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Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Across the Channel to France

  When I left off my story, we had risen to an early breakfast, packed our bags, and were just departing from London in the morning chill.  In order to reach Paris we first traveled by "motor coach" (not "bus") through the English countryside, which looked very much like I imagine the Ohio countryside looked at the beginning of the 20th century.  There was not much to see except road, grass, trees, and the occasional herd of pure white cattle grazing in a farmer's field - no brown Herefords or spotted Guernseys in the bunch. The bucolic scenery was not spoilt by gaudy billboards, strip malls, or urban sprawl.  After a few hours of gazing at the monotonous landscape, we reached the port of Dover and boarded a ferry, bus and all, for the crossing.  It was an overcast gray day, but ceiling to floor ferry windows allowed us to catch a glimpse of the white cliffs of Dover for a few minutes after leaving port.  They were lovely to see, and must be a dazzling sight when the sun shines brightly on the coastline.
   The crossing was uneventful, with the passengers busying themselves with card games, shopping, and beverages (coffee and alcohol) for the roughly 2 hour crossing. When we reached France, we were hustled through customs and loaded back onto the coach with our newly stamped passports in hand..
    At first France's landscape was much like that of England's, except for the appearance of clusters of wind turbines in groups of two, three, or up to a dozen.  Then I began to realize where Van Gogh had gotten his inspiration for his "wheat fields" series, because jarringly bright yellow wheat fields began to dot the landscape, along with the spire-like cypress trees so prevalent in his art.


     We continued on. Most of my fellow travelers had been lulled to sleep by the constant hum of tires against pavement, the now near noon day heat, and the shooshing of the air conditioner that only worked part of the time. We stopped at a rest stop for lunch, where we found small shops with ready made sandwiches, fresh fruit, and drinks.  We enjoyed making our first purchases in French francs and had our first encounter with French pay toilets, which we would encounter often during our stay.  (Most cost a Franc or a Euro.)  I spent a few pleasant minutes watching a group of teenage girls play a game of tree tag in the area of the parking lot and marveled at their carefree innocence.  Then it was back on the bus again for more monotony, until the road signs finally began toindicate we were nearing Paris.
   I don't know from which direction,. but I do know we entered Paris through a seedy side of town.  Judging by the run down ramshackle buildings, garbage piled high around unattended trash cans, and the appearance of the inhabitants, this was the low rent district.  I don't wish to be unkind or appear xenophobic, but this neighborhood was inhabited by immigrants.  These people were not French born or of French descent.  I would not have wanted to walk down any of these streets alone at night.
     As our coach wound it's way through ever more dense traffic, the neighborhood improved, but not by much. The streets was still rather dirty with litter scattered about.  The sandstone colored buildings though were now a bit more elegant with the trademark wrought iron balconies at each window.  To our surprise the bus parked and we disembarked.  This was where we would eat supper every night of our stay in Paris.
     We were directed to a modest restaurant where we were served an evening meal of chicken cordon bleu with chocolate mousse for dessert. The meals here were of uneven quality but I imagine it's hard to find a budget restaurant that can server 160 people at a reasonable price.
  Thus began our three day stay in Paris, a city of many contrasts which I will elaborate on in my next post.