Wednesday, August 16, Boulogne-sur-Mer, France

 

So, after four busy days in England, we took the ferry from Dover to Calais, then south to Boulogne-sur-Mer, a busy coastal town, full of British tourists.

We drove to Oxford from Cambridge, following the direction on our rental-car’s GPS. Not sure it was the fastest route, certainly not the shortest, thought, at the time, we had done better when we depended on maps. We stayed in a hotel in Oxford that Roger had chosen because it is close to the Ashmolen Museum. It was also on Broad Street, in the middle of town. Several of the Universities had graduation ceremonies that weekend, and the place was mobbed. Parking was very difficult to find, and expensive. We had been to the Ashmolean several times when we lived in Essex, but they have expanded it considerable, and have much more if their extensive collection on display. We were able to spend several hours at the museum that afternoon, concentrating on their art exhibit. They have a very unusual J.M.W Turner painting, an architectural depiction of the High Street in Oxford. The picture was painted in 1810, but if you compare it to the same street today, there’s practically no changes—just the façade of one of the buildings.

That evening we had a nice dinner at a French restaurant. The crowds had disappeared. On Sunday morning we went back to the museum, and spent some time viewing their extensive collection of ancient art and relics, then had lunch at the museum’s new rooftop restaurant. Then we drove to Tetbury in the Cotswolds. I had forgotten just how lovely the Cotswolds are. All of England reminds me of my childhood story books—green fields, gently rolling hills, picture-perfect villages, but the Cotswolds are especially nice. Most of the homes are built of golden Cotswold stone that mellows with age.  I began to like the GPS more and more, as I didn’t have to constantly look at a map to navigate, but could enjoy the scenery.

Our old neighbors had moved to a home near Tetbury from Hidden Meadows two years ago. They took us on a tour of the area, including a spot where you could see all the way to the Bristol Channel, and the Severn River. We went to dinner with them at their favorite restaurant, and had an amazing dinner, and wonderful visit.

The next day was arranged as my special treat. We went on a tour of Highclere Castle (Downton Abbey) and had high tea in what had been the coach house afterward.  We then had a pleasant drive to Chichester to a hotel a block from the estuary. That evening we had dinner at a pub right beside the estuary, and were able to sit outside on the pub’s deck and watch the seabirds and boats.

Yesterday we drove from Chichester to Margate, stopping at Petworth House, now owned by the National Trust. It used to be the home of the Earls of Northumberland. One of their descendants, George Wyndham, the Third Earl of Egremont who gathered a large collection of art, including works by his friend J.M.W. Turner. One of the rooms is decorated by amazing carved wood paneling made by Grinling Gibbons. Wyndham was also able to collect many authentic Greek and Roman sculptures which are also on display.

Our Hotel in Margate was right on the beach front where J. M. W. Turner stayed with his mistress. Turner liked Margate because the water was usually calm, and he could study the light on the sea. If you notice a sort-of Turner motif to our vacation, you are spot on, as the Brits would say. Roger has become a great fan of Turner’s. What I liked best about Margate was seeing the sun start to set over the mouth of the Thames. You can just barely make out the new windmills on the Essex shore. It seemed strange to see the sun set over the water on the East Coast of England. That evening we had the best Indian meal I’ve ever had. Amazing.

This morning we got up early to be sure to reach Dover before our 11:10 am ferry to Calais.  We arrived at the rental car return by 9:30 am. The rental car folks were nice enough to drive us to the ferry terminal with our luggage, and we were at the terminal by 9:40 am. Turned out that (like our train tickets from London to Cambridge) our tickets were good for any ferry that day, and we were able to catch the 10:15 am ferry. The white cliffs of Dover really are a stand-out landmark, that we could see most of the way across the channel. We were in Calais in about an hour. We had been pleased that we were going to get an early start on our day in France. However, it turned out the rental car company at the ferry terminal was closed for lunch when we got there at 1:20 pm, (you lose an hour going into the next time zone.) It would not open until 2:00 pm, so we had lunch at the terminal—actually not too bad.

Our new rental car has GPS too, so I was able to enjoy the scenery as we drove south. We ate dinner at the restaurant in our hotel—wonderful French cuisine!

Thursday, August 17

Last night’s hotel had a very good restaurant, but did not have a secure internet access, so did not post this blog. Today we travelled west to our hotel the Hostellerie du Chateau des Monthairons near Verdon. We stopped on the way (well—a little out of the way) at the Chateau de Compiegne. This is a palace that was first royal hunting lodge and rebuilt by Louis XV, restored by Napoleon, and more recently by the French government. The furnishings have been lovingly restored and re-upholstered, so it really appears much as it did when the Empress Marie Louise was in residence. If you want to see some pictures go to http://en.palaisdecompiegne.fr/one-palace-three-museums/royal-and-imperial-palace .

On our way from the Chateau de Compiegne to our hotel, we got into a traffic jam, caused by the moving of three huge vanes for a wind turbine. Cross traffic was stopped at several round-abouts, while the trailers carrying the behemoths maneuvered them through. After what seemed like hours (probably only 20 minutes) we were able to pass on a dual carriageway portion of the road.

Tonight we had another amazing meal at our hotel.  Tomorrow, on to Basel, Switzerland.

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