The first two months as a first-year assistante in Normandy were spent visiting as many of the cities, towns, and villages that I could within the region, before I had the means (aka salary) to make bigger trips outside to the rest of France, let alone Europe. Starting small with the region itself turned out to be a good decision, as I discovered much of the coastal beauty that it had to offer for a young, inexperienced solo traveler as myself.
After making a few trips on my own (and with other assistantes) to nearby places like Fécamp, Étretat, and Le Havre, I decided to make my way a bit further out during the month of November. In fact, an assistant had posted on the Rouen académie Facebook group about a meetup in Dieppe one weekend and I, having yet to visit the coastal town, made the decision to go. Granted, it would be out of the way for me, since I lived in a small town with limited transportation, but I already had a couple months of experience to figure out how to get around. Plus, it beat staying at home alone for another weekend!
Getting from my small town to Dieppe (pronounced “dee-ehp”) required heading to Rouen and taking a direct train from there. My small town didn’t have a train station (closest one being ten kilometers away), so what I had to do was catch the bus to Le Havre, take it to Rouen, then take it to Dieppe. Of course, I hadn’t anticipated the bus never showing up at the time that I’d wanted to go, so I ended up taking the next one (an hour later) to Le Havre, taking the next train to Rouen, and then the next train to Dieppe. Really, it was a terrible chain reaction with timing, but at that point, I’d gotten used to dealing with unreliable bus services in my small town.
Three transfers and four hours later, I made it to Dieppe in the early afternoon. Upon stepping out of the train station, I made my way over to the beach where the assistant(e)s were hanging out. Just like with Le Havre, the beach in Dieppe is filled with pebbles, as characteristic of the Upper Normandy coast– admittedly, it was awkward trying to make my way over to the others with the large stones underneath my feet! Being November, the weather was chilly despite the shining sun– much of it was due to the coastal wind, as it whipped my hair into a wild frenzy as I hung out with the others, talking and enjoying the nautical-blue ocean right beside our feet.
After a couple of hours by the beach, we decided to split off for the day. Considering that I’d just arrived a few hours ago, it didn’t make sense for me to return to my small town just yet– besides, I couldn’t, because the train and bus hours were limited and I would otherwise be stranded for the night in Rouen. That said, an overnight stay in Dieppe would be convenient, and I was incredibly fortunate that a Dieppe assistante offered me her apartment to crash for the night.
While the other assistant(e)s broke off to do their own activities, I stuck with my assistante-host and another assistante living in Dieppe. They showed me around town, passing through the long, cobblestone stretch of centre ville and along the quay where a small, outdoor market was happening– I saw these massive bread loaves local to the town, and I was tempted to buy one for the road!
With the soon-to-be winter sun setting at around 16:00, we decided to head over to my assistante-host’s apartment, located a bit outside of the center. Along the way to her flat, it started to rain and, along with the coastal wind, it made for quite a soaked adventure as we walked uphill towards the banlieues of Dieppe. Not the most fun of walks, but all the same one to remember (even two years later).
Eventually, we arrived at the apartment, where I met my assistante-host’s roommate, who was also an English assistante from Scotland. Along with the British assistante who’d joined us, we ended up having a nice dinner that night. My assistante-host made a hearty gratin dauphinois and I supplied the wine that I’d bought in Le Havre while waiting for my connecting train to Rouen; it ended up being a nice meal as we talked about our adventures in teaching, living in France, and so forth. Eventually, we turned in for the night: I was given a bedroom all to myself, which to this day I’m super glad (and surprised) to have gotten. Really, the kindness of other assistant(e)s is something that I’ve never taken for granted!
I woke up the following morning and, after having breakfast, decided to head back into Dieppe centre for one final visit before I had to board the train back to Rouen, and then to my small town. Saying goodbye to my assistante-host and her roommate (and thanking them for their hospitality), I headed down to the city center where I made a quick tour along the beach (where I briefly saw the château de Dieppe), wandered the cobblestone streets of the historic center, and got a bite to eat at the café des Tribunaux, a well-known restaurant situated in an old, half-timbered building that’s characteristic of the Normandy region.
Being that it’s a coastal city, Dieppe is distinctive in that much of its old churches and buildings have been fairly well-preserved after the bombardments of the Second World War, compared with the likes of Le Havre. Wandering the historic part of town, I felt myself going back to the 19th, even early 20th centuries, and I was amazed at how people could live with buildings as old as three or four centuries! Really, that’s incredible.
As mentioned, I had lunch at the café des Tribunaux before I had to catch my train back to Rouen. Considering that Dieppe is right by the sea, I had to order the cassoulette de moules gratinées, which is essentially mussels smothered in tons of cream. Not the healthiest of dishes, but certainly one of the heartiest for a chilly, November day– it was delicious!
Stomach full, I headed out to the gare, briefly passing by the town’s hôtel de Ville and palais de Justice. I caught the early-afternoon train back to Rouen and from there took two buses back to my small town, arriving back close to evening. While I hadn’t expected to stay the night in Dieppe, I was glad that I had the opportunity to do so in order to explore more of what the cold, but beautiful town had in store for me.