Home » Travel » Four Girls, Four Countries, Eight Days

Four Girls, Four Countries, Eight Days

For us June 2022 had become the era of the postponed trip. There was the trip to Northumberland, postponed since before Covid and the trip to Madeira postponed since March when we actually had Covid. But most of all there was the road trip to Europe with the four granddaughters who live in the same town, also postponed since before Covid. They remain, in order of age, Lily (13), Ava (12), Ellie (11) and Sylvie (9) and this trip was conceived as the last of its kind after visits to Scotland, Ireland and several parts of the North of England. The half term holiday in the summer term had always been the obvious period to attempt this trip.

The logistics were potentially horrendous. Three of the girls are essentially adults in size and appetites so the six of us squeezing into a Touran complete with supplies was a challenge. I have never packed so lightly since I was hitch-hiking in my early twenties, but as is often remarked on these occasions, you can do it if you try. The more scary problem was that the medical documentation needed for six people was of five different kinds given the varieties of age and condition. Ava was the most problematic because, being twelve but unsatisfactorily vaccinated by French standards she needed to demonstrate a negative test within the twenty four hours before she entered France. But we were able to deal with this by witchcraft, registering a mass of documents online the night before we left. The worst problem in the event was the queue for the shuttle: one and a half miles in ninety minutes. The shuttle was new to all of us; we found it to be smooth and quick, but hot and boring.

Once there, in the Schengen area, it was all plain sailing and we settled in to four nights in a house in Equihen-Plage just south of Boulogne. I did the croissant run every morning to the local boulangerie though naturally the preference was for pain au chocolat. We spent a day in Boulogne, a day on the Somme battlefields and a day on the beach below the house with nothing but seals and hang gliders for companions.

Then a two hundred mile drive to Germany, staying in an apartment on the edge of Herzogenrath on a farm where German Olympic horses are schooled. There we enjoyed cakes from the bakkerei for breakfast and excellent ice creams. We visited nearby Aachen where the cathedral, ninth century and the biggest, oldest artefact for many a mile, seemed more Byzantine than German.

Finally to Ypres/Ieper/Wipers where Sylvie and I explored the museum and ascended the 231 steps to its bell tower to look out over Flanders fields. We all went to the last post ceremony at the Menin Gate and, given our Indian connections, took particular interest in the Sikh names on the monument. As interesting as the ceremony was the presence of hundreds of bikers who left in disciplined and spectacular fashion, their Harleys roaring away down the main street in prescribed order. After that it only remained to buy a quantity of Belgian chocolate.

So how did it go? (The fourth country, incidentally, was the Netherlands: we twice crossed parts of Limburg.) We got pretty well everywhere we intended to go and we got back safely and on time. The girls all liked some of it and most of them liked nearly all of it. And I tend to think that what matters is a kind of cultural assimilation that comes from seeing that a motorway exit is UIT in Dutch and (more entertainingly) AUSFAHRT in German. Everybody liked the beaches, the battlefields, the cakes and the ice creams, but the cities were considered less interesting than I would have hoped. The long distances were not popular, but the passengers were very good and amused themselves effectively (some excellent song compositions).

The one who had been reluctant to come seemed to enjoy herself enormously and took an interest in everything, the one who had counted down the days not so. I had several magic moments. The day after we visited the museum at Thietval on the Somme where they were offered a vast amount of information about the Great War they demanded a quiz and I asked, for a point each, which were the seven European countries which had been neutral throughout the war. Ava reeled off Sweden, Switzerland, Spain, Norway, Netherlands and Denmark and then added – “and I think also Albania” – which is correct. (It had only been recognised as an independent country since 1913.) I also loved it when Ava and Sylvie sat in the front of the car and pretended to be Ann and I. (“Turn right, Lincoln – no, not here – back there!”)

It would or will be interesting to see how the trip will be remembered.

Lincoln Allison June 2022