As I referred to briefly in my last post, on Monday I went to France. This is how it went down: I went to register for school on Sunday morning and was informed that since I had a layover in Dublin during my flight over, and I received a stamp in the Dublin airport, I was ineligible to receive another stamp when I reached London, since Dublin is part of the same flight zone as England. In other words, I didn't get the right stamp, and I didn't get my student visitor visa. In the words of the school representative: "Don't freak out, but you're going to have to leave the country and come back in." When MacKenzie (my travel buddy) and I landed at Gatwick and were ushered past immigration, I thought something was fishy and went back to talk to one of the men in the booths, but he took a look at my passport, went to ask another person about it, and then assured me that we were both in the clear.
However, it all turned out for the best! By Sunday afternoon, I'd met two of the other girls who were living in my flat, and they both agreed to come along for the ride. Charley, who is from the north of England, was very helpful to Christine, MacKenzie, and I, the three Americans trying to navigate our way across the Channel. We took the Dover-Calais ferry, which surprised me greatly with its size and the couches, café and shops that were the main part of the interior. I suppose I'd never thought about what the ferry would be like before, but it was darn fancy and made for a comfortable hour and a half. And the ticket only cost £13, round trip! (Which I learned is a phrase the British don't use- they just say "return.")
When we got off the ferry and walked into town, we crossed through an industrial area that didn't immediately live up to our rosy expectations of what France would be like, but once we got closer to the city center things perked up and started to get more tourist-friendly. And let's face it, as much as I'd like to consider myself and be perceived as a traveler rather than a tourist, at this point in my life the latter term suits better. We started our walk with a stroll around the Église Notre-Dame, which seemed to be closed for renovations, and then stumbled across a tourist information building where we picked up a map and planned the rest of our sight-seeing. Our favorite place was the town hall, or Le Beffroi, pictured above. It had beautiful gardens outside along with Rodin's monument, The Six Burghers. We paid 3 euros to climb the bell tower and we were rewarded with a beautiful view of the city. And you know that saying that on a clear day in France you can see the white cliffs of Dover? That's true.
Other highlights from the day:
- We learned/were reminded that Monday is the day of rest in France, and consequently most things were closed. But we found plenty of what we needed in the places that were open and had a great, and cheap time, regardless.
- We stopped in a cute little patisserie near a plaza and I had my first experience butchering the French language, and purchasing some macaroons, which I had never tried before!
- It was a beautiful, sunny day, and while we were sweating, a lot of the French people we passed on the street were wearing winter coats. Cultural difference? No idea.
- We walked by most of the (free) attractions listed in the tourist booklet, like La Tour de Guet (Watchtower), La Citadelle, which now houses a sports complex but still looks ancient from the outside, Le Grande Théatre, Le Channel, which seemed to be some sort of cultural center, and Le phase (lighthouse).
- We ate lunch at a brasserie on the plaza. And found out afterwards during our International Welcome talk back at the university that we probably made some pretty serious faux pauxs in our process of ordering and paying for our meal. Too late! Ha.
By the time we'd finished our walking loop, we were exhausted and I was afraid to even look at how many blisters I had on my feet, but we made our way back and took an earlier ferry, so our walk back to the Dover bus station wouldn't be in the middle of the night. All in all, it was an enjoyable trip to solve our visa problem!