I’m a little bit worried. I’m cold and just a bit shivery. My legs are aching. This could mean one of several things. It could be that I am simply cold. I’ve not really had the chance to get a thoroughly warmed up all day what with being out and about. It could be that my body is moaning after having been dragged three times around the perimeter of the race track on Saturday morning. It could also be the grumbling of a minor cold that has crept up on me in the last 24 hours; I had a sore throat this morning when I woke and this evening it has headed north to my nose. As yet nothing more than an annoying sniffle. It could however be a full-blown bout of either man flu or, God forbid, the flu full stop. Hence my unease as I write this. I don’t have the option of calling in sick tomorrow morning as I have to escort 22 children around the town of Bayeux, Normandy landing beaches and an American cemetery. None of these are great places to feel unwell, especially during a biting cold March… Spring? What Spring?
That said, even a sore throat wouldn’t have deflected me from this morning’s plan; to go for my regular Sunday morning swimming session in a 50 metre heated open-air pool. It’s the only one available in the town centre (the indoor one having been closed for several years according to my hosts) but I wasn’t complaining. Swimming, however, is never an easy activity to do on the spur of the moment in France. You can’t wear anything more baggy than a pair of Speedos. Luckily, this is a transition that I have already made back in the UK so I already had my trunks ready and waiting. The next problem wasn’t expected. Browsing the website of the swimming pool this morning I noticed a reference to a ‘bonnet de bain’ or a swimming cap. A quick search of Google informed me that it is now obligatory in France for them to be worn in most public pools in France. Why? Hygiene of course. They don’t want your hair blocking the filtration system apparently. Does this really happen? My hair is barely half a centimetre long. The filtration system would have to be a piece of delicate precision engineering to be affected by my minuscule strands. The problem was resolved – for a cost of €2 – at the entrance kiosk where I was able to buy one. A cynic might say that the €2 might have more to do with the regulations being introduced. (The swimming caps were on the shelf next to a stack of skin-tight trunks.) I was early at the pool so spent ten minutes reading the numerous signs that adorned the entrance hall. In prime spot was a lengthy pictorially-enhanced story of how a duck should access the swimming pool by wearing trunks and swimming cap. Being an open-air pool you’d think Donald’s French cousin would have simply flown in, no? Anyway, once appropriately dressed next up is a shower and ‘…une douche savonnée avant de se baigner est obligatoire”. What’s betting they sell soap at reception for €2 I thought as I waited for the kiosque to open.
Soap was provided inside via a dispenser in the shower area so I did manage get clean before entering the water and my regular Sunday morning appointment with some lengths of a swimming pool was not interrupted by me simply being in France. On the way home, I stumbled upon the setting up of the barriers, stands, inflatable gantries etc… for the Tour de Normandie cycle race. It reminded me so much of similar scenes I had seen in Strasbourg in summer 2010 for the arrival of the Tour d’Alsace race. The French do love their regional cycle events in a way that others would find difficult to match. It also complemented the more run-of-the-mill cycling installations that Caen has in abundance. Most main roads seem to have integrated facilities for cyclists; separate cycle paths, at the very least a clearly marked band by the side of the road and in the suburbs, frequent signs indicating that cyclists can travel against the flow in one-way streets. Other cities of the World take note.
After lunch back at the house, we headed off to the coast and the beautiful little town of Cabourg. It’s not big enough to merit an entry in my guide book (and presumably others) and will no doubt be completely ignored by the majority of travellers to the area but is worth the deviation. Sitting just to the east of the mouth of the River Orne, its main focus in the smartly restored Grand Hotel which faces out to sea in one direction and towards a fan arrangement of small roads on the southern side. It is almost as if the 19th century town planner had decided to rebuild half of the Etoile de l’Arc de Triomphe by the sea and replace the monument itself with a hotel. Like many of the towns on this coast, Cabourg came to the fore with the arrival of the railways and, like Deauville further along the coast, would have been a top destination for the in crowd in Paris in Victorian France. Large, detached, timber-framed houses abound and from the preponderance of Parisian number plates, the residents of the capital still see it as the perfect weekend escape. Well, not quite. The cold blast of weather from the east that seems to have condemned Spring 2013 to the meteorological dustbin of history was out in force and a brief wander along the beach seemed more of a dare than something to venture all the way from Paris to appreciate.
We warmed ourselves slightly with a hot chocolate in Le Hasting’s café before heading off back to Caen via the famous Pegasus Bridge that was captured by paratroopers in 1944 and, with its collection of Second World War memorabilia (including a tank) that adorn the buildings on the western side of the canal, continues to thrive off the association. The real bridge has actually been moved to the museum next the river – not many museums can boast a bridge as one of their exhibits – so we were left with a 1994 replacement to ensure we didn’t get our feet wet…