03 Nov

1 week Road Trip from South Shields, England To France – Bethune – Paris & Belgium – Bruges
3rd November 2014

Have you ever been on a road trip? Did you love it? Have you always wanted to plan a road trip but just never got around to it? Well I love a good old road trip, no excesses… usually spur of the moment 50, 100, 200+ miles and often with little or no planning. However, when it came to decide to embark upon this road trip, we had to sat down and plan. My Mam, Brother Marc, and newly married husband Steven and I were all about to embark on this great adventure… This was going to be my biggest road trip yet. It was the trip we had talked about for years as my Grandma was originally from France and of a small town called Bethune, in the Northern region of the country. We had for years talked of how we will one day visit and see where my Grandma was brought up. She had fled to England as a young girl during WW2, after her family received a tip-off that the Nazi Germans were about to invade the small town. My Grandma was on one of the very last boats to leave France in 1940. Leaving many family and friends behind along with their belonging and money too. This place was somewhere I had to visit for so many reasons. So, on 3rd November 2014 we packed the car and all squeezed in, a three door, Vauxhall Corsa named Betsy and set off. This was going to be a real adventure of mixed emotions. The drive is not bad (provided you enjoy driving), it’s all motorways from my hometown of South Shields, near Newcastle Upon Tyne, to Dover. Once at the port you are met with vast amounts of lanes for different ferry’s, but like gates at an airport it’s easy to workout which one your supposed to be at, only difference is, your sat in your car the whole process. Its supper easy to finger out, all from the comfort of your own vehicle. Once on-board the ferry you are free to get out of your car and head up to the viewing platform, stretch your legs and get something to eat and drink. Once the ferry sets off you will be struck by the beauty of The White Cliffs of Dover. This has made the drive so far worth it! It’s a bit of a choppy crossing, however, just under an hour and a half later you are at Calais, France. Time to drive off onto foreign lands. Just remember to drive on the opposite side of the road… you’re not in England anymore!

Ferry crossing leaving the port of Dover. The White Cliffs of Dover

It’s 18:30 and dark now, but only have about 60 miles to drive on this side of the English Channel until finally reaching the town of Bethune around 20:00.We arrive at our hotel ‘B Hotel’, right opposite the train station in Bethune, and park my car in the handy gravely, untarmacked car park opposite. It’s raining and its dark but we’re here, the home town of my Grandma. We Check In, which for naivety took me by surprise… the lady at the counter didn’t any speak any English… ‘what’, I thought everyone spoke English. This small town in France wasn’t a big tourist hot spot, which we were soon to find out. We finally get checked in and head to our rooms, which are great. We freshen up and decide to head into town to see if we can find somewhere open for food. It’s about 21:00 and soon realise everywhere is closed, no restaurants, bars or even pubs, it is a Sunday after all but thought something maybe open. We have a wonder around in the rain until a torrential downpour forces us to admit defeat and abandon our exploration, we head back to the hotel. Of the locals that are out and about it is clear that they don’t get a lot of tourists visiting. At one point I am sure we were being followed by someone in a car. The car which would pass us then stop, turn around and disappear only to reappear a short while later defiantly gave me an un-easy feeling. We did however find a small kebab shop open for business 2 minutes from our hotel on the run back in the rain, again, no one speaks English or really understands us but at least we have food, apart from my Mam who’s vegetarian. Preparedness is an essential key of travel, we failed at this hurdle.The next day is Monday, a working day here in France and is great to see the town alive, well more alive than last night, with locals going about their daily routine. The train station opposite our hotel is quite a big building and I can see it is a main train station however a limited number of commuters on their way to work fill the area. We have breakfast at our hotel and then venture towards the town centre again on foot, this time without the rain weighing us down. The street that our hotel is on, Avenue de Lens, Bethune, is the same street we understand our Grandma used to live, along with her Mother Emily and Father John, AKA Jack Dixon, an English man in their family run hotel in before WW2.

