Our first day in France started out with quite the adventure.
After disembarking from our ferry in St. Malo, we had to find a bus that would take us to the train station. The directions we had been given made it sound like the bus should be right outside the ferry terminal, but it was actually a bit of a hike to get there. We didn’t mind it so much, as it meant we got to see a bit of St. Malo before a bus and a train whisked us away to Pontorson. If you have read All The Light We Cannot See*—which I haven’t, yet—part of the book takes place in this town.
We found the bus station without issue, but we had just barely missed the bus we needed. And then, because we don’t speak french and didn’t really understand their bus system, we missed the next bus, too. We finally got on the right bus and made it to the train station—just in time to watch our train pulling away.
It wouldn’t have been a big deal, except for two things: (1) our hosts at the Au Bon Accuiel Bed and Breakfast were going to pick us up at the Pontorson train station, and (2) the next train wouldn’t come for two hours.
Neither Leslie nor I speak French, but luckily, Leslie is really good at communicating what she needs even when she doesn’t speak the local language. Thanks to her magical ability, we were able to get a taxi to drive us to the
B&B so that we didn’t have to wait and our hosts didn’t have to panic when we didn’t show up. Once we got over the fact that he didn’t speak English and we didn’t speak French, our driver was actually really entertaining. He had gigantic mustache, and he prattled away at us in French the whole way there. I didn’t understand a word of what he said, but he was one of the nicest people we met in France, so it didn’t matter.
After dropping off our bags, our host Paul very kindly drove us to our next big adventure (you know, the one we had actually planned…): Mont Saint-Michel.
Apparently, I have a thing for islands you can only reach when the tide is out. Mont Saint-Michel is a city built on a rock 600 metres from the mainland at the mouth of the Couesnan River. It is home to an abbey and several museums, and it inspired the design of Minas Tirith in The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King. It’s easy to see why—the city definitely looks like something straight out of fantasy.
Stepping through the front gate of Mont Saint-Michel transports you to another world. The streets are narrow, crowded, and—at times—very steep. They spiral around and around to the Abbey at the top of the mount, and it’s easy to get lost on the side streets and alleys. Most of what we passed were overpriced restaurants and shops full of trinkets and kitschy souvenirs, but it was still fun to window shop as we hiked ever upwards.
There was also a set of four museums, which promised us history and excitement. We had all day to explore the city and the student price was only 9€ for the whole lot, so we figured we’d check them out.
Oh. My. Gosh, guys. They were kind of ridiculous. Especially the “state of the art light and sound show” at the Archeoscope. I wish I had taken a video of this thing, because it was mind boggling. We sat down on these awful “benches” made out of barely padded pipes, and almost immediately, the lights went out. Suuuuuuuper dramatic music started playing, and then a curtain lifted to reveal a stage filled with water and surrounded by fake rocks. A screen descended verrrrry slowly from the ceiling, and onto it was projected a video about the history of the island and its connection to the Archangel Michael. At least, I think that’s what it was about—the video was in French, and had no subtitles for us foreign tourists.
And then—as if that wasn’t “state of the art” enough—a model of Mont Saint Michel rose out of the water like Prometheus. It turned a slow circle as spot lights illuminated parts of the city, and then it was over. The Mini Michel sank below the surface of the water, the music came to an even more dramatic conclusion, and the voice over said something probably very profound and moving in French. The end.
It was definitely worth the price of admission. I will forever regret not recording it for my posterity.
The second most amusing part of the museums was the abundance of very expressive statues and wax figures we encountered. The wax museum was actually quite gruesome—it covered the time when the island was used as a prison. It’s certainly not for the faint of heart.
The Abbey, on the other hand, really was the highlight of the day. We spent several hours exploring it, and they provided us with a very handy guide that told us what each room was. Leslie read this aloud as we wandered through, so it was like being on a guided tour without feeling rushed. The architecture was absolutely incredible, and it’s amazing to think of the work that went into building it. We were enchanted.
- Mont Saint-Michel Abbey
- Official Site(Note: It’s not the most useful site, but there’s some important information
- Price: €9 Adult, €7 Student
- (4 / 5)Our Rating
The Abbey also had the best views of the tidal flats in the bay. It was fun to watch the “pilgrim” tour groups hurrying back to the safety of the island as the tide started to rise. We enjoyed the view as long as we could before hiking back down the spiraling road to meet Paul at our rendezvous site. By the time we got back to the B&B, we were exhausted and sore—but quite happily so.
Read more my adventure with Leslie here.
 Most of the restaurants inside the city are owned by one company, so their menus are all the same. You can tell which ones they are by the menus posted outside—they are all printed in red ink. Jane and Paul told us that the best restaurants are actually La Sirene and La Cloche, which are both independently owned. Leslie and I didn’t end up eating inside the city so we can’t speak for their quality ourselves, but our hosts seem to have impeccable taste in all other aspects of life, so I’m willing to bet they’re right.