Sound the trumpets, clash the cymbals and beat the kettle drums! And, run to tell Jim that I’m finally sharing Mont St. Michel, his favorite! Sorry, it’s too late for the newsflash. I caught a glimpse of him at the doorway when he sneaked a peek at the photos on my laptop. I heard his giggle.
My photography of France and other locations from our travels is framed and scattered around the house among the photos of friends and family. Jim has only one picture from his camera on the wall. Well, actually, he claims another one that I contend is mine – all mine! He should know that I took the picture of the Sleeping Beauty Castle that hangs just inside our front door, but he disagrees quite erroneously. At least we agree that he struck the image of Mont St. Michel, his single entry of majesty above his well-worn comfy chair with the cushion proclaiming: “It’s Good to be the King!”I am not totally smitten with the “Wonder of the Western World” sited on the western coast in a bay with the highest tides in France. Aubert, Bishop of Avranches, built and consecrated a small church on the 16th October 709. In 966 a community of Benedictines settled on the rock at the request of the Duke of Normandy, and the pre-Romanesque church was built before the year one thousand. (CLICK here for more history.) UNESCO classed Mont Saint-Michel as a world heritage site in 1979. Tourists swarm here each year, mounting to a total of more than three million visitors!
The crowds of tourists and the long line of shops displaying junky souvenirs spoiled the first impression for me. Disney theme park on a jam-packed day of screaming, shoving, loud tourists came to mind instead of a French monument. The history in the ancient stones didn’t speak to me; there was no life within the walls. Mont St. Michel claims only 44 citizens living therein, probably hiding away from the people arriving by the busloads. When Jim and I first visited several years ago, we parked at the front door after driving on the causeway. Now, the parking is some distance away with trams regularly taking tourists back and forth. Construction is underway with conservation and protection of the UNESCO site as the primary objective.
Mont St. Michel was our focus, especially for Jim. However, I hoped to see more of Brittany and Normandy during our short time away from our rental house in the Loire valley. Our first night was in an inexpensive, rather plain hotel a short distance from Jim’s heartthrob. He slipped out of bed very early while I was still sleeping and left a note so I would know about his rendezvous. Like an excited little boy, he returned grinning to tell me: “I found a place you can take pictures of a huge flock of sheep in front of Mont St. Michel! Get your camera and let’s go!” Not even dressed fully and without the benefit of a hairbrush yet, I said, “Not before coffee!”In the early morning, we went the short distance to the Kodak-sheep-Michel-spot and found it wasn’t a secret location. A busload of Japanese visitors snapped selfies with the sheep, and we smiled at their delight.
We left them posing for Facebook photos and we drove on to Saint Malo, a place on the coast that we had not seen previously. In many ways, I preferred it over Mont St. Michel, but that was not Jim’s travel advisory. We knew we had to hit the road from there by noon since I wanted Jim to fully enjoy his visit to the place that ranks a place on the wall by his easy chair. We found a great photography location, out of the way with only a couple of cars parked under the trees. After carefully locking the car doors, we walked on a polder, or dike wall, for a distant view of the towering beauty in the bay. I wished that I had taken my tripod for a less shaky image, especially for the night photography. I will try to stop complaining since I made the sacrifice for luggage space. We were a little worried about safety in this out-of-the way spot, so we returned to our car quickly after we got our photos and drove to the huge parking lot. Trams moved around quickly, but the walk from the parking lot can be quite some distance depending upon the parking spot.
Once we were moving along, I noticed an older couple seated near us. The sweet, gray-haired lady wore simple clothing, not stylish, reminding me of my mother who continued to wear blouses with ruffles and lace that she had sewn back in the sixties. I mentally put myself with Jim in the older couple’s place. Would we return for a nostalgic view of Jim’s much-loved place in France in years to come? When the tram stopped, we stood aside honoring the elderly couple and allowing them to move down for the long walk to the entry. Low and behold, they took off like the hare while we were slow as the turtle. My knee was complaining from all of the walking at St. Malo, not to mention the rambling around for photos on the dike. The old couple way ahead of us seemed fit for a marathon. We followed in their dust to our check-in at Les Terrasses Poulard. I had watched for several days until I saw a good rate on AARP for the hotel, and it was worth the price to be on the island when the majority of the tourists went away.We walked the ramparts with views of the bay all around and then selected a restaurant in the Hotel la Croix Blanche. Massive windows provided a panoramic scene of the sunset and protected us from the cold winds. During warmer weather, there are tables on the outside terrace. In the corner of the restaurant, a long table was surrounded by a lively group. The elderly marathon runners presided over the group. I couldn’t believe the transition when I saw the lady speaking with such authority and energy. Maybe it was the wine. Pour a glass for me.
We knew before we entered the restaurant that we wanted mussels, a rare treat for us. We first enjoyed mussels in Sintra, Portugal, and I’m sure we will never find the exact taste again, but on Mont Saint Michel we had our mussels and frites and tried to keep up with the aged folks at the corner table.
After dessert, we walked in the rosy glow of the setting sun to the entry to see the waters rising. Some unfortunate soul had parked in the wrong place and had to call a tow truck to take away the car after the water climbed above the doors. I hope his insurance didn’t exclude Mont St. Michel. Now, this is the essence of Jim’s love for the island. I don’t mean the car in the water, although if he had an old jalopy he would probably sacrifice it to be overwhelmed by the tides. Actually, his 1999 Acura would qualify as a jalopy; at least it’s safe in Alabama. The tide’s powerful and rapid forces totally fascinate Jim. He stayed on the island with his sister Virginia and took photos of the tide’s progression in an almost time-lapse fashion. Virginia has more patience than I’ve ever given her credit for!
Just get Jim going, and he will tell you all about the tides saying how dangerous it is to be caught on the sands close to the incoming tides since you cannot outrun them. When he finishes rising and falling with the tides, he may tell you about the time he and Virginia stayed out so late that the hotel’s front desk was closed with their key inside. No worries, they went to a bar next door and found help so they could snooze on the island while the waters were rising.
“The tides can vary greatly, at roughly 14 meters (46 ft.) between high and low water marks. Popularly nicknamed “St. Michael in peril of the sea” by medieval pilgrims making their way across the flats, the mount can still pose dangers for visitors who avoid the causeway and attempt the hazardous walk across the sands from the neighboring coast.
Occasional flooding has created salt marsh meadows that were found to be ideally suited to grazing sheep. The well-flavored meat that results from the diet of the sheep in the pré salé (salt meadow) makes agneau de pré-salé (salt meadow lamb) a local specialty that may be found on the menus of restaurants…”
After sleeping soundly, we were up and going early in the morning. The fog swept through the narrow lane creating a dream sequence in the clouds. Our luggage clattered on the stones, shattering the silence and opening the way for the next sightseers with their hopes and dreams of the “Wonder of the Western World.” I turned to have one last look and saw the hazy fog had folded the scene from view.
“Watcher of the Tides”
Oh, Watcher of the Tides, do you see?
“I love you” is etched on every grain of sand.
Oh, Watcher of the Tides, do you know?
An everlasting love – until the tides are no more.
Don’t forget to leave comments for Jim! He will want to hear what you think about his dear old Mont St. Michel. I wouldn’t be surprised if he caused the story to go viral! Look for the book “A French Opportunity” at Amazon, available in paperback and on Kindle.
Perhaps you would enjoy these stories if you didn’t previously see them. Just CLICK below: