Frank Bernheisel: The View From Here
Frank Bernheisel
Frank Bernheisel
Posted 11.11.18
Just Outside Washington

FRANK BERNHEISEL & Kathy Cavanaugh
All photos courtesy the authors


MONT ST MICHEL We walked from the Hotel du Parc to Gare Montparnasse to catch the 6:52 AM, TGV -- France's high speed train -- to Rennes. Our train was on Track 1; we found it easily, boarded and found our reserved seats. Our four large bags took up all the space for large bags in our car. There was plenty of overhead space but only for smaller bags.

The TGV was smooth and comfortable and at times reached 200 MPH; there was a speed display at the front of the car. The full trip of about 220 miles took us an hour and a half. Things were going great until the train station in Rennes, which was under serious reconstruction. This caused difficulty finding the Hertz office and subsequently finding the car. This took at least 45 minutes, and then we were off.


The countryside had many farms and small towns, all neat and tidy.


As the pictures show, we had an overcast day, but warm, for our drive of about 45 miles to Mont-Saint-Michel. The plan was to meet our neighbors, Francoise and Jean Francois, who are originally fromBrittany. The problem arose that there was no cell phone coverage, which prevented us from contacting them about where to meet. We drove around a bit looking for coverage; and then decided to park and go to the visitor's center near the parking lot and voila, there they were.

We boarded le Passeur, the free bus, which took us almost to the island, about a mile and a half from the car park. Mont-Saint-Michel can be reached only by a bridge across the tidal wetland at the mouth of the Couesnon River. The bridge itself is about 1/2-mile-long, and we were let off some distance from the island. I think they do that so everyone can take pictures. We walked the rest of the way.


The tides protected Mont-Saint-Michel in medieval times when there was no bridge. In the picture, the tide is out but when it comes in it can rise as much as 46 feet. In 1879 a raised causeway was constructed to provide access to the island. However, this and diking off some areas to create pastureland, caused silting-up of the bay.

In 2006, the French government began a project to remove the slit and increase the water flow, insuring that Mont-Saint-Michel would remain an island. The bridge completed the project in 2009 at a cost of 209 million euros. When there is an extremely high supertide, as there was in 2015, the new bridge is completely submerged.

We entered Mont-Saint-Michel through the Porte de l'Avancee and started walking upward on the Grande Rue. We wanted to get lunch at La Mere Poulard but were told that the wait would be at least a half hour, and they didn't take reservations. So we walked on upward and found a creperie, whose name I don't remember, where we had a nice lunch. We went back out onto the Grande Rue to continue upward toward the abbey; 500 steps to the top, we were told.

The island was fortified in ancient times and in the 8th century Saint Michel appeared to Aubert, bishop of Avranches telling him to establish an oratorio. This later became an abbey and then a monastery, which adopted the Benedictine rule in the 10th century. The town grew around the abbey and reflects the feudal society that constructed it: on top, God, the abbey and monastery; below, the great halls; then stores and housing; and at the bottom, outside the walls, houses for fishermen and farmers. In the mid-19th Century, more than 1000 people lived on the island; today, the population is about 50 people.


As we proceeded onward and upward, we made many stops to admire the views and to visit the museum.


The buildings below, the road from the car park, the bridge, and the tidal flats can be seen through the fence. The Franks captured MSM in the 7th Century and ruled for 200 years until the Vikings came. The king of the Franks asked for help from the Bretons, the beginning of a brief period of Breton possession. In 933, William I invaded the area and made Mont-Saint-Michel definitively part of Normandy.

The Bayeux Tapestry, which commemorates the 1066 Norman conquest of England, shows two Norman knights in the quicksand in front of Mont-Saint-Michel. It was relatively quiet until the 14th Century when a small garrison fended off a full English attack during the Hundred Years' War. Louis XI began to use the Mont as a prison, which continued through the Ancien Régime.


We proceeded onward and upward through all this history until we reached the abbey. Built in the 11th century, by Richard II, Duke of Normandy, the Romanesque church required many underground crypts and chapels had to be built to support the high structure.


We wandered through these crypts, chapels, and many rooms on our way to the abbey. We went into one room that had manacles and other prison accessories. Another room was set up to show monks copying manuscripts by candle light. In several of the great rooms there were huge fire places rising to the floor above where there was a second fire place exiting to the same chimney.


We came out on the plaza in front of the church and walked about admiring the view. Despite the grey and overcast day, the views were spectacular. We entered the church and as shown in the picture is plain and not highly decorated. From here we entered the cloisters, one of my favorite spots.


What goes up must come down and down we went; nobody counted but it felt like 500 steps. We walked onto the bridge and back toward land. The bus stop is on the bridge about a half mile from the Porte de l'Avancee, where we exited. We had a bit of a wait, made longer by the line jumpers. Queuing up is a cultural thing, and the line jumpers could have been from anywhere.

We were a happy bunch, waited our turn, and caught the bus back to the visitor center. We then followed Jean Francois to Concale about 30 miles west along the coast. He had made reservations at a very pleasant bed and breakfast.


After getting settled we headed for the waterfront in Concale for some of the sea food for which the town is famous.


Le marché offers a wide variety of local oysters that you eat right at the beach. We walked past a large number of restaurants, all specializing in seafood of some type. Unfortunately, when we got to the beach with the blue and white striped tents, we were too late; and le marché had closed.


We chose Chez Victor, which was the last restaurant on the quai and overlooked the bay and march&eacurte; aux huitres. Since Concale is the oyster capital, of course, we had some; plus crab, shrimp, langouste, mussels, snails and periwinkles. We also had some wine and conversations during which we solved all the world's problems.


It had been a really full day, and it was time to head back to our nice bed and breakfast for a good night's sleep