France, Napoleon Bonaparte and the Old Town of Boulogne

La Colonne de la Grande Armée

The morning started just like all the others.  Molly woke early and I entertained her until the others joined us for breakfast.  This morning we had a choking incident because of her habit of putting everything in her mouth and then a messy nappy incident which I swear she found amusing because she waited for me to change her once before immediately filling the replacement.

Richard was the first up after me and we needed some bread and croissants so we drove to Boulonge stopping on the way to visit La Colonne de la Grande Armée, which is conveniently situated next door to Carrefour.  The column was erected in the 1840s and is a fifty-three metre-high monument topped with a statue of Napoleon Bonaparte. (Nelson’s column in Trafalgar Square is shorter at forty-six metres high).  It marks the base camp where Napoleon massed France’s biggest ever army of eighty thousand men ready to invade England.  It was initially intended to commemorate a successful invasion of England, but this proved to be a bit premature and as he didn’t quite manage that it now commemorates instead the first distribution of the Imperial Légion d’honneur.  Originally, when it was first completed, the statue had looked out over the Channel towards England, the land Napoleon had confidently expected to conquer but after the Second World War, the French government turned the statue of Napoleon round to face inland, as a mark of respect to the British allies in the war.

After a very slow start to the day we sat in the garden and watched the weather improving gradually as the grey cloud gave way to white and then eventually to blue sky but it was still windy and Richard was still complaining when we packed the car to make a return visit to Boulogne.

The girls wanted to visit the Nausicaa Aquarium on the sea front but Richard and I wanted to return to the old town to see the bits that we had missed on the earlier first visit.  After we had left them at the entrance we walked along the port and this was another surprise because Boulogne, it turns out, is the biggest fishing port in France and there is a large fishing fleet including deep-sea trawlers and factory ships, as well as smaller sea-going and inshore fishing boats.  A third of France’s fresh fish catch is landed here, and a huge quay-side fish processing factory makes 20% of the nation’s tinned fish, and half of the frozen fish, fish fingers and other fish-based ready meals.

The sun was shining and down at the coast the wind had curiously dropped so it was warm as we walked past the main shopping street and back up the hill towards the medieval castle.  This time we walked for a while outside of the walls and then we went inside and with more time available today explored some of the back streets and alleyways.  This was our last day and my last opportunity for my favourite moules et frites because although I had had them the previous evening this had been a bit of a rushed affair.  Today we found a pavement café on the Rue de Lille where a Frenchman was playing accordion to entertain the diners and I finally achieved my objective of enjoying a pot of steaming molluscs.

After lunch we strolled around a while longer, outside the huge Cathedral which was rebuilt in the nineteenth century as a symbol of the revival of the French Catholic Church after the Revolution in which the old cathedral and so many other churches were closed and destroyed.  We didn’t go inside but even from the street we could appreciate the size of the massive dome which is one of the biggest in Europe.  At the other end of the old town was the town hall where there was free entry to the Belfry Tower that included a guided tour and history of the building which was helpfully given in English as well as French.  There was a long climb with a couple of stops for informative narrative and there were good views from the top of the tower and we were lucky to be part of quite a small group of visitors because we had time and space to enjoy the rooftop vista.

The girls had enjoyed the aquarium and were waiting for us on the white sandy beach when we returned slightly late to meet them. Every winter storms strip the sand away and then every summer the city council imports several hundred tonnes from further up the coast to make sure that Boulogne has a beach to enjoy at least for a few months.

On the way home we showed the girls La Colonne de la Grande Armée but they didn’t seem impressed and certainly not excited enough to get out of the car so we returned directly to Maninghen-Henne and sat in the garden and braved the gusty winds which were much stronger here inland.  Later Molly used the paddling pool in the shower and we had our final evening meal in France before we started to think about and organise ourselves for the journey back to the United Kingdom the next day.  At nine o’clock we did the bottle bank and village walk routine and we were getting much better at this now because Molly was asleep within ten minutes and straight to bed when we got back to the cottage.

As it was the last night there were bottles to finish off and we stayed up later than usual and sat and chatted and reminisced about a thoroughly enjoyable holiday in France with our daughters.  No golf of course but we had had a good time all the same!

Up early in the morning I was able to reflect on the holiday and it occurred to me that this had been a week for some relearning points when it comes to looking after a baby and being with Molly especially at these times in the morning when we were alone together gave me the opportunity to think about these.  Here are my top three: Firstly when going on holiday with baby take plenty of changes of clothes – for yourself!  several of my shirts were destroyed by the end of the week; secondly remember that baby will always take a dump at the most inconvenient time such as just getting on the ferry, at lunch time in a restaurant or most frustratingly thirty seconds after a previous change; thirdly, there is a world of difference between putting baby to sleep and getting baby to sleep – I had completely forgotten that one!

We had a final breakfast of bread and croissants and used up as much of the food as we could and then we packed and tidied and then settled our account with the young man who had greeted us a week ago and suddenly at eleven o’clock it was time to leave so we said goodbye to the cottage that had been our home for the past week.

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2 responses to “France, Napoleon Bonaparte and the Old Town of Boulogne

  1. That column of B’s is spectacular.

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