A French Argument with Mother Nature
Mont Saint-Michel Travel Blog› entry 6 of 6 › view all entries
A tug of war has been going on for centuries between the French duchies of Normandy and Brittany. This argument centers on a sheer sided granite rock which rises eighty meters out of the sea and is called, Le Mont Saint-Michel.
The historically irregular course of the Couesnon River, which forms the border between Normandy and Brittany, has alternated between two beds on the north and south of Mont Saint-Michel. It eventually settled on the south bed and inspired the saying, "The Couesnon's folly placed Mont Saint-Michel in Normandy", since the "Mont" was just to the Norman side of the river's mouth.
As we were mapping out today's journey over breakfast, our friend, André filled us in on Brittany's more recent (relatively speaking) triumph: the acquisition of "Le Mont" Apparently the fickle Couesnon had finally been seduced to the north bed and now presented its ancient gift to the Bretons, much to the chagrin of the Normans! It was now crucial for Normandy to regain one of its prime tourist attractions!
Over the years, the tides surrounding "Le Mont" have carried enormous quantities of silt and sediment into the bay which has caused large sandbars to form.
So, is it just coincidence or do the Normans have an ulterior motive in initiating a series of projects to once again drive the sediment out to sea and perhaps reroute that reluctant river back into its "rightful" place!
Now, on our own pilgrimage to "Le Mont", we were starting to become familiar with the sights along the autoroute.
In order to avoid the lunch crowds inside the walls of "Le Mont", we thought we'd stop at a restaurant on the outskirts of town. Once again, we had underestimated the French by thinking that we could actually frequent a public establishment between the sacred hours of noon and 2:00pm, even if it was for lunch!
The approach, by car, to "Le Mont" was spectacular if not awe inspiring.
We were fortunate in our decision to visit "Le Mont" during the "off" season. We had heard that during the summer, tourists could stand in line for several hours before finally inching their way up to the front gates of the city.
If you manage to get through the tourist traps of expensive restaurants, snack bars, knick-knack shops and small hotels strategically placed along the narrow, winding street, you eventually find yourself at the base of the Abbey. I could only imagine how miserable it would be to negotiate that strip of commercialism during the height of the summer season with lines at the public toilets (which cost 40 centimes for the privilege), competing for space with lines snaking out of the three or four restaurants within the city walls.
As one ascends, the views from "Le Mont" are indeed breathtaking. From the base of the Abbey to the estuary below is a drop of nearly 80 meters, an uneasy feeling for the faint of heart. We were fortunate to have a wonderfully, rain free day which gave us a clear view across the bay and out toward the English Channel.
We decided to pay our dues (literally) and fork over the 8.50 (each) in Euros to take a tour of the Abbey.
With book in hand, I led our private tour through the increasingly frigid stone chambers. This room is where the monks ate. This room is where the knights were received. This room is where the provisions were kept. And this room is where my frozen fingers were going to break off into little pieces and fall on the stone floor if we don't get out of here soon! If the wind hadn't been whistling through the slits in the walls, we might have been able to stay a little longer to appreciate the history before us.
At the end of our descent into the late afternoon, we rewarded ourselves with lunch at the only snackbar that was open on "Le Mont". It was no bargain, to be sure, at nearly 6 Euros for a bit of ham and hard boiled egg tucked into a pita bread pocket. As we sat on a bench, eating our meal across from, "La Mère Poulard", a family exited the restaurant. I guess I was staring just a little too long at the gentleman wearing the pointed hat with feather, trying to decide if he was an Austrian tourist, when he locked eyes with me. We looked at each other for a moment longer, then he shook his head with disbelief and said in French, "Well, THAT was expensive!"
I was ready for him though, and the French flowed easily off my tongue as I responded, "That is why we are sitting out here eating these sandwiches!" One small moment of triumph indeed!