A Day in Calais, France

The time has come, and after spending some pleasant days on the South of France, sightseeing in Marseille and Aix-en-Provence, hiking in majestic Cassis Calanques, relaxing in Gorge du Verdon, stepping back in history in Avignon and finally walking in lovely streets of Paris, I’ve appeared on the North of France, in the region called Pas-de-Calais. Here everything was different from South part of this country. With saying everything I really mean everything: nature, weather, architecture, people..
If in the South you’d see more mountains and rocks, here all the land was covered with green fields and forests. No any even a hill available. The climate was more chill or better to say cold. It was beginning of June and if on these days people were wearing summer clothes in south and in Paris, here everyone was on fall coats because of quite cold temperature and wind coming from North Sea. I didn’t expect this kind of change and wasn’t prepared for cold weather in summer days during my vacations. Well.. this was also some kind of experience, but because of this I couldn’t spend enough time outside and couldn’t see all that was around. But of course I wasn’t staying at home all the time and I’m going to tell you about all that I had chance to see and know about this region in coming few days.

So let’s start from Calais which is the largest city in Pas-de-Calais and overlooks the Strait of Dover, the narrowest point in the English Channel, which is only 34 km (21 mi) wide here, and is the closest French town to England (but this is another subject about which I will tell you a little bit later in today’s story).

Due to its position, Calais since the Middle Ages has been a major port and a very important center for transport and trading with England. It was annexed by Edward III of England in 1347 and grew into a thriving center for wool production and was called the “brightest jewel in the English crown”. There is a well-known lace museum, that locals say it’s a must visit place, but when I tried to go there, it happened to be closed on that day for some reasons (why I am so unlucky with museums? They are either closed or I’m in a hurry.. 😕)

Calais was a territorial possession of England until its capture by France in 1558. During World War II, in May 1940 the town was a strategic bombing target of the invading German forces who took the town during the Siege of Calais. At that time the Germans built massive bunkers along the coast in preparation for launching missiles on England.

Calais is also know for its Calais Jungles, which is a refugee and migrant encampment starting from 1999. It’s an area where you could see up to 6.000 migrants living in camps without proper sanitary conditions. Those were the ones who was trying to reach UK in different illegal ways: via the Port of Calais or the Eurotunnel by stowing away on lorries, ferries, cars, or trains travelling to the UK. After several complaints from UK government, in 2016 migrants were evacuated from the encampment, with the intent of resettling them in different regions of France, and French authorities announced that the camp had been cleared.

Of course, Calais jungle is not something to go and check as a tourist. It’s much better to spend a day on a Calais beach after having a small walk in the town. One of Calais’ finest landmarks is the magnificent neo-Flemish-style structure built of brick and stone Town Hall (1911-25). The belfry 75 metres high, contains one of the most beautiful chimes in the north of France and can be seen for miles around. Since 2005, the belfry has been classified as a World Heritage monument by Unesco. The Town Hall’s purpose was to commemorate the merging of the cities of Calais and Saint Pierre in 1885 on a piece of barren land between the two towns. Today it dominates the main square and can be visited by tourists for free. 

