What is the best way to follow up an entire day of constant sight-seeing in London? A relaxing drive through the countryside of southern England, a luxurious cruise across Dover Strait, and an afternoon along the famous shores of Dunkirk (Dunkerque in its native French) might do it!
We had an early Sunday morning: Our bus was leaving our London hotel at 8:45 AM sharp. But even with showering, getting dressed, and packing up all our belongings, we all still managed to have a pleasant continental breakfast at the hotel. After we had eaten our fill, our driver, Pascal, loaded up our bags into the back of our small bus and we were off. Most of our students caught up on some sleep during the drive, but everyone woke up right away when we reached the coastal town of Dover. Bringing us right back to the 1940s, one of our students, Kobalt, said that the view reminded him of the World War II-era song, “The White Cliffs of Dover,” recently popularized by the blockbuster Christopher Nolan movie, Dunkirk (2017). It wasn’t difficult to imagine the crossing of the English Channel by all those fleeing British soldiers of Operation Dynamo when, to everyone’s surprise, our bus boarded the cruise ship, The Spirit of France. Well, it wasn’t to *my* surprise, but I predicted (rightly) that all of our students would be pretty excited to find out how we were crossing the English Channel!
We had our lunch on the ship, sitting right by the front-facing windows where we could watch the rapidly approaching shores of northern France. When we reached shore, we re-boarded our bus and made the short drive along the scenic coast from Calais to Dunkirk. After freshening up and unpacking at our new hotel, we headed to a local park to have our first seminar for our Modern Europe course.
Yes, you probably almost forgot that this was also an educational experience! For our first seminar, we started at the very beginning, discussing the birth of the modern world and the advent of capitalism in the gorgeous Garden of Sculptures in Dunkirk. I was impressed with our students’ knowledge: Our seminar was just as productive as any I’d had in a college setting, and we soon found ourselves discussing how our topic related to the pressing issues of our present day. And that really is the intention of our course: Discussing and experiencing history so that we can better understand the present, and have an informed opinion on how to pursue our future.
After our seminar, we made our way to the beaches of Dunkirk, where just over seventy-eight years ago, hundreds of thousands of soldiers were making their brave escape from the Nazis. After that, we headed downtown for the evening to see the small, yet beautiful, town center and had our dinner in a pleasant outdoor café. The next morning we took care of logistical affairs (money-changing, an ATM stop, etc.), and then headed for Musee Dunkerque 1940, which detailed Operation Dynamo in detail. A short film detailing the historical evacuation really set the scene, and the museum contained many incredible relics of the evacuation itself including old artillery guns, vehicles, and engines recovered from the beaches.
For the afternoon, we set our students loose for some free time (in a buddy system), which they used to have some beach time, have lunch on the boardwalk, see historical Dunkirk, and do some much-needed shopping! We ended our day today with an outdoor sunset dinner by the harbor, overlooking the water.
After our intense day in London, these past two days have been the rest and relaxation everyone needed, while continuing our all-important historical immersion. And it’s a good thing too, because our next stops are Normandy and Paris: And saying we will have a lot to see there is an understatement if I ever heard one!