Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Jersey, Channel Islands

By Chuck and Claire
On our way to St. Malo on Sunday we passed a ferry terminal with signs to Jersey. We just couldn’t pass up the opportunity, especially since we had the time and the right vehicle. We reserved our seats for Tuesday, giving us a day off between sights, then went on our way for the day. Just so you know, Jersey is the largest of the Channel Islands with beaches stretching 48 miles around and is 37 Km from St. Malo, France.

Up early for an 8 am ferry departure, we left in the dark with great anticipation and a fair amount of trepidation when we realized we would have to drive on the LEFT! Claire volunteered to do the driving…..

Getting off the ferry was somewhat terrifying, to put it mildly. It didn’t help that the clutch sometimes sticks, the guy directing traffic was waving us forward briskly and I couldn’t get it into gear. Finally I tried popping the clutch manually and stalled the car. Great start. I didn’t know I could be cold and sweat at the same time. We made it all the way to a parking garage, spying a bike shop along the way, and got the car parked. A huge accomplishment. We walked down to “Parking Control” and spoke in ENGLISH to the very formal gentleman selling the Paycards. Since we had no Jersey pounds, it was a problem. The cost for one hour, all we wanted, was 58 pence. When I told him all we had were Euros he said “that’s no good” in a stern voice. He finally decided to just give us the Paycard and asked us to bring him the 58 pence later that day. We took off for the Tourist Information Office where we picked up a map and talked with someone about finding a cash machine and how to find the German Underground War Tunnels. Got 10£ and we were off. Went to the bike shop for a bolt Chuck has been needing for his bike and talked in ENGLISH to the guy about it. He scrounged something up and wouldn’t let us pay. He then sent us to a shop that would carry additional screws we needed for Claire's bike basket. We were impressed with how well we understood him! Chuck found the perfect screws with the help of a man at that shop who also refused payment. We haven’t found a single bike shop in France and saw them everywhere on Jersey. Next, we found a post office where we bought a postcard and stamp, getting change so we could go back and pay the Parking Control guy. When we showed up I think he was a little astonished to see us. He even smiled when he gave Claire change for the 1£ she handed him.

That done, we gathered our courage to make our way on the LEFT to the German tunnels. Claire's first mistake was coming out of the parking spot in the wrong direction, blocking all traffic coming the other way. And by the way, there is about an inch between cars, even as small as they are. Finally someone squeezed by and naturally took our spot, the place we planned to turn around in. Chuck manfully took over the driving and in a flash, had the car turned around and we were on our way. Claire believes she is a better navigator anyway, with the help of Susan, of course.

We finally made it to our destination, driving on very narrow roads, a hair raising experience. It just feels wrong to drive on the LEFT and the cars come so fast and so close!

One of many "Green Lanes" around the island. Mainly for horses, cyclists and people, cars are allowed to drive them at 15 mph.

Susan was a lifesaver and ridiculous at the same time. She got us close to where we wanted to go but only after asking if we wanted to take a ferry.

We ended up on private property, driving up to a elderly gentleman farmer and his wife, both looking a bit horrified. We asked about the tunnels and he said we had taken a wrong turn and we needed to go back to where all the people were. Hadn’t we seen them? He was quite nice and we were embarrassed, but that’s travel for you. His house was an exquisite manor and although he was elegant, his modest clothing would never have led us to believe it was his. His pants were partially unzipped, his belt overly cinched and with a pitchfork in his hand, he looked like the gardener. We spoke briefly about the German War Tunnels and he said he was glad they had never reached his property.

The German tunnel complex led us through the events of evacuation, deportation, captivity and siege, to eventual liberation.

The tunnel complex, which took almost three years to build, was designed as an armaments workshop and bombproof barracks. It was excavated by forced and slave laborers from all over Europe, some of whom died from the terrible hardship they were made to endure.

Towards the end of 1943, amid fears of an inevitable Allied invasion of Europe, the complex was converted into a casualty receiving station or underground hospital to accommodate up to 500 casualties and included a fully equipped operating theatre. The invasion never occurred, so the tunnel complex failed to fulfill its final purpose.

It was quite an experience with lots of video of people who had lived on Jersey during the occupation. There were a number of interactive exhibits that really made us think. Would you turn in your neighbor for more rations and better conditions?

One of the tunnels constructed using slave labor

German tunnel stairs

This is a DKW RT-350—Dampf-Kraft-Wagen—which became Audi

Bike tire made from a garden hose

It’s hard to imagine living under these conditions with very little food, fear and suspicion all around you and one German soldier for every three people. Hitler was really proud of the fact that he had taken British territory.

Coming out, Claire was in dire need of food and someplace to sit down. Driving really was a challenge so we found a place on the map that was close and we could enter into the GPS, and likely to have a place to eat. Dreams of eating on the harbor went out the window. Susan took us directly to the “Living Legend”, a rather tacky place with a restaurant. We didn’t care. In we went, greeted by lamps for sale.

That’s when we realized it was a buffet. We walked through the food area—there were very few people and it mostly resembled a senior citizen center—and studied the assortment of hot dishes, mostly roast and potatoes and something green like the color you get with food coloring. Definitely a color unknown to nature. I quickly went back and grabbed a made up sandwich, some butternut/pumpkin soup and tea. Chuck followed suit adding a scone and Jersey clotted cream. It wasn’t as bad as it sounds, satisfied the hunger, and gave us the energy to drive some more.

Chuck drove to St. Aubin's Harbor, pulling into a parking area. We couldn’t figure out how to pay for parking and wandered down the promenade a ways where we found a sign explaining the need for a Paycard. At that point, a man getting out of his car started talking to us and explained that you buy the Paycards in a shop and carry them with you. He then generously gave us one of his, scratching off the required information, telling us a little bit about the area and where we should walk. We were truly amazed. He was the fourth person who had helped us and each time gave us something for free. The funny thing is, we had just had a long conversation with a fellow camper, Bob, from England, who agreed with us that the French are so helpful and friendly and warned us that we wouldn’t find that in Britain.

The beach was beautiful with extremely fine, white sand; the skies were overcast, not surprising in the U.K.

We started noticing these strange things along the beach.

One woman we stopped said she thought worms caused them, digging for bait left by the fishermen. It’s anyone’s guess but they sure were weird.

All the telephone booths are yellow

Even the banks are decorated with flowers

Jersey drivers have their own identification sticker

We finally did get to sit at the harbor

We drove on to the other side of the island, not really knowing where we were going. It’s about the size of San Francisco so we figured we could handle it. We found Gorey Harbor. The sun was coming out and this was a really beautiful area. I wish we’d come here first. We searched for parking, always a challenge since we really didn’t know where to buy the Paycards (or where to park to get one!) and we had very little Jersey money, on purpose since we can't use it when we're in England. Finally found a place in a neighborhood right next to Mont Orgueil Castle with a trebuchet! We didn’t have time to do it justice and it was £9.50 each so we just walked around admiring it, knowing we will see many, many castles along the way.

Mont Orgueil Castle

There was a nice pathway down to the harbor and the first thing Chuck saw was a dollar store. He just had to check it out.

We found a place selling real Jersey ice cream so each of us ordered one and sat on a bench overlooking the water.

Time to head back to the ferry terminal. Susan saved us again relieving us of some of the stress of the driving.

The ride was smooth and comfortable but we spent the whole way back up on deck.

Last view

We were back at Homer by 9 pm. A long and satisfying day. I never dreamed I’d get to go to a channel island. I’ve read several books about them, including The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society and we watched the 3 part British series, Island at War which was very close to the story of the Jersey occupation. It was wonderful to see it for ourselves.

Camping, €13
Ferry, £162 = €177.79
Parking, £.58 = €.63
German Tunnels, £19.50 = €21.40
Lunch, £17.50 = €19.20
Drinks, £3 = €3.29
Ice Cream, £3.60 = €3.95
Snack on Ferry, £2.70 = €2.96

Total: €242.22

If you don't know where you are going, it doesn't matter which road you take. ~ Lewis Carroll


Kim said...

Envious again!

Pat in Santa Cruz said...

You two are great co-authors. I really enjoyed all of the trials and tribulations of this adventure. I was thinking about the "Potato Peel" book all of the way through. Would love to know what those sand worm things are -- google here I come. I'm wondering how Homer's repairs are coming along.

Diane said...

Hi you two! I'm learning so much by reading your blog--as you were describing the history of Jersey, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society definitely came to mind. Your descriptions of driving on the left (wrong) side of the road were hilarious--and I'm very glad you survived it! I'm energized by your sense of adventure and comforted by all of the kindness you are encountering. There's hope!

Napamick said...

The ferry comes regularly from (France) Europe, and they don't take European money in Jersey? Incredible. That sure as hell doesn't happen in Canada or Mexico. Or any other border country I've ever been in.

Good to see Susan helped you, just as Suzette has been doing. Is she going to have a name change in the next country as well?

Debs said...

I've just come across your blog when I was looking for something else (with Jersey in the search words). I live in Jersey and thoroughly enjoyed reading this post. Best wishes

bluesky said...

I enjoyed reading your blog on Jersey, as we are going there soon, and it is a lovely Island (been before).
I have to admit I laughed out loud at your puzzlement over the worm casts on the beach!! : )
They are caused by worms burrowing ~ think of mole hills and you get the picture.

Also amused by your description of the jersey gent o his property looking a bit....ermm..eccentric.
There are plenty of eccentrics in Britain : D
Hope you enjoyed / enjoy Europe.
It is very different to the USA eh?!!