Le Grand Voyage 20017 | Day Eight & Nine - Return to Blighty


So after six full days in France, it was time to return to Britain. We spent the first part of the morning packing and putting our belongings into the car (why does there never seem to be enough space in the car on the return leg, I did consider telling Nikki to walk home!). When everything was in, we started our journey home. We had our route planned, as we decided we fancied a trip into Belgium on the way and Ypres was our chosen place to stop for lunch (We had planned to stop at Theipval, but with Nikki not feeling great and our son hyped up for going home we gave it a miss).

With the kilometres covered we arrived in Belgium and I could tell Nikki was unimpressed by the transition between countries. Literally all that signified the change was a small sign saying ‘Belgium’ and the signs changing language (That said, it was weird when we did pass through what used to be the border controls both entering and leaving Belgium).

I can only assume that because Belgium is a smaller country than France, it felt more populated with fewer agricultural fields between towns. Both Nikki and I had a sense of home there, the buildings reminded us of British houses and towns get quite British. It’s definitely a country that we’d like to return to and explore some more.

We chose to stop Ypres (Ieper) to get some lunch as it is located about 2/3 of the way to Calais. I had visited Ypres with my dad previously and I thought it’d be somewhere that we could indulge in the history of Central Europe. Having seen a number of First World War graveyards on our journeys around northern France, we paid a visit to the Menin Gate in the town. The Menin Gate is a memorial dedicated to British and commonwealth soldiers killed with unknown graves in Ypres during the First World War. The memorial forms an arch over the road and lists over 52,000 servicemen and each evening at 20:00 a bugler plays the last stand, extremely poignant if you get the chance to witness it. We arrived at 12:30 and had a ferry to catch at 18:00, so there was no way to see the ceremony this time round for us.

We easily found a parking spot a few metres from the Menin Gate, but I found it strange that parking charges only applied until 12:00 and then resumed at 13:30, either way I paid to let us park until 16:00, giving us plenty of time to get to our ferry. It was only as we started to go into the town and I checked up on the internet I found that Belgian shops close at lunchtime - explaining why parking was free during these times!

We started exploring Ypres by visiting the Menin Gate, it never ceases to amaze me just how many people were taken during the war, although we only explored the one side of the memorial, both Nikki and I were struck by the magnitude of the structure. Our little boy even enjoyed the experience as he got to climb some gentle steps and see (what I assume was) a moat. There were a number of poppy wreaths lay on the stairs and I had a wobbling bottom lips as the first one I read was from the West Mercia Constabulary (we live in the midlands).

From the Menin Gate, we headed in to the town to find somewhere to eat. A number of the establishments were closed, and those that were open didn’t really appeal, that was until we arrived at Ypresburger, a burger restaurant which served an assortment of burgers and fries. I had a standard burger, my son had chicken nuggets and Nikki stuck to fries. We were pleasantly surprised at how nice the meal was. From there we found Il Gusto d'Italia to have a waffle (it was a holiday goal after we decided to visit Belgium). I’m there I found that there isn’t just one type of Belgian waffle, so I indulged in both varieties. Having just eaten a meal, it’s unsurprising to find out I didn’t eat both in the parlour, instead I decided to take the second back to the UK to have for tea.

By this point Nikki wasn’t feeling well, so we thought we’d head to the port and see if we could catch an earlier ferry. An easy journey straight in to the port later, and we had been allowed the chance to get on a ferry an hour earlier than we had booked. All of this meant that we would be arriving in Dover before we were booked to leave Calais. Having had problems with applying our light deflectors on the way out, we made sure we weren’t caught out again by taking them off as soon as we got on the ferry.

The crossing was significantly smoother and the weather better than our journey out, so much so that we could see Dover before we left France. My son once again made friends with some other similarly aged children and played with them in the soft play area while Nikki and I chilled out watching the white cliffs approach us.

Despite being near the front of one row of cars, it seemed like a long time before we were instructed to move, but we were soon on our way to Ashford to stay the night in a Premier Inn. We got checked in quickly enough (and had a bit of a chat with the receptionist), after which I popped across the road to get a McDonalds for dinner. Lots of fun with this in the end as I was given two happy meal boxes despite ordering one, but it turned out the second one contained some of our meal - I just wish I knew that before handing it back and taking the rest of our meal back to our room. So after this to-ing and fro-ing, we were finally able to eat our dinner lay on a very comfortable (and high) bed.

It was only as we started to prepare for everyone’s bedtime routine that I realised we didn’t have a source of milk for our son! I asked at reception and they said to pop by the on-site pub restaurant and ask there. I asked the barman and he duly obliged, giving me the best part of a pint, it must be a standard thing as he didn’t bat an eyelid at the request nor did he ask for payment, but I did buy a bottle of cider and some nuts (even if I did have to remortgage to pay for them).

It was nice to be in a very comfy bed, with thermostat controlled heating having spent the previous week in a caravan. Oh and watch something that wasn’t the Minions [2015] movie.

The next morning we plotted out next move. We had planned on stopping somewhere en route home, but the lure of home and being reunited with our cat prevailed and we went straight home, back shortly after lunchtime.

...One last thing, the second Belgian waffle made it all the way back to Shropshire!

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