In the spirit of making the most of our free time together, Sam and I decided to revisit one of our favourite haunts, Dieppe in Normandy, taking the ferry over the Easter break. It’s a place quite dear to our hearts, first discovered it on a 2 week tandem tour of the region and since revisited whenever we feel like a good dose of seafood and cycling.
The trip started on a slightly awkward tack when, fresh off the ferry, we knocked on the big cast iron door of our tried and tested B&B, only to discover that they had no record of our reservation. Rechecking emails it emerged that – in a fit of what I can only attribute to ‘chemo brain’ – I had inadvertently managed to book not our familiar B&B but a completely different one, a few kilometres out of town, one that we’d never set foot in no less. Ten minutes later and we were knocking on the door of B&B no 2, Villa Florida, with a small degree of trepidation as to what we’d let ourselves in for – fears that weren’t fully allayed when we found ourselves being welcomed into an entrance hall decorated in a style best described as ‘colonial’ and containing a large bulldog. As it turned out, our stay in B&B no 2 was actually fantastic. We had the annexe accommodation which, although the featuring a little heavily on the varnished wood side (it took a few days for Sam to be convinced we were free of significant fumigation risks), afforded fantastic privacy, peace and quiet.
Thanks to the rural tranquility of the location, not to mention a truly awesome set of window shutters, Sam and I managed to completely oversleep on the first day, missing our requested breakfast slot by a good hour and a half. We shuffled with embarrassment into the breakfast room to discover that – tardy as we were – we’d actually managed to beat the other guests – the ‘Unabashedly Antisocial couple’ and the ‘Good Mow-ning’ couple to it. ‘Unabashedly Antisocial’ couple being so described because, clearly traumatised by the mere suggestion of joining the scary ‘Anglais’ at the nice main table with the garden view, chose rather to breakfast in the darkest corner of the room, as far away from us as humanly possible. The ‘Good Mow-ning’ couple, on the other hand, made a little more of an effort to integrate.True anyway of the female half of the pairing whose conversation, whilst principally centering around an exhaustive list of all the canals she and her husband had holidayed on, was at least enthusiastic in its origins. Her husband in contrast felt that greeting us with a booming ‘Good Mow-ning’ – which Sam delighted in countering with a similarly ear-splitting ‘Bonjour’ – was sufficient to cover off his social duties for the morning.
Our first full day in Dieppe was market day and a feast for all the senses, with stalls resplendent with startling arrays of fresh produce. Sam was in seventh heaven, as we stocked up, not just on delicious materials for a lunchtime picnic, but also on a truly bargainous and extensive range of lettuce and brassica seedlings to furnish the allotment back home. A nice gentle cycle ride along the coast and then back inland in the afternoon and we’d just about generated enough appetite to attack the mighty 3 course seafood menus on offer in the evening.
Day 2, Easter Sunday, and we decided to be a little more ambitious in our cycling aspirations. Despite the spitting rain we set off merrily on the Avenue Verte, a custom built cycle route formed of beautiful smooth tarmac that runs from Dieppe to Neufchatel en Bray. A couple of hours later, a little damp and weary, we arrived in Neufchatel to discover, as we’d feared, that yup pretty much everything in France shuts down on Easter Sunday. The rain got heavier; the chain fell off my bike in protest; we began to grimly contemplate the prospect of about-turning on empty stomachs and then Sam made the winning discovery – a bar/ restaurant that was not only open but doing a roaring trade in good old rustic French lunchtime food. Two amazing salads, 1 cod and vegetable casserole, 1 steak frites and 2 scarily decadent chocolate mousses later we were grimly contemplating the prospect of hauling our overburdened (yet very contented) stomachs back on the bikes and crawling up the hill out of Neufchatel. Somehow though we managed to make it back and a few hours later found ourselves sitting in another restaurant doing battle with yet another 3 course meal. On this occasion though we managed to exercise some restraint with some cunning menu substitutions – for example salad instead of the super-rich starter options, I’ll pass on the cheese course thank you – which no doubt consolidated the French view that the English are crazy food philistines but at least spared us a night of chronic indigestion. On that note, if asking for a glass of warm water gets funny looks in England, just try asking for a ‘verre d’eau tiede’ in France and see what reception you get! Oh the delights of chemo-induced cold water intolerance.
Easter Monday and the rain was clearly there for the duration. With damp kit from the day before still drying on the radiator (the room now scented with a rather disconcerting blend of wood varnish and wet dog smell), another ride was not a particularly tempting prospect. We decided instead to choose a place at random on the map with a suitably large number of symbols on it and drive there for a day trip. And so we found ourselves in ‘Forges Les Eaux’, where we went for a nice walk around the park and lakes and visited a great little museum dedicated to ‘La Résistance’. In danger by this point of sufffering ‘death by Moules Frites and 3 course meal’, we were pleased to find a cool little Moroccan place for lunch and a truly amazing Turkish place for dinner.
Tuesday, and sadly the last day of the holiday. Tradition has it that on the last day of their holiday in Dieppe Sam and Naomi cycle to a town along the coast called ‘Le Tréport’. Tradition also has it that this ride inevitably turns into an epic, involving ridiculously strong headwinds on the return leg, exhaustion, dehydration and generally a race against time to make it back for the evening ferry crossing. Call us gluttons for punishment but the lure of ‘Le Tréport’ was too great to resist and it becomes our destination for the day. We did at least have the good sense this time to bag the first part of the route in the car to give ourselves a headstart. The ride was beautiful as always – a delightfully quiet route with lots of little orange cycle signs negating the need for a map. We resisted the temptation to drop down into Le Tréport itself (the climb back out is monstruous and tends to be punctuated by multiple repeats of whatever lunch fodder you’ve knocked back) and dined instead at a café on the top of the cliffs above the town. Time to turn and face the return leg and sure enough, the wind had cranked up to warp speed and we were faced with a stonking headwind the whole way back to the car. However, the sun had at least had the decency to come out so instead of near-hypothermia as per Sunday’s return leg we got glorious sunshine on our backs, albeit accompanied by a hefty dose of wind and sun-burn. And in case you were wondering, on this occasion we made it back to the car with ample time to catch the ferry although – as with all great holidays – we were kind of disappointed that fate hadn’t dictated that we stay on a little longer.
The return to the UK – as we knew it would be – has been a bit of a rude awakening. Not least because yesterday started with an 8am appointment at the Churchill for a series of CT scans. If getting to the hospital for 8am when your ferry only docked at Newhaven at 11pm the night before wasn’t bad enough, I also had the pleasure of having to down a litre of barium(?) fluid for my breakfast whilst being subjected to ‘hunt the vein’ as the CT guys tried, in vain (pun unintended) to find one suitable for pumping full of contrast liquid. But it’s all for a good cause – on the 19th April we go through the scans with the consultant and find out the status of the aliens after 4 rounds of chemotherapy. It’s going to be tough waiting 8 days for the results but I have lots of nice activities lined up for the next few days so hopefully the time will fly. Fingers crossed…