Apologies for the delay in getting to part 2 of my French odyssey – been a bit busy. Anyway dearest reader I left you at the point in the travel log where I was on the coach from Rennes to Mt St Michel.
There are some places that just get under your skin and Mt St Michel like Venice is one of those places. I remember going as a child – please remember in the v early 90s there was no Harry potter or Hogwarts, but as a child it was like entering such a place, the narrow shop line path that goes up the mount has been trodden for centuries by pilgrims heading for the abbey of St Michel.
The roman had used the Mont be ore the first monastic building was erected in the 8th century AD. The mount was known as Monte tombe. It got its name Mt St Michel when the bishop of Avranches, St Aubert was said to have seen Archangel Michael on the site. The archangel told the bishop to build a monastery on the site. Legend has it that the bishop initially ignored Michels request to build an abbey on the site until Michel burnt a hole in the bishop’s skull with his finger.
In 933 the Mont was annexed by William I duke of Normandy and claimed it for the province of Normandy. In 1067 a year after the Norman invasion of Britain the Mont came out a supported William the Conquer in his claim for the English throne. The mount is also depicted in the world famous tapestry in Bayeux. It was during the Norman Conquest that the isle was given a similar site in Cornwall where a sister abbey was built and still stands to this day.
In 1423 the British tried in vain to seize the mount as part of the 100 years’ war but to no avail. The popularity of the mount declined after the reformation swept through Europe and by the time of the French Revolution there were v few monks left on the Isle. It was after the revolution the abbey was converted to a goal for high profile prisoners however it was the French novelist Victor Hugo who asked Napoleon to stop using the Mont as a prison. The prison was closed in 1863 and it was restored as national monument of France in 1874. In 1979 a new order of monks and nuns came to live on the island and the site was declared an unesco world heritage site.
I was for the first time staying in a hotel actually on the Mont. It wasn’t the prettiest place from the street but my hotel was clean bright had friendly staff and my room had excellent views of the abbey at night.
I arrived about 3 and by the time I had found the hotel, checked in and freshened up it was 4pm. We decided to have early dinner late lunch and headed to a place for muscles and chips with cidre and flambé crepes in Grande Mariner with vanilla ice cream for pudding. A quick wonder around the numerous gift shops and an early night were required.
Slight lie in and breakfast in the same place that we had the muscles and chips brought us to 9.30am when the abbey opens off peak. Armed with an audio guide I stepped back in time to the monastic hay day of the abbey and explored the monastery and prison.
My highlights were the cloisters with the cute windows looking out on the bay and the monks privies. The refectory was the food was served to the sound of bible readings in silence and the chapel where the monastic community worshiped with its vaulted roof and Norman features.
After the tour came the gift shop, was seal kit post cards pencil, key rings and biscuits were brought. Next were the shops on route back down the road from the abbey to the hotel. More biscuits, sweets, medieval tapestry dog cushion cover, replacement garnet ring Celtic stud earrings and necklace were brought. After all that shopping, lunch was needed and I ate at a restaurant on the mount with a sheep on its sign. I had the best roast lamb local cidre and crème Brule.
After all that food and shopping we headed back to our room, where I wrote my post cards and we debated what to do next. After a while it was decided that we needed to walk off our big lunch and left the Mont to go to the small hotel and camping complex 2 Km away. The walk was good and the small supermarket had fruit, body lotion, stamps and most importantly Chocolate! There was a small shuttle that took us back to the Mont. As we returned a group of French pilgrims that looked like a Christian youth group made their way up the street chanting and singing psalms. It was melodic and soothing and the headed to the small parish church rather than the abbey. We slipped into the church and listened to the beautiful singing.
The last night on the Mont was pizza slices and temped beer and clementine’s a shower and repacking bags due to the shopping. Next morning the sunshine shone and I checked out and caught the coach back to Rennes.
After the quaint chintz of the hotel on the mount I checked into the luxury of a chained hotel. Located by the train and coach station it was perfect. I was checked in straight away and although the double room was small it was perfectly formed.
Early much was crepe with chicken mushrooms cream and cheese followed my nutella crepe and cidre.
After eating we went for a walk, used the small metro and had a mooch around but as the room was too good and the TV had English channel (CNN but beggars can’t be choosers) we headed back via the train station for tickets to Bayeux and from Bayeux to Paris and an English paper and some junk food, namely pringles and milka chocolate.
We were so lucky as The Artist was premiering on a French channel so we watched eating junk food. I had forgotten how good it was!
We headed to the medieval district. Apart from this little part of the city the rest of the city is v modern v dirty and v commercial however I was touched to see the regions national theatre was based in the city, shame it was advertising mamma mia! I confess I tried v hard to help the Euro out of trouble with 2 Longcamp bags, polo neck, several pairs of tights, perfume, make up, tops, hair pins & brush.
