Best laid Plans.
I tend to over-schedule…there’s always so much to do and see… I arranged to pick up a rental car at 8 AM. The plan was to drive to Mont St. Michel –about 2 hours away- for as long as we felt like it. One thing led to another and we really didn’t get on the road until well after nine.
It was me who caused part of the delay. I’ve been lecturing to all of us to be careful with our things and not carry things that could be set down somewhere and then left behind. So what did I do today? We were going to meet in the lobby at 8:30 to walk to the car rental office, so I carried the GPS and my trip notes down to the lobby. There was a mix up and we found ourselves waiting for Laura in one area of the lobby and she found herself waiting for us in a different area of the lobby. I finally went to the desk (spoiler alert: leaving my stuff on a table by Elton and Gail) to ask the clerk to call Laura’s room. While standing there holding the phone, I turned around and saw her sitting in a chair -over there (and she hadn’t seen me yet). We were so surprised and excited to finally find each other that I walked out of the hotel without my stuff. Don’t doubt for a minute that the gang LOVED that it was ME that left something behind after all the lecturing. It wasn’t until we were almost at the car rental place (thankfully a short walk away) that I remembered. Gail nicely offered to go back for the GPS while I was renting the car.
Finally! After some confusion trying to get out of town, we found ourselves on the road and making good time when the GPS instructed me to take the next exit. I wasn’t sure that sounded right, but it all happened too fast for one of my human navigators to check the back-up driving instructions I’d printed out. I thought I had my bases covered. I had the GPS, a road map of Northern France and printed directions/maps from Google, but in spite of my Girl Scout planning, we still ended up wandering all over the countryside for an extra half hour trying to get back to the highway (I tend to stubbornly refuse to backtrack). I was so frustrated and annoyed during this time that I missed the chance to pull over and take a “fun” picture of our predicament. We still can’t figure out why the GPS decided on the detour – it wasn’t a shortcut! Speaking of my navigators – one of them can’t read in the car without getting dizzy… another gets dizzy if trying to read when the road is too curvy. The third navigator decided to stay out of it for the most part. Somehow between the four of us, we managed to find Mount Saint-Michel . The GPS even tried to put me on a bike path when we were almost there, but I wasn’t listening to the GPS anymore by then!
The island that the abbey was built on is almost ½ mile offshore and for years is only accessible by walking across the flats during low tide. In recent times a causeway has been constructed over the original path.
There has been a monastery here since the 8th century, but has been used by humans from a much earlier time. According to legend, the archangel Michael appeared to the bishop of Avranches in 708 and told him to build the church. A small church was built and consecrated in 709, but it wasn’t until 966 that a community of Benedictines settled in at the request of the Duke of Normandy and the larger church was finished before the year 1,000.
A display near the entrance to the abbey showed several stages:
Mt. Saint-Michel became an important pilgrimage site until several hundred years later when its popularity began to wane due to the Reformation in the 1500’s.
The mount has always been a strategic location –so as the years unfolded, it existed under the control of whom ever was in control of that part of France at the time. The abbey supported William the Conqueror in his quest to gain England’s crown. Later, during the 100 Years’ War it was attacked and put under siege twice (1423 and 1433), but was not taken and did not surrender. Two of the bombards (a form of early cannon) from the second attack were abandoned and are still there.
Eventually the abbey was closed when its popularity waned and it was turned into a prison for awhile during the French Revolution. Fortunately by the early 1800’s people were beginning to work to raise awareness that it needed restoring as a national treasure. It took until 1874 before it was declared a historical monument.
By the time we arrived at Mt. St. Michel –we were right smack dab in the middle of the tourist rush. I don’t love crowds. They don’t allow you to drive out to the island on the causeway, so first you have to find the parking area and walk to the shuttle point.
The free shuttle (an authentic “what it feels like to be a sardine” experience) drops you off…allllllmost at the entrance.
Once inside the main entrance to the Mount, there is a very narrow alleyway that goes up toward the abbey. As you can imagine, it was wall to wall people. The narrow road is lined with gift shops and restaurants.
We noticed some stairs off to the side that could be climbed to go up on the walls/ramparts. We decided to go up and take a look at the view. The tide was out.
Once we got up there, we realized that the ramparts actually went quite a distance along the walls and so we kept going a little further…and a little further…until we found ourselves almost at the entrance to the abbey. This was amazing because Laura didn’t think she would make it up that high. There were LOTS of stairs involved and she was a champ…working her way up slowly, but steadily, each time a flight appeared –which was often.
There are so many great photos from today that I’m putting them in a couple of slide shows. This one is from our arrival until we got up to the abbey. (Photos were taken by Gail, Laura and myself.)
We decided we were so close there was no quitting…and we made it to the entrance and toured the abbey.
I’m so glad we did –it was really amazing and beautiful.
The first thing after paying our entrance fee was walking out onto a very large plaza with a view, in Laura’s words, to die for. They were pretty spectacular!
As we entered the church, they were just finishing a service.
We wandered through room after room – one having fire places so large I could walk straight into the hearth without ducking.
We came to a room that had a large wooden wheel. There was an old pulley system, run by the wheel for the residents to raise supplies up to the highest points of the abbey. There wasn’t any explanation for how it worked, but we assumed it was human powered.
Here is another slide show for some of the other great pictures from inside the abbey:
What goes up – must come down. We began to work our way back down to the bay.
We ended up going back down along the “tourist alley”, or the Grand Rue as it is officially called (less steps!), and looked at a couple of shops along the way.
We passed a small church, St. Pierre, which is the parish church for Mont Saint-Michel. It was small, but lovely.
What was really on the program by then was lunch! We finally found a place with a menu that wasn’t entirely frightening…and took a load off while enjoying our meal.
After that, we headed for the car and began the trip back to Caen.
Another benefit that came with the choice of Caen as our base camp for a couple of days was its proximity to Bayeux, home to the Bayeux Tapestry. The Tapestry is one of those things that is just simply famous in France. I’d heard of it over the years, but hadn’t planned to see it on this trip. We agreed that since we were so close that we’d go see it if we had time on the way home from Mount Saint-Michel. We got there just in time in spite of another GPS meltdown while navigating the streets of Bayeux.
The tapestry is technically an embroidery. It was lovely to walk along its 231 foot length and hear the story explained (using the museum audio guides) that it tells about William the Conqueror.
It is amazing to realize how old it is: 900+ years. It is believed to have been commissioned by Bishop Odo not long after William the Conqueror died. Since so many people were illiterate in those times, the tapestry essentially served as a picture “book” to teach the story of the events relating to the invasion of England by William between the years of 1064 – 1066. The end of the tapestry depicts the Battle of Hastings where William defeated Harold and became King of England.
Finally we were headed back to Caen to chill out – Our last duty for the day was the car return while having more GPS fun and games looking for a gas station!
And then dinner …a more expedient one than fine one…