Thursday, April 23, 2015

St Malo, Mont St Michel, and obsessive photographing

I've finally been able to upload all of the photos from two of my stops earlier this week - Saint Malo and Mont Saint Michel. These were my two destinations following the D-Day beaches. To say that I was and might now be even more obsessed with Mont Saint Michel is perhaps an understatement. Ever since I saw a picture of it a few months ago I knew that regardless of where else I went while in France I had to make it there. The full album of photos is here - usual warning... there are a lot and I have not edited. 

Obsessed with this view

First I'll start with St Malo. This is a port city on the coast in Brittany and the old part is a fantastic walled city dating back to the 12th century. You can walk the ramparts, wander the narrow little streets, and when the tides are low you can walk what feels like out hundreds of meters and access old forts that are otherwise accessible by boat. I meandered around for a while, grabbed a bite to eat, enjoyed the sun, picked up a few shells, overall very successful. This city is also the setting of a book I read recently, and that my mom was reading while in Paris, All the Light We Cannot See (apparently it just won the Pulitzer Prize). It's set in WWII when the city was absolutely destroyed by bombings. A fabulous read but also then to wander the streets and walls I was attempting to picture the characters, especially the main young girl who is blind. 

A view from walking the ramparts
Now on to Mont Saint Michel. The views alone made it totally worth the trip. The Mont itself is interesting but honestly taking it in from a distance and seeing how the tides and lighting change the look is my most favorite part. When you're right up close and wandering through it's narrow little lanes it feels like any totally touristy spot. But from afar it looks magical. It definitely looks like somewhere that Disney would have gotten inspiration for their castles. However, it's not a castle at all. It's mostly an Abbey that was built and then built on top of again and again and over the years had numerous uses beyond religions ones. The abbey tour is quite interesting to take and see all of the various rooms and architecture. Also, thinking about people in the middle ages and throughout the years making pilgrimages and wandering through the sand (much like quicksand apparently) at low tides to get on to the Mont is pretty amazing. 

All along this coast the tides are some of the greatest in the world. So like I saw in Saint Malo and at the D-Day beaches the high and low tide differences are insane. For Mont St Michel that's what gives it it's appeal. At certain times of day it is pretty much completely surrounded by water and then at the low tide it's sand all around. There are signs posted just outside the entrance about vehicles needing to be moved before the next tide and it has the times on it. See below for two of the same views at differing times of day:

Tip, if you're going to Mont St Michel and staying at one of the hotels that are right before the causeway/bridge, or even one of the ones on the Mont itself (though I'm not sure I would want to actually stay on it), make sure you get the code for the gate before you pull up to it :) First, Google Maps was thoroughly confused and I felt like Clark Griswold on the scene from National Lampoon's European Vacation where they can't get out of the traffic circle in London and he just keeps saying 'Look kids Big Ben, Parliament'. They're doing loads of construction and recently blocked access beyond a new public parking lot to only allow buses that take you the 3 or 4km further to the Mont and people with hotel or restaurant reservations to drive on this stretch of road. The way Google maps thinks is the way isn't really the way anymore so it kept telling me to go around and go left or right when I couldn't. I ultimately realized that where I needed to go was beyond this new gate, but then for the second issue... I had no code. After having to push the help button on the intercom I was informed that I needed to call the hotel and get a code. Good lord! So I called (who knows how much that phone call will cost) and viola I got my one time use code and could proceed.

The construction that they're doing is necessary from an ecological standpoint (they're working to clear away years and years of sediment deposits due to a causeway and an old dam that would very soon have made the Mont no longer an island!) but it's also going to ultimately be quite nice and not having loads of cars driving right up to the entrance is great. They've made bike and pedestrian paths as well so given that you get nice weather like I did you can walk to the actual Mont entrance. 

The hotel I'd booked was one of just a few that are on the stretch of road from the gate to where a new dam is just before you get to a recently constructed bridge and then can actually access the Mont.  It turned out to be a great location because I could just walk out the door and wander up to the Mont and the new dam has a great viewing area for the obsessive sunset and evening pictures I was taking. Definitely one of the best views. I did a short run the morning before I left so that I could get up close one more time but also really see the distance with the GPS. It was almost a mile an a half from my hotel to the entrance. I'd walked that about six times in the previous day and a half - no need to take the shuttle bus when I can just walk I kept saying! 

I took about 200 photos and a majority of them are various views at day, sunset, and almost darkness from the dam's viewing platform. I'll eventually filter through them and select a few of the best ones so apologies if you look at the album now, it's gonna be repetitive. I think that the very last picture I took is my favorite and no editing necessary other than to straighten it a little because I couldn't prop the camera up totally flat to keep it still in the darkness. 

I'll call my visit to Mont St Michel totally satisfying and successful!

From the West Coast I'm heading inland through the Loire Valley to check out some Chateaus, find the hill top town of Sancerre, and then make my way south. The south of France is calling - like pretty much anywhere I go if there's water I'll be there! I won't let a few driving mishaps along the way slow me down :) 

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