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St. Malo And Mont St. Michel's
updated: Dec 05, 2009, 9:00 AM
By John McCafferty (aka mcSeas)
After a harrowing night of attempted train robbery (details on request) in Portugal, and an incredibly long day's journey all over France (many trains "fully booked" owing to various European holidays), we finally, and gratefully, landed in the delightful Normandy coastal city of St. Malo.
St. Malo is the ancient equivalent of Carpinteria, my hometown on the Southern California coast. A few differences:
The old city of St. Malo is made of huge pieces of dark gray stone, while Carp's is made of small pieces of cheap wood.
The Normandy fog is bigger, wetter, colder and more constant than Carp's, and it rains often.
And the French don't grow lemons and avocados, because the sun isn't very warm there.
Also, they speak a dialect of French, bake better pastries, and eat more fish. Otherwise not much difference, except that St. Malo is bigger.
We loved the atmosphere in St. Malo - Oceanic without being too cold -- at least in the spring, hospitable folks who were friendly and down to earth. And the Old Town, behind an enormous wall to keep out the Gulf of St. Malo -- part of the English Channel -- and its sailors, looks like a movie set for a medieval thriller. It was almost eerie, strolling around the walled cobblestone streets.
We were there to rest up after our two-day journey from Lisbon, and to take in the historic abbey and church at Mont St. Michel (I've always heard "Mt. St. Michel and Chartres" in the same breath, although Chartres -- with its justly famed cathedral -- is quite a ways inland, while still in Normandy).
Our plan worked beautifully, which sometimes happens. There we were. What IS that monster on the mountain? I read that it's an abbey on top of a mount, built on a sandspit. Google it for more info like this: "At the foot of the abbey stands the village (the wide lower part) with its fortified enclosure -- built on sand! The abbey is built around the granite apex of the Mount. In addition to the Romanesque crypts and nave there is a flamboyant Gothic choir."
Well, that's good to know!
The Mont is like something Walt Disney would have built if he'd employed stonemasons instead of cartoonists.
It's a pleasant and somewhat scenic hour-long bus ride up from St. Malo to this magnificent rock pile. Along the way, the houses are interesting: They seem to be built out of small rocks carried up from the beach, supported by wooden timbers. Construction in the days of old.
Amusing, if less interesting, was the excited chatter of a couple of teen-agers in love, or at least in like. Seated in front of me, they annoyed me at first with their gabble, but it got funny, even when they caught me mocking them with silly faces I made for Sharon's amusement.
We changed buses in Avranches, and a couple of miles later were out on the grassy plain leading to Mont St. Michel.
Tour buses pour into a turn-around area at the foot of the Mont, after passing a long parking lot, and we gawking folks from around the globe can begin our trek and strenuous climb.
Cost of entry is about 8.5 euros, 4 more for a listener's guide. Wonderful view from up there, and the view looking UP this sculptured marvel is about as impressive, in its way.
They've thrown in at least one really good restaurant, where we lunched.
Tourists strode placidly up, up, up . . . a rising tide of people. So many we could have walked on their shoulders. The famous tidewater was way out yonder when we were there. Later we, and a few other visitors with some leftover energy wandered out on the sand.
It was easy to visualize the surf hissing and roaring in to surround and isolate the structure, before the authorities relocated sand bars and built up a long driveway and parking spaces. You won't get stranded now.
My most memorable view: Drinking coffee in a perfect little bar-cafe, I stared into a small sort of dungeon that comprised the ocean side of the cafe's wall. Recessed in the thick wall was a barred window with an appearance that somehow said "life sentence." It was a couple of feet wide and gave me a chill, it looked so . . . PERMANENT. Imagine -pacing in that dungeon until . . . forever. Looking out at the tide coming in, going out . . . but you are high and dry. Medieval justice. Ye gods.
Next: Prague, another magnificent work of man.
P.S. In answer to a recent comment: McSeas' stories are not "travel destination" stories: They're merely observations, anecdotes, whatever, from recent memories and notes. If you want, "Fun Things to Do in Krakow," etc., get a guidebook.
P.P.S. More photos are available in www.picturetrail.com/mccafferty.
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