Cities / Towns Visited: 3
Countries Visited: 2
Steps Taken Today: 20,491
Steps Taken Around the World: 406,396
We awoke excited for the day ahead, as we were headed somewhere we had been planning, and subsequently waiting for, for almost a year; Mont Saint Michel. For those of you who don’t know, it is a village on a small rocky island just off the coast, which (until they built bridge to the entrance) could only be reached by walking treacherously through the mud during low tide. After grabbing a quick baguette for breakfast at a boulangerie near the station and just over an hour cruising through the Normandy countryside on the bus we arrived at the visitors centre.
Now there are three options for modes of travel to the island village; free shuttle bus, horse and carriage, or walk. As it was a cloudy but dry day, and the bus was crammed full of other tourists, we decided that walking would be preferable. Now it is habit to ask for directions when you don’t know the way, but as we walked out the far door of the visitor centre, the reasoning behind the receptionists knowing smile and comment of ‘you can’t miss it’ became blaringly obvious. The island towers up from the flat salt plains of the coast; a formidable but exceptionally breathtaking silhouette on the horizon, and it only becomes more and more so as the entrance nears.
We walked through the gates of the medieval city walls, and seemingly found ourselves in the past; you know, if you mentally block out the overload of restaurants, souvenir shops, and countless tourists taking photos. If you looked above their heads however, you were faced with the narrow streets and medieval hanging signs that brought to mind images of Diagon Alley in Harry Potter. I will always be an advocate for looking up while you travel, often the best architecture comes from above, and none more so than on this island. No matter where you are, if you look up, you are greeted by the stunning sight of Saint Michel’s abbey, with its soaring spires, the highest of which is adorned with a large gilded statue of Saint Michael, wings spread and sword in hand.
The monolithic church, of course, was our true destination. We spent a good few hours, audio guide in hand, wandering the halls, chapel, cloister, and grounds of the beautiful Benedictine Abbey. There has been a church on this island since 710 AD, but although the current building is not the original, parts of it still date from the 900’s, with monks and sisters worshipping here throughout its history, as they still do today. Every stone, from the giant floor slabs, to the tiniest keystones in the vaulted ceilings, seems drenched with history, and as we walked into the chapel to the hauntingly beautiful sounds of the monks and sisters singing hymns, it was hard not to feel like you were part of something bigger than yourself. It is hard to explain the humble grandeur of the abbey, so aside from you experiencing it for yourself, all I can offer are these photos.
One we finally peeled ourselves away from the abbey, we wandered down the city walls and into the heart of the village. Now it’s not just the abbey that has a long history, just down from the gate there stands a restaurant which has been open for some 130 years selling its speciality, a woodfired souffle omelette cooked in special long handled pans. Le Mere Poulard takes its name from the lady who founded it, and it stays true to her methods. The omelette cooking is on show for the public to see, and it is quite a spectacle on its own. Keeping this in mind, I think it’s quite clear what where we ate for lunch. I’ll claim the chef card here and chalk it up to research; and what delicious (albeit expensive) research it was. We decided to spoil ourselves, and at the cost of just over AU$200 we gorged ourselves on a three course meal, both having fish and shellfish soup to start; I of course had one of the famous omelettes, while my partner, who isn’t a fan of eggs, had a delicious chicken and cider hotpot; washed down with the house cider, made locally and especially for the restaurant; and rounded it all off with apple tarte tatin and hot chocolate. If you do ever find yourself on this tiny island, I beseech you to splurge just a little and eat where others have for more than a century.
With full stomachs and satisfied souls we wandered contented back to the bus. Now, as I mentioned in a previous blog, France is having train strikes two out of every five days until June, therefore we had to sort out our train tickets to our next stop, but could only do so after 5pm the day prior. We were chasing the clock; it was 6:04, the bus was supposed to leave at 6:05 and takes 70 minutes to get back to Rennes, and the ticket office closes at 7:30. We watched the clock nervously, wondering if everything would run on time, but the second the clock ticked over the bus driver slammed the doors shut and floored it. I’ve never been more thankful for punctual public transport. By some miracle of evasive driving or good old speeding, our bus managed to arrive 10 minutes early. After quickly running to the ticket office and being served by a friendly French man who, stereotypically mentioned Foster’s beer and Neighbours when we said we were Australian, we came away with tickets. We had managed it, we would no longer have to take 4 slow trains, and it would not longer take 15 hours. We had two fast trains, but it would still take us the best part of 11 hours as we would be stuck in Paris for 8 hours between trains. Little victories I guess. Satisfied by the improvement of our transport situation, and with the anxiety of the unknown removed, we returned to the hotel to reminisce on our eventful day, and rest before tomorrow’s travel saga.
As I reflected on the day, the introvert in me fantasised about building my home on a rocky island, surrounded by water, and only accessible treacherously and at the whim of the tides. Would I find peace in such a life? Would the isolation cure or poison me? Would the quiet be tranquil or deafening? Would I flourish or shrivel without the interference of society? And the biggest question of all, are we better off in the overtly connected lifestyle of today, where we fill our days to the point our mind knows no quiet or stillness; or were we more spiritually enlightened and fulfilled as humans all those years ago? Should we have built that bridge and forced connection, or left our connections to a more natural cycle?