Day 13: Mont Saint Michel

A bit of an update to yesterday’s entry. After looking at hotels that I could book in Paris I found I couldn’t get one for less than 60 euro(almost 80$!) If I had booked a day earlier I could spend much less. This is one of the problems of traveling without an itinerary, if you take longer than you expect to get to town you can be royally screwed. Instead because I was wanting to do a day trip out to Mt. St. Michel at some point, why not look at Rennes, there isn’t anything out there, but its Brittany’s major train hub. Sure enough I found a place (though far from town center) for 31 euros. I booked the hotel and went and changed my ticket. It took me quite a while to find the place because it was so far from town that the buses stopped about a mile or so short of it. Anyways it had a large room, and a bathroom and what not, so that was nice and all. One problem I found out when I arrived, the buses on Sunday don’t begin until 9, so I either had to hike like 30 minutes to the metro, call a taxi, wait till after 9, or hitchhike. I decided the walking was the best bet.

So this morning after checking out I had to walk a long ways to the metro station, which somewhat delayed when I could leave for Mt. St. Michel. I can tell I’ve gotten a lot more fit since the trip started because I wasn’t really bothered by it physically, just a little bit of annoyance from all the weight added from my laptop and associated stuff on my left shoulder, but nothing like I felt walking so far in Portugal. I think I can visually see a bit of difference too which is nice. I’m sure my diet in France of sandwiches and water helps haha.

As it turns out the later start didn’t really slow me down much, the first train wouldn’t leave until 1:30, and would drop me 10km from St. Michel, however there was a bus I could take directly there for 8 euros, and leaves at 10:30. I decided on the bus, sure it costs more, but I didn’t want to get messed up like on my way to Chenonceaux that first day, and I really didn’t want to get messed up heading to Paris since I had a reservation and needed to check in by 11. I lucked out with the bus this morning too in that apparently you could buy tickets, and though I got to the bus on time, people started lining up before I knew it, and I had to quickly jump in line, then a large group of Japanese tourists showed up, and they all for the most part had tickets, and were let on first. I found myself getting the third to last seat on the bus, the people just behind me had to wait until the next bus in an hour or so. The bus ride was about and hour and a half, but was well worth it since the timing as it would turn out couldn’t be better. When we left Rennes it was cloudy, and stayed that way until about 10 minutes after our arrival, then the clouds broke up and there was plenty of blue. The wind was really blowing too, at times I would have trouble holding the camera still enough to get a picture. I kind of wish I had brought one of those 6′ ultra portable tripods, I could have lashed it to the back of my pack and been good to go probably, but how funny would that be with this little ultra portable camera, it sort of defeats the purpose huh? I think one day when I have the money I’d like to get a nice digital SLR camera with the lens shields, bigger field of vision, and longer zoom, and more sensitive CCD. A lot of the ones these days come with the little LCD screen and the ability to create and store settings, along with some default ones like my camera. Too bad they cost a fortune, but photography seems like it could be a really great hobby someday when I have time for one.

Arriving in Mt. St. Michel I was struck with how big it was, you could see it coming up over the flat farmlands of Brittany for miles. Its like a giant granite rock in the middle of some very flat farmland, and build clinging to it a ramparts and a gorgeous church at the very top. I think that the artists that designed some of the castles in the Lord of the Rings must have been here and seen this, it has some of that same awe inspiring feel. This was one of the highlights of the trip so far for me along with the beaches of Lagos, the Moorish Castle of Sintra, and the Chateau Chenonceaux, though I’m sure the mass of photos that will accompany this would give a clue haha. Oh but I guess here as good of a place to remark as any that due to a lack of upload bandwidth or internet in my room I haven’t been able to upload the high res images most days, though because the low res images used in the page are a lot smaller than the 4 Mpix high res, I have been able to keep up with those. I think at the time of this writing all of Spain and Portugal are uploaded, with maybe 10 in the France section.

