The Beaches of Normandy Weekend: Part 5

Trip Start Sep 13, 2012
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Trip End Dec 21, 2013


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Flag of France  , Basse-Normandie,
Saturday, November 10, 2012

The last leg of our trip was a short visit to the Mont Saint-Michel. We left St.Malo mid-morning, and drove about an hour to the famed mount. The Mont Saint-Michel is a island fortress in a bay several miles from the English Channel. The mount used to be located in a forest, but thousands of years ago, a tsunami devastated the area and brought the sea level up several miles. Now, during high tide, the fortress is completely surrounded by water; during low tide, it is surrounded by thick, deep quicksand. There is a reason it has been an impenetrable fortress since the day it was built in the 11th century.  

Before the mount was used for Christian pilgrimage, it was a place of Pagan worship. Jane didn't give us much information about that period of it's history, but i do remember her saying that the reason the abbey was built in that spot was because some religious guy, (i want to say Michel), was told by God that he was to build a temple in the spot where he found and ox tied to a tree. I'm not really sure on the details, but it's pretty obvious that the reason the ox was tied to a tree up there was because it was a sacrifice to a Pagan god. A temple was built, and then the religious legend comes into play:   
Satan challenged St.Michel to a castle building contest. I don't remember why, and I can't remember who was supposed to be the judge, but there was one. Whoever made a castle more beautiful would win the souls of the humans in the region. When the contest was over, Satan had built a fortress on a mount, and St.Michel, a chateau of ice in the forest. St.Michel was declared the winner, and then there was some deal where St.Michel wanted to exchange chateaux, so he got the fortress on the mount, and Satan go the ice palace. Well, come morning, Satan's ice palace melted in the sun, while St.Michel sat atop his fortress. From that point on, it was known that St.Michel was the to be worshiped at the mount, as it was under his protection.

During WWII, the fortress was occupied by the Germans, but, today, it is a functional abbey. I think that the only people who live there permanently are be the nuns, monks, and some of the shopkeepers. There are a few, small hotels on the mount, but i don't think I'd ever want to stay there; it's such a hassle to get there; plus, guests have to carry their luggage all the way up the hill. The walk up the mount is difficult, even without luggage. The fortress is a Mid-Evil castle type design with drawbridge doors, stone walkways, and HUGE steps. All of the stone steps on the way up to the abbey are twice the height of normal steps, so you really have to lift your feet. It is quite the workout. 

The day we were there was gray, rainy, and cold. Everything was wet, so climbing to the apex of the completely stone fortress was not comfortable, let's just say that. About half way up in a particularly crowded, narrow stretch, we passed an attractive, young priest chatting with someone. I don't know why, but whenever i see a younger, attractive man who has become a priest relatively early in life, all I can think is: What a waist of a man. Men should not be allowed to become priests until they're really old, so nobody commits any Deadly Sins, (like lust), during mass. 

A little farther up the mount, there was, what seemed to be, a stray cat. A bunch of people were going over and petting it, and it seemed perfectly OK with all the attention; it must be used to it by now. Haley got particularly handsy with the kitty, and i feared she may steal it from the abbey. When we finally made it to the top of the mount, we stood at the doors of the abbey/ museum, huffing and gasping as if we had just made it to the top of the Mayan ruins and there wasn't enough Oxygen to provide for our lungs. The view, though vast and impressive, was really quite ugly. Since it was low tide, all that surrounded the mount for miles was brown, muddy, flat quicksand. There isn't much foliage, and, due to the construction, there are a bunch of construction vehicles breaking up the smooth sand. Apparently, walking from the shore to the fortress during low  tide is a death wish. If you get caught in the quicksand, all you can do is stay still and yell for help. There are some natives who do walk across at low tide, but they seem to know where to step to not sink. I think i'd rather wait till high tide and row over, than beat the tide by walking. Here, like St. Malo, the tide comes in at a relatively quick past, that of a galloping horse. 

The museum of the inside of the abbey was really interesting. The chapel was tall and ancient, and the grand halls were spectacular. Apparently, kings have stayed in the fortress and entertained foreign leaders in these halls. I'm all for learning new things, and having new experiences, but all in all, I was not a fan of the museum or the fortress. Besides the chapel, (warmed by the heat of fire), the only part i really enjoyed was a modern art gallery through the gift shop of amazing paintings and sculptures on the history of the mount and St.Michel. 

On our way out, we grabbed some snacks, (crepes and ice cream) for our 5 hour bus ride home. Some of us grabbed dessert and dinner; of course we ate the dessert first. We had to take the shuttle back to the parking lot, loaded back onto the bus with Jose and Jane, and ended our weekend adventure by bidding "adieu" to the Northern French region that we had so quickly come to love: Normandy. 
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