There are worse placed to be trapped in for 3 days. But then again.. there are many far better ones. Our forced weekend in Calais will involve a lot of mussels in white wine, the famed French seaside, and a surreal encounter with Calais’ dragon mascot. But more importantly, this weekend will learn the true meaning of le bureaucracie and le week-end.
Vive la France!
Our journey starts out like any other flight to Europe from the dark clutches of Newark Airport. Meaning, we get in at 7am, not having slept not a wink the entire flight. Ahh… le jetlag. Time for our vacation to begin.
Except.. here’s the thing. We’re not really on vacation, and this isn’t our trip to see the Eiffel Tower sparkle in the Parisian twilight (been there, done that). No, this is a forced EU transit to smuggle our dog to the United Kingdom. Smuggle isn’t quite the right word. We do have all the right paperwork (or we will, by the end of the weekend). But smuggling feels like the most fitting way to put it, because we are exploiting a bizarre loophole. Getting a dog to the UK is nearly impossible by air, but très simple by car. Hence our involuntary journey to France — a journey made less romantic by three 70-lb suitcases and a dog who threw up on the airplane (twice).
It’s 7am at Charles de Gaulle. My inner clock tell me it’s just past midnight and my mind is still coherent. By 11am, that will change. We grab le baggage and make our way to the train station and out of Paris. Eight years of life in China make me brace for a full cavity-search upon entering a train station. In France, I may as well be carrying a suitcase full of live snakes and no one bats an eye. This will take getting used to. Not a single person checks our tickets before we take the elevator down to the train platform – a trend that will continue on our journey through Northern France.
The first train ride is uneventful. We arrive in Lille at 12:35pm. In Lille, I discover the first flaw in my plan. The train arrived at Lille Flandres, but our next train – the one to Calais – departs from Lille Europe. Of course, I hadn’t checked this in advance. I begin to panic, but my panic subsides when I realize that the Lille Europe station is only 0.3 miles away. An easy walk in theory. A somewhat challenging walk with three suitcases, a jet-lagged dog, and a European street lined with cobblestones (likely) built by the Romans.
From Lille Europe, we board another train. In 35 minutes we are in Calais – a city famous for.. well.. for being close to the UK. After getting into the city, I call the number for the taxi company by the train taxi stop, ready to impress them with my rusty French. Instead of a dispatch centre, I get a gruff French man, who looks in amazement at all our luggage (no, monsieur, we are not here for vacation all these bags, that would be insane). He shakes his head, I shrug, and together we stuff the bags into the back of his Renault.
The next step is getting our dog into the vet. In the US, we tried in vain to get an appointment with over 30 vets across four different states, who either did not take new patients, did not have space, could not do a health certificate for the UK, or just could not do a health certificate in time. Needless to say, we failed. In France, the vet tell us to not bother with an appointment and to come ‘in the afternoon’. He checks our paperwork, shrugs, and stamps the UK paperwork. This takes less than 30 minutes and about 50 Euro. I feel like I just got my first grey hairs for nothing.
Unfortunately, because it is Thursday and the Eurotunnel is booked for Friday (and Saturday and Sunday are out of the question, because who even works on the weekends in Europe??), We are stuck in Calais. The first train to Dover is on Monday.
So a weekend in Calais it is.
Calais. A city where even the grocery stores are closed on Sunday. Calais, a city where everything is bland, and the main street has just one café, but four chevaleries (horse meat delis. mmm). A city where the wine in every grocery store is 5 euro or less. A city we try desperately to escape for a day in Bruges, but are met with failure after failure, because the car rental shops don’t have automatic cars for Les Américaines and are only open until 4 (but when we arrive 25 minutes prior to closing, everyone has left, because it is of course, the weekend).
Two hours in Calais would have been enough. 72 hours makes me wish I could just swim across the chunnel myself.