The Sacred Medieval Mont Saint Michel

Since my Deutsch classmate (i.e. my friend) wanted to go somewhere different, we chose Mont Saint Michel. According to my guidebook, to go to the Medieval town from Paris, we need to stop at Caen and then take a train and then a bus. So, we followed that route and stayed here in Caen for one night. We’d leave early tomorrow morning to catch the morning train. We later found that we made a mistake – we didn’t check the train timetable…

Without realising we had made a mistake, we left the train station and checked in to our lodging. After we checked in, we started to stroll in the city. While we were reading a map and tried to find out where we were, a French young girl suddenly approached us and offered us help, in English. My friend was very surprised. She later told me she’d been to France twice but had never ever encountered this kind of thing. She couldn’t believe the French would come and offer help, in English. After that experience, she started to have a very good impression of the French. 

Not only did the French girl show us the directions, she also took us somewhere close to that spot.   She chatted with us, told us that she was studying languages at a university, etc. She was so nice!

A church in Caen taken from the Chateau

It was very hot and we got tired so we took a rest. There were a lot of restaurants beside the river.   We couldn’t decide which one to go. We wanted to try a Greek restaurant but then it was still not opened as it was a bit too early for dinner. In the end, we picked one. It turned out it was an excellent choice!

At first, we just wanted to have a drink. We read the drinks menu and saw ‘blanc 1664’. Without knowing any French, we both thought it was white wine so we ordered it. (look, it was 2008. Blanc 1664 hadn’t been exported to any country where I had been to or lived in yet). A little blonde kid came and took our order. I think she was less than 10 years old. ‘Une?’ She asked. ‘Oui’ I answered.

When the beer arrived, my friend and I laughed.

Anyway, while we were waiting for the beer, we read the menu again. We were sitting outside and when the breeze came, all the paper on the tables flew away. The little girl was busy putting the paper back on the tables. She was so cute. But obviously her mother didn’t want her to do that. She asked her to go back inside. We turned our focus back on the menu again. All of a sudden, both of us spotted something that excited us – snails! It is a famous French cuisine so we immediately ordered two sets of dinner there. We had scallops (they melted in my mouth! So soft! I could’ve never imagined that scallops could be so soft!), salmon with thick sour cream, escargot (oh so yummy! The sauce tasted so good!), chicken (both the presentation and the taste were so good!). I am drooling as I write it. 😀 What else? Oh, I can’t remember. Our tummies were satisfied. C’est bon!

The sauce in the escargot was superb and the thick sour cream on the salmon (at the top of the photo) was so delicious!  This reminds me of the French volunteer that I met in Cambodia later who boasted about French food. Yes, I am talking about you! 😀 Actually, snails were eaten in Cambodia too but the sauce is different. Check out the Cambodian snails here.

We woke up very early in the morning the next day to catch the morning train to Mont Saint Michel.   We went down to the reception, left our bags at the luggage storage room and checked out. As the staff was helping us with all these things, I saw a sign saying takeaway breakfast.  So we asked the staff how long they needed to prepare that takeaway breakfast.   They said, ‘5 minutes’.   OK, we still had time so we decided to buy it.

Another big mistake.

The French time was different from anywhere else. I sometimes joked about French time with my French buddy I met in Cambodia.

It took them more than 5 minutes to prepare that. In fact, it was like 15 minutes or even more.   What’s in the breakfast? Well, the same as the breakfast buffet that their guests were having in the dining hall – muffins and tea. I didn’t know why it took them so long!

My friend was complaining while we were waiting and said we shouldn’t have bought the breakfast but we had already paid. (It’d take them even longer to refund our payment.)

We rushed to the train station which is quite far away from the hotel and attempted to buy the tickets to Mont Saint Michel. 

BUT, the staff there said, ‘sorry, there is only one train in the morning to Mont Saint Michel and it has already departed.’  

‘What?!’ We looked at the digital clock at the station.  

It was only 7:40a.m.!!!  

And it had already departed?!  

One train in the morning?!  

How come?!  

It’s a very famous spot!  

How could there be ‘only one train in the morning’?!  

This news struck us.  

‘How can we get there?   Any other mode of transport that we can take?’  

The man turned and asked his colleagues and then turned back again and said, ‘unfortunately not’.

We asked him where else we could go. He suggested us to go to Bordeaux but we only had one day or half a day cos we needed to go back to Paris on the same evening.  

He was really helpful and he gave us a few other suggestions but none of them were workable.

My friend asked the guy, ‘Is Bayeux ok?’  

He said, ‘yes, but it’s not as good as Mont Saint Michel. Mont Saint Michel is…’   And then he made a gesture suggesting that it’s really worth going. 

But the next train would leave at around 2pm. We couldn’t afford to wait so my friend decided to buy a ticket to Bayeux.

While we were waiting at the station, my friend grabbed several leaflets about Bayuex. We read those leaflets on the train. Suddenly, we spotted a leaflet about a private tour that departed Bayeux to Mont Saint Michel at any time we liked.   My friend immediately gave them a call. Finally! Good news came!

So, there we were in Bayeux. It is quite a nice little town actually.

Bayeux. Don’t know what’s going on in the town. We saw so many flags hanging around.