Bethune Train Station

We know a lot has changed since those dark times and a lot of buildings destroyed. The exact building is questionable today as the pub has since gone and has been converted into a house. Walking around this town, I felt a connection with my Great Grandparents that suddenly I feel I know so little about yet gain comfort in known I am quite latterly walking in their footsteps. Bethune has a great number of patisseries selling freshly prepared cakes, meringues, breads, and sandwiches and coffee. A good selection of fashion stores can be found here in Bethune. The Beffroi de Bethune, The Bell Tower, can be found in the centre of the market square. This is especially something at night, as it is lit up like sun shining through a church’s stained-glass window. To the side of the square you have the Town Hall, another building graced with fine architecture. Bethune was brutally attacked and muchly destroyed during WW1, these buildings were damaged and have been restored since.

The Beffroi de Bethune, The Bell Tower

We drive to the towns cemetery to visit the graves of some of our family, there rested my Grandmas’ twin sister Jane, that unfortunately died at birth back in 1924. My Grandmas’ Sister Suzanne also lay in the same grave who died in 1940, of pneumonia. A memorial to Suzanne’s husband Robert Henneton, who was executed by the Nazis on 31st July 1942 by firing squad, after being found to be part of the French Resistance, smuggling people to safety during WW2. Robert refused to wear a blind fold before the fatal shot as told by by-standers and passed on through my family through the generations. There is a street named after Robert Henneton, ‘Rue Robert Henneton’ ‘resistant fusille par les Nazis’ translated to English ‘resistant rifle by the Nazis’ located in Bethune which we paid a visit to after the cemetery.

In honor of Robert Henneton, whom was part of the French Resistance

That evening turns Bethune into a ghost town once again…

The following day we meet with our extended family member, Mark Pitupre, and he takes us to visit the preserved WW1 trenches, tunnels and memorials at the Canadian National Vimy Memorial Park. About 20 miles South of Bethune. This land was gifted to the Canadian Government by the French, for to preserve and build a monument to honour all Canadians who had served during WW1 in both France and Belgium. This land is classed as Canadian soil and is ran mainly by Canadian volunteers.

Canadian & French Flags

A couple of miles up the road we stop off at The French National War Cemetery, in Notre Dame de Lorette near Arras. Truly a sight to pause for… over 40,000 soldiers from WW1 are buried here, each marked with a white cross or white head stone to mark their sacrifice. There is a lantern tower which lights up the grounds at night and a separate church which is beautiful both outside and inside, it boasts painted domed ceilings, stained glass windows and statues.

Notre Dame de Lorette, military cemetery

We visited the small museum that they have to the side of the cemetery that show cases photography, uniforms and other collected items from WW1. A small contribution on the entrance to help with the upkeep of the place is only fair. There is a recreated battlefield with French and German trenches behind the museum, which I believe is a must see, hard hitting opportunity. To be stood in a trench, I can only begin to imagine what it must have been like almost 100 years ago. It’s muddy, wet and smells of damp. This would be nothing compared to having 100’s of men crammed in with rotten food, unclean cloths/body’s, injury’s, freezing temperatures, rats, dead and dying and of course the constant gunfire and shelling from all round. The fear and uncertainty must have been horrific, and even for the survivors, life after the war must have been hard.

WW1 Trench

Mud filled trench

Dare you peak over? Can you imagine the horror?


The next day we drive 70 miles North to Bruges a small town in Belgium. Crossing the border from France into Belgium consisted of a white line painted across the road, so that was an easy transition. We arrive in Bruges, a small medieval town filled with cobbled streets and canals. A traditional market square is at the heart of this town with a medieval bell tower to the side. Horse and cart rides are inevitably available, as with many town settings like this. Plenty of restaurants and bars line the streets and a great friendly atmosphere makes you feel at ease.

Market Square

They are four medieval town gates, one at each corner of the town well worth visiting and peaking inside.

