April 14 – Monday
Breakfast at our hotel, and then back on the bus headed for Brittany.
We stopped for lunch in Fougères.
The proprietor of the restaurant we chose didn’t speak English. One of our trip members, Solidad, spoke Spanish and so did he, so she fielded the difficult questions. We all ordered crepes, the local specialty. I had a savory one (gallet)—ham, cheese and egg (le complete). Larry, of course had a sweet crepe—warm chocolate.
After lunch, we walked around the town and visited St. Leonard’s Church. Then we hiked back to the bus through the public garden which winds down the hill.
Back on the bus, we reached Mont Saint-Michel.
I remember seeing photos of this special place as a youngster and had always wanted to visit there.
We each took only a small bag (Larry and I each had a backpack) and boarded the shuttle to get to the island.
Once inside the city, the main street, paved in cobblestones, spiraled upward toward the abbey. We received our room assignments and keys for Auberge Saint Pierre. Then another hike upward to the sign of the fairy (the logo of a shop on the street) where we turned up a little alley leading to stairs. Those ended at the door to the rooms assigned to most of our party. The rooms of the hotel were scattered here and there perched upon the rock base of the mountain.
Eight of us had yet another climb up past the cemetery where the inventor of the island’s signature puffy omelet, la Mère Poulard, and her husband were buried. One more long flight of stairs ended at our four rooms.
Amazing views! Our room had a lovely deck at the back where we looked out toward the mainland across the quicksand-like mudflat surrounding the island.
We were unable to get our wi-fi to work again, so we called down to reception for the hotel, located on the main street. The technical specialist attempted to talk us through getting online, but he was unsuccessful. He offered to come up to our room, but since we’d planned to go back into town, we said we’d stop by with the iPad. (My computer was left on the bus with our ‘larger’ bags [carry-on size] since it was heavier than the iPad.)
Matthew, the IT young man, was unable to get us connected using his usual methods, but he took it as a challenge and hacked into his server to recover our key word. (I love IT people. He saw it as a personal accomplishment to get us online.)
Once we were connected to the world again, we answered a bit of email and then headed out to walk the ramparts of the fortress. We made our way to the tower where we watched as the tidal bore moved in from the sea to fill the area around the town leaving it once again isolated. For eighty years, a causeway linked Mont Saint-Michel to the mainland. A bridge was nearly completed when we arrived. When the bridge is finished during the summer of 2014, the causeway will be destroyed leaving Mont Saint-Michel an island once again.
We watched the tide flow in and then made our way to the restaurant where we ate dinner. The view was spectacular!
Our meal began with a toast of the local apple cidre. It is much higher in alcoholic content than the apple cider we are accustomed to.
We were served our appetizers. For this meal, we had a choice of nine! Most were fish or shellfish (fish soup, mussels, oysters, and a variety of crustaceans). The one non-seafood choice was the local fluffy omelet. I opted for that. Larry had the oysters. Mine was delicious, and he enjoyed his own as well as samples of mussels and other delicacies our fellow travelers shared.
A palate cleanser consisting of apple sorbet with calvados—the local apple brandy—was served.
For the entrée, we had several choices as well: duck fois gras, lamb, salmon, and beef. Larry had the salmon and I chose the beef. Again, our selections were very good.
The cheese course consisted of three local cheeses.
Dessert selections included chocolate cake, apple tart, pear charlotte, and crème brûlée.
Even though I only ate half or less of each course, I was stuffed by the end of the meal. But oh, how delicious it was!
We celebrated Soledad’s birthday the next day by singing “Happy Birthday.”
As we ate, the sun set, and the moon came up—a shining silver orb above a sky painted shades of blue, purple, and hot pink.
As we headed back to our rooms, we looked up to see the abbey lighted against the night sky—its magnificent spires rising to heaven.
After yet another uphill hike and climbing many more stairs, we arrived back at our room, tired, sated, and happy to be on the island for the night when all the crowds were gone.
April 15 – Tuesday
We woke early to experience the Office du Lauds, the morning praise service at the abbey.
The sunrise was magnificent as the seagulls chanted a welcome to the dawn. Once more, God painted the sky above the mainland in shades of aqua, lavender, hot pink, and peach. The view from our room of the city below with the gulls wheeling in the morning air was breathtaking.
We had to be at the entrance by 6:50 a.m., so we climbed over 700 steps straight up from our room to the wooden doors. As the priest unlocked and opened the door, the bells began to ring. Another couple of hundred steps, and we finally entered the cathedral itself.
The Order of Jerusalem (Fraternités Monastiques de Jérusalem), a new contemplative religious order based in Paris, has seven monks and six nuns living in the abbey. One of the monks was ringing the bells in the cathedral by hand as we entered. Eight of us from our group plus two others were the only visitors in the church.
At 7:00, the doors were closed and locked, and the service began. Gorgeous choral music sung in French (here is a sample of the music, and another) and a couple of Bible readings later, the service was over, far too soon for me. The experience of beauty makes me weep, and I shed many tears during the service so moving it will probably take me some time to even process the experience. Definitely the hands-down highlight of the trip.
Back down to our room to get our bags, and then the long hike into town for breakfast. Following our meal, we had about an hour to wander the town again before meeting our tour guide for a complete exploration of the town and abbey. Found a few more gifts.
Once again, we made the long hike to the abbey at the top and then wandered the three floors inside the church with a local guide, Jessica, learning the history of this over one-thousand year old fortress.
This time the streets and stairways were so crowded we could hardly move. At the end of our tour, we retrieved our bags and made the final hike to the shuttle. From there, we re-boarded the bus to head to Normandy.
We stopped at an auto-café for lunch. We split a Panini, diet coke, and lemon tart. We finally arrived in Bayeux and the Churchill Hotel.
We only had time to drop off our bags before we made our way to the museum to see the Bayeux tapestry—an embroidered history of the Battle of Hastings over 70 feet long. This was created shortly after the battle in 1066. It is quite amazing.
We stopped by Cathédrale Notre Dame de Bayeux, a lovely church where the organist was practicing.
We returned to the hotel, set up our wi-fi connection, ate a couple of protein bars for dinner (we were both stuffed after all the good food we’d been eating), took care of email, and collected our dirty laundry. Off to the laundromat to get our clothes clean.
We met a lady from Minnesota who showed us how to use the machines. (She had been shown by one of our group!) We also met a couple from New Hampshire, so we had a nice time talking while we waited for the clothes to wash and dry.
Finally back in our room, we put our now-clean clothes away and got ready for bed. After all the stair-climbing, we were pretty tired.
To be continued...