Letter from Europe

Channel crossings

Issue no. 2009/1


Calais' modern port is a model of efficiency. We travelled with P&O Ferries across the Dover Strait, enjoying the considerable comforts on board the Pride of Burgundy. Channel crossing by boat can be a great pleasure.

Dear fellow travellers

This being the first issue of hidden europe e-brief for 2009, we wish you all the very best for the New Year.

In London's National Gallery, there is an oil painting by Turner with a spirited depiction of the comings and goings at Calais pier. A heavy swell and billowing storm clouds attend the arrival of the cross-Channel packet boat from Dover as it approaches the French pier. Well, the tenor of cross-Channel shipping has certainly changed a little in the more than two centuries since William Turner took advantage of the brief peace that followed the Treaty of Amiens to spend three months exploring France and Switzerland. He painted that famous study of Calais pier in 1803.

We found ourselves in Calais a day or two before Christmas, and enquired of passers-by whether the steam packet still regularly sets sail for England. So to the port, a veritable hive of industry, but no longer as romantic as in Turner's day. The boats have long since been driven out of the centre of Calais, exiled to a wasteland of concrete roads and petrochemical works. But modernity brings its own advantages, and we can report that nowadays adventurous travellers might even cross from France to England by boat without getting wet.

No prizes for being picturesque, but Calais' modern port, like its English counterpart at Dover, is a model of efficiency, every hour handling thousands of vehicles and passengers wanting to cross the forty kilometre stretch of water that separates England from France. And, for those with a sense of travel history, there is plenty to spur the imagination. We travelled with P&O Ferries across the Dover Strait, enjoying the considerable comforts on board the Pride of Burgundy. P&O may sound like a name with text message terseness, but the company is the lineal descendant of the old Peninsula and Orient Steam Navigation Company. Odd that, with all the talk nowadays of cheap flights, ferries scarcely get a look-in. Some routes have fallen by the wayside, but the short sea crossing between Dover and Calais thrives. Boats are a most civilised mode of transport - too good to be ignored. So a resolution for the New Year perhaps. Travel slow, and take a ferry or two. Europe's traditional ferry crossings are assets to be treasured.

hidden europe 24

The upcoming issue of hidden europe is published on 6 January - though many subscribers will possibly already have received their copies. You can see the full table of contents by clicking here.

Like all travel writers we face an eternal dilemma. Mentioning a place risks changing the very essence of a community. We are special fans of Europe's finest town squares, particularly where they have not yet utterly sold their souls to tourism. And in hidden europe 24 we look at one of the very best - that in Poznan in western Poland. It is a fabulous square, a little chaotic, always lively and all the better for that. Yet there are hints of change, and we fear that another year or two and Poznan's delicate beauty will be attracting crowds of visitors. It starts with restaurants switching to English menus, then brand name stores open on all the choicest corners. Before long there are horse drawn carriages, then jugglers and magicians, performing such fantastic tricks before heaven as may make the angels weep. The Poznan we describe in hidden europe 24 is a city on the brink of change.

Elsewhere in our January issue we report from Angoulême in France, a city in the Charente valley which has a special position in the French art of bande dessinée (the comic strip). We travel along the Curonian Spit from Lithuania into Russia on the shores of the Baltic, reflect on the impact of the Dessau Bauhaus, and explore the tensions between preservation and development raised by an archaeological site and a nearby dam in western Turkey. And of course you will find all manner of other curiosities in hidden europe 24: Slovakia's new coins, a bank cash machine with instructions in Latin and the extraordinary tale of how mediums and clairvoyants helped in the search for lost Arctic explorers. hidden europe 24 can be purchased now in our online shop.

May all your travels in 2009 be inspiring and rewarding.

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