Mont Saint Michel

 

Last weekend, we left for Mont St Michel on Saturday morning by TGV from Paris. In Rennes we took a bus for the last kilometres of the journey. 

The village of Mont Saint Michel consists of an enormous parking space and a road with hotels and restaurants and a souvenir ship on the main land and then the bridge to the sometimes island with the abbey and the old town.

The parking space sounds bad, but is great: everyone has to park there, before even entering the village. So the main road is very quiet and the only thing driving past are the free shuttle busses and the horse carriages driving from the parking space to the abbey and back.

The shuttles have a driver’s seat on both ends. So at the end of the bridge the bus doesn’t turn around. The driver just walks to the other end of the bus and drives right back. It’s a neat idea. But the busses don’t have a lot of space for their size. There’s a large area behind one of the drivers seats that can’t be accessed and I can’t figure out why.

I had no idea that the bridge was so long – it’s a 30 minute walk (slow, because of the heat and frequent stops to take photos).

 

I didn’t know anything about the Mont before visiting, so I was a little surprised that it’s only a real island for a few days every year, when the tide is very high. Most of the time the flood doesn’t go all the way around. 

I also didn’t realise that there is more than an abbey on the Mont. Like most abbeys there was a little village below the abbey. That village is now mostly restaurants, souvenir shops and a few hotels. There is a path around the fortification walls of the southern half of the mont that we walked. It gives a good view of the bay. I would have loved to see more of the the Northern side, the part that looks out onto the sea (the English Channel) but that’s only really accessible from the abbey. 

We climbed up all the uneven stone steps to the top of the Mount and took a little tour of the abbey. Work was started in the 11th century and it’s quite an impressive building complex. Apparently it’s also a popular spot for a pilgrimage and on Saturday a few scout groups arrived, carrying banners. They walked around the island once and I saw them really far out in the bay in the afternoon. 

During our visit the high tide was around 21:30 and again at 9:30. The website where we looked up the values said that to get a good look at the flood coming in you should be there 2 hours in advance. So around 6 we settled in for an apero with a view of the bay and watched nothing happening for around 2 hours. There was an American couple drinking cidre and wine and taking photos and having a good time that stayed as long as we did. At some point we had food – oysters and lamb for gergö and gratin de morue for me. And nothing continued to happen. 

At some point the water was visibly closer than when we started the apero but there was no impressive flash flood or anything. Gergö got talking with the American couple and we chatted – they were on their honeymoon and in France for the first time. It was lovely, we chatted, we looked out onto the bay and water started to come in faster and closer. There was a group of people out on the sand, flying a drone, then running to get back on land on dry feet, when they noticed that the water started to close in on them. 

And about at that time D., the American, gesticulated with his hand, that was holding his phone and it went over the railing and landed in the sand right underneath. He decided to run along the rempart, down the steps, out the mont and around the wall to retrieve it. 

When we saw him come around the wall below he had taken his shoes off and was wading into the water that closed off the last bit of sand – the bit his phone had landed. He ran up, grabbed the phone and sprinted back through the water. Two minutes later the place his phone had been was already covered in water by the incoming flood. He arrived a few minutes later, with wet trousers and sandy feet, but a working phone with all the photos from the honeymoon still on it.

The big French family on the table next to the American couple had watched and cheered him on, like we did. Then it turned out that someone had videoed the entire thing – first the last people running for the land when the water was closing in, then him coming around the corner, us pointing, him retrieving the phone, us cheering. We ordered another bottle of cidre to celebrate the heroic act and cheer with our French videographers. He hugged and kissed to the French lady and it turned out it was her 40th wedding anniversary with her husband this evening and they had been celebrating with their children and grandchildren.

We ended up staying on the Mont until sunset – which is at 11pm. We crossed back onto the main land in the middle of a large group of pilgrims wearing high-visibility vests.

There are warning signs everywhere not to go out onto the bay without a guide, but all the guided tours only started at 2pm and I only wanted to take a little walk, not do a 2 hour tour in direct sunlight during the hottest hours of the day.  And there were lots of people walking around on the sand at the entrance to the mont. We thought maybe we could do that on Sunday – not go out into the bay, where there is quicksand, apparently, but stay close to the Mont. 

On Sunday morning it rained for a short while – we stuck it out in a souvenir shop and didn’t even buy one of about 100 different items of clothing with blue or black stripes on them. So when we walked out onto the sand it was pretty muddy and Gergö changed his mind about taking a little walk. I squished around in the mud for a little while and then spend a long time trying to wash it off with a water bottle and several trips to the drinking fountain. The water fountain had a large sign saying it’s not allowed to wash your feet in it so I assume it’s a common problem.

After some more climbing of steps and taking photos from the village and the cemetary and the church, we wandered back across the bridge. We had read that the little dam that stores water up the river is opened 6 hours after high tide, but when we arrived a little before that, the dam was open and water was flowing through it freely. 

Apparently they built the dam to avoid that sediment from the bay is swept up into the river. The water is stored during low tide and then released to wash more of the sediment out into the sea. Or something. My vocabulary regarding dams, water and tides is very limited in all the languages I speak. and by the time I watched the short film in the air conditioned visitors’ center next to the bus stop I was so tired, I didn’t really follow anymore.

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