Entering Mt. St. Michel I first went looking for the tourist office hoping that they could hold onto my stuff, but for some stupid reason on what I’m told is one of the busiest days for the year for Mt. St.Michel (because school lets out for summer break today here in France), the place wasn’t open. What the hell… Anyway so I had no choice but to carry all of my worldly goods here in Europe on my back around a place with mountain in it’s name. As it would turn out the better physical fitness I mentioned early also was very noticeable here, I wasn’t at any point climbing all of the stairs and what not even with my backpack and what not ever winded or tired, though about time for lunch my shoulders hurt a bit, which was a good indication it was time for a bite. I had no clue where to start, so I just wandered up the first set of stairs and found myself on my way up to the Abbey at the top. Its really a strange feeling walking around this town of population 45(according to Lonely Planet), as all of the buildings are built sort of on terraces clinging to the side of the mountain, with small winding stairways from one to the other. Looking nearly straight up you see the tall walls of the Abbey.

To enter the Abbey itself costs 12 euro, but only 5 if you’re a student under 24, yay. The price of admission was worth it too in my mind, I mean how often do you get to see this sort of thing? Well I guess if you live in Ponterson 10 km away, you can probably see it every day if you had the money/time/desire, but still!!! The Abbey feels more like a castle than a place of worship in most places, but then you enter the chapel itself and suddenly you’re surrounded by people in prayer with colored light coming in from the stained glass windows. It just so happens I timed my trip perfectly and by total accident because today was Sunday and here I was in Mt. St. Michel’s chapel during Sunday morning mass. I took a recording of the choir with my mp3 player, but in the middle of it I knocked over my backpack which makes a terrible crashing sound in the recording. I need to edit and compress it before I can post it here, but hopefully soon it will be up. Moving on I saw all of the other rooms, some of them were just large empty spaces that once was the dinning hall, or the transcription room, etc. Then the Abbey opened up into a little atrium with grasses and flowers, which had a really amazing sort of feel to it, there were also windows looking out to sea. I guess I should have mentioned that during high tide Mt. St. Michel is an island connected to the main land by an old causeway. Continuing on I passed a hall where the light seem to play off the stone walls in an interesting way, I tried to take a photo with really long exposure time using the gate that was meant to keep us out as a tripod and it seems to have come out well. Saint Michel for us heathens is the Archangel in charge of the Heavenly Militia, and according to the story came to the bishop who had St. Michel built in his sleep. According to the pamphlet I’m not going to be bringing back because I don’t have room for all these superfluous pieces of paper, worship of him began as far back as the the 400s, but didn’t spread to the west until the 500s, and this particular place of worship was made at the beginning of the 700s, spreading further with the counter to protestantism. There is a statue of him at the very top of the chapel clad in gold, but its very hard to get a picture of it, or the gargoyles that line much of the Abbey with the limited illumination range of cameras, hopefully we will be able to take HDR images soon and get around that a bit. Most of my photos turned out pretty washed out, too much light in the background causing the image to overexpose.. Auto settings didn’t work too well today, and its not something you can notice too well with the display while walking around.

After leaving the Abbey I wound my way back down to the “village” below, my shoulders began to hurt a little so I found a nice place to sit down, went and bought a lemon tart and a bottle of water for lunch and let down my baggage. The place I chose was a little outcropping of the granite the mountain is made of, the buildings and the wall of rock behind me formed a nice wind break and I could enjoy the warmth of the sun watching people pass as I enjoyed my break.

After “lunch” was over I started winding my way towards the exit along the side of town I hadn’t had a chance to see. It was really picturesque. I just wish I had been a bit quicker by 15 minutes haha. As it would turn out I missed the bus back to Rennes by just 15 minutes, and would have to wait a bit over 2 hours for the next one. I tried to ask around about how far Ponterson was, or if any buses were going to another city sooner. Turns out Ponterson was too long to walk well with all my stuff, in retrospect I probably could, but I would have been hurtin’. There was a bus to Ponterson, but it wasn’t coming net for another 3 hours! I decided to wait for the bus to Rennes since I would need to go there anyway from Ponterson (and who knows how often there are trains) to catch a TGV to Paris. About 30 minutes until the bus was due to arrive I noticed there were really dark clouds to the west along the beach, and it looked like they were dropping rain, and the damn wind was blowing west to east.. right to us. Lucky for me I had an umbrella with me, but the wind made it difficult to use. Sure enough the rain arrived quickly with the high winds, and I had to take shelter in an archway.

I arrived back in Rennes by 4:30, but when I went to buy my ticket to Paris there were no empty seats until the 7pm train… I found myself waiting again. I had completely used up my camera battery between the trip around Tours yesterday and today’s excursion to St. Michel, so at least waiting for the train I could charge that. It looks like for the first time since I arrived in France I’ll be having dinner at the same time as the French.

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