Floating Into France

In the evening we arrived at the deliciously redundantly-named Portsmouth International Port, ready for our long-deferred crossing of the English Channel. (Our original plan had been to ferry from Dover to Calais around June 1st, but then we got all excited about South West England.)

Because the kind of people who tend to edit Wikipedia also tend to be excited by trains, planes, and boats, you can read all about the specific ferry we rode, here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MV_Etretat

If you’ve never ridden a bike directly onto a huge ferry, I definitely recommend the experience. In what would prove to be a harbinger of the French enthusiasm for bicycles, it was very easy to stash our bikes in a dedicated space, tied up alongside the hundreds of cars that crowded the lower decks of the ferry.

I’ve never boarded a cruise ship, but Sara, who has, tells me this was not a totally dissimilar experience. The ship was large to the point that you could hardly feel the rocking of the ocean, and because it was an overnight trip, we spent almost the whole time inside our tiny interior cabin, sleeping fitfully amid the gentle thrumming of the engines.

Sara set an alarm and took advantage of the opportunity to watch the sun rise over the English Channel. I joined her shortly before we docked in Le Havre, and together, from the upper deck, we took in the city’s striking and characteristic massing and design, a midcentury concrete paradise that felt like the whole city had been built from scratch sometime around 1950 – as, in fact, it had. (Rebuilt, actually, after its wholesale destruction by the retreating Nazis.)

In the morning, we were the first to be let off the ferry, and we rode our bikes through passport control and into the free air of France! Of course, the very first thing we did was visit a terrific bakery where the clerk didn’t speak English, affording me my first opportunity to practice speaking the French I don’t really speak.

Then it was off to our home base near the train station. The ceilings were all slanted and it was on the very top of a building without elevators, but the bed was comfy and the WiFi worked well. We had a lot to do in and around Le Havre! But first, a nap.

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