After our 5 1/2 hour nap yesterday afternoon/evening, it was hard crawling into bed after "dinner" to attempt sleep. But I managed to grab a few more hours before my alarm went off at 5 AM. We awoke, showered, packed and made our way to Montparnasse to catch our 7 AM train. The Metro stations were quite a bit busier today, unlike over the weekend when we caught the early train to Tours. But we managed to make it to the train, find our seats, and settle in for the 2 hour journey across the countryside.
The sun started to peek above the horizon right around Le Mans, which is about 1/2 way from Paris to Rennes. There was a hard frost that covered most of the ground, but the ponds and rivers were still bustling with ducks and other water birds, even in the pre-sunrise hours. As the sun made its way up, the sky was painted with pinks and yellows while long light clouds stretched across the sky. One thing I've noticed, and grown to love, about the French countryside is that in their fields they tend to clear all the trees except one or two. The starkness of the cleared field is broken by this one large, gnarly branched tree reaching upwards and outwards. I don't know if this intentional on their part, or why these trees still stand. But I appreciate their beauty in an otherwise flat landscape.
The train made a brief stop in Laval where people got off and others boarded the train to Rennes. An older lady sat in the seat opposite Michael and I, and it became apparent that she had a love of corduroy. Her pants, jacket and purse showed this. But she sat down, and slowly undid her braided hair, ran a comb through it and then went to re-braid it. It wasn't a fancy braid, more of a practical one...but what struck me odd about it was how she did it. She of course separated her hair into three pieces, and while she was working with two, the other one was held firmly in her mouth. And when it came time to use that one, she pulled it out and replaced it with another one. It took all I had not to laugh at the blank look on her face as she alternated strands of hair into her mouth. You could tell this is something she did on a daily basis, so that it almost became another mindless task.
As we pulled into Rennes we gathered our things. We made our way to the car rental place, signed our lives away and headed to the parking lot. We reached our car, loaded our things and set to getting the GPS ready. After my love/hate relationship with Timmy, I was quite nervous to see what was in store for me. Well, "British Male" was to be the new friend for our trip. As we started driving, I quickly began to realize that he, while not Timmy, was also a bit of an ass. At one point I said, "Damnit Robert!" And henceforth he became known as Robert. Robert doesn't talk as much as Timmy did, but Robert beeps whenever you start to go over the speed limit. Timmy would display the speed limit, and leave the rest up to you. Robert doesn't show you what the speed limit is, but beeps obnoxiously at you when you start to go over it. Timmy used to give you multiple warnings about upcoming turns. For example, if there was an upcoming series of turns within a short period of time, the words spewing forth from Timmy would sound like, "In 20 meters turn right, then turn left, turn right, turn le...turn right. Turn left now." It's a wonder I didn't drive into a building with Timmy leading the way. Robert on the other hand isn't much for words. He tends to tell you, "In 200 meters, turn right." And then he doesn't say anything...until you miss the turn because there are two turns quite close together and his little arrow didn't move correctly. After you miss it he starts to tell you to "Turn around." Sorry Robert...I am on the motorway and I can't just flip a cookie here to please you.
Robert and I fought most of the way to Mont Saint-Michel. But he did his job by getting us there...so I give him that. More on Robert later.
We arrived at Mont Saint-Michel a little before 11 AM. As we neared the coast you could see it towering in the distance. I'm going to be 100% honest, I hadn't heard of it before...just like I hadn't heard of many of the châteaus we visited. So when you see this beautiful creation rising up from the mud flats, it takes your breath away. Mont Saint-Michel is an Abbey that was built on a hill that is surrounded by water during high tide, and then mud flats when the tide goes out. It was built here to provide protection from invasion, and between the water and the mud, it proved to be quite effective.
The one downside to it right now is that they are using heavy machinery around it to help the river move more of the sediment away from the mont so it didn't turn into a hill. Also, they are preparing it for the 2016 Tour de France, where it will start. So there is a lot of work happening, scaffolding climbing the sides of the abbey to do repairs as well. But that being said, it was easy to ignore all of that as you approach it. Did my explanation make sense? Probably not...so here are some pictures of the information they provided!
We parked our car and decided to walk out to it. It was about a 45 minute walk, but it was worth it. We arrived at the entrance to the village that sits below the Abbey and started to make our way up the steep, narrow streets. Everything is decked out for Christmas right now, and I love to see how they've converted certain parts into restaurants, hotels and gift shops. I don't know why, but I love to look at them and ask, "Do you think this is original? Or did they modify this?" Michael just rolls his eyes. I'm sure the joke got old after the 1st time I said it to him...but for me...makes me smile every time. :)
|An English cannon :)|
We took a little detour on our way up, stopping through the home of Betrand du Guesclin, who was a Knight of the Middle Ages. That's about all I know about him...and that comes from the sign out front. Well we made it to the entrance to his home, and were surprised at how many Euros they wanted to tour it, but we felt obligated to do it. Word to the wise...don't. Look at my pictures, and you'll see enough. While interesting...it's nothing really worth paying 9 Euros a piece for. They had some wonderful furniture pieces as well as some interesting books...and the one thing that really made us go..."Ummm...Okay!" was a chastity belt. Take a look at that picture and appreciate the fact that you live in the century that you do!
|Finally found my knight...in not so shining armor!|
After we made it to the top of that tour, we were just below the entrance to the Abbey. We purchased the audio tour and made our way into the Guard Room, then up the Grand Degré, which is the staircase that goes up between the abbey buildings and the church. The walls of the church tower on your right, while the walls of the abbey buildings stretch up on the left. When you reach the top you come out onto a terrace that looks towards the mainland. You can see the mud flats all around and the causeway that they've built to access it now, during modern times.
