Saturday, August 25, 2007

And back again

Boy, all this transatlantic flying is getting to be exhausting. We had a pretty good time in Dover. The castle and Secret Wartime Tunnels were fascinating, especially the tunnels. The castle was quite impressive. Most castles I've seen were either ruined fortresses or preserved homes, but this one was a real fortification, still used up through WWII -- incidentally, I'm not sure they use that phrase like we do. At one point it was referred to as "the 1939-45 war." We enjoyed exploring the castle and going up and down the winding staircases. There were fabulous views across the countryside, and we could see France off in the distance across the channel, even in the bad weather. From a lookout point right on the edge of the land, we could see the famous white cliffs, and they were lovely, although we had to imagine how they would look without the sprawling modern ferry terminal at their base. We didn't get to walk down to the beach, so I couldn't tell you if Matthew Arnold's poem Dover Beach had it quite right. The town of Dover wasn't particularly nice, and we had no reason to linger and walk in the rain. We found some decent fish and chips for lunch, but they were still nothing to the ones we had in Robin Hood's Bay. How frustrating that my first fish and chips would turn out to be an impossible ideal to meet thereafter!

But back to the cliffs, where during the 1939-45 war, tunnels were carved into the soft chalk. Dover, poised on the very edge of England, was a major front in the war from the beginning. Just a few months in, the Maginot Line had failed, Belgium and France had fallen, and the British troops were trapped in a tiny area of land, cut off from both sides by German troops and constantly battered by Luftwaffe planes. A retreat was called, and everyone made for Dunkirk, just across the channel from Dover. From the planning and communications rooms in the secret cliffside tunnels, a rescue mission was launched. Boats from the area, everything from huge navy vessels to tiny fishing dinghies, were called into service and launched across the channel to pick up the exhausted troops. By the end, 350,000 men had been evacuated safely. Astounding. Almost as astounding to us, though, was that we had never even heard of it! Most Americans forget that the war even started before we got there, and we certainly never learned about it in school. I can't wait to learn some of the other exciting bits of history I've missed out on. Anyways, now these tunnels, with their original medical and communications equipment, including rows and rows of telephone switchboards and those clear, vertical boards you always see in movies used to track the movement of ships, and enormous maps with troop placements, are now open to the public. They even try to recreate the experience with sound effects and momentary blackouts. A little cheesy, but it does add something, I suppose.

Our other excursion in the Dover area was to Canterbury, which is a very nice little market town. Actually, a pretty big market town. It was filled with shoppers, and we enjoyed looking at all the shops and finding Mommy a big, woolly, sheep-shaped tea cozy. We saw the cathedral only through the small opening in the wall where you pay admission. At 13 bucks a head, we decided to pass, which was frustrating, as that was what we had come for. But we did see a ruined monastery elsewhere in town that was one of the earliest Christian sites in Britain and was torn down by good old Henry VIII. The major historical organizations, English Heritage and the National Trust (both of which we are members now), really ought to send him a thank you note for providing them with so many evocative ruins.

We camped near Dover, and what with the bloody English weather (terrifying thunderstorm one night, gale force winds the next), we spent a lot of time in the local pub. It was a nice mini-break, though, our first of many, to be sure. And then we began the long journey home. We stayed at a hotel near Heathrow the last night and watched the England-Germany football match with a big crowd. (England lost, of course, and it was all blamed on the goalkeeper, Paul Robinson, who is also keeper for our local Premier League team, Tottenham Hotspurs). The next morning we caught a flight to JFK, took a taxi to LaGuardia, sat there for seven hours, and finally flew to Orlando, where Nicholas and Katie waited for us with smiles, hugs, friendly dogs, a delicious, home-cooked meal, and a comfy bed. Yesterday, we drove up to Tallahassee, where we'll be for the next week. Andrew's work permit has come through and we've sent in our paperwork for our entry clearance. Now we just need to finish packing the last few things, enjoy our families, and get ready for the final move. Another deep breath is in order. Wish us luck. Cheers!

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