288. Dunkirk Beach Front

IMG_3187 (640x480)Dunkirk was a fascinatingly historical spot to visit. Not merely for war history of the evacuation of Dunkirk, but the other end of the beach (Malo Les Bains) provided a really interesting peek at what the seaside holiday was like in the inter-war years and the 1950s.IMG_3184 (640x480) IMG_3188 (640x480)

I really loved seeing the beautifully painted beach huts, and charmingly decorated piers. It was pastel colours galore and perfectly in line with nostalgic seaside imagery. Upon searching for a bit of information in an attempt to discover when it became a popular beach spot, all I could find on Dunkirk was war history. However, I did stumble across an interesting article about how the beach holiday rose so dramatically in popularity in the 50s. During a time of austerity budgets were slim, but a bigger issue was that although religion was on the decline, everything was still closed on Sundays so there were few other options for entertainment on a Sunday. Despite the beach becoming popular, and fashion subsequently following, activities on a Sunday were still fairly contentious. Photos of Prince Philip playing cricket on a Sunday were as outrageous and shocking as the Kate Middleton being snapped sunbathing topless!IMG_3202 (640x480)

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Sadly, these days, making it across the Channel to France is no longer an achievement of a holiday, with the ease of accessibility of the guaranteed sunshine of Spain, and the myriad cheap airlines flying there. Never have British stereotypes been more visibly conformed to than in the line for a Ryanair flight to Majorca and Ibiza and Malaga at Barcelona airport!IMG_3178 (640x480) IMG_3179 (640x480) IMG_3180 (640x480) IMG_3177 (480x640) IMG_3185 (640x480) A solo sunbather amongst the empty promenades, with his wind shield:IMG_3189 (640x480) IMG_3191 (640x480) IMG_3193 (640x480) IMG_3194 (640x480)

The result is that Malo Les Bains, in the peak of summer with its golden sandy beaches, promenades lined with restaurants  children’s play areas backing on to the sand (including built in trampolines) and marvellous beach huts, was completely deserted. It was quite surreal, and almost felt like an exhibition in a museum.

Down the other end of the beach, that was much more the desired effect, with a memorial and really interesting display outlining the events surrounding the evacuation of Dunkirk (where almost 400,000 French and British soldiers were evacuated in 9 days, many of which on around 700 non military/private boats, called the ‘little ships of Dunkirk’). Having studied it in great detail at school, it was really fascinating to actually be there.IMG_3205 (640x480) IMG_3210 (640x480) IMG_3209 (640x480) IMG_3215 (480x640) IMG_3214 (480x640) IMG_3213 (640x480)

287. Église Saint-Éloi

IMG_3166 (640x480)Right in the centre of Dunirk (or Dunkirque, in French) is the Église Saint-Éloi. It is over the road from the information centre/war memorial, so pretty hard to miss. I thought it was a really lovely church, particularly as all around the centre alter were a bunch of smaller, very nicely set up alters for different saints etc, and at the time of my visit the sun was beaming through the stained glass windows quite brilliantly.

284. The most difficult shower I’ve ever taken

As previously mentioned, there were a number of logistical issues we hadn’t quite thought through until we embarked on our campervan adventure. One of which was when and where we would shower. We were initially very stubborn about keeping costs down, so were hoping to avoid camp grounds wherever we could. We were planning to, as much as possible, use public facilities like swimming pools and rest stops on highways. But it was a really funny feeling having to actually plan how and where to access a shower, instead of having one a few metres away from your bed like normal.

I have to say, as I write this I feel incredibly spoiled, as I know for many in the world who haven’t ever had access to a shower, toilet or even running water such a ‘dilemma’ would be a dream situation. With that in mind, we weren’t overly troubled by the scenario, it just meant a bit of forward planning and creative thinking.

Our first attempt to solve the problem, was to go to the Dunkirk Olympic Swimming Pool where we could shower for 80c. Armed with a bag of laundry and some liquid laundry detergent, off we went, excited to feel clean again. Once we went to the changing rooms, however, there was this weird coat check type thing going on, and a whole bunch of French people (including a man, despite it being in the ladies room) rattling off demands at us in French, and no showers in sight. They were trying to hand us these numbered baskets, so we assumed it was a security measure so our belongings were safe. After we handed over the things we wanted looked after, they were still not satisfied. They seemed very disgruntled that we weren’t handing over ALL of our things. My high school French was very rusty, but the gist we were getting was “you’re doing it wrong.” We employed the “nod and smile” strategy, usually a winner in a foreign language scenario and carried on to look for the showers. An 8 year old girl also stopped us to protest, but we still couldn’t work out what she was expecting us to do differently.

As we rounded a corner and went down some steps, we saw, to my great horror, communal showers. Thankfully there were a few cubicles there. The showers were miles away from the changing rooms, and highly visible from poolside, as well as by the mysterious coat check man in the female changing rooms. We then realised that the system is as follows: go to change room, put togs on, leave all posessions with coat check people, shower with togs on before jumping into the pool. That wasn’t really going to work for us, as we wanted to actually shower, and whilst we were in there sneakily handwash our clothes. We also didn’t have togs with us which exacerbated the situation somewhat. No thank you, I’m not going to do a naked run from the changing area to the shower area! As a third person berated us for still being clothed in the showering area, we again nodded and smiled, pulling our best ‘naiive foreigner’ faces and continued to ignore there rules so we could finally achieve our cleanliness goals in the privacy of the wee shower cubicle.

All in all it was a very strange situation. Who would have thought a simple shower would have so many rules!

Later on we would recount this story to a French friend who assured us that that is not the norm for all swimming pools in France, and the Dunkirk one must be an anomaly.