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Europe » France » Lower Normandy » Mont Saint-Michel
December 12th 2009
Published: December 18th 2009EDIT THIS ENTRY

Words Can't Describe This SightWords Can't Describe This SightWords Can't Describe This Sight

Mont St-Michel, Normandy, France
Bonjour! Ca va? Je suis magnifique, merci beaucoup!

So there we were, leaving the City of Lights behind, and just about as walked-out as we could be. It was really nice to spend a couple of days in a campsite, with access to a laundry and an information desk full of power points to charge our seemingly endless batteries. But at €21.50 a day, it was starting to break our budget. Haha!

So off we went on the morning of the 8th of December, en route to Versailles. The place needs no introduction, being one of the finest examples of Baroque rococo architecture in the world. It is an embodiment of everything the French desire in life - style, expensive taste, flamboyance and size mattering. We arrived after a fairly intensive left and right workout from Sean through the maze of one way streets, only to find a sign on the Versailles carpark ticket-pull machine saying “Versaille Closed Due To Strike Action”. It didn't really matter all that much to us anyway because we were never going to go inside, as Aleks said that given our experience in places like this, the inside would be a little underwhelming.
A Great Day For VersaillesA Great Day For VersaillesA Great Day For Versailles

Chateau-de-Versailles, Ile-de-France, France

The gardens of Versailles in winter are impressive, even though all the flower beds that would usually be filled in the summer months have been downgraded to dirt for winter. They are monstrous, stretching right out to the horizon. The vista is punctuated by a giant fountain (complete with epic carvings of water spitting fish, turtles and frogs) that wasn't running at the time, and not one but two lakes, the last of which has a giant water jet in it. The jet turned on for us at 11 o'clock, and was something akin to that at Lake Burley Griffin in Canberra.

Wait, I'm not saying I've actually ever been stupid enough to go to Canberra. Don't get me wrong here. I wouldn't ever stoop that low.

We managed to get a couple of photos of the gates and the buildings all decked out in carved granite and gold plating (amongst the camera-dragging Asian mobs), and then after a quick snack we jumped back in the car and set the mongrel GPS to none other than Mont St Michel!! Oh boy, I was getting excited!! Like a chihuahua, except without the bulging eyes and oversized tongue and peeing
Capturing The EssenceCapturing The EssenceCapturing The Essence

Chateau-de-Versailles, Ile-de-France, France
all over the floor.

We didn't obviously arrive there straightaway though, and our drive was through some absolutely beautiful countryside and little towns, such as Chandai which was filled with little houses that seemed more mortar than brick and dotted with cute little shutters and flower boxes in their windowsills. Very cute. There was also the old town of Verneuil-sur-Avre which had a beautiful medieval feel to it and a really old cathedral that I obviously had to beetle off and get photos of. The last place on the map worth seeing was Domfront, another medieval city, before we finally arrived at Aire Mont St. Michel truck stop and bedded in for the night. In my sheer excitement I decided that it was time to have a celebratory drink or two, and proceeded to polish off a bottle of wine. Aleks went to bed laughing at my stupidity, while I read my book and passed out around 11pm.

The next day my eyes snapped open like they were spring loaded. It was the day that I'd been waiting for ever since I started researching this trip back in late 2008. It was the day that made going to
The Non-Working FountainThe Non-Working FountainThe Non-Working Fountain

Chateau-de-Versailles, Ile-de-France, France
France seem worth it. It was time to see the greatest place in the whole world, a Benedictine Abbey built way back when Moses was a lad, after a chance meeting with the Archangel Michael. Mont St Michel is built on a large, circular slap of dead solid volcanic rock, the perfect place to slap over 200 ancient buildings of course. As you drive towards le mont, it stands out a dark shadow against the horizon, like some black castle that you would expect to see in Transylvania, rather than wedged halfway between Brittany and Normandy. The silhouette is phenomenal, see photos! The reason it looks so amazing is due to the surrounding area being basically just one big delta/floodplain, i.e. it's dead flat. The effect is as spectacular from a distance as it is standing right next to it.

Mont St Michel is attached to the mainland by an elevated road, above a sea where the tides have a range of somewhere between 8 and 11 metres; when the tide goes out, it really goes out - 18km! Ridiculous as that sounds, it's not half as ridiculous as the fact that they put the lower car park... wait
Fishy Plays StatuesFishy Plays StatuesFishy Plays Statues

Chateau-de-Versailles, Ile-de-France, France
for it.... at sea level! Leave your car there for the day on an incoming tide, and it will be transformed into a sinking ship before your eyes. Fortuitously the tides were (apparently) in our favour that day, so we paid our €4 for parking and stepped out to a jaw dropping sight. I can't really put it into perspective for you. The photos once again only give a crap 2D view of what HAS to be seen with your own eyes to be believed. The buildings in the place are unlike any you've ever seen. Instead of being built next to each other, they seem to have been all dropped from the heavens on top of one another.

