The final day of our holiday, and once again the weather was looking pretty good. I can’t believe we’ve spent a fortnight away in Northern Europe and it only rained during the daytime once.
Breakfast at the Holiday Inn in Ghent was of the buffet type, and was actually rather nice. We were in no particular hurry to get anywhere as the check-out time was quite late and we estimated we could drive to Calais for our Channel Tunnel crossing in no more than 2 hours from here, so we pretty much had all day.
We packed up our one suitcase and decided to go and take a look around central Ghent for a couple of hours. I somehow had it in my mind that Ghent was going to be a bit like Bruges, and therefore tourist-friendly and photogenic.
It took us a little while to find a car park, and then once we were out of it we then spent a fair amount of time trying to figure out where we were and which direction to walk. We made our way along to the Vrijdagmarkt, which I was assuming would be the hub of all activity, but unfortunately we got the distinct impression that everywhere and everything was shut. The only signs of activity seemed to be the near-constant sound of roadworks around the city centre and virtually every view was spoiled by the presence of one or more tower cranes in the background.
It wasn’t quite what we were expecting and it certainly wasn’t what we were wanting to do on our final day, so after somewhat less than an hour we were back in the car and trying to find our way back out again, having done precisely nothing in central Ghent other than a bit of walking and a bit of swearing.
I’m sure it’s not that bad really, but it just didn’t seem like us to be the place we wanted to spend our last day.
Plan B was therefore put into action. Plan B hadn’t really existed until we were nearly back at the car, but it involved covering most of the miles between Ghent and Calais as soon as we could, so we decided we’d go and have a look at Dunkirk. We bombed fairly quickly along the motorway and soon reached the services we’d stopped at for breakfast on the way out (see On Our Way). By this time we were at a certain point with the fuel tank of the car where it seemed worthwhile to fill it up, especially seeing as Belgium seemed to be cheaper than both the Netherlands and France. What we didn’t know until we stopped was that the cheapness is, in part, required to compensate you from the extreme pain of trying to actually use the pumps at this station.
The procedure, as I eventually worked out, was that you had to go inside and pay first (having estimated how much you needed to pay), then they’d let you fill the car, and then if you’d spent less than you paid for you could go back inside (and queue again) to get a cash refund for the difference. I understand that this was to stop people from filling up and doing a runner, but surely a pay-at-pump option achieves the same thing. Anyway, it took about 3 times as long to fill up as it ought to do.
On that note though, I should say here that I was quite impressed by the fuel consumption of the CR-V. This holiday was the first time I’d had a chance to look at the consumption over an extended period, and by my reckoning we drove about 1200 miles on the trip and I used somewhere between 100 and 110 litres doing it. That is a substantial improvement on the performance of my old car. OK, the new one is diesel not petrol, but it’s still much better, especially given that the new one is less aerodynamic and probably heavier. Modern technology, huh!
Dunkirk proved quite easy to get to and we parked up in a vast (and deserted) underground car park not far from the beach and casino. Our first stop was lunch, and we sat outdoors on the edge of the beach (getting our various bits well sunburnt) and munched our way through some very nice jacket potatoes with various fillings.
After this we had a bit of a walk along the promenade towards a war memorial that was the start of a multi-geocache called Hommage à Georges Guynemer – Aviateur français. The endpoint of this cache took us to a little gem of a place that we’d otherwise never have visited – a small museum about Operation Dynamo. It was a fairly small place but it was a) out of the strong sunshine and b) full of interesting displays and a brief information film. It kept us occupied for about an hour or so.
After the history lesson we then proceeded back to the beach, which turned out to be the very beach that most of the soldiers were evacuated from, and attempted to do our own rather trivialised re-enactment, involving a bit of plodging in the sea whilst the girls were doing their best to get soaked and we were constantly moving our stuff further back up the beach to avoid the incoming tide. It was a rather pleasant way to spend our last “proper” hour of holiday before getting down to the final bit of travelling.
And once we finally decided enough was enough, at about 5 pm, we walked back up to the promenade and followed it along in search of an ice cream parlour. Well, we were still on holiday and so ice cream is part of the deal. We found an excellent place with all kinds of weird and wonderful flavours.
And that was it for your basic holiday activities. OK, so there was a bit of driving through France, a queue on the motorway, a tunnel trip, a McDonalds at Maidstone Services and then some more driving home, but fundamentally, leaving the beach was the end of the holiday. Apart from the virtual cache at the tunnel terminal called End of the Holiday, of course. Grabbing this cache very conveniently meant that by August 5th we’d already gathered 5 of the 6 cache types required for the August Challenge. We only had an event to attend to get the final souvenir, and as we arrived back home that night we’d already got plans in place for 5 events in the space of 3 days.