Thursday, September 13, 2018

Côte d'Opale once more

How is it, here, by the Channel coast, in the small town of Wimereux? Enchanting? Ordinary? Delightful?

It's so easy to give an opinion these days. Click onto TripAdvisor and read what anyone and everyone has to say about nearly every destination, hotel, set of rooms. I read this stuff. If there are many opinions finding fault with a place -- that's a pretty damning situation, especially if the proprietor hasn't bothered to get on line to make the (feeble?) claim that they're all fake news, posted by the competition. I understand the possibility that they could be fake. And more importantly, I understand the possibility that people may simply be tired and have had a bad day, leading to a predisposition that is going to shade the nature of the opinion. And still, I read.

And I post opinions on Tripadvisor and on various sites that have helped me navigate the listings. But I don't post many and I only write them if I have liked a place. A lot. I just don't want to blurt out something negative that may have more to do with my mood than the reality of the situation.

Now, if you want to know what I thought of my overnight by the sea, I first have to introduce the day for you. I look out the window this morning and see this: a dappled sky, the calm waters of the Channel, a pair of brave souls taking a morning swim.


I then go down to a breakfast at the Hotel Atlantic. You know a place that takes food seriously is going to have a nice breakfast. And it does. Good home-cured salmon, eggs, a variety of cheeses and a variety of baked goods, with seasonal fruits and the usual morning beverages.


I sit by the window and admire the view again. With the partial clearing of skies, you can just see the white cliffs of Dover on the horizon. There is something both majestic and sad about it. Dover was once a thriving tourist place, but the tunnel connecting Paris with London has had an impact on this coastal town. I've read that refugees now use it as a point of entry into the UK. If you want to get a handle on the consequences of the Brexit vote, I suppose you'd do well to visit Dover. You'd probably walk away with a barrage of very mixed opinions! As for the French side of things -- you've read perhaps about the Calais refugee camps and France's efforts to deal with them. And Calais is about to face the consequences of Brexit now: they're huge! France is adding hundreds of customs officials and has allocated more than forty acres around Calais for customs inspection points. It's one big mess, from the point of view of commerce.

But from the window of my breakfast room, it all looks so pretty!

And so I take the time to go outside and walk. (Do you see the white cliffs on the other side of the Channel?)


And I think how quiet Wimereux is, despite the turmoil just a few miles up the coast. Wimereux is geared toward the French summer vacation -- a season that lasts for only two months in this country. Most everything along the coast is shuttered now. Except for my little hotel, which is booked solid. On a September Tuesday no less.


Is it the popularity of the Hotel Atlantic entirely attributable to the NYTimes piece? I don't think so. In the breakfast room I see one demographic: couples, in retirement. I'd say half speak a British English and half are French. It's easy to see why the British are here: if you want to drive your car to France, you'd likely to do it through Calais. What better place to overnight than here, in this quiet spot with excellent food.


As for the French -- I suppose there are those who hope to beat the summer crowds and high season prices. But the consequence of coming here now is that you see many closed doors. Like on these beach huts that line the Promenade.


Time to check out. I have a train to catch! The mesdames at the front desk are so charming! They fuss about my great vocabulary (they got me on a good day!). This just puts such a smile on my face. I better leave before they say something I won't understand!

The walk to the station is pleasant, especially on a full stomach and under that pretty sky...


And so as I stand on this sweet little station and watch the punctual trains come and go and I think about my visit here, I feel pretty rosy about it.


Had I been forced to give an answer yesterday, I would have said -- well, the room was painted a dark color and didn't have enough lighting and the window was too small. The wait at the station for the local train was outdoors and I would not want to do it in cold weather. The walk that I took along the coast was interesting, but doing it once seems enough. The dinner? It was actually just fine, but I was so looking forward to the dish that apparently they do very very well -- the sole meuniere -- a French classic that turned Julia Child into a lover of French foods. You can't find it these days in many good restaurants, but it is a signature item here, except on days when they don't have it. Like last night.

But today, I'm just tickled pink by this opal coast. Even the view from the train window -- presumably the same view as I posted yesterday -- looks so much kinder, gentler.


And did I mention how much I love traveling through France by train?


My bullet train to Paris is on time, though not without incident. Suddenly, somewhere between Lille and Paris, an armed crew, casually dressed but with Douane armbands appeared out of nowhere. Searches ensued. No one was handcuffed, but some interrogations were pretty determined. A reminder that the new normal is full of stuff like this.

And now I'm back at Paris's Gare du Nord (a train station that surely does not lack a security presence)...


It's time for me to leave France. For now. Which brings me to one more speculation: why do I love exploring this place so much? People tell me that I've seen way more of France than a French woman. What brings me here so often?

It's the people, for sure. Oh, Paris is beautiful and the countryside has many pretty spots and lots of good food and wine. All this helps. But watching and listening to the people who live here is, to me, like reading a fascinating book that never ends. I learn something from the French and I like the lesson to be repeated frequently.

I don't think much of nationalism -- French, Polish or American. So that "being French" isn't to me exclusive, or bound by the country's borders. And in any case, I wouldn't say that the French are excessively friendly (like the Irish), or hospitable (like the Polish), or conversationally revealing (like Americans). What I would say about them is that they seem to me to have a preoccupation with doing life well: finding balance in work, family, friends. They seem to take great care with ordinary daily life: what you eat, how you present yourself to others -- these are important. The greatest compliment that you can give to a French parent is to say they child is tres sage (very wise). And, of course, the French are vocal in their commitment to Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité, and when someone points out that it hasn't been working well for many who live among them -- they take that reprimand seriously enough to discuss it and to look forward to working on a fix. I like that. 

France may change. Poland certainly continues to swing wildly in various directions. America -- right now I have faith that it'll stay on a good course. In any case, I live there. I owe it my vote of confidence and at times, my critical voice when I feel us to be floundering. A country, after all, is nothing more than a sum of its residents,

At some point, when a vast number of people (a majority) swings in a direction that doesn't feel right to me, the charm of travel there will fade. But it hasn't happened yet -- certainly not in France (and not even in Poland). 

And now I am on a greatly delayed (who knows why) flight to my country of birth, where, at Warsaw's airport, my sister is waiting. And wait -- who is that with her? My nephew! Here on a brief visit from England. We ride the bus together to my apartment on Tamka Street. My nephew is holding a little duck. You would have to be Polish to understand that right now, he is engaging in (or at least explaining) a form of protest to stuff that is happening in this country. (It's a play on words, which you would understand if you knew the Polish name for duck as well as the name of the current leader of Poland.)


And now we are in my apartment. 


Good friends of mine had been using it for a few months this spring while their own home was undergoing renovation. I see that they have left flowers and trinkets everywhere! Too, my sister has brought over fruits, salads and various good things to stave off sudden bursts of hunger. It is a wonderful and warm way to reenter my life as a Pole.