A Norman Adventure

No.  It couldn’t be happening again.  Not a third time.  I wasn’t in Asia at the beginning of typhoon season – I couldn’t be so unlucky as to find myself at the beach in a blustery downpour.  Again.

Twice during my three years in Asia, I made the mistake of booking beach trips during the first week of October (the National Holiday week), and both times was met with the fringes of typhoons.  I managed to luck out with at least some sun both times, but it was not the idyllic beach trip one hopes for.  Not this time, I told myself.  Not in France.  It was late July, after all.  And even though it was Normandy, the French side of the Channel (with its infamously British weather on the other side), my luck couldn’t possibly be that ironic.

And yet here I was, wrapped up in my (lightest summer) hoodie, walking along the Trouville-sur-Mer shore in what felt like a rainy, Mid-Atlantic November.  At the end of July.  I was still trying to be thrilled to be by the sea – as a fervent believer in the curative salty sea air – but the only other thing that made me chuckle right then was the sight of another bather, knee-deep in the waves – wearing a bathing suit bottom, and fur-lined puffy jacket on top.  Apparently the French are even more ballsy than I am when it comes to midsummer polar plunges; I wasn’t quite there yet.

Perhaps all was not lost; there was, after all, Norman architecture and warm camembert to brighten my otherwise dampened spirits.  I know I should have ordered a bucket of steaming moules frites…but I can never resist the creamy call of camembert.

The weather did not clear up immediately.  My smartphone’s weather app had, in fact, called for rain for the whole four plus days I was there.  I should not have been optimistic.  So over to Deauville I wandered, to see the fancy side of town.  Deauville shares Trouville’s Norman sensibilities of course, but with a bit more pomp to it; in contrast to Trouville’s village feel, Deauville puts its fame on display (quite literally, with its celebrity-named beach cabins).  Deauville is known for its high stakes horse racing, its international film festival, and its luxury hotels; I was happy to be staying in next-door Trouville, with its low-key, summer weekend vibe.  Deauville is not without its own charms, though, even for those on a Trouville budget.  (The serendipity came when walking past a cheesy Norman gift shop though, when, peering into a window, I saw the same Playmobile Victorian dollhouse I’d been so excited about one early-90s Christmas, being used to advertise soft salted caramels and buttery Norman cookies among many other treats.  Needless to say, I couldn’t not walk out of there without a box of caramels in hand…the nostalgia was just too much.)  I did disappoint myself vaguely during my Deauville diversion, in that I couldn’t brave the cold wind on Deauville’s shores for much more than half-an-hour or so before veering inland to warm back up.

Having had my fill of fancy Deauville, I committed to spending the rest of my time back in chill Trouville, rain or no rain.  And lo – my ironic luck started to change.  That evening, after warming myself with more camembert, the miracle came – the sun came out…just in time to set.  I took my small miracle for what it was, and enjoyed the deep, ombre oranges on my way back to my family-run inn.

I wasn’t sure whether to count on the weather again the next morning, but found myself pleasantly surprised – enough so that, walking out in street clothes, I made an immediate 180 turn, ducked back up to my hotel room, and changed into my bathing suit and cover-up.  I ended up with two full days of “proper beach weather” … and, it turned out, very strong Norman sun.  And everyone was out in it – if we remember nothing else about the French, they know how to make the most of a beautiful day.  I sat, and I sat, and I sat…until I felt brave enough to try what I knew would be – to say the least – chilly Channel water.  (It was.  Even for me, fish that I like to think I am.)  I did manage to submerge myself entirely, on both of my sunny days, but perhaps not without peril – not even the strong Norman sun, not even the promise of more warm camembert could warm me up that second afternoon…alas, back to the hotel I went to change back into real clothes.

As sad as I might have been not to be sitting and swimming, and sitting and swimming all day – I felt better.  I wasn’t at a lack of things to see and do, to keep myself warm; Trouville’s hills hide plenty to be seen – churches, museums, galleries, and – of course – plenty of shopping and eating (and French coffee).  And views for days – each time I walked higher into the hills, and turned around, the sea was there – glowing orange as the sun descended.

The week ended more auspiciously than it started…as both of my typhoon weeks in Asia had, after all.  But the time had come to clamor back onto my absurdly early train.  A full moon was setting on my Norman adventure as I walked out of my hotel, back down the boardwalk, back across the piers, back to the train station, back into the frenzy of Paris.

The call of the sea would not, of course, be quelled by a few early days of bluster.  The village’s charm, its Norman-ness, and – of course – the camembert, was enough to tide me over until the sun came back.

Random logistical information

  • How to get there: Like so many destinations in France…a train out of Paris.  It took 2ish hours, an easy train ride.  Or rent a car, if it’s in your budget.
  • Where to stay:  I stayed at the Hotel Le Trouville, a charming little place run by a typically-French husband-and-wife team; I used Booking.com to find it.  (Options in Deauville looked more expensive at time of booking.)
  • Where and what to eat: I struggled to find anything unappetizing in the plethora of restaurants and cafes in Trouville, from the oft-mentioned camembert, to Norman-style gallettes (savory crepes), fresh fish, and all the other French food one’s heart could desire.
  • What to do:  On sunny days, be French and sit on the beach.  Wander past the library-on-the-beach (a literal book shack with chaise lounges to sit and enjoy).  Swim in the frigid water.  On rainy days, wander the hills surrounding Trouville. Eat camembert.  Walk along the shore anyway.  On either kind of day, do whatever you would otherwise do at the beach.  Relax…it’s the beach.

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