Directly in front of the town hall is a bronze cast of Les Bourgeois de Calais (“The Burghers of Calais”), a sculpture by Auguste Rodin to commemorate six men who were to have been executed by Edward III in 1347. Rodin intended to evoke the viewer’s sympathy by emphasizing the pained expressions of the faces of the six men about to be executed. The episode depicts the anguish of the burghers as they leave the city to face their deaths by giving themselves as hostages to Edward III of England, however, their lives were spared.
While visiting Town Hall, first you’ll see the reception desk, where you can buy a ticket to the bell tower. But if you want to skip it, then turn right to the grand staircase leading to the first floor that takes you up to the Wedding room where the future war leader and President of France, Charles de Gaulle, and local girl Yvonne Vendroux married in 1921. Stained glass windows decorate the rooms, showing the story of the liberation of Calais from the English in 1558. The Wedding room is decorated with magnificent stained glass windows as well as the other rooms, including the huge vast hall. Town Hall houses paintings it all of its rooms, which are adorned with stained-glass windows telling the story of the departing English. The windows also act to diffuse the sunlight around the grand staircase. 
Now it’s time to have some walks on the Calais beach. Here on the Calais you can find one of the works of Banksy, who is an anonymous England-based street artist, vandal, political activist, and film director.  His works have been featured on streets, walls, and bridges of cities throughout the world. Banksy created several murals also in the vicinity of Calais. On the beach of Calais you’ll find one of his works that shows a child gazing through a telescope across the channel to England but a vulture perches on the telescope. This is the third work that appeared in Calais. First of them depicts the late Apple co-founder and CEO Steve Jobs, carrying a sack over his shoulder and a Macintosh computer. The photo of Jobs is captioned, “the son of a migrant from Syria.”  A second mural, which appeared in the Calais town center, show struggling refugees on a boat, trying to flag down a luxury yacht. The image is based on the French painter Theodore Gericault’s, “The Raft of the Medusa.” You may also be familiar with his other famous works such as “Baloon Girl” and “Love is in the bin”.

The Calais beach is covered with golden sand and seems endless. Only on one point there is a Navigation Lighthouse seen at the end of the pier. With the clear weather it would be very easy to see the White cliffs of Dover of UK on the horizon. The only distance separating French coast with England was the Strait of Dover. Unfortunately the day was rainy and clouds closed the view and the only visible part were few hundred meters of Atlantic ocean.

The channel links the two countries of France and England by way of the 31 mile long Channel Tunnel, situated between the English town of Folkestone in Kent and the French town of Coquelles at Pas-de-Calais, which carries 17 trains a day ferrying more passengers and freight under the waterway. The channel has been known by many names throughout it’s history. The first known name,which was coined by Roman geographer Ptolomy ( AD90 – AD168 ) during the second century was the Canalites Anglie. Since then the channel has been called Oceanus Brittanicus by the Romans, Mor Breizh by the Normans and The British Sea by medeival Britons. It is also called by many different names by other European nations, including, La Manche in French.

The English Channel is classified as the world’s busiest waterway as most days the channel sees over 500 ships of all types which includes cargo, passenger, cruise-ship, fishing boats, etc – passing through it’s waters, as well as several daily and weekly ferry crossings from it’s main port at Dover, which is situated on the narrowest point of the channel, between Dover and Calais. 

Thanks to this link, many people come to France for some fun and shopping, which costs surprisingly cheaper for them than could be in UK. For this they don’t need to go far. Right here, just in a few minuted from the train/ferry terminals there is a huge area dedicated for this, which is called Cité Europe (or Euro City). This is a shopping center located next to the French terminal of the Channel Tunnel at Coquelles. It has over 100 shops, a Carrefour hypermarket, cinema complex and many restaurants for any taste. In the area there is a free parking space for more than 4000 cars. In this area there are also several hotels built where people stay overnight before leaving back home. 

We’ve had a lunch in one of the Asian restaurants nearby, where you can pay once and eat as much as you can from their big range of dishes and desserts from different cuisines. All that I tried there was quite tasty. If I had more space in my stomach, definitely I’d had more from their yummy food 😄

The day was over with this. Going home now with a plans about visiting another areas for tomorrow. 
Calais was different for sure, somehow nice, somehow “grey”, but if you plan to come here, try to get a clear sunny day to enjoy your time with walking more in the old and new towns, as well as spend some more relaxing time on the velvet sandy beaches of Calais and if you have more time, to visit Opal Coast (Côte d’Opale) bordering Belgium that extends over 120 kilometers, which is marked by the presence of two big cliffs situated between Calais and Boulogne: the Cap Gris Nez (literally grey nose cape in English) reaching 50 meters and the Cap Blanc Nez (literally white nose cape in English) reaching 132 meters. Pity I didn’t have this chance, but maybe next time?)

See you soon on a new place 😉

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