One of four medieval gates – Bruges

We have a look at the local church which is stunning, shortly followed by the all year-round Christmas shop, (I guess both go hand in hand) which sells hand crafted Christmas decorations. The shop is called kaethe-wohlfahrt and has a fine selection of hand-crafted cuckoo clocks, this is something that I personally recommend you pop in and have a look at when visiting Bruges, its located just off the main square. 

Church of our Lady – Bruges

There are many beer tasting experiences here in Bruges including their own brewery, which was experienced by all bar myself, as I was the designated driver…We leave this beautiful town and head back to France, Bethune, knowing it to be our last night in the North. 

Thursday 6th November, we wake early and pack up our hotel rooms at B-Hotel, here in Bethune, and hit the road bound for Paris, 130 miles South. During the drive down, I couldn’t help but notice how flat the landscape is, and how wide the roads are. It’s a nice smooth drive and as we approach Paris itself I’m amazed as to how clear the motorways are, no congestion and few cars for any motorway, let alone a motorway leading into a major city. We arrive in Paris, the city of love, or in this case, the city of crazy drivers… traffic inside the city is hectic, however its moving. We find a multi-storey car park and park up. It’s a few blocks from where our hotel is, so we must carry our bags. We arrive at our Hotel Du Leman which has a great view from the balcony down the narrow lane, like you see in a film, or at least I do. The front of the hotel has white venetian shutters on each window, there must have been 100 sets on the front. The humming sound of scooters and smell of un-burnt petrol lingers in the air, the narrow streets and tall buildings funnel the sounds and smells around. It’s pleasant. There’s a real city buzz, it’s 14:30 and we’re pretty much city centre. We pick up a trusty city map from hotel reception, the ones that are so small, square and crisp when you first get them after one use the always end up in a crumpled ball and never return to that nice neat compact size… you know the kind. We then proceed to explore the area and local sites on foot. Sacré-Cœur a beautifully stunning Roman Catholic Church on the top of Montmartre, a hill that sits high above the city of Paris.


You can venture into Sacré-Cœur for free. However, if you wish to make the climb to the top of the dome to experience the breath-taking view, (I recommend you do, you’ve come this far) it’s about 5 euro. You can see to the horizon on a clear day and even see the Eiffel Tower.

Views from the top of Sacré-Cœur

Views from the top of Sacré-Cœur

 After leaving the Basilica we explore the area of Montmartre, which is basically the hill which the church stands and the surrounding area. Street vendors line the cobbled streets selling their merchandise to passing tourists from hand painted pictures of the Sacré-Cœur with tranquil backdrop to gift and souvenir shops all in keeping with this picturesque hilltop village. Small French houses, patisseries and restaurants are all to be found up here, some with some fantastic views of the city below. The evening comes, and we walk passed the Moulin Rouge theatre, regretting we hadn’t booked a show. That would certainly have been an experience. I believe tickets to be around the £150 per person. We go for some great food and drink, we find there is a tremendous selection of restaurants and bars throughout the city, Paris is defiantly the place for fine dining to suit everyone’s budget.

Moulin Rouge – Paris

Friday sees us board a Hop on Hop off bus tour (proper tourists) through the city of Paris. The cost is about £30 per person and allows us to get on and off the bus as many times as we like throughout the course of the day. The bus does the route of the main sights and were then able to re-join the next bus at any of the next stops, highlighted on the foldout map, (that’s once again in a ball by now). You will be eligible for a discount if you book your tickets online through the bus tour operator as opposed to buying on the street, even with the tour operator staff. You can also incorporate boat tours on some bus tickets, so it’s worth having a good look, as it could save you money buying all together. We pass but don’t visit the Louvre Museum (with the big glass pyramid). The world’s largest art museum. We get off the bus at Notre-Dame de Paris in search of the Hunchback of Notre-Dame, to no avail. This ancient gothic cathedral was a must for me, and I’m pleased I did. Despite the long ques, the main attraction for me to venture inside was not only the beautifully colorful giant circular stained-glass window and medieval architecture, but the fact I used to watch the Hunchback of Notre-Dame as a kid. I’m very easily pleased.


