Sunday, November 26, 2006 Belgium Belgium / France France / United Kingdom United Kingdom

Leaving the UK

View from the back of our ferry to the Sea Cat and the White Cliffs of Dover. [IMG_0241]
Leaving the UK [Enlarge]

We met our coach at Dover Eastern Docks at about ten past ten. We were the only ones to board at Dover. Everyone else had been on the bus since Victoria Coach Station in London a few hours earlier.

The bus made such slow progress through the port towards the ferry that we could have walked it quicker. We all had to get off for French passport control.

Eventually we made it on to the ferry and set off to find the prime spot on deck to get our "White Cliffs" photo. Even in the shelter of the port the sea was fairly rough and in one of the lounges we walked through the metal ceiling panels had fallen in. We found a position on the deck at the back of the boat and watched the car ramps being raised ready to sail.

It was incredibly picturesque looking back at the Kent cliffs gleaming in the sun. A huge flock of gulls followed the boat out of harbour diving to pick up the fish that had been churned up in the ferry's wake. If it hadn't been so windy we would probably have stayed on deck for the whole crossing, but the forward deck was closed due to the high winds and big waves so we went inside to spend our few remaining Sterling coins in the café and shop.

Back on the coach, waiting for the inevitable two lost passengers, we had the opportunity to compare the advertised service with the reality: the no smoking rule didn't seem to apply to the moustachioed German driver, and had there been a "no smelly food" rule his würst would no doubt have been exempt as well; there was no evidence of air conditioning and we couldn't get Glenn's seat belt to work. But these minor things aside it was cheap, punctual and only half full, and we'll undoubtedly face far greater hardships in the next few months.

Driving out of Calais into Northern France, towards the first stop at Lille we were struck by how like the East Anglian fens the Pas de Calais is. There had obviously been quite a lot of rain and there was standing water on some of the fields, but the sun continued to shine through the bus windows.

We made rapid progess along the A25 towards Lille. It was surprising and refreshing to see that in this part of Europe the shops still close on a Sunday. We also noticed the prevalence of English language slogans on the advertising hoardings. With 8km to go to the centre of Lille the traffic got heavier, and the walls which lined the road became progressively more graffiti-covered. We picked up three new passengers at the Gare de Lille Europe, a low, curvy, glass building under the shadow of a huge apartment block. Ten minutes later we had crossed the unmanned border into Belgium.

Apart from the fact that the road number changed to E17 (only the European road-numbering classification will do for the Euro-mad Belgians), nothing much changed. There were European flags everywhere, but hardly any Belgian ones. You have to hand it to them, they practice what they preach about European unification. The coach pulled into Brussels Gare du Nord coach station at 16:30, and there was a big changeover of people—it was continuing on into Eastern Europe after a 30-minute layover. Using the GPS, which handily contained the location of the Sleep Well Hostel obtained from Google Earth a few days earlier, we navigated straight to the door, about a kilometre's walk away. We had arrived.

Map of Day 002

Day 002
Dover to Brussels

This map shows the route we took in this post. Click it to see larger maps of our whole route at flickr.

Maps are taken from the CIA World Factbook.