Boullay - London - Boullay

photo: leeds castle

Castles in Britain, like Leeds, are only a hop, skip
and jump - across the channel.

Everything Is Apple Pie In the UK

by Linda Thalman

Boullay:- Monday, 17. May 1999:- A Thursday afternoon 14:00 sailing time on the Pride of Dover from Calais to those white cliffs meant we left downtown Boullay-les-Troux in deepest Essonne just south of Paris, about 9:30 last week.

Always looking for new routes, we roadtested the A-16 autoroute, from Beauvais to the channel, which turned out to be an empty speedway - amazing, non?

It left us - me, my partner and a friend, time for a coffee break in Calais and we picked up our tickets, previously ordered by phone with the P&O Stena lines. We couldn't seem to do it - sigh - on their Web site.

The tickets were for three people cost us 740 francs for a 72-hour stay.

We have tried ferries, Le Shuttle and the hydrofoil in our many trips between the U.K. and France, but I still prefer the ferries. Breakfast, lunch or dinner in the sit-down restaurantphoto: 20 ferry airmiles is relaxing, calm, practical and the food is good.

Coupons, whimsically called 'airmiles,' earned from our lunch on the boat.

I had the £9.90 - about 100 francs - set lunch. Choice of soup or prawn cocktail for starters; roast beef, fried scampi or vegetable lasagna for the main course; apple pie or ice cream for desert.

After soup and scampi I forced myself to consume a 15-centimetre high 'vase' full of ice cream and chocolate sauce. Drinks involved the 'obligatory' gin tonic apéritif - known in France as 'apéro' - an Australian Shiraz wine with the meal, followed by a pot - not just a cup - of delicious coffee.

The portions were copious, the service attentive, the view - well obscured by lifeboats, but glad they had them. The ferries aren't as large as the Titanic, but La Manche is full of water, although no icebergs to my knowledge.

We were in stitches when we received 'air miles' on coupons after paying for lunch. The waiter said they might get us from Dover to Folkestone - about 20 kilometres away.

Our original plan 'A' to be in London by about 18:00 didn't work out - we stopped at the Leeds Castle and spent the most delightful afternoon wandering through the gardens, the aviary, the dog-collar museum, the hothouses and the castle.

Oh, the castle! I've rarely seen such a splendid castle - fresh cutphoto: entry ticket, leeds castle flowers everywhere, fires glowing in several rooms, with museum staff in every room ready to answer our silliest questions. We'd winced at the entrance ticket of nearly 100 francs, but it was worth every pence. There's even a shuttle bus from the castle to the entrance, as it's a 15-minute hike - but we walked it both ways.

Entry ticket for Leeds Castle - I had a nice brochure but it got lost!

We roared up the motorway to London - yes, driving on the left side, which is the right-side in England - and only got bogged down in commuter traffic about five minutes from where we were staying in the Battersea Park area, south of the Thames.

We stayed at the parents' home of my friend Penny. Ever so kind of them as a 'decent' bed and breakfast in London often costs at least 1,000 francs a night for two. Even Paris is cheaper than this.

Our Friday shopping started off spending three hours in a large university bookstore near the British Museum. The 'boot' or trunk, of the car was nearly full - and this was just the first day.

Lunch at the Museum Pub was frequented by lots of tourists, but it has a typical British pub atmosphere. The food was very nice and the prices were reasonable. Stilton Crumble for 55 francs, 70 francs for fish and chips, 20 to 26 francs for a pint of beer - such as Theckston's old peculiar, dark and strong - note, I had red wine. No coffee because the machine was broken - but pubs do not always offer tea or coffee anyway.

We hit the 'high street' - Oxford Street, and looked for this and that; not finding what we wanted and buying what wasn't on our shopping list.

Tickets at 300 francs a person - typical for good seats at London theaters, were pricey for a play called Copenhagen. We'd ruled out musicals - I got out-voted - so this onephoto: lake fit the bill. It was about particle physics. And it was a 'tour de force' with three actors in a gripping - really! - piece about the atom bomb.

One of many views of the Leeds Castle and its lake.

Insider-tip at London theaters - before you go to your seats, head straight for the bar and order your drinks for the interval. The break is only 15 minutes long. Our tray was waiting with beer and gin tonics - again! - so we were able to imbibe at a leisurely pace. It is a very sensible, efficient and an excellent British tradition that the French theaters should adopt, but probably won't.

Taxis in London are very reasonable. Given that a single ticket on the tube costs nearly double the Paris métro - take taxis! It only cost 80 francs for five of us - yes, there's room for five and shopping bags in those London cabs. Parking is expensive, fines are frequent and the traffic police put on 'clamps' and remove cars with lightening speed.

Gardening fans that we are, we spent Saturday at Wisley, the RHS or Royal Horticultural Society's garden, plant shop and gift shop - with every imaginable book on gardening. It is a 30-minute drive southeast of London. Our car's boot-cum-trunk and backseat were filled with books and plants when we left.

Unless you're totally allergic to plants and gardens, the RHS is spectacular. The azaleas were in bloom; the hothouse has a collection of orchids from Singapore, the Alpine houses exquisite and the grounds are splendiferous. I saw exactly two weeds.

While the self-service restaurant came highly recommended, we wanted to find a pub. And we did - the Seven Star Pub in Ripley, in Surrey - just a 10-minute drive from Wisley.

After lunch we went back to the RHS to ransack the gift shop and plant shop as we'd only managed to walk about the grounds from 9:30 to 12:30. Then we had to head back to London for a farewell dinner at the Stepping Stone, Queenstown Road, Battersea, SW 11. A cheery, modern, place with a eclectic choice of food and drinks.

Irish Oysters, warm pigeon salad, skate, cauliflower soup were among the possible starters. My notes fail me on the rest of the meal - but main course and desserts were delightful in my memory.

A 1997 Firestead Cellars Pinot Noir from Rickreall, Oregon set us back nearly 200 francs - but since I'm originally from Oregon... We also had a 1998 Finca el Retiro from Argentina - I didn't note the price - too many oysters, I imagine. Both were very good!

Visitor Tip - when in England, drink wine from around the world, except for French - save that forphoto: some sort of red flowers when you are in France. Or skip the wine and just drink beer. Pint for pint, there's nowhere cheaper in Europe - so says the British Brewers Association.

Azeleas in bloom at the Royal Horticultural Society's garden in Wisley.

The rest of the trip is a blur - a quick hop and a jump back down the motorway to Dover, stopping off at a couple of nurseries - there was a bit of floor space behind the driver's seat for two alpine plants - and another great lunch on the ferry.

The traffic was so light returning to Paris on the Sunday that we drove at a steady 150 kilometres an hour - sometimes 160 to pass an odd car or truck. The legal speed limit in France is 130 kph - oops, was I speeding?

Yes, speeding I was, back to Boullay - home and happy after a great little get-away break in London - and back in France.

Text and photos: Linda Thalman©1999
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