On the Mont St. Michel
After a day of sailing, we have now arrived in the port city of Le Havre in France. A trip to Paris does not appeal to us, but three hours drive through the green Normandy with the many fields and countless hedges that prevent the fertile soil from sweeping away through the often pouring rain.
The gray natural stone houses, which are so typical for this region, fit perfectly into the little inhabited area. Then the first fellow-traveler calls: “I can see it, the Mont St. Michel!”
The history of the Mont St. Michel
In fact, back there, very small it rises up out of the plain. Now it is also time that Frédérique, our fantastic German-speaking tour guide, tells us about the origins of the monastery on this huge rock in the sea.
In 708, Archangel Michael appeared three times to a bishop. He wanted him to build a chapel in his honor. The bishop did not really want to do so and instead made a pilgrimage to Constantinople. When he returned home after a year, the landscape in his homeland had changed fundamentally. From the once almost impenetrable forest, where three high hills were hidden, a mud flat arose now with three small islands in the sea. A great flood had changed the entire coast. This is the version of our tour guide, in Wikipedia it is written somewhat different. Everyone should feel free to make his own decision…
In honor of the Archangel, a monastery was built on one of these rocky islands. At low tide it can be reached on foot from the mainland. At high tide, it is well protected against attackers in the crashing waves.
On the way to Mont St. Michel
About 50 people still live in the small village at the foot of the monastery Mont St. Michel. They live from tourism, which is booming in the summer months, of course. Up to 3.5 million people a year visit this tiny island, which has about 830 meters in circumference.
Some hotels are built at the coast that their guests have the best view over the salt pastures with their white sheep over to the rock. We are lucky. Not only the clouds have vanished but a bright blue sky can be seen. With an average of 200 rainy days a year this is by no means self-evident. There are also relatively few cars and buses on the huge parking lots, which were built far from Mont St. Michel.
From here, the tourists are transported with free shuttle buses or chargeable horse-drawn carriages over the now asphalted dam to the island. If you walk quickly you need about 40 minutes, as we test ourselves on the way back.
“On the rock”
Now we are standing on the rock in the surf, in front of the entrance to the village. It is only a small opening in the city wall. Frédérique, however, leads us by; we begin the ascent through the entrance for the gendamerie.
There is nothing going on here, and she can lead us uphill faster than along and through the narrow streets and the other tourists.
Before we enter the actual monastery, we have to present our tickets and the contents of our handbags. Tickets can be purchased online or at the official entrance to the village.
First we gather at the highest point of the monastery, on the square in front of the entrance to the monastery chapel. Since today is Sunday, there is just a well-attended church service.
So we get to know all facts out here in the sun and with a very light breeze of wind. I admit, I prefer to step on the balustrade of the platform and look at the endlessly wadding landscape.
Not far away is the second of the three resulting Islands. It is an uninhabited retreat for birds. Many people are wandering in more or less large groups through the tidal flats, which certainly has its perils because of its tidal rivers.
Frédérique is finished and leads us quietly through the chapel to a side exit. Souvenirs are sold here. Then we stand in the beautiful cloister of the convent. The church bells are ringing the hour loudly. In the middle used to be the herbal garden of the monks, who also treated pilgrims. In the French Revolution the monks were expelled and the monastery became a prison later.
Then we stand in the former refectory. I can well imagine how, at every meal, a monk read to his confreres, who took their meals here in silence. Through a small door and over a steep staircase it goes downstairs into the huge hall, where they not only cooked their meals, but also the king and other guests were received.
We continue downward. Below the church stand the huge columns, which also carry the church. It is the apse of the church building.
We see the high wooden wheel that brought goods and food through the inclined elevation into the monastery. In it, men had to step hard in order to put it into motion. The last great room we enter is also the end of our tour. Through the high windows, enough light comes in, so the monks could copy the scriptures here again and again.
In the village
We now step out into the sun again. A small path leads us to the village. Against the rising hunger, Frédérique has recommended a crêpe or the hearty variant, a gallet. In a small bistro my husband and I gratefully settle down and opt for a Gallet au fromage. That is a dark crêpe of buckwheat flour with the famous Norman cheese, which is hidden in the folded crêpe. This specialty is really tasty and feds us well.
So strengthened we stroll downhill through the streets and small shops. We still have a little time until the departure, so we enjoy the warm sun on top of the city wall. Slowly the sea comes back and gently rolls on the rock.
A large number of French scouts have gathered in the large forecourt. The scouts now form a huge circle, show their standards and sing a song together.
The sun on our faces we walk over the dam to the parking lot. This visit was really worth it!
The three hours’ drive to the ship pass quite quickly, not only because I close my eyes for some moments and dream a bit of the Mont St. Michel …