You would think finding the world-famous Mont St. Michel would be an easy task..
Friday is upon us again, and I unsealed the “Diary of a Wanderer” papers of my past to bring you today’s story. My friend and I spent a month riding the rails and exploring the nooks and crannies of Europe. We headed to Mont St. Michel on my whim- “it’s not that far” so I told my friend- or it didn’t look like it on the map (yeah, I ended up in Nepal under the same guise- “it’s only next door” (three full travel days later). Won’t I ever learn? It is funny to read how naïve us ‘newbie’ backpackers were back then. Now a smartphone and Uber account would have easily gotten us out of all of our jams. But adventuring is sporadic, spontaneous and serendipitous. If we always traveled according to set plans and itineraries, it would not be so much fun! So here’s today’s Flash Back Friday Tale: Finding Mont St. Michel.
Finding Mont St. Michel
Arrived in Caen (France) at 7:30 in the morning. Rolled off the ferry in search of a customs officer to stamp my passport. He refused flat out. Come on! Won’t you even check my bags?! Took the bus to Caen center, as it was at least ten kilometers away and hiking would have been ridiculous- we may be adventurers, but get real! Decided on the spur of the moment to try and find Mont St. Michel, after all, we were in Northern France!
With rolled out sleeping bags on platform one, we attempt to make up for last night’s lack of sleep, as we have gotten off at the wrong stop, a small town in the countryside, which seemed to consist of a bar and two butcher shops, the latter which never opened. We had five hours till our train to Pontorson and Mont St. Michel. After an exploration of our Lisson (it took all of ten minutes, and we walked real slow), we decided sleep was the best bet to pass the time. I watched as my friend, Lisa, drifted off into an easy slumber, and watched and watched. She managed to sleep through the entire time, two express trains and a lunch rush of eighty business men.
Finally made it! The station sign clearly read ‘Mont St. Michel’, and we stretched our necks to get a glimpse of the peaks and spires of the famous monastery, which we were positive was not that far away. We chucked our packs in the station lockers and trudged into town, following the marked signs to the Mont. Walked for about fifteen minutes, stopped off for a roadside lunch of bread and cheese (we were in France, after all!). While we ate, we watched as hitchhikers on this stretch of road were picked up like popular prostitutes, heading for the unknown. It occurred to me that they were hitchhiking for a reason, and as Mont. St. Michel showed no signs of appearing on the horizon, I too began utilizing the old thumb.
A young French lady, who later told us she was a school teacher, picked us up and drove us the 15 kilometer distance to the rocky island. I began to realize that Europe did not build it’s transport system for us backpackers, we were going to have to do a bit of work to reach these touristy destination spots!
The great spires of Mont St. Michel loomed up ahead, across the causeway that connected the island to the rest of the world. Our teacher insisted taking us the entire way (thank you- aren’t teachers sweet?). We thanked her and stood in awe in the shadow of the medieval monastery, built on the rocky island. We climbed through the labyrinthine narrow stone streets worn smooth by centuries of feet, that wound up through the walled city. However, tourist shops with their plastic souvenirs littered the streets, bestowed a capitalistic reality onto what could have been a magical slice of history. The Mont dates back to the 700’s, and throughout time other holy structures were added and added and added- were the ticky-tacky shops this centuries’ addition? Even though it was a UNESCO Heritage Site, this medieval town had other modern-conveniences- restaurants, lodgings, but off the beaten path links you straight back to the historic past.
The sun dipped in the sky and soon it was time to return to our century and the train station. We set off, on the mercy of our thumbs and hitchhiked back. Two lifts and fifteen minutes to spare, we soon hopped the train to Rennes.’
Thinking about visiting Mont St. Michel?
Here are a few more Flashback Friday Tales: