France, England & Wales. Key to the World.
Once Upon a Saga:
I swiftly came out of Luxembourg, came to northern France, shifted to England and greeted Wales...
What a rush. I am in and out of countries so fast that my head is almost spinning. 7 countries behind me in as many days. And this is where it hit me; I have never been this far away from home before?! Well, except from yesterday...or in fact the 10/10 at 10:10am project start when I crossed the border from Denmark into Germany. Though the distance is still relatively close I have more than 190 countries in front of me before I will see my homeland again.
Out of Luxembourg, back through Belgium and into the north of France. I arrived in Calais, where I would spend the night and then find my way across the English Channel to Dover the following day. That's how easy it is when you travel with a Danish passport.
As usual I had to do a Red Cross story so I googled Red Cross Calais and a number of articles on "Sangatte" appeared. As far as I could tell it was a large Red Cross centre near Calais which has now closed. Actually, Marc, who I visited at Red Cross Luxembourg had already mentioned something about it. And it all comes down to this; the world is not always a pretty place. And a lot of people seek to find a better life for themselves and their family. For various reasons countries Sweden and England appear most attractive to many and they are grossly overburdened with appeals for visa or citizenship. The British border is heavily guarded and the water between France and England helps. But it does not help France.
Many fortune seekers "strand" at Calais in hope of passage to England and between 1995 and 2002 Sangatte became the temporary home for up to 5000 people. This addition to the population of Calais was naturally a problem and in 2002 the Government found a "solution" and relieved the Red Cross who was assisting with shelter, medicine and food.
But which solution I wonder? Because the streets are still full of people, from Syria, Albania, Iraq, Afghanistan etc. Actually I encountered a small group of young men from Albania and had a small talk with them. Then they helped me take some pictures :)
When I was on my way to the ferry I spotted an improvised camp of some 15-20 tents and perhaps 4-5 times as many people. A group of young men were making a fire on an abandoned stretch of railway. I stood there on the road looking at them for a while before I decided to encounter them. I walked straight into their camp.
Improvised camp of hope...or less...
At this point I was not sure what was going to happen. I am an easy target with my huge rock on my back. Sort of like when I was out diving at Great Barrier Reef and saw a shark. First I though that I was in trouble...but then I realized that the shark was so much more faster than me with my big metal tank that I might as well accept the situation. And then the shark swam away.
Nothing bad happened in the camp. Actually I think they were somewhat interested in having me there. I got to speak to a well dressed mature man with a trimmed white beard. He told me that he came from Syria where he was an English teacher for as long as possible. He has seen terrible things. He has seen people's arms, legs...even head been chopped off. He left Syria for a better life and has now spent 1 month living in a tent at the port of Calais. He told me that his family is in Turkey and that he hopes to reunite with them in England. But he will not know when until the day arrives.
That is when I left him and walked out the camp...with my Danish passport...my key to the world. I got back on the road and looked at him. We waved at each other. I have been to France before. In general I really liked Calais and I had good food and met some nice people. I even enjoyed a nice sushi meal and know that I should have had frog legs...but hey?!
I do however wonder when the image of that man will leave my mind. I am no journalist. I am merely an explorer in a very modern world.
Can you believe it...Germany: rain. The Netherlands: rain. Belgium, Luxembourg, France: rain. I had to come to ENGLAND to see the Sun!! Well...from the boat I saw the white cliffs of Dover as I arrived. I had to take the train to London in order to change train so I could get to Bristol which is very close to Wales. Bristol...a nice city. I've been to England before and London is only a cheap flight from Copenhagen. So I found a backpackers place and went to bed.
The next day I walked around to have a look at where I was. I really like Bristol. It has a very modern feel to it while it has still preserved a lot of old buildings. The old port area is quite historic which I suppose most of every corner would be in an old city. But Bristol has done a good job in putting up informational signs EVERYWHERE so you are sort of walking around in an open air museum. And I just happen to be the kind of person who likes that.
Apart from a very nice chat with Liz at the nearby Red Cross office I did not have much human contact in Bristol. But that was ok. I enjoyed walking around looking at the city. Including walking all the way out to the suspension bridge. Thank you Liz! Have you not heard of Danish bridge building?!! No just kidding...your bridge was quite nice :)
Bristol historical port area
By the way. Terrorism is a big thing in France and the UK. You can no longer store your luggage anywhere near a public place and certainly not at the railway station because you could be a terrorist?! Who is winning that war? Not me...I need to carry my huge heavy bag around. Actually we need to get back to France for a second...because (and somewhat proudly) I managed to explain my situation to a woman in a bar in Calais and she understood me and kept my bag for 3 hours. I have not had French for more than a year and it was when I was 15. Good on me :)
Oh yeah...terrorism. Ironically as far as I am educated the English are responsible for the worlds first recorded terror attack. Against the Danish city of Copenhagen in 1807 when we were undecided regarding our fleet in the Napoleon war. The English wanted us to speed up our decision to support them and bombed the crap out of civilians in Copenhagen.
Well...we used to raid their cities with Viking spirit a 1000 years ago so I guess that was payback :)
How good does it get? I love how they just seem to go about their own business with their secret language and not care much about if they are independent or a part of the UK. Life is good as it is seems to be the bargain.
I was lucky enough to have a host through couch surfing and I was hoping that it would be just as good as Yegor in Germany or Ruud in Amsterdam. And was it ever. My host was amazing. His name is Abdullah and he is from Egypt. He lives a simple life in a simple house together with 7 other and they get along well. You will never experience hospitality as with a host who really wants you to be their guest. And with Abdullah I was family...or royalty? He had dinner ready for me when we got into the house. He provided me with a password for the internet. He washed my clothes!! And then he invited me for a party at Jake's.
Abdullah in his garden with a broken toilet
Jake is a solid friendly guy who opened the door with a shot glass hanging around his neck. Not too surprised by seeing a complete stranger with a Red Cross emblem on his jacket he invited me in as he did everyone else.
Inside the apartment it was filling up with young beautiful university students and I was slowly reminded how old I am. Many of them were curious to speak to me and I had an excellent time talking about anything from my travels to farming to religion to salsa to the Titanic to...you name it. Then it got late...I had a non alcohol night and stuck to juice...and when you do that then you just sort of drift slowly away from those that party hard :) At 2am some of them were on the floor BREAKDANCING?! while others were halfway out the window dancing with a near death drop on one side and loud music on the other. I should have gotten up to do the robot and show them all how cool I am...but I'm too old for that shit :) I will do the robot when I reach the Masai warriers in Kenya.
This morning Abdullah's friend from Iraq, Adam, came by the house. He LOVES salsa and I think he is pretty good at it. He runs a butcher shop in Cardiff and is a nice guy. Actually...anyone I met in Cardiff has been a really nice person. And most of those I met were not even from Wales. To me it seems like Cardiff has got it made. It is extremely cultural in a very mixed kind of way and all of these cultures, religions, people...they just seem relaxed and groovy. Good on Cardiff.
Abdullah and I walked the streets of Cardiff before he had to go to the gym. I had a look at Cardiff castle and got on the train.
I am currently...on a train. I will arrive in Dublin Sunday morning at 6am. Hurray :)
Wales...I'm coming back for you. I want to see some more of the country side...probably on a motorcycle...unless it rains too much...because it does shift quite rapidly? Hey Cardiff?! ;)
View of Cardiff from Cardiff Castle (when it is not raining)
Torbjørn C. Pedersen, Once Upon a Saga