The outside of a motorbike engine seen up close near the exhaust

Home Travel StoriesFrance, Germany And Belgium 2012 - By Ren Withnell

France, Germany And Belgium 2012 - A Day In Ambleteuse

Another early morning, that's expected now.  What is different about today is that I have no journey to make, no miles to crunch and nowhere else to be later.  I'm about 15 to 20 miles from the Chunnel port so getting there tomorrow, even with my amazing ability to get lost, is not a problem.  I have a full day ahead of me and nothing that needs to be done.  Needs...to be done...but I want to get a new charger for my phone.  No matter how much I tell myself it does not matter I want it sorting. 

I decide I shall return to the chaos that is Boulogne-Sur-Mer.  It's the nearest big town and I'm sure to find somewhere there that will sell a cigarette lighter to USB socket phone charger.  Well, I think I'm sure.  I'd like to find an Argos, Currys or some other recognisable brand but I know I won't, I shall have to improvise.  Anyhow, I might as well go, there's nothing else at all to do today.

It's far too early so I straighten out the tent a little, wash my dishes, wash some clothes and brush my teeth.  It's still cool so I sit on a bench and read my book.  I've lost interest in this book, it's moved from psychology to politics and I don't need to read someone else's political agenda.  I rinse out the Oasis bottle I've been using as a water bottle and refill it.  I'm bored.  I look at the phone.  It's working but as soon as I switch it off it goes back to the battery and triangle error.  I wish I knew what that meant.

I mill around some more until 0830 and kit up for the ride to Boulogne.  The road between Ambleteuse and Boulogne is a twisty one, running between sand dunes and grassy knolls.  It's very popular with bikers.  The campsite is by the road as it enters Ambleteuse and all day yesterday I could hear bikes passing by, some of them at hyper speed even in the 50kph zone.  I'm keeping legal as I turn, roll, pitch and twist along, its all over far too soon, the road is only a few miles long.

a corner of a road among dunes with cars in a car park in the foreground
One of the bends between Ambleteuse and Wimereaux.  It's a great bit of road but not long enough.

I pass through Wimeraux and drop down a long steep road into Boulogne.  I'm glad I got here early.  There's little traffic much to my relief although my enthusiasm means I'm too early for the tourist information to be open, I was going to ask if they knew of a shop that would fulfill my requirements.  Where the hell do I start?  I have no idea, I can either ride around looking for an out of town shop or park up and walk around the town centre.  Parking!  Where can I park, what do no parking signs say in French, how or where do you pay, will I be able to read any parking or payment instructions? 

rows of traffic between buildings in boulogen-sur-mer
Boulogne-Sur-Mer when it's quiet...

I should be flapping by now.  Instead I'm a picture of couldn't care less attitude.  I don't mean about the parking laws, I mean about rushing and worrying.  I just ride down narrow back streets, around confusing junctions with faded paint and no obvious right of way, up hills with cars parked at quirky angles and through paved areas that could be pedestrian zones.  Driving, or riding, in French towns is about going slowly and keeping your eyes open.  There are rules about right of way and directions, but I can't understand them as they are so unclear.  The French don't seem to be able to either, so everyone makes careful progress and work it out as they go along.  It's actually quite pleasant and works well.

I pass a couple of spaces between parked cars and junctions with faded yellow paint markings.  I see "DEUX" but I can't read what else is written, it's not my French, it's the lack of paint.  "DEUX" is "TWO".  2 Wheels?  I thought "MOTO" would be what I was looking for.  I pass an Orange shop, they're likely to sell chargers.  I ride around the block and spot a scooter parked in one of the yellow bays, this one's so faded I can't see any words.  I've passed by, stuff it, I ride around the block again and park next to the scooter.

A man unloading a large white van parked across the road looks at me momentarily but doesn't even raise an eyebrow, that's a good start.  The scooter looks set to be here for a while, all locked up.  I can't see any signs showing lorries lifting bikes away so that's reassuring.  I lock up and walk to the Orange shop.  As I do I constantly turn around to see if a team of traffic wardens, Gendarmes and irate French shop owners have descended onto my bike.  They haven't, well not so far anyhow.

3 elderly people stand in an otherwise empty square in boulogne
Boulogne-Sur-Mer, plenty of traffic, few people.

