On June 3rd, we loaded up the car and drove to Calais, France, a port city located on the English Channel. It’s about a 6-hour drive from our home in Germany. We got a good early start, so we arrived at noon and went straight to the HoverSpeed terminal. Although they do not use actual hovercraft anymore, they do use high-speed catamaran ferries. They average over twice the speed of conventional ferries (40mph vs. 15-20mph). This reduces the travel time across the Channel to about 40 minutes, instead of 90+ minutes.
Arriving in Dover, England, we walked the 5 minutes to the hotel. Dover is a cozy seaport town with a long history. Most of us have heard of the famous White Cliffs of Dover, made especially popular by several WW II songs and stories. Dover is located at the closest point between England and France, about 18 miles apart. On a clear day, you can see one country from the other.
We decided to stay Monday and Tuesday night at the hotel in Dover rather than try to get a hotel in London, since the Queen’s Golden Jubilee Celebration (marking her 50th year as Queen) was in full swing in London. It’s only about a 90-minute train ride, and is a nice chance to see the countryside and meet nice people. On Tuesday, we met a very nice gentleman from near Dover who was traveling to London for a chance to see the Queen. He remembered her being crowned 50 years ago.
One thing that really struck me as different from much of Europe (besides the fact they speak English!) is how polite the British are. People refer to each other as “Love” and “Chap”, and actually know how to politely stand in line (called a Que) instead of pushing their way to the front or just cutting in front. Very civilized.
Well, sit back and enjoy our picture tour of England.
We began our journey in Calais, France, riding on the newest, fastest way to cross the Channel (at least on the surface of the water) – the Sea Cat. It reduces travel time from 1 and ½ hours by conventional ferry to about 40 minutes. The Sea Cats are actually twin-hull catamarans. If you look very closely at the far boat, you can actually see through the underside. It rests on 2 sleek hulls running down each side. As the boat speeds up (it cruises at 40mph), small “wings” on the hulls actually lift the boat up several feet so it just riding on 2 very thin sections to reduce drag. (For you sharp-eyed travelers, yes, this picture was taken in the port at Dover, England. I could not get close enough at Calais to get a good picture.)
Inside the Sea Cat. Lots of room to stretch out and walk around.
Out to sea! Actually, out to the English Channel. We passed this ferry just out of the harbor at Calais. If you listen closely, you can hear Spencer laughing and yelling, “We’re faster than you are!!!”
“Quick, Dad, the salt spray is burning my eyes!” Heading north across the Channel to England.
France is still visible in the background.
We’re there! The beach at Dover, England. The famous Cliffs of Dover are visible on the right, the Dover Castle is on the top of the hill in the center. Our hotel is the building on the left in the background.
Walking throughout Dover, the castle is always visible on the hillside.
I had to laugh at the choice of “Welcome” mats for sale at this store in Dover.
Approaching the entrance to the Dover Castle. The first castle built on this site was erected in 1066. The Castle housed troops until 1958, an 892-year span. During its medieval heyday, this was a frontier fortress protecting England from France and other hostile lands. At this point, the English Channel is at its narrowest point between the two countries – about 18 miles. On a clear day, you can France from here. The Castle was modernized in the 1750s and again during the Napoleonic Wars. During both World Wars, it was a main control center, with a large maze of underground bunkers.
One of the entrances to the Dover Castle.
Beth and Spencer going through one of the gateways.
Spencer heading into one of the Secret Wartime Tunnels. Under the Castle, there are miles of tunnels with bunkers, communications rooms, and hospitals. It was from these tunnels that Vice-Admiral Bertram Ramsay organized and directed the evacuation of Dunkirk. Hopelessly outnumbered and outgunned by the invading Nazis, almost 400,000 English and French troops were brought across the Channel to England to fight another day. If all of the troops had been killed or taken prisoner, there would have been far fewer troops to protect the homeland.
Inside the Dover Castle, there were many spiral staircases. This is one of the points where two spiral staircases meet. Watch your step!
At the top! Here, we have reached the top of the tower overlooking the Dover harbor and the English Channel, looking toward France. Today, it’s too foggy to see very far.
This old St. Mary’s church in Dover was built with broken-face stones on the exterior. Rocks were broken in half,
and the smooth surface was faced out. That is what all the black spots are.
Here we are at the Dover Train Station waiting for the train to go to London.
It’s nice that all of the signs and directions are in English!!
This is the view out the restaurant window in Greenwich, overlooking the Greenwich Market.
The Royal Observatory in Greenwich, England. It was originally built in 1675 to integrate time and astronomy into an accurate method of finding longitude for navigation at sea. Latitude (how far north or south of the equator) could be determined using the North Star, a stationary, fixed point. However, there was no fixed point to determine longitude (your position east or west of a certain point). This became increasingly important in the 15th Century as more exploration of the seas was taking place. The other half of the equation was designing seaworthy, accurate clocks. By comparing the position of stars at a certain time (at your present location at sea) and calculating the time difference between where you are and Greenwich (when the stars would be in the same position there), you could calculate how many degrees east or west of Greenwich you were located. It sounds complicated!
Greenwich is still the world standard for time. You can set your watch to this one outside.
The “Zero Meridian” line. Spencer is standing with his right foot in the Western Hemisphere, and his left foot in the Eastern Hemisphere.
Dad’s in the Western Hemisphere, Mom’s in the Eastern Hemisphere.
Entrance to the Royal Observatory Museum.
After the Royal Observatory, it was off to see Big Ben and the Parliament section of town.
This is the “Tube”, as the subway in London is called.
Those Brits have a unique way with wording things. Who are we to complain, though? After all, they invented the bloody language. For those of us who remember the 60s, “Way Out” meant “Cool” or “Groovy”. To the British, it shows the exit – the Way Out. Their other signs are so polite, too. “Watch Your Step” becomes “Mind Your Step”, and “Yield” becomes “Give Way”.
This is what we came to see – Big Ben. It is BIG! What a sight it is, and what a magnificent sound when it chimes. We were there to hear it chime 3:00. The streetlights in the foreground are much like you expect to see in London.
Big Ben and Big Spencer.
A closer-up view of Big Ben. The actual name of the structure is the Clock Tower. Big Ben refers to the largest of the clock bells.
This is one of numerous street celebrations going on as part of the Queen’s 50th Jubilee Celebration.
Westminster Abbey, where nearly all the kings and queens of England since William the Conqueror have been crowned.
This is the side entrance to Westminster Abbey.
Westminster Abbey – the front entry into the nave.
London Bobby - on foot and horse-mounted.
The Cutty Sark – on display in London. Launched in 1869 for the China Sea trade, she was used to haul wool from Australia and served as a training ship until the end of WW II.
After a long day of exploring London and Greenwich, we had worked up quite an appetite. What better way to fill our tummies than with English fish and chips (and English ale)!! The next morning, it was back across the English Channel to Calais, France, where we picked up our car and drove back home to Germany. It was a fun trip!