Wednesday, May 16, 2012

A Day at Mont-Saint-Michel

The main goal in Avranches was to visit Mont-Saint-Michel, and as the forecast for today was "clear" and for tomorrow, "mostly cloudy," today was the day. What would be a twenty-minute drive turned into twice that because we kept finding spots to shoot the island from.

From 2 kilometers or so.

From the car park, about 1 kilometer away.

Here's the historical recap: Mont St-Michel is a rocky bump in a tidal estuary. From about AD 800 there has been a church dedicated to St. Michael on top of the rock, 85 meters (say, 300 feet?) above sea level. From 1000 on it was a monastery. Over the centuries the monastic buildings and church were expanded and added to. The island assumed huge importance in the French popular imagination when it withstood a long siege by the English during the Hundred Years' War (1337-1450). One of the English cannons from that siege is preserved on the island. After the Revolution the monks were turned out (as at other monasteries) and the buildings were used as a prison. For the past 150 years it has been a very popular tourist destination.

Here's a closeup overview. Note the street winding up from the town to the base of the three-story abbey topped by the church and spire. Click through and think about hauling all those granite building blocks up that hill.

Also think about stacking the stones so they don't fall down again.

They are building a huge new parking and welcome complex. When we pulled in at 9:10 am, ours was about the 20th car. When we left at 5pm, it was almost full. Just love being ahead of the mob.

You enter through a gate and start up the single curving street that rises steeply as it wraps around the island.

At 9:30 shopkeepers were just setting out their displays of tourist stuff, and these guys were schlepping a cart of supplies up the steep street.

One climbs and climbs—it is about 300 steps to the top starting from this point, which is the top of the commercial street.

Here, we are looking up at the seam where the simple Romanesque style church of 1000 meets the fancy Gothic choir added in 1200.

Once at the top one buys a ticket for the tour proper, which winds downward through the successive layers of the building. Here's the view from the West terrace, outside the church, looking down on the causeway and more visitors arriving.

Here's the spire, as close as we get, with the gilded Saint Michael.

The nave of the church is Romanesque (rounded arches, simple columns) with a wooden, barrel-vaulted ceiling.

The elaborate vaulting of the Gothic choir gets all the love from photographers.

Next to the church on the North side is the cloister. First cloister we've encountered in France, although we recall several from Italy.

Down a level is the Guests' Hall, where the abbot would receive nobility.

Down further to the Crypt of Great Pillars, which is the foundation that holds up the Gothic choir above.

A couple of crypts and halls more and you are outside, looking up at people peering over the West terrace and all the support layers under it.

Near the exit, the original sculptor's model of the Saint Michael that tops the spire is on display. This is relatively recent, in the 1800s.

We ate lunch in a restaurant on the now-crowded commercial street.

Here David learned something. On entering the restaurant, he got whiffs of an unpleasant odor, a scent that combined well-rotted manure with a trace of wet dog. He opted for the cheapest fixed price menu, where the main course was a "Normandy stew" even though the waitress warned that this contained Tripe. While waiting for that course to be served, we talked about the funky smell. "Hope it isn't your tripe," Marian said. Lunch came, and it was. Tripe is the wall of an animal's stomach. It's rather rubbery and lined with velvety projections. David delicately stirred the soup, observing the pale-gray material. He dipped a bit of bread in the broth and tasted it. Yes, that aroma was definitely in the soup. He then made his lunch from the side dish of pommes frites while composing a sentence in French, "Aujourd'hui, j'ai découvert que je n'aime pas les tripes—Today I learned I don't like tripe."

We continued down to the bottom and then circumnavigated the island at sea level. Here's looking up from the NW corner.

We kept quite a few more pics of Mont-Saint-Michel than are shown above. To sample them go to the Avranches Gallery.

1 comment: