Mont Saint-Michel

I first became aware of Mont Saint-Michel through movie I watched in Humanities, all the way back in high school. The movie is called Mindwalk (1990) and it’s basically about a poet, a politician, and a physicist who walk around Mont Saint-Michel and talk about philosophy and compare the Cartesian way of thinking with a systemic/ecological approach. I know it sounds pretty boring, but I actually loved it when I was in high school and it really stuck with me. I’ve thought about it a lot over the years. The movie is kind of hard to find, but if you’re at all interested in a 2-hour film about people walking around Mont Saint-Michel and hashing out how poetry, politics, and physics blend together, you can find it on Google Video.

So I’ve been dying to go to Mont Saint-Michel for the last many years, but I knew that it was out of the way. That’s the charm of it, right? We looked into lots of ways of getting there, but when we added the D-Day beaches to our itinerary, we knew that renting a car would be the best option. (Although, I will say right now that you should avoid renting from Europcar, but that’s for another blog post.)

It started raining right after we left the American Cemetery, so we had quite a wet drive, but luckily it cleared up as we got closer. We got so excited when we could see it in the distance. We had to pull over and take some photos.

When we finally made it to the parking lot of Mont Saint-Michel, we parked in the first spot we could find. We had learned our lesson from driving around the Giverny parking lot several times in search of a free space. However, I would recommend searching for the nearest parking spot because it is a pretty long walk from the parking lot to the touristy area outside of Mont Saint-Michel. There you’ll find several hotels and restaurants and a market. We stopped at the market to pick up something to eat since we didn’t find any place to stop on the way in. We didn’t want to waste time eating at one of the restaurants (we should have stopped at the “quick lunch” place near the cemetery), so we just looked in the store for some sandwiches.

Then we waited for the shuttle to take us up to the mount. It drove us about 500 feet and let us out, so we had to walk quite a ways again up to the entrance. But at least we had this view the entire time.

Mont Saint-Michel consists of the Abbey at the very top…

and the village that surrounds it.

We decided to take a seat on a ledge outside and have a little picnic before going in. We hadn’t sat down for more than three minutes when we were harassed by wasps. You should know that I really hate bees. My granny died from anaphylactic shock after being stung by a bee while golfing, so they kind of terrify me. And this wasn’t just one wasp. It was basically a whole swarm. It looked kind of like this:

I may have freaked out a little and thrown my sandwich over the ledge and ran away from bag and jacket. Eventually, I went back for my stuff and we went inside. I didn’t know what to expect really. In the movie, Mont Saint-Michel just looks like empty walkways with scenic views. It definitely didn’t have all the crowds. As soon as you enter the mount, you start winding up a hill edged with shops on either side. It was a little too crowded to browse comfortably, so we just kept walking up and up and up.

And then you get to some steps. Lots of steps.

Once you get to the top of the steps, you see the entrance to the Abbey. But to get up there, you have to climb more steps. I wasn’t really up to the challenge, to be honest. I had already met my quota of steps for the day. Cristen, however, was willing to climb higher to get to the Abbey so we decided that I would wait there for her while she took a tour. At first, I just rested and did some people-watching. I loved seeing the reaction of all of the people who climbed to where the Abbey begins, looked at the amount of stairs they would still have to climb, and then sighed, deflated. Some gathered up their energy to continue on but others, like me, took a seat to wait for their friends.

I had no idea how long it would take to tour the abbey, but I got tired of waiting, so I decided to poke around a bit.

I kept checking back at the entrance to the abbey to try and meet up with Cristen, but I never did see her. Then I realized that the exit for the tour was probably not the same as the entrance. Uh oh… I wasn’t quite sure how I would meet up with Cristen. This is when you realize how amazingly convenient cell phones are. Without them, I didn’t have any way to get in touch. So I ended up hurrying down the hill to see if I could find her.

Meanwhile, Cristen had gone through the abbey, exited at a different spot, walked up all the stairs again to try and find me (which just happened to be while I was poking around), walked back down to the entrance, and was just on her way back up when I was on my way down.

You know, I hate to admit that my experience at Mont Saint-Michel wasn’t exactly what I hoped. It was still beautiful and interesting and worth the drive, but I think I expected to have my own mind walk. Instead, I ended up getting so caught up in the physical aspects – being attacked by wasps, feeling exhausted from climbing up the hill and then up the stairs, being jostled about by crowds – that I didn’t get to ponder how life is really all about a “crisis of perception” (or whatever). Plus, because I spent most of the time waiting, I didn’t end up getting to explore as much as I would have liked.

I hate sounding negative about the experience because honestly, look at it.

Mont Saint-Michel from the parking lot. Yes, it’s far away.

It’s amazing! I just wish I could have done it differently. For starters, I would have made the effort to see the abbey. Next time.

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4 comments

  1. janeisawake · October 23, 2012

    Oh wow, those crowds. I suppose I’d better prepare myself for them! Isn’t it funny how as tourists, we complain about crowds, as if we’re the victim! haha.

    So what’s that surrounding the Abbey, that you can see from your waiting around shots – some kind of salt flat? or dried lake?

    • katie · October 23, 2012

      About the crowds — I feel bad complaining about them so much, but they really did affect my experience, so I don’t want to leave them out. And I know it’s ironic because really I’m just adding to them. Just another tourist who’s complaining about all those tourists. 😉

      I wonder if you will come across quite as many crowds in the winter. The last time I was in Europe, it was the end of February/early March and I definitely didn’t experience crowds like I did on this trip. It may be why I complain about them so much — I wasn’t expecting them.

      And yes, it’s water that surrounds Mont Saint-Michel. It’s set out just a little bit into the English Channel and when the tides are high, they surround the mount, but when they’re low, the mount is accessible. They’re actually working on restoring the environment around the area (which is why you might be able to see some construction in some of the photos outside the mount). You used to be able to park right below it, but now you have to park quite a ways back and then a shuttle takes you part of the way there and you have to walk the rest. I think it’s excellent for the environment, but not quite as easy on the tourist. 😉

      • janeisawake · October 23, 2012

        I’m expecting, and hoping, for less tourists. I encountered huge crowds in Rome and Venice during June – almost unbearable in combination with the heat. So hoping for a very different experience this time round, (with the exception of Christmas markets and NYE).

  2. janeisawake · October 23, 2012

    Just google mapped it – even on a map view it looks cool – like a lollipop!

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