Archive for May 26th, 2009

London to Paris (With Canturbury Between)

Tuesday, May 26th, 2009

We left London around 5:30, pulling ourselves painfully away from the sumptuous going away snack Erlis had prepared for us. Our plans to cross the Channel through the Chunnel were scraped when we found ferry tickets out of Dover for almost £100 less. The catch was that the ferry left at 7:00 AM. We drove towards the white cliffs, aiming to pass through Canterbury on our way. To get ourselves in the mood, we had David read a few selections from Canterbury Tales. We arrived before the sun set, and began searching for a way to get to the cathedral. After retracing the same roads several times with no success and with no apparent means of driving any closer, we determined to walk. Our extensive driving did show, to our surprise, that Canterbury is quite a college town, and that everyone was out partying this Saturday evening.

We finally found free parking and walked towards the cathedral’s spires where they poked above the roof tops. Along the way, Dan, Matt and I picked up the fish & chips that had proved so elusive during our last night in London. David preferred not to spend his money on fish, and had to watch as we devoured our cultural experience. The chips (Fries) were quite delicious, though our decision to get rock instead of cod resulted in a more fishy (Though tolerable) taste than we would have preferred. We enjoyed talking to the Turkish employees at the fish & chips shop. The manager had immigrated seven years ago, while the cashier had lived in the UK for only eleven months.

The cashier proved the most talkative, explaining racial issues involved in being a Turkish immigrant and pointing to an emphatic sign that declared, “No racism in this restaurant!” He worked 11 hour days, six days a week, yet had scarcely enough to get by between £500 a month for rent, and what he sent back to his family in Turkey. He confessed that he was considering moving back home, finding many aspects of being an immigrant in the UK to be too much.

After the enjoyable interlude at the restaurant, we continued our quest for the elusive cathedral. It remained out of reach, the towers still taunting us. The problem was that the walls that had surrounded medieval Canterbury are extant, for the most part, and the cathedral was inside them, behind gates that were closed for the night. Matt asked some students at an open air diner what the best way was to sneak in. They told him they had no idea, and that it would make more sense break into a bank than a cathedral, because we would get some money out of it. Another prime specimen of British wit piped up with a warning that Canterbury Cathedral is guarded by ninjas who would swoop down upon us if we tried anything.

We ignored his warning, exploring the possibility of scaling several fences, but all was for naught. We finally approached a security guard and asked if we could get in, just to take some pictures. The guard explained that the walls now held a boarding school for rich Brits, and he couldn’t let us in. We asked him about his job, and he spoke with very little affection for his pampered charges. He was extremely nice (In a gruff way), and gave us directions to a high spot where we could take pictures of the cathedral. We followed his directions and our own instincts to a hill where the old town stretched out, twinkling in the night, beneath us, with the elusive cathedral finally in full view. We began taking pictures, but the cathedral get the last laugh after all, switching off its illuminating lights midway through. We decided we had experienced all we wanted of Canterbury and headed for Dover.

We arrived after midnight, driving into the port immediately. We had to present our passports at the entrance, and noticed right hand drive cars, both reminding us that we were entering new territory. I was very excited to be going to the mainland, especially France. It seemed so exotic and different compared to boring old, english speaking Britain. We boarded the ferry around 6:00AM. It had signs in both French and English, and French outlets. I stayed up long enough to watch as we sailed into the Channel, watching as the white cliffs of Dover slid back and away.
In less than three hours, we were in France. I had the distinct sense of being in a completely new and strange place, where language and values and culture were in many ways quite different from my own. Our first goal was to fill the car, but we had problems distinguishing between gasoline and diesel in French. We finally found “diesel,” in our phrase book and at a station. With a full tank, we headed to Pontiose, a northwest suburb of Paris, intending to train into the city instead of attempting to brave Parisian traffic and paying an exorbitant fee to park nearer the downtown. The French lady behind the information counter was very nice. She broke with the French stereotype from the start, listening patiently to Dan’s attempts to speak french, instead of acting offended that he dare even try, and helping us choose the best way to get into Paris and back. It was with great anticipation that we left Pontiose behind, the train sweeping us towards one of Europe’s greatest cities and the next step in our trek. It is a blessing to be part of a trip that lets you see two of the world’s greatest cities within twenty-four hours of each other. Keep us in your prayers as we journey on.

Daniel Shenk