As I write this blog post about a short but sweet trip to Calais roughly seven years ago, thousands of refugees are living in camps after escaping persecution, corruption and violence. The recent change in circumstances has- no doubt- altered Calais. I am hoping that many refugees begin to form a home in Calais, getting comfortable and creating businesses, outside of the refugee camps, rather than wishing and waiting for the opportunity to arise to move on elsewhere.
However, as I narrate my experience of Calais and what it was like a few years ago, please do keep in mind that Calais has been altered, and spare a thought for those that are living in poverty, hunger, and hardship.
Over 15 million people visit Calais every year, many as a way of entry into France, speedily moving on to warmer areas of the country, whilst some Brits visit for a boozy shopping spree. Because of France’s lower taxes on alcohol and tobacco, many Brits simply pop over to Calais to stack their cars with enough booze to last 365 days. Calais is filled with vast supermarkets such as Carrefour, where rows and rows of 2 euro bottles of wine line the shelves, waiting for the thirsty Brits to take home across the channel. I find it a little sad that many Brits in fact do this, not visiting any other areas in France or taking advantage of their car being abroad by doing a wonderful road trip in a country filled with fascinating landscapes, delicious food and stunning art. You can imagine my disappointment when I found out that was why we were here.
Advertised as a “fun day trip to Calais” I expected to be given a tour of the city; to see the historical Town Hall, with its magnificent traditional architecture and Rodin’s famous statue outside of it: Les Bourgeois de Calais (I am a fan of Rodin’s work, especially after visiting the art museum in Paris). Or taking a stroll around Parc Saint-Pierre, with it’s well kept gardens that will relax any visitor, or visit the Citadelle and Fort Nieulay, to embrace Calais history- as I was with my history teacher. Even heading to Musee Memoire, the war museum, to see how Calais was affected by WWII and explore artefacts from the war in a completely different environment, gaining more insight of how WWII affected Europe, rather just than the UK. Or at least visit the Musee des Beaux-Arts, (Museum of Modern Art) because you know, France is notoriously known for how incredible their art is and this museum houses some masterpieces you just can’t find anywhere else.
But no, we had all been duped into paying for a trip where our teachers offloaded us onto the town, then onto Carrefour, so they could join the masses of budget Brits that flock to Calais to get discounted drinks, rather than a spot of culture. I was mortified. With little time in the town, we tried to make the most of it. Some of us taking a stroll along the beach and climbing to the very top of the Lighthouse for panoramic views of Calais. Some of us headed to Courgain Maritime and the fish market, where we saw creaky fishing boats bob on the sea, whilst women serenaded us in French with offers for her pungent fresh fish. Some of us took the time to dine on lobster and crab in plush resturants whilst sipping on local wine. And some of us went to a French bakery and ate warm home made baguette sandwiches and pain au chocolat pastries given to us by a grinning shop owner.
So for anyone who is heading to Calais, or even through it, be different to everyone else and please take the time to at least stop by at the seaside town- it has more than meets the eye.