|The abbey buildings on the left...church on the right|
The tour continues onto the west terrace which looks out over the west and north. It was amazing to see while we were there how far the tide went out in such a short period of time. You could truly see how effective those flats were as a defense. After the terrace, we made our way into the abbey church. They were doing quite a bit of restoration work throughout Mont Saint-Michel, so I wasn't really able to capture the true beauty of everything. But the ceilings soar above you, and the walls are broken up by stained glass. In one part of the church you could see the pipe organ. Sadly, it had a bunch of scaffolding around it, but nonetheless, it was beautiful. The thing that really caught my eye in the abbey church was this rope that hung from the ceiling in the very center of the church. It was the rope used to ring the bells in the bell tower!
|The rope to pull the bells|
|Going all the way to a hole in the ceiling of the church!|
From the abbey church we moved out to the cloister. This had to be one of my favorite parts of Mont Saint-Michel. In essence, it was a rooftop garden with beautiful galleries surrounding it. I can't even use words to explain it's beauty, so I'll let the pictures speak for themselves.
We made our way back inside and continued the tour which took us down further and further into the heart of Mont Saint-Michel. You pass by several more chapels that are "underneath" the main church abbey. You could tell the difference in status the lower you went. The bottom level, while beautiful, was very simple, while the further up you went, the beauty was more evident.
|When taking this picture I kept singing, "Knock, Knock, Knocking on Heaven's Door..." ;-)|
|Saint Etienne chapel|
|The North - South stairs|
|Staircase down to the almonry|
After the audio tour finished, we walked around Mont Saint-Michel, and were surprised by how free we were to walk anywhere we wanted. Most places have things blocked off, and signs telling you where you can and cannot go. This seemed to be a bit more lax. I was able to take some wonderful pictures, but sadly I don't feel that any of them were really able to capture the true beauty of Mont Saint-Michel.
We made our way back to the car and started our journey to Crépon, which is where we are spending the night. Robert and Michael had a brief fight in the parking lot, and then I took over the fight as we tried to get out of the parking lot. Robert wanted me to go one way (which happened to be all ripped up with construction) while I knew we needed to head back the way we came. Robert kept telling me to take routes that would turn me around and head back the way he initially told me to. I didn't listen to him, instead I made my way back to the main roads. But we did stop by the Ancien Moulin de Moidrey, which is this beautiful windmill. After that brief stop, it was time to get back on the road.
We made it back onto the motorway, Robert trying to get me to turn around the entire time, and headed towards Caen. When we got closer, we knew we didn't want to go all the way into Caen, but rather we wanted to head north towards Beyeux. So we took the exit marked "Beyeux." This pissed Robert off, and he kept telling me to turn around to head back to the motorway. Well we laughed as Robert kept telling us, and we continued to ignore him. Then Robert got quiet. He seemed to have gotten on board with our idea of heading north, and he recalculated the route. We started to let our guard down. Then Michael pulled out his phone and opened Google Maps. As Robert was instructing me what to do at the round a bout in 80 meters, Micheal yelled out, "Wait! Don't listen to him!" Here we thought that Robert was on our side again, but he was quietly planning how to get us back to the motorway, one round a bout at a time. Sneaky bastard. As soon as we caught on to him he started telling us to turn around. At that point, Robert's volume was turned down as we'd had enough.
We finally made it to Crépon and pulled up to where we are spending the night, Ferme de la Rançonnière, a 13th Century Farmhouse. Michael found this place on Expedia, and being the off season, and last minute, we managed to score another smoking deal. Such a fantastic place! We checked in, settled into our room, then went to walk the grounds so I could take pictures.
|The entrance to the part we are staying in.|
|Our room makes up the 2nd floor of the "tower."|
|Hallway to our room|
|Looking from the doorway in.|
|Looking back towards the door.|
After taking pictures we had some time to kill before dinner. Both Michael and I were starving because we hadn't eaten since we left Paris! So we made a mad dash to the grocery store that was 4 km away in Graye-sur-Mer. I have to tell you, the country roads around here are narrow one lane roads, paved...but one lane. And the French drivers drive like bats out of hell! Michael held his breath while I was driving because I'd have to pull off the road because a car came flying by us. But we made it to the store and back with time to eat our snacks, rest a few minutes then head to dinner.
The ambiance of this farmhouse is definitely worlds different than Domain de La Tortiniére. A few nights ago we were treated to a fine dining experience. Tonight, we were treated to a nice meal, with a homey feel to it. The dining room was set like that of a home, the food was good, but wasn't quite as polished as that in the Loire. But nonetheless we had a wonderful meal. We shared 1/2 bottle of wine then started our meals. I ordered the Trio of Goat Cheeses for my first course, then we each had Norman Apple Sorbet with Calvados, for my entree I had Stuffed Chicken Breast with Neufchâtel cheese and cider sauce. And for my dessert I had Puff Pastry with Caramalized Apples with Salted Toffee Ice Cream.
After this wonderful meal, we made our way back to the room where it's now time to crawl into bed. We've had another long but wonderful day here France. Tomorrow we have a few other stops we are making our here near Crépon before we head back to Rennes to catch the 9 PM train to Paris. I can't believe how much we've packed into the last few days, but it's been wonderful!
Well my friends, I'm going to get some rest because I know Robert is currently brooding in the car trying to figure out how to mess us up tomorrow! Wish me well!
Until next time...Keep Cookin'!