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The Travel Journal of Jacqui and Lars

 

France - 11 May, 2004

 

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Location Latitude Longitude Elevation

Travel Distance

Start Mont Saint Michel (Hotel Formula Verte) N4838.153' W00130.727' 75 meters .
Finish Mont Saint Michel (Auberge Saint-Pierre) N4838.153' W00130.727' 75 meters 2 km

Total (BMW 330CiC)

2,053 km

Total (other):

455 km

Total:

2,508 km

 

Weather: In the morning foggy, cool and windy.  At 6:30 PM, the sun comes out and it becomes completely clear, sunny, cool and breezy.

 

 

We have a bit of a lazy morning - we had looked out the window and noticed that it was foggy and windy.  So we were in no real rush.  But at around 8:30 AM we felt that it was time to get up and see one of the most amazing places there is.  We checked out of the hotel and drove the short distance down the man-made causeway to the large parking bay at the foot of Mont St. Michel.

 

The history of Mont St. Michel dates back to the year 708 when, at least according to tradition, St. Aubert had three dreams and founded the pilgrimage center.  Since before the year one thousand, churches and abbeys have been built on this site.  It continued to expand over the centuries.  In the 14th century, the Hundred Years War made it necessary to build military fortifications to protect the abbey - it withheld a 30 year siege.  During the French Revolution and the Second Empire, it was used as a prison.  It is now a museum with a small monastic community.

 

We enter into the town itself and begin to make our way up the one main street - Grande Rue.  Our first job is to find a place to stay for the night - we want to spend one night inside the town itself.  After a bit of looking at the many small places that line the street on both sides, we found a very nice little spot at a reasonable price - Auberge Pierre.  We even get breakfast thrown in for free.  Our room is at the top of the narrow flight of stairs and we are pleased to find that it faces the town (rather then the bay) and we have a view of the abbey up above us.

 

Now it is time to wander through and around the old town.  We decide to make our way up to the abbey itself.  A tour is about to start.  Along the way we have a quick look into the parish church, about half way up the Grand Rue.

 

Once at the abbey, we pay our entrance fee and head up to the main platform of the abbey - the west terrace with its great views over the surrounding countryside.  We have a short wait for our guide to join us and soon we have an hour long walk through the abbey with a very informative and funny guide.  He told us lots of stories and "legends".  One can never be sure which were true and which were made up.  Like the one about the tour bus that floated away in the high tide or the astronaut who came and visited and left as a gift a rosary that had been to the moon.

 

We first spent some time in the huge abbey building - eighty meters long and eighty meters above the sea below.  We learned about the amazing engineering feat to build this place on a sharp plug of rock.  Part of the engineering work failed when the chancery collapsed in 1421, and it was rebuilt in the flamboyant Gothic style.

 

We then moved on to the cloister - a very small, but intimate series of covered galleries around a central open courtyard, it also offered amazing views of the bay.

 

This was followed by the refectory, where the monks took their meals in silence, while one read in a monotone from a small pulpit on the south wall.  A stairway takes us to the Guests' Hall, right underneath the refectory, built for receiving royalty and nobles.  As our guide pointed out, the monks knew who gave the biggest contributions to support the running and expansion of the abbey.  We then went from room to room that were built under the abbey and surround the plug of rock, enabling the huge abbey to be built above.  These rooms, in effect, form the foundations for the abbey above.

 

We finish our tour shortly before one PM and as we are hungry we decide to head out for lunch.  Our guide says we can return later today, and it is also possible to come and visit during the several services held during the day and evening.  We have a light lunch at a small cafe on Grande Rue.

 

Now it is time to explore the rest of the town and to make our way along the fortress walls and the many other narrow alleys that wind up and down the side of the rock.

 

This takes us a few hours and we have a great time exploring.  But even now in early May, we feel the crowds.  It already seems a bit crowded and noisy - we can only imagine how bad it must be in August.  At around 4 PM we decide to return to our room for a short nap.  But we do not have too much time to relax, as we soon need to get ready for the 6:30 PM evening service.  We have a shower and (for Lars) a badly needed shave.  Then it is time to make our way back up to the abbey - we are certainly getting our exercise here.

 

We are a bit early, but we are soon joined by one of the monks who unlocks the gate to let us in. The abbey is closed to tourists at this time, but one is welcome to come to the service.  We are a bit surprised - there are only about five or so of us that have turned up for the service.  The amazing thing is that the moment the monk met us to take us up to the abbey, the sun broke through the clouds and in a stunningly short time, all the clouds were gone and it was a bright sunny evening.

 

The five monks are wearing white hooded robes with sandals on their feet.  The nuns, of which there are seven, also have white robes, which they wear with white scarves that cover their heads.  They all have small small canvas mats they use to knell on the hard, stone floor.  The service lasted for a bit less than an hour.  It was a simple, but moving affair.  They would alternate between singing, reciting from the bible and performing a few other simple rituals.  There were a number of candles lit and the bells were rung.  Soon the service was over and we were being escorted back to the exit.

 

It was now time for dinner, but we wanted to take advantage of the great weather and get some views of the abbey from the bay.  We walked all the way down to the main entrance and headed out into the car park.  It was nice to see the island in the bright light of the evening sun.

 

We had booked a table at one of the many restaurants that cater to the swarms of tourists.  It is not too busy at the moment, but we wanted a table with a view so we booked it ahead of time.  We are now a little late, but no problem.  We have a very nice dinner at a small table right next to a huge window with views of the bay below.  The weather is fantastic.  We decide to order a bottle of one of their better wines to spoil ourselves.

 

After dinner we return to our room for a short rest before we head out to see the abbey at night bathed in the spotlights.  The best views are from the causeway and Lars takes a number of different pictures of the abbey, aglow at the top of the town.  The town is dark, except for the light coming from the many square windows.

 

It is a good thing we came out before it was too late - they must be saving energy as they turn off the lights around 11 PM.  We also take some shots of the streets - quiet in the night.

 

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