It’s an age thing I suppose. Travel enlivens and freshens the mind and, when in France, fills the stomach as well. Travel means change, and change is a restoring stimulative.
But having to use airports is “out of bounds” for travellers like us if humanly possible. I find nothing at all to recommend them, despite having flown and still being fascinated by aeroplanes.
Which leaves holiday breaks in the UK as a possibility. But here, good restaurants tend to be over-expensive and their cooking often still horribly Nouvelle Cuisine. And English hotels and B&Bs, when last we tried them, would charge per person, not per room. The French are more sensible in this respect, and thus encourage return visits.
This leaves long voyages on liners as a possibility, where you might not like your fellow passengers (or those who want to make friends with you), put on weight, and possibly contract whatever virulent viruses are doing the rounds.
At least we are lucky to have France, Belgium and Holland in mainland Europe near at hand. All are foreign and well worth a visit without too much hassle or difficulty.
The tunnel to France, despite the occasional blockage or fire, is an ideal way to experience “abroad”. But Paris is now becoming prohibitively expensive, as is the more restrictive Brussels.
By ferry to reach nearby mainland Europe leaves Dover as the quickest crossing port. But it’s a long drive from London, and we are not enamoured with Calais.
Crossing to mainland Europe via Portsmouth and ports beyond, involves much longer sea crossings.
Which leaves “our” crossing from Newhaven to Dieppe as a good, all-round, best bet.
Formalities in Newhaven are minimal. There are no “Micky Mouse” approach roads to contend with, and four hours later you are in France – in an ancient port (which we once flattened and where we were flattened in turn more recently by the Boche). It is a port/seaside town where one hardly has to proceed further.
This maritime town is “walking” size. The restaurants are plentiful and good – with fish dishes superb.
The hotels are comfortable and far cheaper than in England. (I have written extensively on most aspects of Dieppe earlier in this blog and try not to repeat myself.)
So, in a word, that’s where we go – for short breaks and the re-stocking of larder and cellar.
Now, this wine re-stocking is not, as you may think, with French wine (though we do buy our “house”, Pays d’Oc, wine there) but mainly bargain-priced New World wines which the French discount, thinking that by being produced outside France they are undrinkable. These wines are often distinguishable on the shelves by the layer of dust on them.
We also return with cheeses and other foods, though with the present exchange rates, this is becoming less financially beneficial. But many foods are cheaper than in England. Endive is one. Dijon mustard is another. Smoked chickens are good value and delicious. Paper goods are to be recommended. Garlic and shallots are always on our list, but were very expensive the last time we bought them (out of their season). Fruit and vegetables are so fresh that we invariably “top up” the car with them for our return journey.
We were there in the spring, and will return in the early winter (when scallops are in season once more) when children are in school again and the tourist season has subsided.
And anyhow, where in the world in 2010 can one eat a splendid four course meal with aperitif, unlimited cider and red wine, with coffee included. Of course you will lunch at shared tables with newly scrubbed-up workmen, and eat in a shed. And all this would cost you £10.80 per head. Where in the world could this happen? Surely only in France.