Basically it starts with Aubert, the then-Bishop of Avranches. In a dream, the Archangel Michael appears to him and tells him that his mission in life is to built a giant sanctuary on Mont Tombe, which at that stage was a big rock on a sandy inlet covered in mad hermits. All sorts of “miracles” were happening there though, like a donkey bringing supplies to the hermits without human help, stolen bulls being returned to owners, and the final straw
Water Jets: Squirty!Water Jets: Squirty!Water Jets: Squirty!

Chateau-de-Versailles, Ile-de-France, France
- a dew fell on the Mont EXCEPT for a circular area which looked a perfect place to build a sanctuary. Aubert took this as a good enough incentive, as well as the fact that it looked just like Michael's haunt in Italy, Mont Gargnone, and so he built the first church there in 708. It's still there. There's also a freshwater well on the rock - miraculous considering there's none for miles around.

Slowly but surely over the next 800 years things changed, the place became home to Benedictine monks and more and more parts of the abbey are built until finally the Chapel of Saint Aubert (canonised obviously, like nine million other people in France) and Gabriel Tower were added in 1524. This was when the major structural work was completed, and after that it was all facades and exterior rebuilding/improving. For all that time too, people starting making pilgrimages to the Mont, as St Mike was the mack-daddy of all Angels and had a real cult following (people STILL make pilgrimages there). Abbey lodgings and battlements, ramparts and balustrades, flying buttresses and bigger kitchens were added ad nauseum, but the final product, wow. The tour we
The Golden GatesThe Golden GatesThe Golden Gates

Chateau-de-Versailles, Ile-de-France, France
took through there was a maze of ancient buildings and walkways, some of which were untouched for a thousand years. We listened to our audioguides and learned lots. I was absolutely sold, and let me put this on a new line for maximum effect...

MONT ST MICHEL IS THE COOLEST PLACE ON PLANET EARTH. No questions asked. #1.

Unfortunately the details are waaay too long to list, ask me over the phone. By 3:30 I was ready to say goodbye. Trust me, it was not an easy departure, as I could quite happily stay there for the rest of my life being inspired. We ate a quick lunch, then bolted to a truckstop to use some free WiFi and shack up for the night. We didn't like the first truck stop's carpark, there were no lights and it was on the edge of a forest. Safety first! We moved, and then knocked up some tasty chorizo pasta for dinner. Yep, pasta again. Luckily the 3-minute pasta here is great, as boiling water on our crap burner in 0-degree temperatures takes a while.

By this stage, in my infinite wisdom, I had decided to develop a nice little
A Closer Shot: Big SceneryA Closer Shot: Big SceneryA Closer Shot: Big Scenery

Mont St-Michel, Normandy, France
cold. I have never maintained that I have a perfect immune system, and if the opportunity arises where I can get sick, I will. This sucks, to be honest, and even though I ate cat food, bird poo, worms, snails, and mud from the dam in the bottom paddock when I was young, I still manage to be Dr Disease at the drop of a hat. I woke up at 7:40am in the dark of morning, after snorting and tootling and snuffling half the night, and felt right crap. I was still in bed when Aleks came back from her morning pee and told me that there were cops in the adjacent fuel station. I bolted out of bed, cursing the blue bastards, and tried to look dressed and innocent as they went past. We're still not sure if sleeping in The Ark in truck stops is okay, but we haven't been told otherwise or busted yet, so we're going to keep it up till we do. They cruised past, looked at the pink graffiti, and went on to find bigger fish to fry...

Get it? Fish.... Nemo.... Forget it.

I made an elated discovery that morning when
Quicksand. NaturallyQuicksand. NaturallyQuicksand. Naturally

Mont St-Michel, Normandy, France
we pulled up at a local Shopi supermarket, a few towns later, that eggs are called oeufs here! HA! Oofs! That's just great. I nearly choked on my gallette that Aleks bought for me from the guy-in-a-van in the carpark. He waved at me and told Aleks that our van was “tres jolie.” Oh, and by the way, if you think I'm being a bogan by not putting all the accent thingies over the letters like I should, it's because because TravelBlog won't let me put them in. Elysée = see what I mean?

On the way out of town Aleks decided that it was a good idea to nearly run over a plumber repairing something in a sewer drain. If his day wasn't already bad enough, picture this:

- Me: “Aleks.... Just watch that guy in the middle of the road... Aleks....”
- Aleks: ….... (blinking and watching the car careen closer to the man and his old friend, who is now watching us wide-eyed)
- Me: “Aleks! Careful!”
- Old Guy: (scuttles out of the way terrified as Aleks whizzes past, nearly taking the guy's underwear straight out of his plumber's crack)
- Plumber: (Stands up
The Grand StaircaseThe Grand StaircaseThe Grand Staircase

Mont Saint-Michel, Normandy, France
and gives her the look of death in the rear vision mirror)
- Me: “£$#?%@£$!!”
- Aleks: (completely oblivious, humming pleasantly) “Let's talk dinner, Fishy”

Who taught this woman how to drive?!

