It’s rare that you get to see something so majestic and breathtaking. When I stepped foot on the island, I was captivated by the huge church sitting on top of the mountain. It reminded me of Final Fantasy VII. I had to go through the little town with all the villagers on my way to the ominous structure looming in the background. In this case, I had to walk up through the little maze of shops selling tourist crap and little cafés and restaurants trying to suck the money from foolish stupid and irrational tourists willing to give their money away for a miniature Eiffel Tower keepsake and other nonsensical junk. I wouldn’t let these idiots ruin my day in such a holy, sacred place.
It was a long 3-hour drive to get to Caen, a small town in northwestern France. The first day of the group excursion was excellent. We went to the World War II museum and watched a movie detailing the war in a goofy mix of real images and computer generated graphics that looked like they were made in the mid 90’s. It was entertaining nonetheless. There was a maze of exhibits detailing each and every aspect of the war, from the food eaten by all the participant soldiers, to the weaponry and equipment used. There were copies of letters and newspaper headlines from each country involved that constructed a large timeline of events from the beginning to the end of the war. There was even a large map that had all the fronts and movements of battalions and brigades. This entire collection provided stunning imagery of the war.
Then, we went to the beaches. The sands that once were the battlegrounds of war with onrushing American soldiers falling to their knees as they were shot down by the Germans, were silent and peaceful as I trudged along the beach, trying soak it all in. The juxtaposition of the sea and the sand made for a wonderful painting, and I found it hard to think of it as a background for such a gruesome war, the bloody foreground. I was able to visit the two American beaches, Omaha and Utah, and they both inspired an interesting sense of reverie. Of course, I was not around for their infamous moments, but the beaches inspired me to imagine what once was, but I couldn’t help but notice what I could see: a beautiful sky and a stunning coastline that seemed to go on forever.
On Sunday, the group went to Mont Saint-Michel. This jewel of the sea, affectionately called The Marvel, sits on the mountain of an island. The bus parked in the parking lot that is daily covered by the sea during high tide. I, along with the rest of the group, walked through the shops and restaurants and up the 300 steps to the top of the church. In fact, it’s a monastery. The top of the monastery boasts a large plaza with captivating views of the sea and the lands that surround the isle, including another island not far from this one. We had a wonderful British tour guide who was extremely funny, yet knowledgeable as well. He explained everything to us, from the golden statue of the Archangel Michael atop the spire of the monastery slaying a dragon, to the mysterious numbers inscribed on many of the large stones under our feet. He made a joke that the numbers were carved in the stones to make foolish tourists such as us wonder if they had anything to do with the Da Vinci Code. During the time when the monastery was constructed, the workers were all independent masons and they carved a numbers in the stones they laid down to identify themselves so they could be paid at the end of the day. There were no labor unions back then.
The guide told us that this was the decreed the fourth Holy pilgrimage site for Christians after Jerusalem, the Vatican in Rome and Santiago de Compostela in Galacia, Spain. He took us to see the service that was in process, and I felt like we disturbed everyone, including all the silent and whispered prayers. Students from the group were taking pictures with flashes on and talking loudly. Very very irritating and disrespectful. The guide showed us so much, even more than most people see. There was always a story told and it gave me so much perspective. Every room and every bit of stone and rock had a story, and walking to each room and quickly leaving did them no justice. It’s impossible to do so. Without the guide, I wouldn’t have known as much as I learned, nor would I have appreciated this powerful, tranquil place. This gothic church, monastery and cloister, former jail, and pilgrimage site has more to tell than I can say, and it left me speechless each time I stepped into a room, or peered out a window to see the galloping sea rising and falling, forever a part of the identity of Mont Saint-Michel as is the history of Mont Saint-Michel.
We had a surprise: Cider tasting! I had some very good cider. The cider was great, with everyone huddling around the counter, reaching out their glasses for more. Even on the way back, someone took some of the “strong stuff” with him and it made for a very nice trip back home. Paris isn’t the only thing France has to offer.