Day 9 of The Great Trip dawned bright, sunny and warm and off we went in our Renault 308 to Mont St Michel on the first leg of our Normandy trip. From the Paris suburb of Neuilly-Plaisance to Mont St Michel is a good 4 hour drive.
We took the slightly northern route that skirted past Rouen and Caen on towards Avranches. As we came off the country roads running through the flat lands of Normandy we drove through small villages, with just a handful of houses and the road twisting through them. Then we rounded past a farmhouse and far away in the distance we saw it looming high into the sky. Standing tall among the absolutely flat marshes it was a magnificent sight. You have to see it as we saw it rising high in the distance with nothing higher than a bush around it.
The parking lot offers free shuttles between the lot and the large monastery on the large rock in the Atlantic, just off the coast of France. Away in the distance, but you cannot see it, lies the island of Jersey.
We’d first seen and heard of Mont St Michel when the Tour de France came through here a couple of years previously. It looked magnificent from the helicopter shot they usually use to show the local sights and as we got off the shuttle and walked up to it we realized how utterly silly it is to see something from a helicopter, something like this, something that towers above you, something that looks so utterly peaceful, so giantlike, so gentle, so brooding, so remote and yet so inviting.
Back in the day, the rock island on which the monastery sits was cut off at high tide from the main land. When the tide went out you could squelch your way through the mud to it. It was perfect for monks who wanted to be alone with their thoughts. Now, to cater to the charabancs ( well, buses ) that bring tourists in droves they have built a bridge. Conservation and remedial work continues on the bridge design as the engineers learned that the bridge itself was causing changes to tide flow patters and consequent fauna and silt formation was being affected.
Four hours of driving and my experiences of the climbs up Notre Dame de Paris, the Arc de Triomphe, Sacre Coeur were fresh in my mind. As the hot sun blazed down on me, for the first time on the trip, I regretted not bringing with me those pink shorts I spoke about earlier. As we climbed up and bought our tickets, I faltered and decided that my right knee was not going take another climb up. I took one look at yet another flight of steep steps up, albeit broad and straight up and decided to stay down where I was. So I took the back pack and my camera bag from the others, gave them just the camera and waited for them to make the tour and come back down to where I waited with my thoughts in a suitable composed meditative pose.
Less than 10 minutes later the phone in my hand pinged with a text message. “Come up. You can make it, it’s quite easy past the first flight of steps”. So there I was loaded down with the bags and my bum knee trudging up the steps on a hot day. It took me a few minutes to catch up as I wandered through still, stone halls, with glass windows that looked out over the tidal marshes to the Atlantic.
Gazing at the walls and the and vast rooms of prayer I failed to notice the 4 inch drop in the thresh hold and went sprawling across the stone floor. As I hauled myself up to my feet a couple of tourists stopped to peer into the room where I tried to check for cracked or broken bones.
Instead of helping though, they slowly moved on and I was left to haul myself to my feet all by myself. I was hot and sweaty, my bum right knee, already a source of pain now also had skin missing and I was very miserable. I had a chance to admire the architecture and the artwork only briefly.
But then I stepped out into the open and met the view out onto the Atlantic. ( Ok it’s been doctored a wee bit, but it’s still pretty darn impressive ! ). The other side looks out over to Avranches and beyond to the Normandy beaches.
Since we’d spent most of the day getting here, it was getting towards closing time and we actually saw silent monks starting to rope off sections and closing doors. Then it was time to head back down into the village at the base.
There are small souvenir shops and restaurants including one with a massive patio overlooking the sea. Unfortunately, Hello Kitty dominates this photo, very sadly. We hadn’t time to sit there and eat as the last shuttle back to the parking lot was due soon and Dad, being as lazy as he normally is, didn’t feel like walking 2 miles back. So we took the shuttle and went back to the little town that hosts the hotels and restaurants and which also hosts the parking lot. We had dinner and then we headed back up east to our stop for night, in Vire.
Would I go back?
I sure would, absolutely!