Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Road Trip: Part Three B: France

We continue to journey through the rest of France on the road trip with Matt and Vicki. So far, we've been through the Netherlands, Belgium and northern France. This episode takes us from Pontorson to Paris, and possibly beyond!

The morning of Day 6 started well enough. All four of us got fed coffee, croissants, cola. I made a complaint about bed-bug bites that no-one believed. We piled in the car and started for our first destination: Mont Saint Michel.

Mont Saint Michel
Quick History Snippet: A Roman-Breton stronghold during the 6th century, the space has always been occupied. The building of the first (still partially standing) church on the tidal island was in 709 by Aubert, Bishop of Avranches. Apparently, Archangel Michael had commanded Aubert to build a church on the tidal island in 708. Aubert ignored this, until one day Mike got annoyed, and burned a hole in his skull. Luckily for Aubert, science and medicine allowed him to sally forth and begin building a church. Over the next thousand years, the church was featured in the Bayeux Tapestry; became a monastery, an abbey and a site of pilgrimage; served as a stronghold in the Hundred Years' War against the English; converted into a political prison; and saved by Victor Hugo and UNESCO (not at the same time).

Salt, Sand, Sea
Quick Environment Snapshot: The island is a rocky outcrop near the mouth of the Couesnon River, near the border of Normandy and Brittany. The bay in which the island sits has the second highest tidal levels in the world. The sand of the bay is treacherous, and contains quicksand. Prehistorically, the bay was all land, but the rising sea levels and erosion created several granite islands. Over time, the region has become more silted, as the French have created polder pastures for the yummy lambs. Additionally, a causeway between the island and the shore was built, changing the tidal flow. The current government has invested in a dam and a light bridge to re-island-ify Mont Saint Michel and decrease the silt levels of the surrounding area.

Colourful Tourists
We parked our car fairly close to the entrance of Mont Saint Michel, and headed up to the first gateway. Just outside is positioned a wrought iron bombard, which was used to hurl various missiles (like rocks) at the walls of Mont Saint Michel during the Hundred's Year War. None of us really believed the sign beside it, stating the date of 1424, but it's all true.

Then, we began the spiraling walk up to the monastery itself. It being early, there were few shops open.  We headed through a tourist trap to the outer wall, where we looked down onto the low tide below us. There were minor arguments about sand versus water, but it was all settled in my favour, obviously.

After about 300 steps, a few weird corners, and a bunch of japanese tourists, we made it to the gate keeper.   We got out tickets and headed up the steps to the 11 AM english tour....stopping along the way for some prime photo-ops.

Then the worst possible thing happened ... teenager school group! At one point the staff looked at us and asked "Are you with them? If so, you not getting tour!" Thankfully they were herded off by their elders, to get lost inside the cathedral, hopefully forever. Then, this little hobbit lady appeared and beckoned us to her. She was our tour guide. Finding out we were Canadian, she told us about her desire to move there. She liked BC and Queeebec... Odd little lady.  Anyway, she took us for an hour and half tour of the "monastery": at times tripping over the darkness, being run into by Liz and generally getting annoyed at us for not being present when she was talking (seriously this place is huge and  following a tour guide, it's easy to fall behind). There were only the four of us with her, and at times, only Vicki was near enough to hear her. It was most excellent!

After the tour, both Matts went off to take pictures and go exploring. I also hear that there was debauchery in cordoned off areas. Upon their glorious return, we showered them with gold and crepes. Not at the first restaurant though, because the prices were too high. The restaurant we settled on had an upstairs with some birds and a sheepdog... it was cute, a bit dirty and french, but cute. Beer and coke light was had by all. Except my Matt, thats just how he rolls.

After lunch, now approaching 3pm, we made our way down and out of Gondor. There was one more destination to hit, and then a decision to make.

St. Uniac
After about an hour of back-roads' driving through smelly poop air, we reached the hamlet? miniature village? cross-roads? of Saint Uniac, the Shire. Um. There's a church. And a farm with smelly, smelly cows. Also a fountain? well? that we couldn't find. Matt and Liz wandered through the cemetary, which held about 60 dead 'uns and 0 relatives. Matt found a bar that he was threatening to purchase. Don't worry. He didn't.

Car travel past Rouen. Then past La Mans. Then past Chartres. Then to Paris. Then we were in Paris. A place I had not wanted to be, in a car, on a Friday night. It was %$*&@*^& chaos. There were some intensely stressful moments - participant include myself, Matt, Matt and other drivers. Generally, I blame the iPhone nagivator lady. Vicki, somehow through the entire trip actually, managed to not kill the three of us. That says something for her resolve.

Right. So here the four of us were. In Paris. On a weekend. The weekend before Valentine's Day. As I have said: living in a cliché. Needless to say, line ups were ridiculous. Prices were increased because of the "holiday". Every two seconds we were abused with other people kissing. Gross. Not exactly a wonderful introduction to the City of Lights. Sights seen up close were the Louvre, Eiffel Tower, Champs Elysees, Arc de Triomphe, Place de Concorde (with its Egyptian obelisk), Notre Dame, and general Parisian architecture. We also went (very briefly) inside the Louvre; on a river boat tour up and down the Seine for an hour; underneath Notre Dame Cathedral to see Roman ruins. Another post about Paris will be done in the future. For now, let us say that the city wasn't a home-run hit, more of a singleton bunt.

Leaving Paris was easy in comparison to entering. We headed onto the tolled highway towards Dijon. After 300 km or so, and 17€, we arrived in Dijon for lunch.

Now, the great thing about the French is the opening times of shops. Some are closed on the weekends, some on Mondays or Tuesdays. Some open all day, some are only open during specified hours. The majorly annoying thing for us was that on Monday afternoon, in Dijon, bupkiss was open. And it was raining. Not knowing much about Dijon, and not having any tourist info, I made them drive towards the tallest building in the city. Generally, this is the church spire, and the "old town" surrounds it. In most places, the church and the old town are the tourist attractions. It's a fairly safe bet to find something to eat in the vicinity...

Matt's Knuckle
 The first restaurant we tried told us they were closed and shooed us away. We were delighted that the neighbouring restaurant did let us in, and was even prepared to serve us lunch. According to general consensus, it was the best meal of the trip. That's excellent, as Dijon is known for it's food and wine... not just it's mustard (Note: no mustard was bought in Dijon because nothing was open!). Lunch, for three of us at least, consisted of generously sized portions of meat and vegetables. Some meat came on swords! For the fourth individual, it was a bit different.

On the menu, that dish was labelled "knuckle of veal". In reality, it was discerned to be a knee-joint of a pig. (My) Matt was ecstatic! His meal fit in perfectly with the decor of the place too. It looked like a medieval pub, with beams crossing the ceiling, swords and shields crossed on the tapestry covered walls. I think there was a suit of armour too.

After eating, a digestive walk was in order. We passed a building that had been used as a body-deposit and hospital during the plague years. It was currently closed, and "too dangerous" to enter. That was opposite the Dijon church, which was quite colourful. A bit over-tired of French architecture, we kept going. I popped into a wine store (the only place open!) and everyone followed. There was purchasing of alcohol. Back to the car! Onwards to Switzerland!

Photos of the Moments: 

The next installment covers the neutral nation of Switzerland. We fail in finding a hotel; can't see the Alps; and bleed out of our pockets.  


  1. i like the blue/white/red cars underneath the arc de triomphe
    this is tara

  2. Yeh. I totally did that on purpose.