The Great Continent Tour (1974) I – Calais, Brussels, Holland – Mom’s diaries

 

KK: mom was at Delhi recently and got my sis in law to scan more photos and type out her latest post. her memories from our road trip to the ‘Continent” when I was less than a year old. She has requested me to post them in instalments so that they are easier to read. Amongst other things, this post has the story of how I might have been at France now.

All NRIs in the U.K. dream of visiting the rest of Europe sometime during their stay in Britain as it is cheaper and also quite convenient. The most popular means of transport is the tourist coach because it is hassle free and lighter on the purse. A few others like to drive their own car while touring the continent as they can stay over if they like a place and or move out if they don’t.

We belonged to the second category of people in spite of the risks involved.

Before making the final tour, we also made a few short trips to the beaches of France simply by crossing the English Channel. These short trips made us see the place from a different angle.

Calais, king prawns and a mini scare

We made our first trip to Calais and Boulogne in France when our son K (that’s me: KK) was only three months old.

We crossed the English Channel from Dover by a hovercraft which could move on land as well as on water. I was very elated as this was the first time that I was going out of England. I still remember that the sea was very stormy that night. Most of the people became sea-sick, including myself, except for a few like K and his dad. (Can’t imagine that happening now! KK)

The next morning, the sea was calm and tranquil. We landed at Calais, the famous sea-port of France.

We got our car back and moved further on. The sea-beach was breathtakingly beautiful with golden sand. As it was a week day, there was hardly anyone on the beach. The loneliness, the gurgling sea and the golden sand produced a kind of uncanny sensation.

At night, we stayed in a hotel. The next morning, we went to see ‘The Burghers of Calais,’ located near the Town Hall. The statues, made of Bronze, were sculpted by Auguste Rodin, in 1889.

For lunch, we went to a small sea-side restaurant. They had displayed a huge cooked king-size prawn, which was the catch of the day. The menu card was in French with English script. The waiters too could not speak English properly. We ordered for the king-sized prawn as we could not resist our temptation. We were looking at the menu card to see what else we could order. Suddenly, we realized that there was an extra zero in the price of the king prawn. We did not even have that much money with us! In the meanwhile, the royal-prawn had arrived on the table, ready to be eaten.

We called the waiter and told him that we had ordered for small prawns and not the big prawn. (A white lie, of course!) The waiter went back to consult his boss. By that time, I had already mentally started gearing up myself for doing the dishes for not paying the price.

Thankfully, the waiter came back and replaced the king with its subjects i.e., the small prawns, without making any fuss.

We heaved a sigh of relief and strolled on the beach for a few hours before taking the hovercraft to Dover.

Another surprise was waiting for us at the check-in-counter. After checking our passports, the officer-in-charge confiscated the three month old baby K as we had forgotten, in a hurry, to enter K’s name in my passport. While coming from Dover, they probably ignored/overlooked it as K’s dad was a NHS doctor.

I cursed myself and wished we had not come to Calais. K’s dad made a lot of arguments but that did not cut the ice. Finally, looking at my tearful face, the officer took pity and mumbled to himself that the baby must be the son of the Indian lady as he resembled her i.e. me. In reality, K resembled his dad more that he resembled me. But to the white skinned foreigners, all Indians look the same. Whatever the reason, we were more than glad to get back K and promised ourselves to include his name in my passport at the earliest opportunity. Even after so many years, I can still remember the anxious feelings that I had experienced at that moment.

After getting back to Canterbury, the first thing we did was to go to Indian High Commission in London and get K’s name recorded in my passport.

The final tour was to be made in summer. Preparations were in full swing as we had planned to visit quite a few countries i.e. Belgium, Holland, West Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Italy and France.

At last in July/August, we set out on our tour. K was six months old by then. The car was serviced fully and loaded with nappies, baby food, a push-chair, a small gas stove and a few basic utensils.

Burgers of Calais

K at Canterbury

Seaside restaurant at Bolougne, France

Brussels: “Commit no nuisance?”

From England, we first went to Brussels in Belgium. Belgium is famous for its glass all over the world. It was extensively used by the rich Indians in the pre-independence era. We also found in Belgium very good lace material for curtains.

The most famous place to be seen in Brussels is ‘Monaca de pies/Manneken Pis’ in the market square. It was the statue of a naked child peeing. The story goes like this. Once, the son of a king got lost. The king sent his men to look for the child. The men found him in the market square and caught him in the act. The king was so happy to get back his son that he built a statue of the child peeing. Everyone, who went to Brussels, brought back a souvenir of ‘Monaca de pies/Manneken Pis’.

  A church at Brussels  Mannekan Pis, Brussels

To the land of tulips : Holland

We saw a few gorgeous churches as well. We did not stay there for a long time and moved on to Holland. At night, we stayed in a motel at Rotterdam in Holland. In the morning, we went to Den Haag. There we saw a model village named ‘Madurodam.’ It was a miniature model Dutch village on 1:25 scale. Everything was there – starting from beautiful houses to aeroplanes, wind mills to churches. But all the things were so small that they looked like toys. It seemed as if we had come to the country of the Lilliputs. We looked like Gulliver, as we stood near the mini houses, towering above them.

 Maaduradam den Haag    

Next we went to see the ‘Peace Palace’ in Den Haag. It was a huge building, mostly made of marbles, with beautiful and well-kept gardens around it.

Three of us at the Peace palace, Den HaagBust of Gandhi

There we saw a stone bust of Mahatma Gandhi, with his name inscribed on the stand. We felt very proud to be Indians as we saw this bust alongside the statue of Christ.

Next day we reached Amsterdam, the capital of Holland. Whenever, I think of Amsterdam, I associate it with red as well as yellow tulips with long green leaves. Tulips are quite rare in India. Windmill is another characteristic feature of Holland.

It is a beautiful city with 100 canals and about 1000 bridges. People mostly used cycles to move around. There were about 600,000 cyclists on the roads. (This data belongs to 1974. I had scribbled down this information at the back of a picture postcard in 1974).

We took a boat-trip in the sea to go around Amsterdam. We saw many huge ships in the water. In one boat, we saw a statue of the sea-goddess.

We concluded our trip of Amsterdam by seeing the Heineken Brewery, the University of Amsterdam and the Royal Palace of Holland at Amsterdam. On the top of the palace, there was a statue of Atlas carrying the globe on his shoulders. The golden globe shone brightly at sunset.

Boat trip at AmsterdamUniversity of AmsterdamThe Royal Place Amsterdam

We also saw the ‘red windowed city of Amsterdam by night.

(To be continued)

KK: Ironically on the day that I posted mom’s memory from Amsterdam, V Rao from Twitter, who is based at Amsterdam now, and is a reader, came to Bangalore and couriered me a packet with a couple of sausages (Worsts) and two huge cheeses. Thanks, made my Monday :)

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