Visiting the beaches of the Northeast coast of France/Northwest coast of Belgium is quite an experience. First, it is very windy on the beaches, which makes it chilly when you are out of the sun. Second, you apparently don’t need to see any water when you visit – getting sun is the important thing. And third, views of the beach are somewhat obstructed by rows and rows (and rows and rows) of beach huts. They are small cabanas, and act as a refuge from the wind as well as a place to store your beach items and clothing for the day. It is very different from other beach areas we have been to.
First up, Dunkirk was our favorite beach, although we favor the French spelling, Dunkerque. (Why do we anglicize actual names, instead of honoring the way the country itself spells things??) There is a small area with beach huts (in the photo below painted as “Malo -Les-Bains”), but most of the rest of the beach is wide open. It has restaurants, crepe/waffle/and ice cream stands, and loads of people. There was a basketball tournament taking place, and grandstands were set up for spectator viewing. Of course, Dunkirk is known for its beaches in 1940, as 300,000 soldiers waited for evacuation back to Great Britain, just 50 miles away or so by sea. We watched the movie Dunkirk the night before to refresh our memories about the historical importance of the area. It is quite sobering to see the calm beach today, and imagine it crowded with over a quarter of a million desperate soldiers.
Downtown Calais was more enjoyable than its beach. Town Hall can be seen from around the city, and it is some stunning architecture. The sculpture of the Burghers of Calais in front of it is very moving…and magnificent! The beach was jammed with beach huts, some not in great shape, which made the beach seem a bit degraded. Many people sunbathed in Calais with no view of the water whatsoever, which we found so strange.
De Panne, Belgium is the location of our hotel, just over the border from Dunkerque. Ditto on the beach huts crowding the beach. But we must say, it was very crowded, with both children and adults enjoying the boardwalk area, eating, walking, and biking. We can just imagine it in another month, in the middle of summer, bursting at its seams.
We visited these three cities yesterday. Today we are taking a break, resting and reading in our hotel room. We try not to treat our travels as a vacation, where every single thing needs to be seen (there will be other years, after all), but as our life. Lying here on the bed and sitting in the chair, with the window open, we are feeling the breeze and listening to various birds cooing a hundred times in a row. It is nice. We have a view of trees and gardens, and there is no traffic noise. And Mike just “put the kettle on” for some afternoon tea. Heaven!