BELGIUM/FRANCE – What to do on new year’s day? Party until 11 in the morning and sleep for the rest of the day? Visit family and friends? Go for a walk? Or why not go for a 1300 kilometer drive, along as few as possible motorways, and include as many as possible pointless detours? My friend (and WPP co-founder) and I decided to do the latter on January 1 2016, and can definitely recommend it!
My trip started in Zeist, the Netherlands, where my friend – who had left Amsterdam 45 minutes earlier – came to pick me up around 5 in the morning.
Towns like Brussels and Ghent were already far behind us by the time the 10 o’clock winter sunrise greeted us on the empty E40 motorway through the polders* of western Belgium, illuminating a landscape that, if it weren’t for the endless wall of appartment buildings lining the seafront in the distance, could have come straight out of a painting by Breughel.
* areas with controlled water levels
The entrance to a petrol station near Koksijde
The polders of West-Flanders with the seaside resort town of Koksijde in the distance:
The Belgian coast has a reputation for being ugly. Its main town, Ostend, is infamous for having been transformed from the elegant ‘queen of seaside resorts’ into a part of the 70 kilometer long wall of apartment buildings – affectionately known as ‘the Atlantikwal’ – in post war years. It is also known that this transformation is far from finished.
Nothing can prepare you for how ugly it is though. Despite having visited Kokzijde as a child (and having fond memories of it), my mouth fell open at seeing it again. These pictures don’t do justice to its ugliness, so the WPP team will have to get back there to try again.
A typical Kokzijde streetscape at the end of the main street (which runs parallel to the coast a few blocks behind the seafront):
The main street, which was already quite lively at 10:50 on this new year’s morning:
A 1950’s church on the edge of Kokzijde:
Some typical recent developments:
We didn’t get round to visiting the seafront, so there’s another reason to revisit Kokzijde in the future.
In contrast to the Belgian coast, the area directly behind it is beautiful, as is our next stop, the small town of Veurne, 6 kilometers in land from Kokzijde. Being in the same region as Ypres, Veurne (FR: Furnes, population: +/- 11,000 ) was badly damaged in WW1. As is the case with many Belgian towns that met the same fate, Veurne was tastefully reconstructed after the war, and nowadays seems to be like it has never been different.
Cape Grey Nose
A 90 kilometre drive past Dunkirk and Calais, along a route I had seen quite often on the way to England as a child, brought us to England… Well it’s not really England, but the landscape at Cap Griz-Nez (‘Cape Grey Nose’) looks like it could be. England itself is visible just 33.3 kilometres away across the Strait of Dover/Pas de Calais, the closest it gets to France or continental Europe.
Cap Blanc-Nez was busy this new year’s midday, mainly with locals enjoying the sunshine:
The monument (I didn’t look up what it’s for)
Looking north, with a ferry from Dover making its way to the port of Calais
The famous white cliffs of Dover were more visible than on this photo, but I’d need a bigger zoom to properly photograph it
Looking east towards Calais, with the village of Sangatte in the foreground:
Looking west again …
… along the road we’ll be driving on in a minute:
Driving on, we passed villages and small towns that seemed to have looks alternating between French, English and Flemish, all of them equally pretty. Now travelling by car makes me a bit too lazy to get out and make pictures, but we thought Wimereux, on the edge of Boulogne-sur-Mer, was so nice that we didn’t have a choice.
The short Wimereux river shortly before it flows into the English Channel
Looking the other way
We could have explored Wimereux a while longer, but still wanted to have some daylight left further along.
We passed into territory totally unknown to me after Boulogne. Sadly, the weather got less nice before we reached Normandy, which to my surprise looks like the Ardennes even though it is while 200 kilometres to the south-west of it.
A traditional barn in the village of Sainte-Foy:
Longueville-sur-Scie – the first village in Normandy where we got out for a short walk:
As some of you may have noticed, I try make pictures of as many as possible of these old-fashioned adverts (of which there are many in Belgium):
The River Scie
The town of Fécamp:
We went for a walk from the town of Etretat to the rocks of the same name, but it was too dark to make pictures, which is why my last picture of Normandy is of the town hall of Le Havre:
As I had previously seen on pictures, most of Le Havre was rebuilt in a very particular style after WW2. It is definately a place I would like to visit again properly. The same goes for its industrial surroundings, which looked like Mordor when we drove through them in the dark on the way to our last destination for that day.
La Défence, Paris
At three in the morning and another 200 kilometers down the road, and we reached our final destination for that day: Paris’s high-rise business district La Défence. We spent the night elsewhere in Paris before heading back to Belgium the next day.
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