Northern France, Boulogne Sur Mer

Street Entertainer Boulogne Sur Mer

We were all relieved to find that it wasn’t raining and it looked as though Camille’s welcome forecast was completely accurate because the weather this morning was in complete contrast to yesterday, the sun was already shining and the sky was a blank blue canvas.

We followed the early morning routine that we had already established, went to see the ducks and the hens, visited Camille and saw the rabbit and walked a while through the village before returning to the cottage for our usual farm house breakfast, part English, part continental but every day a perfect combination of the two.  On account of the good weather we did some washing and hung it on the line before we finally left the cottage and set off for Boulogne about twenty-five kilometres away.

Being mean and naturally reluctant to pay the motorway toll we took the cross country route again and much to the girl’s annoyance made a small detour to visit the wind turbines high on a hill and with good views all around and then we carried on and made good progress until we reached the southern outskirts of the town.  We were aiming for the north so it would have been much more convenient to use the motorway because the route through the town was congested and confusing and when we reached the car park we were aiming for there was no room anyway so we had to drive a kilometre or so out of town to find somewhere else  to park.

Actually, we were so far out of town that we were within sight of the La Colonne de la Grande Armée, which is a column that was erected in the 1840s and is a fifty-three metre-high monument topped with a statue of Napoleon Bonaparte. (Higher than Nelson’s column in Trafalgar Square which is slightly 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,as a mark of respect to the British allies in the war the French government turned the statue of Napoleon round to face inland to symbolise that that was the end of any Gallic invasion plans.

We strolled casually down the hill into the town past the Nausicaa Aquarium, one of the largest in France, on the sea front and walked along the port and this was a 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 girls wanted to shop but this wasn’t in our plans so we left them to it and continued on up a steep hill to visit the historic centre.  Boulogne old town is built within the original Roman walls and has recently been well restored and it was in complete contrast to the concrete and glass of the sea front and the shopping streets.  Here was the beating heart of a medieval city with a castle, a cathedral and narrow streets lined with charming properties, little shops, cafés and bars.  In the middle was a public space with imaginative public art based on giant vegetable sculptures called ‘Le Jardin de Gulliver’ which was probably something only the French could do so well.

We hadn’t allowed a lot of time for this and we could have done with longer but it was very hot now so after a beer and a baguette at a pavement café (where I had to discreetly tackle an especially obnoxious nappy (diaper)) we walked along the main street full of interesting shops and busy restaurants and under the walls of 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.

We left the old town by a gate next to the Castle Museum and I am forever amazed at the bits of trivia that I pick up on my travels because who would have guessed that inside is the most important exhibition of masks from Alaska in the whole world?  Why isn’t the most important exhibition of masks from Alaska in Alaska? We didn’t go inside because we weren’t sure that Molly would appreciate it so we left and walked through the gardens beneath the walls and back to the agreed rendezvous point with the girls where they were waiting for us after completing their shopping.

We had enjoyed the old town and Sally and Rachel their shopping but now it was time to leave.  Richard and I walked back up the hill to the cars while the others stayed on the white sandy beach in front of the aquarium. It is a nice beach but is only temporary because 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.

There was a confusing route out of the town but by a combination of judgment and good luck we managed to find the correct road out and once we had cleared the scruffy outskirts we were soon back in the open countryside and motoring south back towards the rural tranquility of our holiday village.

Back in the garden Molly played in her paddling pool and I had a couple of beers while Richard and the girls went to the supermarket for a few supplies that we were running short of (especially tomatoes).  This had been another excellent day and I had enjoyed the return trip to Boulogne which had so surprised me last year as a town well worth a visit but one so very easily missed.  Best of all, our weather forecasting neighbour promised us another sunny day tomorrow.

We didn’t do anything different in the evening of course, Molly stayed up for as long as she possibly could before finally giving in and then Richard prepared the barbeque and cooked a similar meal to every other night.  It would have been nice to go out for a meal but we all remembered last years expensive disaster when Molly wouldn’t sit still and it cost us nearly €100 for a meal we didn’t really enjoy so it was much easier to stay at the cottage, cook for ourselves and enjoy a few beers.

As the evening drew to an end I had the inevitable accident with the log fire.  Poking around in the embers a piece of red hot charcoal fell onto the ground and as I took evasive action I lost control of the red hot poker and struck Richard in the back of the leg and in the process leaving him with a brand that he was stuck with for the rest of the holiday.  I went to bed soon after that before I could do any more damage.

Boulogne France


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