Mont Saint Michel

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Flag of France  , Basse-Normandie,
Saturday, May 14, 2011

We woke up way too late today, almost noon.  But after very little sleep the night before and a long day yesterday we needed it.  Today our great hosts had crepes and hot chocolate for a late breakfast for us.  Tata and Michele's pet dog, Dilan, and cat love crepes too, and were waiting eagerly for handouts. Michael brought an extra backpack so he could take some of our junk home for us so after breakfast we got everything packed up.  It was a huge help, our bags are literally half as heavy now.
An hour or two after breakfast Michele and Tata made lunch.  It included the left over cheese, so I was pretty happy.  From there we had to say our goodbyes, and even though we were only there for a short time, it was kind of hard to leave.  It was a blast being there.
We are heading back to Paris tonight and staying at Michael's mom's apartment, but we decided to stop at Mont Saint Michel  since it would only be slightly out of our way.  There was a closed bridge on the way and the detour ended up taking us all the way up to the coast, and slowing us down, but we made it.  Mont Saint Michel was one of the places that when we were planning I grudgingly left off the list, so I was super excited to be able to go.  It is an old castle/monastery built on a hill a short way off of the mainland of Normandy.  It is famous for the tides that roll in and surround the city and turn it into an island cut off from everywhere.  The land around the hill is very flat so the when the tide goes in and out from the ocean it can move around 20 miles.  So during low tide the city has dry ground for miles around it, but at high tide it is completely surrounded by water.  I guess on certain days you can watch the tide move in around the city like a wave, but unfortunately today wasn't one of those day.  It was still awesome though.  We got there a little after high tide.  There is a causeway that you drive over from the mainland to reach the city.  The approach is amazing.  It is another one of those things that you see a million pictures of, and doubt it would be a cool in person, but again it turned out just as amazing.  It is a one of a kind place, not even remotely similar to anyplace we've been to so far.  The whole city is pretty much an old medieval castle, with narrow streets and tall walls climbing up the hill dividing the different levels of the city.  There was a lot of tourist shops and stuff around, but even those were in old stone buildings that were probably hundreds of years old.
Michael explained a lot of the history of the city to us, with only a little help from the internet on his blackberry.  The hill has been used since the 12th century and the first monastery was built not too long after that.  So the city is hundreds and hundreds of years old.  Apparently the British (jerks) tried to take the castle during the hundred year war, and for the whole time laid siege to the castle, but were never able to take it.  The centerpiece of the city is the huge monastery at the very top of the hill and it was pretty much the last thing built in the city, completed in the 1700s.  
We walked through the city for a while, then found an set of stairs leading out the back side of the city down to the sea.  By this point the tide had gone out a short ways from the city and we decided to see if we could walk all the way around.  Surprisingly the ground wasn't that wet or muddy.  Around the back of the city and at the bottom of the hill we found an old building right where the water-level would come up to.  It is completely out of view from the rest of the town, and we're not exactly sure what it was for, but I assume it was were they put monks that broke the rules.  At that point around the building the water came in pretty close, but once we made it passed that it was an easy walk all the way around the walls of the city.  Once we got back to the front we saw signs saying not to wander out there without a guide.  I guess there is quicksand and stuff, but we made it no problem.  
It would have been nice to get to stay at Mont Saint Michel longer, but we still had a very long drive ahead of us and we were able to see all of the main points.  We still had more than 3 hours to drive until we got to Paris and it was already past 8pm.  The drive towards Paris from Mont Saint Michel was really nice, and the sun sets really late here so it was light out until almost 10:00.  While Michael was driving Jacki noticed something weird on the windshield.  It turned out to be a small crack in the bottom right corner of the windshield.  After watching it for a few minutes we noticed that it was spreading.  Eventually the spreading slowed down, but it is still a pretty nasty crack.  We'll see what happens with that.
Since being in Europe we have gotten used to our regular meals, so after it got dark we stopped for dinner at a place called Buffalo Grill.  It is a chain restaurant that we have seen a lot of on the road.  The theme of the restaurant is a mimic of a typical American western restaurant, and really they did a pretty good job.  The burgers were awesome, and they even had ice cream covered donuts for desert.  The only thing they didn't get right, is that it followed the French system of dinner taking forever long.  By the time we left it was past 11pm and we still had a couple of hours to drive at least.
I took the night shift of driving, and eventually around 1:30am we made it to the apartment.  Paris traffic was surprisingly busy for how late it was, and some of the cars were flying.  The speed limit on the main highways were 130 kilometers/hour which is around 80mph and these guys were way over that.  Michael's Uncle Denis had the keys to Michelle's apartment where we were staying so we had to go over there.  We felt bad since it was so late.  When we got there we found the entire family still up, and not only that, they had just finished dinner.  Denis was there this time, and he speaks pretty good English and was a blast.  Around 3ish we finally decided to call it a night.  I wouldn't want to be Michael, his plane leaves early tomorrow morning, so he's not going to get to sleep more than a few hours.  We have big plans to see as much of Paris as we can tomorrow too.  
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