Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Côte d'Opale

Perhaps you've heard of it, but chances are you have not -- the Opal Coast of France. It is the northernmost tip of the country, bordering the English Channel (the unsexy administrative name of the region is, as of 2016, Nord-Pas-de-Calais; I still remember it as French Flanders, or Picardy). From here, the crossing to England is the shortest -- less than 30 miles from Calais France to Dover England -- a trip I made by ferry with daughters when they were very little and before suitcases had wheels. I have a sweet picture of them hurrying to the boat trying to manage their little luggage at ages five and eight.

I never thought of it as a travel destination. Normandy, Brittany -- they're so alluring! Meander along the Côte Fleurie of Normandie, or hike, as Ed and I did, along the Emerald Coast and best of all, the Pink Granite Coast of Brittany -- now those are trips worth taking.

But here I am, spending a night in Wimereux along the Opal Coast. I have only this one night here, because my great desire to explore this area arose after I'd already booked my flights for this six day overseas trip and committed to five day split between Warsaw and Paris. Still, one night has many hours in it! Enough to smell the sea breeze and admire a lengthy promenade. Enough to do a micro-exploration. If I like it, I'll pocket it for a future return.

It isn't a difficult journey, even if, like me, you've been traveling all night to Paris. I had bet on a more or less timely flight arrival (it wouldn't have worked otherwise: there aren't that many hours in one night!) and bought a ticket in advance for the bullet train from Paris to Calais, and from there, a local to Wimereux.

Life is funny that way: you take the cautious approach and often enough in travel, things go awry anyway. At other times you take risks and nothing goes wrong. Is there a lesson here?

And now I'm getting super bold. I calculate that before my train departs, I have just enough time to take the metro to this place:

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It's sunny and very warm in Paris! I'm a bit loaded down, but I came to this Luxembourg neighborhood with a purpose: there's the park itself of course. A mountain of pleasure comes from just stepping inside. But, too, I need something for a dinner I'm cooking in Warsaw. I'm determined to find the shop that has exactly what I need, do my purchase and hustle back to Gare Nord (the train station) for my journey north.

So -- lovely park, familiar neighborhood, who cares if I'm a little tired, hungry, a little loaded down with my bag and backpack. (Not the ugly one. I sent that back.) A little rushed. And with sore feet because vanity had me pull out a nicer, rarely used pair of shoes for Paris and now my feet are sore. Trivial stuff! The beauty of the moment more than makes up for petty inconveniences.

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The French do train travel really really well and the strikes that plagued rail service here in spring are over (for now), so I catch my on time train and have a lovely ride to my room by the sea.

I'm staying at the Hotel Atlantic. It's a small place and I came to it via a New York Times article listing ten hotels around the world that are reasonably priced and worth the journey. For France, the writer picked the Atlantic.Why? Well, it's good to write about something that is on a path less well traveled. And maybe he was especially taken with the views (each room looks over the beach, though each room is different and some are more light and bright than others).

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(The hotel sits along a lovely, long promenade)

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Maybe the lure was in the Opal Coast itself.

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Or maybe it's all about the interesting little town of Wimereux. (I dont really explore it, but I do cross it on my walk from the rail station to the Atlantic. Here it is, as viewed from the train.)

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But really, quite likely he chose it because the rooms rest above two great restaurants -- one with a Michelin rosette. I didn't pick that one for dinner. I'm going with the simpler one (l'Aloze) which still has a fine seafood menu. And a Pavlova for dessert.

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And so how is this corner of France? I hear Macron has his summer home nearby. Is it a good spot for an escape? Is it worth my extra travel hours?

I'm so so sleepy now. I'll come back to this question tomorrow!

(Sunset, as seen from the restaurant during dinner.)

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