Europe 2012: Day 29, Mont Saint-Michel

Mont Saint-Michel – is a rocky tidal island and a commune in Normandy, France.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Woke up at 7:30am.   It is sunny.

We’ve have been on the fence about visiting Mont Saint-Michel.   First, it is hard to get there since there is no direct route by train or bus.   Second, we heard about those stairs – all those stairs!  However, my DH really wanted to see the place and you know how that goes — the things we do for love!

The solution, we would rent a car and drive to Mont Saint-Michel!   As far as the stairs goes, we would just have to see how it goes and hope that it does not rain.

Actually, to rent a car for a day turned out to be cheaper than any tour we could have taken.  Besides, they drive on the right side of the road in France — how hard can it be?  Purple must be our color, for we got another purple car of a different flavor – a brand new Renault Twingo!   We named it the “Purple Pooper II”.  It took an hour and a half to drive from Bayeux to Mont Saint-Michel.  The weather was nice, but there were a few dark clouds looming overhead.

2012 Renault Twingo — we call it our Purple Pooper II.

Mont Saint-Michel is both the best and the worst of a tourist attraction.

The best:  Mont Saint-Michel is a completely unique place.  It is a medieval stone city built on an island with a monastery and an abbey built on top of it.   When the tide rolls in, it is completely surrounded by the sea.  It is twelve-hundred years old – how the heck do they do this massive engineering feat without a computer???

Mont Saint-Michel at low tide (people actually walk out on the mud-flats for fun). Normandy, France.

The worst:   The parking – I understand that you can’t park next to the city, the tide would sweep your car away.  I can also see the need to place a parking lot 2 miles from the site, you don’t want your car to disappear into a muddy marsh.  But the shuttle service requires you to walk half a mile from the parking lot.  Once you are on the shuttle, they drop you off at a stop half a mile before the city.  Then, the empty shuttle drives the half mile to the city, turns around, and drives back to pickup people for the return trip to the parking lot!   We didn’t mind the walk but does that not seem like the silliest thing on earth?   Only thing I can think of is that the French government figures that the half mile walk gives you a photo-opt of the Mont Saint-Michel.  To be honest, you need the distance for Mont Saint-Michel is huge and difficult to fit the whole image in a camera frame without it.

View from Mont Saint-Michel — parking is waaaaaaaay out there! (Normandy, France)

The crowds!  The long line of people, children, and baby carriages put me in a bad mood from the get-go.  And dogs – let’s not forget the dogs!

The main street – A narrow and steep rock footpath leading up to the abbey.  It is packed to the gills with tacky gift shops and overpriced restaurants and people, children, baby carriages, and tiny dogs on long leashes.   I’m sorry but I do not believe this is the place to teach your toddler how to walk up stairs while dragging your Winnebago of a baby carriage behind you.  Frankly, what about Mont Saint-Michel is that toddler going to remember anyway?

Narrow street, lots of tourist, and shameless marketing! (Mont Saint-Michel, France)

The stairs – Not so bad but there are a lot of them and a number of steep climbs.  But, you do have to look out for small children and dogs (and dog poop).

Stairs and rain — not a good combination. (Mont Saint-Michel, France)

According to our buddy Rick Steves, the only real site here is the Abbey.   We purchased our tickets and an audio guide and entered the abbey.  Franciscan monks use to live here.  They would cross over to the city at low tide, take their vows, and never leave.  It is a magnificent structure even without all the glitz of tile work and gold gilding common in other cathedrals like Notre Dame and Westminster Abbey.   My DH and I actually spent a great deal of time here, sitting in the rooms, listening to the audio-guide, and snacking on butter cookies.  We watched tour groups of Japanese move through the rooms – we could not tell if they were in wondrous awe of the place or just lost.   Anyway it was great entertainment for it was raining outside.

A simple abbey — white stone and clear glass. (Mont Saint-Michel, France)

DH at a window — I like this picture! (Mont Saint-Michel, France)

Around 4pm we were hungry.   We went to one of Rick’s recommended restaurants, Chez Mado right off the stony footpath.  There was one waitress for twenty tables and some guy who appears to be doing…nothing?  We ordered a Complete Galette (a crepe with ham, cheese, and an egg) to share.  About 20 minutes later, the food arrives but we only had one table setting between us.   But the waitress is doing her best so we dealt with the situation – I fed the galette to my DH like he was a baby.   We laughed about it because this is happening about 30 years sooner than we would have expected. The food was nothing special but it filled us up.

After we hopped off the bus that returned us to the half mile point from the parking lot, the clouds opened up.   We found ourselves in the middle of a heavy downpour that we hadn’t seen the likes of since…yesterday.   Fortunately, we were able to run into a nearby store to wait it out.

Funny story that my DH wants me to tell….

Once we made it back to the parking lot, we get into the car to pay the parking fee and leave.   However, my DH can not seem to get the car to shift into reverse.   Bad memories of the Cotswolds send him into a bit of a panic – “Oh no!” he cried.   Try as he might, the stick shift will not go into reverse.   I am sitting next to him frantically looking through the car’s owner manual – but it is all in French so I am looking for pictures of the shifting mechanism.  In total frustration, my DH says, “Ok, you get into the driver’s seat and steer while I push the car out of the parking spot.”   This we are able to do successfully since the car is fairly light  

The car was now in a position where we can move forward and turn around to exit the park.   However, the parking ticket that I was holding just moments before had vanished!   There is a 38 Euro fine for lost parking tickets — I read that on a sign as we entered the lot earlier (strange the things I remember).  

 After ten minutes of frantic searching – under the seats, on the dashboard, under the dashboard, on the grass of the slot where we parked the car – nothing!  “OK,” I muttered to myself. “What would I normally do with a small piece of paper?”   I took out the car’s user manual and calmly paged through it one last time.   There it was – I had used it to mark the page where there was a picture of the gear console!   Soon, we were out of the park and on our way back to Bayeux.

As my DH drove, I studied the page in the driver’s manual.   Of the few French words I recognized on the entire page, one was “levier” (for lever) and arrow pointing to a small circular nob under the gear shift handle.  When we arrived in Bayeux, my DH lifted the lever under the nob with his finger and the stick slipped into reverse!  That was it!!!!

This day was an experience, I must admit!   I am glad to say that we arrived back at the hotel with both our humor and marriage intact!  We decided that we were glad we went to Mont Saint-Michel.  As I said, it is a completely unique place and such works of architectural art and engineering are far and few between.  But, I don’t think we would be going back there any time soon.

Quote of the Day:   “If it starts raining, this will become the worst decision you have ever made in your life!”  —  Anna to DH upon the entry to the city of Mont Saint-Michel.  Sorry, Honey — I was a baby, I was childish, I was difficult to be with.  My only excuse is that all this rain is really bumming me out!


3 thoughts on “Europe 2012: Day 29, Mont Saint-Michel

  1. I have children and we never tripped with them until they were at least 7 years old….and then we did little, short trips…. we didn’t take them to Disney until they were in their teens!!! I would never enjoy a trip if part of my baggage is a stroller, diaper bag and the like … and really…as pooped out as an adult can get with touring and the fresh air, what makes one think that a child would ENJOY … and not get a tad cranky. …. Another Purple Pooper…you made me laugh out loud again 🙂 Isn’t it fun too just sit and watch people? With the Merrill fair coming…it’s one of the most interesting things one will ever witness… just sit in one spot and watch people go by…it is most entertaining!

    • Thanks for the comment, Karen. I was beginning to think that I just hated children. Personally, I would get a sitter. I think it would be money well spent for a day without dealing with a stroller.

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