Travels with Victoria: Mont St.Michel

This view of Mont St. Michel (website) is such an iconic image, I truly feared that visiting would be rather anti-climactic.  Like seeing Big Ben or the Parthenon or the Grand Canyon, however, it was a new and fresh experience.  Well, yes there were hundreds of tourist buses and hordes of people from all over the world climbing the steep streets and filling the many shops and restaurants along the way.

And, dear reader, I did not make it to the top. Not even close! It was the worst day of my dreadful cold and though it may not look steep in the picture above, it exhausted my clogged lungs in no time at all.  I managed to find a lovely viewpoint from which I snapped the top — and the low tidal sands that stretch for miles all around the island.

Those coming down to join us in a cup of latte said it was quite lovely at the top, a monastery that is mostly empty other than hundreds of gapers.  The monks of the early 11th century suported William of Normandy in his conquest of England. In return, the order received an island off Cornwall, also known as St Michel’s Mount, which also draws many tourists.

In reviewing my photos, I am amused to see that I managed to exclude almost all the tourists. You’ll have to take my word for it — huge groups going up and coming down, narrow streets in which it seemed one could lose balance and tumble for ages if one wasn’t very careful. With all those people, one would have taken out a regiment on the fall.

Above, a couple of visitors try to get out of the way of the little front-end-loaders they use to take supplies up and bring the trash down.  After the French Revolution, the Mont was abandoned, then turned into a prison.  In the mid-19th century, many French intellectuals, including Victor Hugo, petitioned the government to return Mont St. Michel to its original purpose as a pilgrimage site. Would I be too cynical if I said that most of the ‘pilgrims’ seemed to be more interested in taking photos (like me) or buying souvenirs than any spiritual purpose?

Restaurants on the Mont are famous for their fluffy omelets.  But not a chicken in sight.

After it was all over, we posed with the Mont and a few of the coaches that filled the car park — next to a sign that said, loosely translated, “This parking lot will not flood today.”  The site is famous for its rapidly shifting tides and until the soon-to-be-rebuilt causeway was created, it was not unusual for people to be stranded on the Mont.

As we drove back to St. Malo, the Mont was always there, a sort of brooding presence in the mist.

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