When all you need is a clean place to lay your head at night, F1 (Formula 1) hotels are certainly a cheap and cheerful option, leaving plenty of funds for more extravagant experiences. After getting up this morning we brought everything down to the car and ate a few packed muffins on the road to Le Mont Saint Michel. Years ago my friend showed me pictures of this island inspiration for Minas Tirith in the film adaptation of Lord of the Rings. From that moment it entered my (very long) list of places to visit. When my brother and I decided to make this drive I realised that this visit might just become a reality!
We arrived just after 9:00 in the morning to a nearly empty car park, hoping that we had found the right place. The few others who were there went directly to the shuttle buses waiting at the information centre. After confirming in the centre that we could walk there we made our way down the tree lined path towards the island that had captured my imagination for years. Soon we were on the wide wooden boardwalk that curved its way, dividing the water on either side. It was like stepping closer to a real life fairytale. The tide was still high so we took the narrower entrance leading into the walled town. Normally, the amount of tourist shops and restaurants would be enough to poison the experience of a historic site but even they couldn’t wipe the smile that hadn’t left my face since we first sighted it. We wound around and up until we finally reached the entrance to the Abbey at the very top. It was a quick decision to pay 9 euro each to enter. When else would we find ourselves in that place?
At the top of the stairs we entered a small room with models of the progressive development that is Mont Saint Michel. After a 15 minute wait a tour guide called out that the English tour was starting. Eric and I ended up being the only ones on it. Everyone around us was … French. Our tour guide was excellent at leading us through the history of Mont Saint Michel and how it fits into the history of France. From a humble monastery to a prison during the French revolution, it has seen so much. It was the cloister that first took my breath away. The sun illuminated the green garden in the centre and highlighted the walkways surrounding it. Rarely would you see any of these intact in Ireland anymore. I have been to plenty of ruins. The hour long tour left me thinking that it was time to start learning more about France’s history. Norman castles in Ireland even begin to make more sense. It’s as if I am gathering tiny puzzle pieces that are forming a picture of who we have become as a world with each place I visit and new information I take in.
On recommendation from our tour guide we found La Mouton Blanc for lunch, a dimly lit restaurant just off the main road about halfway up the mont. My french is horrendous but I am aiming to use a few more words each day that I am here. Between my pathetic attempts and his generous few words in English we all ended up with a very pleasant experience. For Eric and I, it was our long awaited full first meal here. When situated in a tourist spot, we probably couldn’t have done much better. The salad was light and refreshing. The lamb stew was delicious. We also finally had some of the cider that Normandy is so well known for. After a last walk along the ramparts from the top we finally started back towards the car. By now the sea had receded and we were left with a view of sand, mud and crowds!
Leaving Mont Saint Michel we started on the longer route towards Versailles. The opening song of Beauty and the Beast became the soundtrack in my mind as we passed green and yellow fields dotted with picturesque farmhouses surrounded with blooming apple trees. We pulled over after about an hour and Eric and I swapped seats for the first time. After a trip around the car park he took direction from the GPS for the next two hours. We pulled up to a petrol station for the first time in France and filled the car before I took the wheel again until we reached our hotel outside of Versailles.
Our last aim of the day was to find a grocery store. What should have taken a few short minutes took closer to 10 as we hit every stop light between here and the large shopping centre with Carrefour in it. We parked quickly and were told at the door that we had five minutes to get in and out. The store was huge and yet we couldn’t find any food! Nearly ready to give up, I spotted the escalators leading down. Sure enough, that was it. We were told by a security guard that we now had four minutes. Talk about efficiency with closing shop! He asked what we needed and then pointed us in the right direction. We made it without a problem. We look forward to another early start tomorrow as we head to the Palace of Versailles, another place that has been on my list for years. I was supposed to get there 14 years ago but due to circumstances, missed the train we’d booked. Time to make up for that now.