Saturday, March 15, 2008

Dieppe, March 2008

Why don’t we do our weekend shopping in Dieppe? What a nice idea.
We would drive to Newhaven, take the car ferry to Dieppe, eat a lovely dinner, sleep in our accustomed room at the Aguado Hotel, do our shopping, lunch well, and be home by the evening. Perfect.
But, of course, we had not reckoned with the vagaries of this most pleasant crossing of the Channel.
Seldom in the past has the ship left or arrived on time. On occasion we have been re-directed to other ports, The engines have under-performed and we have travelled slowly at sea. The sea has occasionally been too rough for a crossing. And once we were telephoned before departure to be told that they had read the tides incorrectly and there would be a delay.
But off we set. And this time we half expected that there would be some form of trouble as two violent storms had just passed through and there was a strike at Dover – causing many trucks to converge on alternative Channel ports.
So it was no great surprise to be told on arrival at Newhaven that we would be going to Le Havre instead. Apparently, the car loading ramp at Dieppe had failed.
So we arrived in Le Havre on a dark and rainy evening without map or direction. But Dieppe was to be our unalterable destination (we had ordered wine to be collected there) and there was a motorway for much of the way.
Now, either we are very dense, French sign posting is dreadful (especially around road works) or the locals already know the way and, for foreigners, hard luck.
So instead of finding the motorway we found ourselves amid road works and on a country route – a pleasant one, no doubt, on a fine summer’s day with time to enjoy the countryside and coastal scenery.
Any sign posting in the countryside was difficult to see in the dark and rain. And without a good road map (I had torn out a cursory one from a ferry brochure on gardens of note in Normandy) made accurate direction a bit of a lottery.
But late in the evening, after a harrowing 100 kilometres, we arrived in Dieppe – somewhat shattered.
Even the restaurant of our choice was, for some reason, closed.
So we selected a new restaurant to us, one that had plenty of diners still eating there at the late hour. It was Le New Haven.
The meal and wine were exemplary, the pan-fried scallops the largest and tenderest encountered.
At last our projected sojourn of pleasure was taking shape. But it took much of the meal for us to unwind.
And we slept like logs.
Shopping the following day proceeded as planned – French, Spanish, Chilean wine from two supermarkets (the “foreign” wine having somewhat dusty bottles as the French do not think that anyone else can make it properly, so don’t buy it), garlic sausage, top class beef (probably chewy but tasty, being French) smoked chickens, bouillon cubes, Normandy cider, olive oil (mostly from Spain), Neufchâtel and goats’ cheese, Pont l’Evèque and Roquefort, paper handkerchiefs, sliced raw ham, leeks, apples and avocados, trinket presents and I’m sure other things, many unique to France or much cheaper than in England.
After an excellent lunch at the Bistrot du Pollet (I ate calf’s head) we drove (this time the 100 kilometres on the motorway) to Le Havre (one hour in the dry as opposed to three on country roads in the wet).
We had expected to have to wait a long time for our ship’s departure, but a large ferry was shortly due to leave for Portsmouth. So, thanks to a kind lady at LD Lines who arranged for us to transfer, we were on our way, and were at home when our arranged ship was still at sea.
Because of the inconvenience suffered, we were given a free return trip at some time in the future.
I think that we might do our weekend shopping in France again, and expect both pleasure and strife, as we always do on our crossings to Dieppe by ferry from Newhaven.