Inside the shop a pretty yet firmly built young lady greets me with a smile and "Bonjour!".  She speaks no English so I have to rely on my best high school French by pointing to my old charger and stating "Je voudrais acheter...er...la..le...this", I want to buy one..one...this.  A little confusion later she points to a wall of accessories and I point to a charger.  I'm looking for a big fat solid looking one, it makes no sense as I know technology can be small, even quality technology.  There's only a small one but Orange being a reputable name I guess I'll have to trust it.

€20 later and further confusion over whether my Euro notes are acceptable or not I have my charger.  I return to the bike, half expecting to find a person in uniform writing out a ticket or a lorry lifting the bike away.  It's still there, unmolested and complete.  I plug the charger into the lighter socket I've fitted under the seat and put the phone on charge.  On charge it starts, to my relief.

I ride back along the twisty road feeling quite pleased with myself.  The sun is getting higher now and I can tell it's going to be another scorching day.  I get back to the site and park the bike and wonder what my next move will be.  I consider going for a ride, no, I think I've done enough.  I guess I shall take another walk around town, go down to the beach, find something to eat and see what's what.

Ambleteuse is not a large place.  There's a World War 2 museum near the campsite, I think about going in but I'll save that for later.  There's streets full of small houses and cars, no signs of life though.  There's a boulangerie, I purchase a ham and salad baguette and a drink for dinner.  There's a few more shops and a yellow post office that's closed.  There's more houses and a scruffy farmyard at the edge of town, all quiet.  The main road has a steady flow of caravans, campervans and loud motorcycles passing through and being so close to Calais I see a few UK registration plates.  Nothing to report here then.

a quiet empty street in ambleteuse
Ambleteuse is a hive of activity, as you can clearly see...

I walk to the promenade with my baguette and bottle of pop.  I sit on the sea wall as the sun warms my white legs and eat my sandwich and drink my pop.  It's a good sandwich and I feel quite continental as I cover myself with breadcrumbs while seagulls squawk overhead.  This lunchtime the tide must be out, revealing a long sandy beach interspersed with flat rocky outcrops.  On the beach there's a motley collection of old tractors with boat trailers and a small number of families enjoying the sun and paddling in the gently breaking waves. 

tractors on a sunny beach at ambleteuse
The tractors on the sunkist beach.

I walk along the beach.  A tractor is pulling a rib boat out of the water, the old man driving the tractor has a cigarette hanging out his mouth as he shouts instructions to his younger associate.  Some kids pass by on bicycles babbling French in excited tones.  I'm amazed at how well they speak French, fluently, then I laugh as I realise the surreal stupidity of that thought.  Imagine that, being able to speak French at the age of 6 or 7, I'd only just managed English at that age.

I wonder if I should stop and sunbathe a while.  No, I'd get bored or fall asleep and awake with sunburn, I can already feel my skin drying up and cracking.  I walk back to the site and wonder what to do, I'm looking for entertainment.  I push the bike into the shade and give it a good going over.  Chain, OK, front sprocket, OK, water, OK, oil, OK, all bearings, OK, lights, OK, tyres, OK, controls, OK.  I push the bike back to the tent.  Bored.  Clothes washed and drying.  Phone still charging.  Pots all washed.  Bags cleaned out of grass.  Bored.  Lie in tent, sweating into my own pool of salty nastiness.  Bored.

camping stove, jars and my tent with clothes on top
Make a brew...dry the clothes...tidy up...bored bored bored...

The rest of the afternoon passes much the same way.  This is the downside to a rest day.  This may be one of those times where having a traveling companion may be a good thing.  There's someone to talk to, someone else to come up with ideas of things to do.  Mind you it's at these empty moments I would feel sorry for my companion, I get the feeling most people like to have some dead time.  Time to relax and take it easy, to sunbathe and soak up the atmosphere.  All the time they're "chillin out" I'd be hovering around making annoying noises and making a nuisance of myself in the hope of being entertained.  I even annoy myself sometimes.

I spot some of the German group hanging around.  I join them.  It still feels awkward when they have to keep on translating for me and explaining the "in jokes" as they mock and tease each other.  Apart from the odd language I notice all the familiar types of people.  The confident middle aged man, good looking with a pretty partner, the joker, the quiet thinker, the loud one that tries too hard and the leader.  It's the same with the ladies, the smart and quiet one, the loud and boisterous girl, the shy one and the professional lady.  I can't tell what they are saying but I feel I know most of them already.  I guess people are people no matter where you go.

