And that is why, at the very moment I stepped off the bus and readied my camera to capture that moment, my camera ran out of battery. Right there: "Charge Battery" in white LED lit letters: fade to black screen.
Luckily, everyone else was going crazy with their cameras, so I did end up with some pictures later
. Without my camera, i had no need to focus on capturing the moment and breaking the panorama into pieces to preserve digitally. I looked at it in a way i had not yet observed anything on the trip. It was strange; I was appreciating every ray of light, color, shadow, everything as a whole. I saw the whole of that fleeting moment, the sun's perfect position over the glossy sand. The sky was growing more pale by the second; i was desperate to preserve it. I don't think that moment could ever be outdone.
We had to walk a little ways from the main road into the village because the gate and the streets in the village are too small for the bus. I think the whole village is, in total, a half mile in diameter, so you really don't need a car anyway. The wall surrounding the stone village has a walkway on the top and is only about a mile around. We received our room assignments in the tiniest hotel I have ever stayed in. When i travel, i'm used to the big ones like the Radisson or Hilton, (at least a dozen floors with a huge lobby, pool, spa, ect..). The Hotel de la Cite in Saint-Malo is like a house. It does have five floors, but the lobby is the size of my living room and there is only one elevator in the whole building. There is a small staircase up to the guest rooms, which has the same carpeting everywhere and on every floor, making the whole place look like a swirly, orange creamcicle
. It also smelled like 'old house': kind of stuffy, but like wood. I actually kind of liked it; it was cozy. The room i shared with Haley and Clarissa had a cot in it so the three of us could fit. In a larger hotel, we would have had two in a bed, but the beds in this hotel are the same size as cots. The cot actually fit pretty well into the room; although, every time i walked by it, i stubbed my toe on the metal frame. The bathroom is, by far, the best feature of the room. It is huge and can fit all three of us at once, comfortably. The most interesting part, though, was the shower....or should i say, the other side of the room. The shower is only identifiable by the removable metal shower head hanging from the wall. The floor is slightly slanted toward a drain in the middle of the floor, and that's it: no tub walls to keep water in one area, no shelves, and NO curtain. When we took showers, we had to make sure no one else needed to use the bathroom, but the person "in" the shower, is completely exposed to the whole room. Even so, the shower head was glorious! The fact that it had a holder on the wall was amazing. In all of our homestays, we have showers with removable shower heads, but no holder on the wall; maybe it's a French thing. It was nice to not have to hold up the shower head while washing. The shower in the hotel had different pressures, temperatures, and spewed continual hot water out of the nozzle. I didn't even care that i was exposed the whole room.
We settled into our rooms, and then we were free to explore the village
. Haley, Clarissa, David, Sam, and I went down the street, (all of 50 yards), to the section of the village with restaurants. We decided on one of the MANY places which advertised the best Brittany specialty, Galettes. Galettes are a kind of wheat crepe thing, that is only really served in Brittany and Normandy. Restaurants put all kind of things on it; for our meal they gave us a three course meal of Galettes: the first with just butter, the second with ham, cheese, and a raw egg yoke, and the third with chocolate. The main ingredient put on the galettes, though, is butter, loads and loads of butter. I'm pretty sure they soak the damn things in the trying pan before they add anything to it. The people of Brittany must have conferred with Paula Dean or something, because after the first course, i could feel my arteries clogging up right there at the table. The second galette wasn't so bad because it had actual food in it, but after the first, it was hard to eat anything else. Needless to say, we all ate our fill, but we could not finish our desert, chocolate galettes. We were also served the traditional Normandy cider, which is basically alcoholic apple cider. I'm not a huge fan of apple cider to begin with, so i was not all that thrilled about the Normandy cider. Everyone else was loving it, though. Courtney said later that it was the best meal she has ever had; i'm just gunna go out on a limb and guess that indicates she has never had butter before in her life.
