Excursion number two approached quickly, two days after the first; a day trip to Northern France to explore a bit of Normandy. We departed Angers via charter bus early in the morning and made the near three-hour trek to Mont St-Michel. The island earned its name from the Archangel Michael, who burned a hole in the head of St. Aubert, bishop of Avranches, after he ignored instructions to build a church upon the rocky islet.
The island is fully surrounded by water of the Couesnon River. Before an elevated road was built, the island was accessible only during low tide, making it the ideal stronghold during the 6th and 7th centuries. It was in the 8th century that the monastery was erected and provided a secluded haven for the people of the small island town. Today Mont-St-Michel is listed under UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites and is a popular attraction for citizens and tourists of France.
It was a rainy and windy morning when we set out for Normandy. The trip took over two hours and we had to board a set of smaller buses to access the main entrance of Mont-St-Michel. Upon first sight, the structure seemed to come straight from Harry Potter. The muted colors of the buildings of the island contrasting the gray-white of the stormy sky created a hauntingly beautiful spectacle before our eyes.
The wind was fierce and relentless and made walking in a dress an exciting challenge. I channeled Marilyn as best I could to maintain composure through my panic of flashing a mass of foreigners, but I’m certain that a photo and plenty of laughs were shot in my direction.
The journey up to the monastery is a straight-shooter, climbing a steep cobblestone lane hardly 10 feet wide and passing by delicious smelling patisseries and gift shops donning “I ❤ Normandy” posters. Once we reached the top of the hill, we could see far across the water and pastures down below, back towards and over the mainland. It was a stunning site despite the poor weather.
The abbey shows wear from the years, yet still maintains a regal backbone of dark stone, intermitted with specks of lichen. Once our group assembled, we toured the structure and basked in its medieval darkness. Spaces reminiscent of dungeons greeted us at every entryway and a heavy, almost spiritual, weight escorted us through the halls. Various gardens greeted us outdoors and through marbleized glass. It was magnificent to consider that the masterpiece of a building was manifested solely through the hard work of manual labor and physical strength. Such an impressive site to see.
After exploring the island of Mont-St-Michel, we hopped back on the bus for an hour drive to the walled city of Saint-Malo. Bodies of water surround the majority of the town; a port for sail boats and smaller ships and a beach profiling tide pools and soft sand. The sun was out on this day and we wandered happily around the town. We stopped for some crêpes on our way to the beach and I ate my first crêpe flambée! Delicious! Every house we passed by complimented the stone streets we walked over. All of the people, either citizens or tourists, seemed happy and lively. We realized we were in a nautical town when we noticed that most of the clothing stores sold shirts with stripes of either blue or red.. most of the people we passed by donned the same attire.
After our exploration of the village, we headed down to the beach and basked in the sunlight. We dipped our feet (and legs!) into the salty water of the English Channel and wished we had more time to spend there. It was a beautiful and peaceful place to be on a Sunday afternoon.
The day ended too soon and we were back on the bus by 6pm to head back to Angers..