Mike Strachan’s e-mail journal — Entry #7, from France
Received 28 April 2008
My motto should be “If you come to a fork in the road, take it!” I think I've driven half way across France, and I'm barely out of Normandy, with all the times I've taken a wrong turn and had a new adventure. But today went pretty well.
At breakfast, my host Sondrine suggested I stay at her place to make my travels simpler. To say I'm delighted is an understatement. This will make things easier for my trip to Rennes and Tours, and solve a security problem had I had my suitcase in the car. Problem solved. What great hosts! Sondrine said “Grace à son pere et son oncle, nous sommes libre.” — “Thanks to your father and your uncle, we are free.”
I used the morning to do e-mails, etc, and after lunch Sondrine dropped me at the train station where I bought my ticket for tomorrow to Rennes (only €13.90 on the TGV) and I rented a car right there at the station. It's expensive, but the alternatives are almost or more expensive, without the convenience. The “all or nothing” insurance is about one third of the rental charge. They are in the insurance business more than the car rental business.
It's almost 80 km to Mont St. Michel partly by the coast road and partly by the Route National. There are pretty scenes all along it, such as a small islet just off the beach with a big house on it that occupies the whole thing, accessible only by foot at low tide. That must be fun in winter. You can see the abbey tower from a long way away, and I get some good shots on the way in. The low tide scene reminds me of the Bay of Fundy. Parking costs €4, and fortunately the loo is right inside the gate and it costs €0.40, with a person in a wicket to collect the money. This place has been here for a while, for inside the gate are two old huge cannon, and a plaque which states “abandoned by the English captain Scully in 1434”. Cars and buses are pouring in — the place is a major tourist trap (or, in Sondrine's words, “attrape de tourisme”).
The lower part of the winding stone roadway is lined with shops and restaurants which sell everything from soup to nuts (want Mont St. Michel crockery? It's here). The roadway only goes so far, then it’s a series of staircases and flat sections. By the time I get to the base level of the abbey my legs are complaining. It turns out the abby itself is now closed — I got there 15 minutes too late. The view from this level, about 150 feet or more above the sand, provides a wider view, but I still can't see the ocean — it must be a long way away. People are walking on the sand below and look tiny.
On the way back down I buy a crêpe and orange drink to restore some energy, and found a brochure with pictures of the interior of the abbey. People are still streaming in, and buses are still arriving even though the place closes at 6 PM (it’s now 5:30), or so I thought. I made it back to the car just before another cloudburst. You can see the dark clouds coming from a long way off.
On the return journey to St. Malo I retraced my route to find the suburb of Rotheneuf, where I saw a sign that said Manoir de Jacques Cartier. It is a large-ish manor with walls all around but it’s private property, owned by an association based in St. Malo and Quebec and it's closed. There is a statue of Cartier in the town with an inscription Découvreur du Canada. Thank you Jacques. There is also, near the statue, a patisserie, so of course I have to test their wares, and select an apple rhubarb crumble. Very good.
I arrived back at the Davy's about 7:30 PM — an early night, to find that they have not yet served dinner, so I’m just in time. Their two youngest daughters are there for dinner, and test their English pronunciation with me. The word “rewarding” is hard for them to say. And Sondrine has bought me a gift (I bought her one earlier) — a box of Mont St. Michel butter cookies. What great hosts — I'm going to miss it here.
Tomorrow I'm off to Rennes and Tours for a look at the cathedral and the chateau in the Loire valley (which appear on several stamps of France, e.g. Chenonceaux, if I have the spelling right.
That's all for now, travel and history freaks.