the White Cliffs of Dover were impressive. Regardless of driving rain and fog and cold, to stand on the open deck and watch them recede was one of the most dramatic physical sights we have observed in the seven weeks since leaving Australia. At one stage, a small area of sunshine tried to break through, illuminating just a section of the cliffs and the sea in front of it. It was dazzling.

We crossed the Channel almost completely enveloped in rain or fog and sometimes both and we arrived to a terminal which emptied quickly and left us alone with the workers for two hours while we waited for the car rental place to open. It was teeming down whilst we had lunch, at times blocking our vision of the ferries at dock less than 300m away. It was bleak, cold and threatening because soon I had to go out in it and drive a left hand drive car, everything about it foreign (literally) to me and among the manic French, who drive their cars like Bengal tigers are in the back seat.

Raining cats, dogs and the rest
of the vet's surgery
Not only did we lose our time advantage but it went into negative as the car high attendant had all sorts of trouble with technology and asked us questions like "when did you finish your driving lessons?" Once I figured out he needed to know how long we had been driving we made some approximate dates up, although in my case, I actually knew the date I first got my driving licence. All during these enquiries, he was mostly underneath the counter trying to get his computer system operating because, he said, no computer and "you iz karput. Viola!"

Once we cleared the terminal, we sat in the car for thirty minutes, learning how it worked. Tomorrow we'll do that again because its making beeps and whistles which I have no control over! We gave up on the SatNav as theirs seemed to be only one button and how I was supposed to access it's 25 functions wasn't at all clear. Strategically, I had bought a new GPS in Australia and equipped it with French maps and it was soon in place and programmed with our destination.

Luckily, my first three turns were at roundabouts, which had whopping big arrows on them pointing which was to go and the 45 minutes afterwards was pretty much open road driving, so I had the chance to settle in. After that, we left the motorways and travelled back roads down the French west coast. By the time we got to Berck-sur-Mer, I was feeling pretty comfortable. Dad had told me not to worry because in his opinion I could drive anything, except possibly a nail. He was right. For the record, the anything in this case was a new Peugeot 308 auto.

The beach at Berck
Berck is a coastal town (sur-Mer means "by the sea") of about fifteen thousand people. There has been a settlement here since at least 1301 but it rose to prominence when Parisians started taking notice of it in the 18th Century. Many fine painters - notably Eduard Manet - came to the coast to paint as it was an easy part of the coast to reach from Paris. In the 19th Century, it became known for the healing benefits it offered tuberculosis sufferers and several hospitals were set up along the coastline. Later, it also became the place where Dr Francois Calot, an orthopaedic surgeon, worked on patients with chronically crooked backs. The Calot Institute is less than a km from our digs and is a specialist orthopaedic clinic for research and operations.

Some of the hospitals have fallen into disrepair but many are still working.

After arriving and meeting our hosts at Villa Anemone, we set of for a walk along the beach. We got as far as the back of the beach and realised we would have been blown to one end and never have been able to walk back against it, so abandoned the idea and walked into town. We never actually found it, despite our hosts kindly giving us a map and with rain threatening after an hour of walking, I resorted to Google Maps to plot a route home.

Our hosts are a friendly German couple from Dusseldorf, who moved here when one of them had serious problems with asthma. The cleansing air has done the trick and his last medical report was virtually clear. Both are investigating and writing a book about one of the Popes and both have undergone training in theology. They seem like nice chaps and met us with a cuppa and home made gateaux. We have a first floor bedroom facing the direction of the beach, although the door to the balcony won't be open in these conditions. They have been renovating the house since they arrived three years ago. Its a credit to them.

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