Ah, when last we discussed our adventures on the Grand Tour, we had embarked on a ship crossing the Channel and were heading for Calais. The voyage was uneventful, except for the one member of our company who was hideously seasick, poor dear!
Luckily, the tide was high when we reached Calais, so we were able to sail right up to the quay. That was a blessing. At low water, smaller boats must be rowed out to the ships, and it’s always tricky getting a lady in full skirts over the side of the sailing ship and safely aboard the boats. Then too, once the smaller boats reach the shallows, there’s the question of getting from them to the shore. I’ve heard tales where men had to carry the ladies. And we are not talking gentlemen or gently!
We, on the other hand, can merely cross the gangplank onto the dock. However, the French do not seem content to allow us to do so alone. Dozens of men come aboard wishing to help us disembark, carrying our trunks and even our parasols! They are a rough bunch, but they seem civil enough and conduct us right up to the Monsieur le Commissaire, who will escort us to the customs-house. There we exchange our passports for French ones, and if we do not produce them quickly enough there is a great deal of hand-waving and exclamations in rapid French.
Everyone collected? Excellent! We had planned to spend the night in Calais, so off to our hotel, one that caters to visiting Englishmen and women, the Meurice. Our trunks will be examined at the customs-house and released, once we have paid a host of fees, including money for the captain, sailors, the commissioner, and the gentlemen who carried everything from the ship for us. My, but traveling can get expensive!
After a good night’s sleep on the sheets we brought ourselves, we hire a post-chaise for the ride to Paris. We could have taken the Diligence. It has an office very near the Meurice. But the large, lumbering coaches that carry people all over France are so much more uncomfortable than the English stagecoaches that we took pity on our still green friend and hired a carriage instead.
Mrs. Starke, from the written guide we’ve brought with us, advises us to take the road from Calais through Beauvais to Paris, as it is smoother, less hilly, and shorter. The road winds through fields of grain, and trees line the avenue as if you were going somewhere much finer than the local villages. We pass a mound, which our guides tell us once housed the camp of Julius Caesar. Roman medals and other artifacts have been found in the area.
And there’s a lovely convent, with its white walls. So French! No, wait. Is that smoke coming from the chimney? So many chimneys? It seems France has seen fit to transform many of its convents into factories, a fact that seems more sad than progressive as we head on.
And there, on the horizon, Montmartre! We’re almost to Paris!