Famous stained glass of Notre-Dame from inside the cathedral

Crossing back over a bridge gets me thinking, just how many are they here in Paris… Turns out at least 37 bridges cross the River Seine. Many are full of pad locks from lovers wanting to keep their love alive by wishing their love into the lock and then locking it to the bridge, then throwing the key into the Seine… What happens if for some reason they break up? Do they have to take up SCUBA diving? We’re back on the bus and are approaching the world-famous Arc de Triomphe and thank god I’m not driving. It’s an absolute chaotic roundabout with a gigantic monument in the middle! It seems half the drivers are looking at the Arc de Triomphe and the other half are just trying to drive as fast as possible zipping in and out of each other. I’m pleased we’re sat on top deck of this bus as we really do get a great view all round. You can if you wish, pay to go to the top of the monument, I’ve seen on-line it’s from £10 per person.

Arc de Triomphe

Next stop we visit and scale the Eiffel Tower… It would be rude not to!

Eiffel Tower itself…

If you’re going to visit Paris, you’ve got to visit the Eiffel Tower! It’d be like going to the cinema getting your popcorn and not actually seeing a film… in my opinion. The views from the top are simply spectacular, it’s a world-famous monument and it’s something else when you pause and realise you are standing at the top of this iconic structure. You can see for miles, along the Seine in either direction.  The Arc de Triomphe standing to attention in the distance and all the other monuments Paris has to offer that we passed just hours earlier lay scattered bellow. We arrived at the top of the Eiffel Tower at sunset and watched as the city of Paris slowly turned on its lights. I needn’t say anymore.

Views from the Eiffel Tower

We were up here a while…

Built in 1889 it took a little over 2 years to be constructed. Now standing 324M high to its tip with 704 stairs and 5 lifts… The Eiffel Tower was built to commemorate the 100thyear anniversary of the French Revolution.T he cost to the top is around 25 euros per adult and includes the lift. It is over half the cost for youth and kids are cheaper again. Under 4’s are free. You can pay less if you only wish to go as high to floor 2, which has restaurants and ‘macaroon bar’. Still with great views. Here is a link to the towers website where you can find all up to date prices and book online to beat ques. You can book on the day as we did at the entrance. Be cautious of third-party sites with the words ‘from’ in front of the price. Have a look but it pays to do your research.https://www.toureiffel.paris/en/rates-opening-times*Note – Wrap up warm as the top floor is windy. Check the weather report before you visit, in-case of any extreme conditions make it unsafe to venture to the top.

A golden tower against the black nights sky

One regret of mine is that despite having a French grandparent I have never learnt the French language, which in the town of Bethune would have come in very handy indeed. Paris is very well suited to speaking English, so we are ok in our selfish ‘everyone speaks English ways’. Road Trip Breakdown South Shields, England to Bethune, France – 428 miles – 8 hours. Bruges, Belgium – 70 miles North of Bethune, about 1:40 hours. Bethune, France to Paris, France – 130 miles 2:30 hours. Paris, France to South Shields, England – 560 miles 10 hours. Ferry crossing, Dover to Calais, 4 Adults and 1 small/medium sized car, under £110, approx. £55 each way. Book in advance. The crossing takes about 1:30 hours each way. Total journey 1300 miles in 1 week at a cost of £140 diesel. Don’t forget to ensure your vehicle insurance covers you for leaving the UK and have breakdown cover that works abroad too.

Looking up the Eiffel Tower 

Admiring the souvenir collection on the final night here in Pari.

I wonder what Steven bought…?

 The next day we drive from Paris to the ferry at Calais, the crossing is much smoother today.

Leaving Calais Port

Thanks for reading. I hope you have been inspired to visit France, Belgium or just go on that long overdue road trip and connect. 

Message me if you feel inspired or want to share your journeys. 


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