In the past few weekends, I have experienced two very different sides to northern France: the crazy Carnaval de Dunkerque and the calm serenity of the coast at Cap Gris Nez.
When people told me about Carnaval, the main impression that I got was that there was a lot of drinking and disguises going on. Spoiler alert: that proved to be true. Me, my three roommates, and some friends got all disguised up (including but not limited to feather wigs, hula skirts, and giant sunglasses) and hopped on the party train to Dunkerque on Sunday, February 19th. Literally – it was a party train. Nearly every other person inside was already disguised or in the process of becoming disguised. There were men dressed as women, women dressed as men, and others with costumes that left little to the imagination. Upon arrival, the scene did not change. It was like a giant parade from the train station towards the main square; the fact that none of my group had any idea where we were going wasn’t important – we just followed the crowd of crazies.
We spent most of the afternoon warming up with vin chaud, eating copious amounts of fries, dancing in conga lines, and being awkwardly talked to by many strange fellow participants. Seriously, I saw way too many men in tights that day. I think I may be scarred for life.
At 3PM, there was apparently a parade going on. As an American, when I think of a parade, I think of something rather planned with different organizations or groups or bands who all march down the road, spectators watching alongside. In Dunkerque, a parade meant that everyone who was anyone was walking down the street. You came to Carnaval? Great! Start marching with the others! My slight claustrophobia and warnings from previous Carnaval-goers to “NOT WALK IN THE STREET! STAY ON THE SIDEWALK!” had me anxious to enter the crowd, but alas, the group was headed that way and I didn’t want to be left near the mean kiddos Silly-Stringing everyone else.
So we walked, and walked, and walked, staring at those who were staring down at us from their windows, at times being unexpectedly mooned (I was preferring the men in tights at this point), and always observing all of the bizarre costumes and tiny umbrellas in the air.
Cap Gris Nez was where I spent last Saturday with my guy and his brother. What a gorgeous change. One and a half hours from Hazebrouck, Cap Gris Nez is located on the northern coast of France. Somehow, we decided to go on a day where it was actually sunny and not freezing cold outside. We arrived around 1PM and stayed until sunset, taking the marked trails towards the panoramic views and then wandering on our own through the village and the countryside.
The paths looked easy, until we starting descending down steep stairs towards the water. This was no California beach, it was closer to a Washington state beach: rocky and uneven. Heck, it was a northern France beach. Of course, being on a beach brought up the famous pronunciation issue for the Frenchies between beach and b*tch. It’s always a fun conversation! The boys were a bit faster than me as they navigated their way through the boulders and pointy rocks (okay, they weren’t that bad, but the abnormal sunniness was perhaps altering my vision), and after a good hour, we made it to some real sand. At this point, we wanted to turn around, and we wanted to find any other way to do so than walking back through all of those rocks. So, we crossed a small river, climbed some dunes, and reached the hilly countryside next to the coast.
After that, we were exhausted. But we were there, so we wanted to see the other views that this part of France had to offer. We stopped for a snack at a little sea-side restaurant, and after that, it was onto Cap Blanc Nez to see the sunset. And oh, what a sunset it was…
This is why I love northern France. It is crazy, it is calm, but in any case, it is cultural. There is always something new to discover, whether it’s a man wearing a wig & a skirt or finding a new way to see the sun set.