Our Monday excursion was the one to which I was looking forward the most. We were going to see the Mont Saint Michel. I had seen pictures of it long ago. It always looked like such an enchanted place to me. The Mont Saint Michel is located in a remote area of the Normandy region of France. I knew that even without the strike, getting there via public transportation could be complicated; therefore, a few weeks before our trip, I booked the ParisCityVision guided Mont Saint Michel full-day tour (14 hours). Like the ParisCityVision Versailles tour that Traci and I did a few days prior, this bus trip left from the ParisCityVision office across from the Louvre. We needed to be checked in by 6:45 AM for our 7:15 AM tour.
We boarded the double-decker motorcoach for the 4-hour ride from Paris to the Mont Saint Michel which included a 30-minute stop at a rest stop where we could purchase breakfast. There were two guides on our bus. They took turns narrating our journey - one spoke in English and Spanish; the other narrated in Portuguese. When they were not providing commentary, they spoke to each other in French. The mastery of all these languages was so impressive to me.
As impressed as I was with our multilingual guides, it was not long after we left Paris that I was fast asleep. I awoke briefly and heard one of the guides explaining that the Normandy cattle produce the milk that makes the cheeses of the region so special.
Finally, our bus pulled into the parking lot of the Relais St. Saint-Michel Hotel. It was where we had a nice lunch and had the opportunity to meet others in our group before our tour began. Traci and I had good conversations with our tablemates: a solo travel from Virginia, a solo traveler from South Korea, and an elderly couple from Chicago. The dining room of the Relais gave us a nice view of the Mont Saint Michel in the distance.
The Mont Saint Michel is an abbey located at the top of what I always thought was a mountain on an island. We found out from our guide that it is not an island. It is a huge rock surrounded by quicksand and water. During certain times of the year, the high tides are high enough to isolate the rock as if it were an island.
There is a long bridge that provides visitors access to the Mont. Since the Mont Saint Michel has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site (Yay! another one added to my list of UNESCO visits), vehicles other than the official shuttles are no longer allowed on the bridge. Our guide accompanied us on the shuttle and began her tour commentary. Arriving at the shuttle drop-off, I could hardly believe I was standing at the foot of this mystical place I had seen in many photos over the years. We were led through a medieval-looking village and then to the 360 steps we needed to climb to get to the abbey entrance. Our guide seemed to climb the stairs effortlessly while our group huffed and puffed behind her. It was a cold day but by the time we made it to the top, I was wiping sweat from my forehead and had opened my winter jacket. Traci and I had a good laugh when we looked at her Garmin wristwatch that she uses to track her fitness. It indicated that her body was "under stress". This experience gave me a great appreciation for those who built this place centuries ago without any modern equipment. Furthermore, I was happy we made the climb on a cold day. I can only image how miserable it could be on a hot, humid day.
The Mont Saint Michel has existed in various forms at this location since 708 AD. It was built to honor the Archangel Michael. In fact, there is a large golden statue of the angel at the top of the abbey today. Benedictine monks took up residence in the abbey in the 10th century. People have been making pilgrimages to the Mont since the Middle Ages.
I was surprised to learn that there was more than just a sanctuary at the top. The Mont Saint Michel has undergone many renovations over the centuries and has served various purposes - a monastery, a fortress, and even a prison. In addition to the church, we walked through rooms such as the old guard room, the dormitory, and the refectory where monks used to eat in silence while listening to bible readings. Gazing out over the exterior walls of the abbey, we could see the large expanses of quicksand as well as the Bays of Normandy and Brittany.
refectory where monks used to eat in silence
viewing the quicksand from the top of the Mont Saint Michel
Our guide was outstanding. She was very engaging. She had a gift of making you feel like she was talking to you individually even though she was talking to our group of 18 or so tourists. We did not need to use the receivers and earbuds we were given to listen to her because our group was pretty much the only set of tourists there that day. I guess we had an ideal travel experience in which I could say "We had the whole place to ourselves."
walking through the village at the base of the Mont Saint Michel
We were given free time to descend the steps and explore the village at the base of the rock. There are souvenir shops, small lodgings, a museum, restaurants, and other establishments. We were told we needed to be back on the bus by 4:15 PM. Our guide warned our group several times that in order to make it to the bus on time, we should plan on taking the shuttle from the Mont to the parking lot no later than 3:45. Otherwise, it would take us 30 minutes to walk across the bridge. Well, you can probably guess by now that things did not go that smoothly for Traci and me. By the time we found our way to the shuttle pick-up, we saw the 3:45 shuttle driving away! At that point, we had to decide whether or not we wanted to take a chance and wait on the next shuttle or power-walk back in the roughly 23 minutes we had left. We power-walked it and made it back with a few minutes to spare. Our friendly guide saw me hustling back to the bus and told me in French that I could slow down and relax. She knew I was learning to speak the language so throughout the day, she would speak to me in French when she was not narrating our tour in English. She was concerned when she did not see Traci with me but I assured her Traci would be along shortly. We had both used our spare minutes to visit the restroom before the long bus ride back to Paris.
hurrying along the long path to return to our bus on-time
Most of the people, including the tour guides, fell asleep at some point during the 4-hour ride back to Paris. Someone a few rows behind us had even begun to snore loudly. We made a stop at a different rest stop on the way back to Paris for restroom usage and food purchases. It was a long day but I was so glad I had the opportunity to check the Mont Saint Michel off my bucket list of places I want to see. continue...
Magnet Purchased on this Trip: (click to enlarge)Entire fridge magnet collection...