Our European Vacation: Calais

Though we spent just a day or so in Calais, arriving by train Thursday afternoon and leaving Saturday morning, I could easily divide it up into several blog posts. We saw so much and I took so many photos.

But I will devote only one, unusually long, post to it.

After we checked in at our hotel in the old part of the city, we set out on a walk to get oriented. Our visit to Calais was prompted by my husband’s desire to see the English Channel and the White Cliffs of Dover. So we headed north toward the water.

We came upon these fortifications, Fort Risban.

Roughly south of Fort Risban is another fortification, la Citadelle.


In the center of town stands an old watchtower, the Tour de Guet. It’s impossible to stand back far enough to get a picture of the whole tower. I was able to get a better view of it from the lighthouse we toured the next day. I took note of the spiral staircase going up the interior.

Without doubt, the showiest building in town is the Town Hall. Looking back, I wish we’d made an effort to go inside. In ostentatious exterior details, it outdoes the Église Notre-Dame, seen here in the foreground in a view from the lighthouse. I don’t know which is taller; the town hall rises 74 meters, but I could not find anything about the church on the interwebs.

Looking again at these photos, I am reminded of something my sister told me last weekend. An acquaintance of hers, an urban planner, told her that we used to have dirt roads and marvelous public architecture; now we have paved roads and less-than-thrilling public buildings.

In front of the Town Hall is Rodin’s sculptural assemblage, “The Burghers of Calais.”

Around town, we saw other statues — “Allegory of Peace,” “Monument du Souvenir Français,” a mermaid, and “Le Pluviôse.”

Friday morning, we headed out to the beach to see if we could see the white cliffs of Dover.

In a strictly technical sense, the cliffs should have been hidden under the horizon. According to Wikipedia, for a person my height, the distance to the horizon is about 3 miles. The distance across the English channel at its narrowest point (near Calais) is about 20.5 miles. However, thanks to atmospheric refraction, it seems pretty apparent that they are visible.

We then went to tour the lighthouse, climbing the 271 steps to the observation deck.

In addition to the above panorama, I also got some good pictures of the church.

In the distance, I could see the spire of l’Église Saint-Pierre rising above the town.


After lunch, we visited two museums — the Lace Museum and the World War II museum, the latter housed in a German bunker.

You can read a bit about the history of lacemaking in Calais here.

At the museum, there was a display of a variety of fashion incorporating lace from different periods.

Another room contained a variety of modern machinery used to make lace. My photos don’t adequately convey the immensity of this contraption. It is at least twice as long as what you can see in the photo on the left, and if I remember correctly, there are something like 5,000 skeins of thread feeding into it.

As we exited the museum, I saw that its facade was designed to emulate the punch cards used in manufacturing lace.


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