I'm invited to a barbeque.  They've been coming here for 30 years, people have come and gone, faces have changed, circumstances have altered but there's a traditional programme that they stick to come rain or shine, and tonight it's the barbeque.  They walk to the beach and to an old WW2 bunker, have the barbie and drink beers.  Then they sing German and even English folk songs.  I suggest I'll come along for an hour or so.

As the evening sun heads west and the air cools a little I grab a jacket and set off with my German friends.  I feel a little guilty at having nothing to offer other than myself.  I've not brought any sausages, burgers, buns or drinks as I don't have any, I wasn't expecting a barbeque.  I'm also not planning to stop late as I need to be up and at them in the morning to be sure to catch my Chunnel train.  I talk to a couple of the group as we walk, one lady's a copywriter who works for herself and another is an engineer for a vacuum pump company.

the germans at the bunker with the low sun shining into the camera
The Germans at the bunker.  

At the bunker there's a flurry of activity.  One chap has brought his car down filled with cases of beer and a variety of other drinks.  There's charcoal for the barbie which is created with nothing more than a few rocks and some wire grills.  Elsewhere wood is collected from around the dunes and placed into a pile ready for a fire while everyone else sips beer and talks in the harsh incomprehensible Teutonic tongue.  I'm offered a beer, it takes a while to explain I don't drink alcohol and I brace myself for the typical reaction.  It seems there's another German in the group that doesn't drink which makes my abstinence quite acceptable.

It's a strangely beautiful setting, marked with contrasts.  Broad dunes covered in patches of harsh grass are offset against French houses in the near distance.  A small river twists by carrying seaweed and flotsam towards the sea.  2 large concrete bunkers lie broken and half buried, covered in grafitti, grass and litter.  In the distance the village of Wimeraux runs into the sea and wire fence falls broken and twisted, covered in rust.  The Germans hang their coats on re-bar pegs that jut out from the bunker.  How different things are now than 70 years ago.

a small river winding past through the saned dunes with a town in the far distance
The river as it wendles it's way to the sea.

I talk to the engineer.  I can see from his hands as he works the barbeque that they are working hands but I learn he's more of a designer than a repair man.  He develops pumps for all kinds of industry.  Another chap wants me to speak English so he can practice his, then introduces me to his partner who's only just started riding bikes herself.  With some effort in translation we agree that the Versys is a good bike.  I'm offered a bratwurst which I accept and consume, I'm hungry and this is most welcome but I take no more as I'm a stranger and I've not made any contribution.

I stop for longer than I'd planned and the stars are twinkling in the cool air before I decide to leave.  They don't seem to want me to leave!  I can see the beer's flowing and they're in for the long run, and I'm not going to be singing folks songs tonight.  I bid them farewell and good evening and depart.  The walk back to the campsite is interesting, I'm worried I might get lost and at one point I'm quite unsure where I am in the darkness.  A few paces further on I realise where I am and I'm back at the site soon enough.  I crawl into the accursed tent for one last night and put in my earplugs for the last time, on this trip at least.

dark sky fading to sunset over houses and telegraph poles
It's just turning dark as I set off back to the campsite.  What a night.

France, Germany And Belgium 2012 - Prologue
France, Germany And Belgium 2012 - The Chunnel and Wimeraux, France.
France, Germany And Belgium 2012 - Wimeraux to Epernay, The Long Way
France, Germany And Belgium 2012 - Epernay to Lebach
France, Germany And Belgium 2012 - Lebach To Cochem The scenery is improving as well as the weather. Ren is moving upmarket and into the beautiful town of Cochem.
France, Germany And Belgium 2012 - Cochem to Bastogne
France, Germany And Belgium 2012 - Bastogne to Le Nouvion-en-ThiƩrache
France, Germany And Belgium 2012 - Le Nouvion-en-ThiƩrache to Ambleteuse
France, Germany And Belgium 2012 - A Day In Ambleteuse
France, Germany And Belgium 2012 - Going Home Through The Channel Tunnel
France, Germany And Belgium 2012 - Epilogue and More Pictures
France, Germany And Belgium 2012 - Even More Pictures More images or Ren's European trip that will hopefully bring the story to life.
France, Germany And Belgium 2012 - Even More Pictures Again

Reader's Comments

Vinny said :-
You should have gone to the museum, well worth a look.
1/1/2000 UTC
Ren - The Ed said :-
Cheers Vinny. A year later the gf and I visited the museum on another trip. You're right though I should have gone.
1/1/2000 UTC

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