Lunch was good, it was in a chained restaurant localised to the region that celebrated the areas food. I had amazing crepe with smoked salmon, cidre and chocolate crepe with coffee ice cream and coffee. Served on slates it was slow service but good to see it well used. Once again the evening was spent repacking suitcases to fit shopping in. I will be frank Rennes is nothing special there are prettier places in this part of the world.
After lie in late breakfast (and a make it yourself lunch out of breakfast items mainly baguette cheese and mini croissants) a late. Check out and a dash to the ATM, we caught our train to Bayeux. It was a 3 hour journey. Lunch was consumed, books English papers read music listened to and then 5 minutes before Bayeux it starts to rain like a monsoon. The train misses the platform its frankly a farce! The small station had a sign for a cab and a number that was no longer in action and my travelling companion had become unwell when he had basically had a lot of cheese with a tiny amount of bread for lunch.
Our hotel was based near the cathedral that can actually be seen from everywhere in the town which is surrounded by a ring road. Eventually soaked to the skin from a thunderstorm, we reach out hotel (a French fawlty towers) I dried off and headed out to the Bayeux tapestry alone leaving the cheese monkey to feel sick alone. This for me had been what I was most looking forward to. in my spare time I do embroider (I confess I haven’t recently) I have dreamed about this piece of cloth for years. Your given an audio in your chosen language and slowly you walk along as the guide tell you what’s depicted. I wasn’t just me who spotted the large amount of “excited” stallions and the detail of their phallus’ a small French girl must have said something pointing and swiftly smacked on the back of the legs. Also a Welsh man gets Quote of the Holiday when he said; ” what do they mean that they don’t know if it English or French, it clearly French due to the horse c*cks – I’ve seen Blackadder I have” Sadly you are not allowed to take pictures. The exhibition upstairs was ok but didn’t compare to the main event and I headed for the gift shop, and brought post cards books pen and a rain poncho.
The 1st of November was a French bank holiday so I was lucky to find a small creperie to eat dinner before returning to the luxury of BBC1. Next morning we checked out left bags and hunted for food in Bayeux. A small café with a grump female server throw croissant bread and coffee at us before we started our walk to the British war commentary in Bayeux.
Bayeux was the first town liberated after DDay and was the capital of Liberated France for a while. After 45 minutes of bad map reading due to me, we stumbled upon the war commentary. Like all British Commonwealth graveyards it was beautifully kept. War is such a waste of life and seeing grave of boys aged 16, 17, 18 and 19 years always make me v sad. The memorial for the lost souls across the road was simple engraved marble with the name of the men that feel and have never been found with beautiful engraved columns. The whole place was very restful and peaceful and a great place to reflect and think.
Not fancying the tanks and war museum, yes I know but war doesn’t float my boat, I headed back to explore Bayeux great Norman cathedral. En route I found a shop run by Benedictine monks and nuns and found some extraordinary rub and soap. The rub that tingles when applied was just the type of thing I can imagine Cadfael using in the Ellis Peters books.
The cathedral is very Norman and you can see that it was this grand architecture that inspired the builders of our own great churches from the middle ages. The amazing glass windows the volts the many side alters the lay out of the chancel and the nave were amazing!
I love the way that the coloured light from the stain glass window dances on the stone flag stones of the nave it is like walking through a rainbow.
I easily spent an hour wandering around the tranquillity of this Norman marvel looking at the windows and the side chapels.
Then it was the last meal before the train to Paris and we had a meal in style. Set menu at Le Pommier was lovely. Baked mushroom chicken and bacon in a cheese sauce and grilled, followed by chicken in mushroom sauce chips (crispy on outside fluffy in middle and cooked veg, followed by my favourite Crème Brule, washed down with a bottle of cider and evian and coffee. Absolutely yummy.
Stuffed to the rafters back to the hotel with a few bits of shopping namely a dress and shoes and more tights, we plodded to the train station and caught a 3 hour train to Paris St lazar. I had never come out of this station or gone from this station and was surprised to find a multi storey mall in the station. (Must remember for future visits!)
Arrived back at hotel Odessa at 8pm – still full from lunch fruit and crisps consisted of dinner followed by NCIS in French.
As I had a lunch time train back to St Pancreas I had a late breakfast in my favourite café, extra coffee, and a mooch around the Saturday Marche in Montparnasse. Arriving at Garde de nord with an hour to spare, fond farewells were said as I slipped through customs.
It was an amazing history and leisurely break and I enjoyed it all. I got to see the world famous tapestry, drink cidre Breton and stay on an UNESCO world heritage site and eat v well indeed.
France like Italy are part of my soul and I will always elect to go there than America, the food the life style and the people are just lovely and I look forward to some more adventures very soon!!