Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Tuesday, 10th October – Mont St Michel to Graye-sur-Mer

As breakfast wasn’t served until 9am, our plan was to go down to watch the sunrise at Mont St Michel and with any luck get some nice foggy photos (the sun doesn’t rise until 8.13am, so not as noble an intention as it sounds), but in the end we didn’t wake up in time. Oops! We arrived at around 10, to discover we were not allowed to park on the causeway, but had to park on the mainland – and walk 1.8km to Mont St Michel. Walk!! 1.8km!! And back again at the end of the visit! Our feet were aching in anticipation. Turns out if we’d arrived a bit later we could have parked on the flats which appear at low tide – but bye-bye car if you over stay and the tide comes back in!

However we did manage the walk and there was still a bit of fog for our photos. And we were very glad we did. The Abbey of Mont St Michel is on the top of the island, below is a village (mostly hotels and restaurants). You enter by the old gate, and walk up the single narrow cobbled street, lined by tacky souvenir stalls and expensive restaurants. Could be off-putting, but its kind of authentic, because in the middle ages pilgrims coming to the abbey would buy souvenirs of their visit, so nothing much has changed. After climbing a few million large stone steps (well, the top is 80 metres above the sea) you enter the abbey, a wonderful, light-filled, building, part Romanesque (11th century), part Gothic (16th century). We arrived as a small group of monks and nuns entered the abbey to do whatever monks and nuns do, and were entertained (though I doubt that was the intention!) by their wonderful singing – clearly you need to be able to hold a tune to enter this order.

Under the church there is a huge monastery, with some enormous rooms supported by pillars, and under that the “crypts” – huge foundations built to support the abbey & monastery. The feat of medieval engineering, such substantial buildings perched on the top of a small rocky outcrop in the ocean, was impressive to say the least.

After buying an ice-cream to fortify us for the long walk back to the car, we reluctantly left Mont St Michel for the long march back to the car. By then the sky was blue and clear and the sun was in just the right spot for photos, so that was our small consolation.
By the time we got away it was later than we had hoped (2 unexpected half hour walks didn’t help), and we got to Bayeux with less than an hour to see the famous tapestry. We didn’t have time to look at the associated exhibition, but were really thrilled to see the actual Bayeux tapestry itself. Something so familiar that we have known about since childhood – it was quite a thrill to see the real thing. It’s in remarkably good condition, with rich colours and huge – 70 metres long. We listened to the inevitable audio tour which explained and pointed out details in each scene which we would have otherwise missed – it added to the experience significantly except it went at a much faster rate than we would have. As we left we walked past the cathedral, which was quite spectacular in the setting sun. It was Odo, bishop of Bayeux, who commissioned the creation of the tapestry.