We first went to the visitors centre at Bayeux to look for some information. I found a leaflet about Mont Saint Michel that says ‘The Churchill Shuttle Bayeux to Mont St Michel’.   But when we arrived at Bayeux, it was already past 9am.

Anyway, we went to a shop to check out the private tour we saw on our leaflets. While we were waiting for the driver (a very humorous girl), we walked around and took a few pictures. Guess what, that private tour cost us more than EUR100.   My French friend said when I later told her, ‘Thief!   Well, doesn’t matter, you went there in the end.’

Yes, we did.   We went there and we were very glad that we did.

The trip to Mont Saint Michel was very long. But it was worth it. Our driver was a lovely and humorous French lady so she really helped us pass our time in the car.  She told us once she drove a group of American tourists to Mont St Michel. During the trip, she mentioned something about the War. One of the Americans asked her, ‘Which war? The Vietnam War?’ She was shocked and thought to herself, ‘What?! Do I look like a Vietnamese?’ She said to us, ‘if he didn’t know, at least he should do some research before coming here!’ 

As our car got closer to our destination, Mont Saint Michel started to emerge. It was a bit misty and cloudy that day and there was a light drizzle as well. All these made Mont Saint Michel look mysterious.

Approaching Mont Saint Michel. See the cows in the field?
Mont Saint Michel, seen from the car park. There were so many cars and tour buses there.

Speechless!

We were in a medieval town.   The streets and houses still had the medieval style. It was like a Hollywood setting.

According to some leaflets I took from the tourist office at Mont Saint Michel, St. Aubert, Bishop of Avranches, had 3 dreams in the year 708. Those dreams led him to building an abbey on the mount.   After the abbey was erected, a lot of pilgrims came and people started to live here so a village started to emerge. As more and more people came and lived here, the village started to expand so did the abbey.

We would meet our driver again at the car park in 3 hours. She gave us many suggestions as to where to go and eat, etc.  This pancake restaurant is one of the must-see places.   The way they beat the eggs followed a certain rhythm. I felt like tapping my feet to the rhythm. The pancakes were huge and thick and they smelled really good. According to our driver, the best way to enjoy pancakes was to eat them with apple cider from Normandie. (I later told my French friend this.   She said, Normandie produces a lot of apples that’s why the driver made such suggestion.)   Anyway, we wanted to try the pancakes there but unfortunately a) we didn’t reserve a table (we didn’t even know that we needed to); b) the restaurant was full; and c) we didn’t have enough time. So, we could only smell them outside their display kitchen.  🙁
The display kitchen
The crowded Medieval streets in the village
The abbey
View from the abbey. The abbey was built on sand. That’s why you can see sand surrounding this area. Isn’t it amazing that the whole place has been standing here for a thousand years? No one was allowed to walk on the sand unless they were accompanied by an experienced tour guide.
Inside the abbey. The abbey was very ancient and the statues inside were old too. If you look for a grand and decorative church, this is definitely not the one. But if you are after history and peace, this is the one. Each stone witnesses and contains history, a long history. The audio guide gave us details of the daily life of a monk at the abbey during the medieval times. It was quite interesting to hear.
The garden
Goodbye Mont Saint Michel

My French friend arranged a dinner for me with her family. 🙂   That was a big surprise.  So, we rushed back from Mont Saint Michel to Paris.

Our original route was from Mont Saint Michel to Bayeux and then took the train to Caen to grab our bags and then back to Paris. That way it would be cheaper. However, since our schedule was really tight, we asked the driver to take us directly to Caen instead of to Bayeux which was more expensive but faster.

Since it was summer, my friend and I didn’t take many things with us. When the driver saw our luggage, she said with her eyes widely opened, ‘is that all you’ve brought?  You two are staying in France for more than a week but your luggage is so light!’

We quickly bought the tickets to Paris at the train station and hopped on the train.

This time we checked in at our lodging in Bastille. The receptionist could recognise me. (oh, how embarrassing!) I could remember his name too. 🙂 He was a nice and friendly guy. My friend asked him about the payment method, etc. as she would leave a day earlier than I and I’d be the one who settled the bill on the last day. He said, ‘oh, you can pay by credit card, cash or cheque.’ We went, ‘Cheque?!’  He answered, ‘Yes’ he probably knew what we were thinking so he continued with a smile on his face, ‘You know what a cheque is? You write on it and sign it and then you tear it off from the cheque book and present it to the shop.’ We laughed. That was so funny.

Anyway, I chucked my bag in the room and dashed out to the metro station and headed to my friend’s parents’ place.

When I arrived at their metro station, my friend’s boyfriend was there waiting for me. He then took me to the house. He told me my friend’s parents wanted me to join a traditional dinner. They had been waiting for me but it was too late (sorry, I did my best) so they started the dinner. They had started praying.

My friend’s mother greeted me warmly at the door. When I entered the house, everyone gave me a warm welcome. I felt as if I were a spoiled kid, spoiled by my friend and her family.  🙂

It was a big feast! Her relatives were all there. Her parents, her siblings, brothers- and sisters- in laws, etc. I didn’t expect it to be like this. It was really a big surprise to me.  A big THANK YOU to you and your family. Thank you for having me that evening and thank you for your hospitality. I know you are reading this. 🙂

19 – 20 June 2008

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