The countryside from that point on was just beautiful - rolling land, misty green hills. The place names were really lovely too, with names like L'Hiere Creek, St Quentin Les Anges, and the Seyre Bridge over the L'Oudon River. At some stage however the beauty of the scene was punctuated by Aleks desperately needing to pee. She has a real problem with going from not needing to pee at all, to suddenly about to explode. Luckily we found a roadside toilet, unluckily for her it was totally gross. I should point out that most of the roadside crappers here are squat toilets, and pretty gross to say the least. That, and there is never any poo tickets available, it's BYO. Why the HELL do they use squat toilets over here? Where the hell are we? Namibia? They are always filthy because people can't aim at them properly, and as a result they smell. For a country that thinks itself so far advanced, I would say having
Where's Noah?!Where's Noah?!Where's Noah?!

Mont Saint-Michel, Normandy, France
squatters is pretty bloody archaic.

Down the road, Aleks peed and her back teeth stopped floating. She got back in the car to me playing “Great Southern Land” by Icehouse for a bit of Australiana, and we wistfully drove off to our next destination, Angers, thinking of home. Yes, we do get homesick from time to time. It's not all rainbows and pretzels all the time you know.

We arrived in Angers and went to the Chateau, Chateau D'Angers (pronounced On-zhay, not Ang-gurrs). It was really immense and beautiful from the outside, but honestly pretty standard on the interior. The selling point, and why we went in the first place, was a gallery in the back corner that houses one of the largest tapestries in the world: The Apokalypse. It is 110m long and 6.5m high in places, and was commissioned in the 14th century for some reason. It took 7 years to complete and consists of over 60 scenes telling the story of the end of the world from the bible's perspective; it's in pretty damn good condition. You're not allowed to take photos, but being Nemo, I took some anyway. Although it's typical religious iconography and
Soldiers? Where? Oh, They're CamouflagedSoldiers? Where? Oh, They're CamouflagedSoldiers? Where? Oh, They're Camouflaged

St Aubert Chapel, Mont Saint-Michel, Normandy, France
representation, it's still impressive, and well worth seeing. The gardens in the place were really amazing too, some of the finest topiary we've ever seen. We also got to walk on the roofs of the towers and the ramparts, a 40m sheer drop to the other excavated moat on the other side. Dizzying, but it afforded a beautiful 360 degree view of the city.

We accidentally took one of the toll roads before reaching our destination for the night in Poitier. We were a little worried as to how to pay the toll, but it seems as soon as you get off the A-Road there is another booth for you to throw your cash into, so crisis averted. The further South we go, the less truck stops we find on non-toll roads. I suppose it's not really a problem if we do go on there though: we just spend as little time on there as possible. We've only paid about €7.50 worth of tolls the whole time we've been in France, and for 2500km, it's a pretty good effort.

That night I had a shite sleep, as my cold had worsened. Having a hot shower helped, and soon
At Home Amongst The AgesAt Home Amongst The AgesAt Home Amongst The Ages

Mont Saint-Michel, Normandy, France
we were on the road and took the Goat's Cheese route to Angouleme. I'm sure you can imagine that my other half was having a bit of a spaz-out over this, as goat's cheese may just be her favourite food. We didn't see any goats OR cheese though, but it was still a nice drive. We arrived in Angouleme, parked and made a few sandwiches and then ate them under a beautiful sunny blue sky on a park bench next to an old church, complete with stalking pigeons. Angouleme was nice, but nothing spectacular. It's worth noting that the towns were really changing by this stage, and were starting to get a decidedly more Spanish feel to them. We didn't spend too much time there though, checking out a 12th century church and a few other things before grabbing some expensive fuel (€1.32/litre) and getting on the road. Somewhere along the way we stopped for a beer in a near-deserted tabac. The bartender was great, and the place looked like it was set up for a live gig, with guitars and drums and crap everywhere. It was very authentic French.

I forgot to mention that the reason we stopped
Wish I Had That Out My Bedroom WindowWish I Had That Out My Bedroom WindowWish I Had That Out My Bedroom Window

The Cloisters, Mont Saint-Michel, Normandy, France
was that I was so high off my mixture of cough medicine and some other crap that they had given me at a pharmacy, that I could barely keep the car on the road. It was a littly bit hairy for a while there, but Aleks took over after the calming beer and all was well. We stopped at a truck stop on the other side of a big place called Periguaux and ate our Oofs for dinner. The rest of the evening was used to write postcards whilst sitting on a very cold stone seat in one degree weather.

That's another one out of the way you lot, see you next one. Love Fishy.


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19th December 2009

The Fish in his best form
I was chortling all the way through this installment. The image of the plumber's flying underwear overshadowed somehow the glory of Saint-Michel. I wonder why :-) Looking forward to descriptions of how you handled the icy roads...

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