Monday, July 24, 2006

Magical Mont-St-Michel

I think we had a biscuit tin in the kitchen, when I was growing up, with a magical looking castle on it. And there was also a plasticky bag which we took to the beach on holidays that had the same emblem repeated all over it. One of the things we (Shannon) and I did right, when we went to France together, was to visit this magnificent monolith of magic.

We clamoured off the TGV at dusk, or just before, and being to poor to pay for a taxi (and too dumb to find a bus) we walked from the station in the direction of the magical castle. Actually, I don’t think it was a matter of being dumb. I think we’d just missed the last bus and were impatient to get to the World Heritage Site.

It was heavy going because we were both doing the tortoise backpacker thing. If I ever go to Europe again I am going to stay as far away from house sized backpacks, and travel instead with a daypack and two or three grubby t-shirts. I’ll buy (I couldn’t afford it then) a tux and appropriate shoes in situ. Anyway, so Shannon and I are tortoising our way to the causeway when the fairy lights and silhouette of that most famous silhouette etched against the darkening sky. It’s on eof those cases where reality exceeds even the pictures and symbols we’ve used to depct and sell it to ourselves.

But it was getting dark and the causeway went a long way across desolate wastes. I kept urging Shannon on, but as one spinal vertebra crushed into the next, I decided to call off the slogging, and we retreated slowly to a nearby hotel, specifically, a bunker in the verdant garden. Being young and Shannon’s credit card was nearing its limit (I didn’t even have one), we hunkered down under a tall oak. The next morning we discovered that Shannon had been shat upon by the trees residents, while I, right next to her, had been graciously spared a single blob of guano. Thanks guys.

Chuckling about this, we headed to the hotel where we left our bags, while I stocked up on baguettes. We trekked to the island that repelled every enemey and were soon completely under its spell. From every angle, from every rampart, it’s a stunning complement to an already lovely landscape. The addition of water and flat emptiness around such dramatic scenery merely serves to strengthen its magical power.

We were so taken by Mont-Saint-Michel that we spent the whole day there – a beautiful blue and sunny day – and decided to sleep somewhere on the rock to extend our experience to the last possible second.
We laid our plans carefully, electing to wait on a bit of bare cliff for the tourists and traffic to evacuate (there is very little accomodation on the island for outsiders, because the island has its own resident population). Under the cover of darkness we slunk into a small and ancient courtyard on the northern quadrant, and unfolded our tightly wrapped sleeping bags. There we lay, the cobblestones under us pushing us like the chiding fingers of a an ancient giant. With stones under our backs, and an ancient door behind our heads, we looked up to the golden spear that pierced night, and the stars at the top of the Abbey’s spire.

At some point a lost flocks of tourists stumbled upon our lair, shot torchlight briefly at our pretending-to-be-asleep faces, then hurried off in a desperate attempt to burn the magnificence into their brains.

That night has got to rate as a top three for most romantic, most memorable night spent in any place.

Mont Saint Michel (if I remember correctly) is just 2 or 3 hours from Paris by TGV, between the coasts of Britanny and Normandy (near the D-Day invasions), and close to the seaside resort town of ST Malo. It’s basically in the north western corner of France (roughly opposite Southampton in England). When you’re in France, make sure you find and fully absorbe this magical massif and its towers.

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