After dinner, Clarissa, Haley, David, Sam, and I took a stroll around the town. We had maps, but we didn't bother looking at them until later. If we were in Paris, we would not have walked around aimlessly late at night; it's not all that intelligent; you never know where you could end up. In St. Malo, however, I don't think we saw a single person in the streets apart from near the restaurants
. We ended up walking over to the harbor and onto the beach. I wasn't too keen on the idea, because, as Jane told us, when the time comes in, it comes in a the "speed of a galloping horse". I don't know if that's exactly true, but i do know i can't outrun a galloping horse. Out on the sand, it was pitch black; we had to whip out Haley's iphone flashlight App to see anything. When we did, we saw that someone had written something in huge letters in the sand. I don't remember exactly what it was, but i think it was something like "Je t'aime". We walked across the sand to the pier, where we found a latter up to the platform. I'm fairly confident that the latter is supposed to be used for getting into the water when the tide is high, so it looked kind of out of place that night when the tide was fairly low. When we all made it up the later, (covered in sand and slime, by the way), we walked along the pier to what we thought was a light house. It technically was a lighthouse, (it was a house with a light on top), but the light was red and the tower was only like 30 feet tall. Around the lighthouse at the end of the pier, we found a bunch of older Frenchman fishing. Fishing! in the middle of the night! I guess some fish are night-time fish. After that, we found our way back to the hotel to get our cameras, and went back to exploring. Next to our hotel is the entrance to the upper wall walkway. Walking along the wall, we discovered that the reason we didn't see anyone on the streets, was because all of the natives and the tourists hang out on the wall at night
. The wall is very thick, so the walkway is quite wide. Several times i nearly fell on my face because there would be a step or something that we wouldn't see because it was so dark. David claimed that he could see just fine, so we made him our official seeing-eye dog. Well, he was pretty good at first, but then he would forget to tell us when there was a step, and then he almost fell himself; so that was the end of that. David would try to annoy us the next day by pointing out stairs we could clearly see in the daylight. We made it around the entire wall of the city in about an hour in a half. Jane had told us it would take no more than 30 or 40 minutes. When we realized how long it took us, David joked that "It took us an hour and half. Jane, you lied to us." Regardless of how long it too us, we made it back to the hotel without getting injured, so I would call it a successful night.
The next morning, we all gathered for a, basically, private breakfast overlooking the town wall in the sunrise. Haley, Clarissa, and I were the first to arrive after Jane and Jose. It turns out that a few of the girls stayed out all night, (as they usually do), so they didn't show up until we checked out of the hotel. The dining room was small, but cozy. They had a whole spread out for us: croissants, jelly, coffee, ham, eggs, tea, pain de chocolate - all things French. Haley wanted an egg, but all they had were hard boiled, so she grabbed one and dug in
. That is when she realized it was still cold and raw; you have to put the egg in the boiling machine on the counter; it was a do-it-yourself breakfast. Well, Haley put the egg in the machine, and checked on it every few minutes, but it just wasn't cooking. When she asked one of the hotel employees, (the only one that seemed to be in the whole building), why it wasn't working, she said, "Vous avez besoin commence la machine." You have to turn it on. After that, Haley nearly overcooked her hard boiled egg because she left in it too long. But it worked out, and we headed out for Jane's planned morning walk around the city.
We started off with the group, but Haley, Clarissa, Sam, David, and I wanted to make the most of the morning and do something we had not done yet. Instead of walking the wall with the group, we decided we would walk out to the island fortress a few hundred yards from the shore. At low tide, there is a sand bar leading all the way from the shore to the fortress. However, as the many warning signs posted on the shore indicated, when the tide comes it, it comes in at a rapid speed, (that of a galloping horse), and is highly dangerous for anyone to be out there. Jane told us that last session, a couple of students went out to the island, and almost got stuck out there because they didn't watch the tide. I choose to imagine that they only made it back because they ran across the sand bar faster than a galloping horse
Danielle joined us as we left the rest of the group and the danger signs behind us, and headed out over the beach and the sand bar to the island fortress. The walk was not far, but the entire time i was paranoid about the tide coming in. When we got closer to the fortress, we encountered a bunch of rocks we had to limb over. We did our best not to step in pools of water, but some of us got our feet wet. The morning was beautiful; a mix of grey and blue back lit by the rising sun. It made for a perfect background to our morning stroll. After all the effort to climb over the rocks, and bracing against the ocean wind, we made it to the gate of the fortress, only to discover that the fortress is not open to the public between October and March. Looking back at the shore and the village, it really felt like we had accomplished something; we made it all the way out there without getting trampled by the tide. As we headed back, Haley and I fell behind to gather some sea shells. When I looked up from picking some shells, (which i discovered still had living things in them), I looked over to the rest of our little dare devil party. They were most of the way back to the shore, standing at the water's edge, and watching something in the water. When i found what it was, there was David, at the end of October, running into the freezing, northern French ocean water, in nothing but his boxers. In the time it had taken me to bend down to pick a couple shells, the boy had stripped down to his underwear, and taken a running start into the tide. The boy is insane. Luckily, I was fast enough to turn on my camera and record this madness. Katerina, had gone out on her own before breakfast to take a quick swim in the ocean, too, before breakfast. She thought the water was warm; she's Russian, so she must be used to it. David, however, is from Ohio. After a minute of celebrating his accomplishment in the waves, he made his way back to shore and admitted how cold the water really was. "We are only gunna be here once," he said as he put his clothes back on, "so why not?" He also applied that philosophy to walking back through town to the hotel shoe and pantsless.
When we arrived at Saint-Malo (10/20/12), it was sunset. The Mid-Evil, coastal, pirate village, surrounded by a thick, stone wall, was silhouetted by the panorama of sunset on one side, and arched by a full rainbow on the other. Nothing I have ever seen can compare to that. It wasn't a painting: a moment interpreted from another's eyes and translated to the world. It wasn't computer enhanced, or digitally mastered; this was real life; this beauty existed in real time, in a real place.