Monthly Archives: March 2012

Medieval Mont St. Michel

Looming impressively larger and larger as you approach it across the gently undulating landscape of Normandy, the UNESCO World Heritage Site ahead of you — Mont St. Michel — is indeed an awe-inspiring sight. And when you notice that the ‘small’ buildings at the bottom of the Mont are frequently 4-5 story houses, then your brain begins to wrap itself around the scale of the medieval monastery that hovers over the village below.
 
Mont St. Michel in Normandy, France
 
The approach to the Mont is across a causeway, a road across the marshes that is going to be completely removed quite soon and replaced with a bridge. The renovation project is running quite far behind at this point and should have already been completed. We have local friends who have told us that there is quite a lot of ‘drama’ surrounding this project, the funding of it, and the plans for the future.
 

Dredging on either side of the causeway leading to Mont St. Michel


 
In a nutshell, the very ugly dredging activity that we saw on either side of the causeway indicates that the clearing out of centuries of silt and debris is still an ongoing process. Upon completion of the dredging and the construction of the ‘flyover’ bridge that will link the mainland to the Mont, the island will once again be quite a separate place — a true island surrounded by water. And visitors will no longer be able to drive up to the base of the Mont itself. Only the few local people who live in the village at the bottom and a series of shuttle buses will be allowed to drive onto the bridge.

We drove up the causeway and were directed by a man in high-vis construction clothing to turn into a paid parking lot and were not allowed to proceed toward the village at the base. The parking lot is no longer free. There is quite a significant hike from that parking lot just to get to the base of the Mont and that is followed by an approximately two hour climb to the top!

I have just recovered — literally just this week — from a compression of the 4th lumbar disc and I’ve been in far too much pain to to risk aggravating that twinge-prone back again. So no, we did not hike up to the top of the Mont on that hazy day to get less than clear photos and, oddly, neither of us felt as if we had missed some must-see opportunity.

As a result, we did a u-turn, headed away from the Mont, and pulled over into the breakdown lane where we stopped to take a few photos. And we noticed that there were quite a lot of other people doing the exact same thing! We also noted that there were several dozen people who had parked in the village of Pontorson (which is miles away from the Mont!) who were walking along the sometimes-there-sometimes-not footpath leading to the Mont itself. As you can see in the photo below, some of the pedestrians were forced to walk in the breakdown lane for the cars since everything on both sides of the causeway is such a mess and so inconsistent.
 

Pedestrians walking to Mont St. Michel along the causeway breakdown lane


 

There are several places on the exterior of the Mont where scaffolds are quite visible. I’ve read several articles over the last few years that indicated that there are simply too many visitors each year to this medieval wonder. It is not a theme park, it is not a medieval-themed shopping mall, and it was originally intended to be simply a village and a monastery — not the tourist highlight that it has become. But all of that tourist activity comes at a price, and parts of the Mont are apparently imperiled by the sheer volume of people who are shoulder to shoulder in those narrow streets and passageways in the tourist season.
 

View of Mont St. Michel from miles away in Pontorson, Normandy, France


 

The restoration of the water around the Mont and the construction of the bridge were meant to be completed this year and that is highly unlikely to happen now due to the multiple delays. Once everything is actually in place, the parking lots (paid!) will be several miles away in Pontorson and all tourists will be taken to Mont St. Michel in an official shuttle (paid!) and there are also rather sensible plans afoot to limit the number of people who are allowed onto the Mont each day in an effort to slow the erosion and destruction.

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Normandy North and Cap de Hague

Rambling up to the northwest of Normandy a few days ago — another area with World War II bunkers still embedded into the hillsides — we drove to the historic Cap de Hague and could see some of the Channel Islands (British territory) off on the left through the haze. This particular part of Normandy has seen battles and shipwrecks over the centuries that included the 1689 Battle of Barfleur and the more recent Battle of Cherbourg during World War II.
 

Point of the Cap de Hague in far Northwest Normandy, France


 
Leaving the car with an apple in one one hand and two cameras slung over my shoulders, I walked out to the furthest point where a small lighthouse sat guard in the choppy waters beyond and a war memorial from World War I faced the sea with its inscription on the waterfront side.
 

 
But to see an equally beautiful view, I simply had to swing around and look behind me. The tiny-tiny town of Goury with its gray stone buildings and stone-bordered fields rose behind me.

We walked the short distance into the wee village and discovered a small and lovely harbour with bright coloured boats bobbing in the dark blue water.
 

Deep blue Goury harbour in far northwestern Normandy at the Cap de Hague


 
I simply had to include the photo below of the ‘Bored Parisienne’ because she made me laugh so much. They arrived in a black Audi that bore a tiny Paris dealer sticker and a license plate ending in 75 indicating that they had driven north from Paris and they parked a few spots away from us in the parking lot for ‘les visiteurs.’ As she swished out of the car with her coat swirling around her legs and flounced down to the water’s edge at the harbour, her husband darted about with his camera taking photo after photo of the pretty boats. The woman who had emerged from the black car was impatiently stomping back and forth in her leather pumps and could not have looked more bored if she had tried. She finally stood on the boat ramp with one hand on her hip, gazing back and forth, but her face was totally devoid of any signs of interest — a stark contrast to her eager-beaver photo-snapping husband.
 

The bored Parisienne woman on the launch ramp in Goury


 

Just love those little slices of life!
 

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Park It For Awhile — Then Come Back!

Bear with me, all of you ‘visiteurs’ — and give me a few hours so I can give you another glimpse of beautiful and scenic Normandy.
 

Blue Visiteurs Parking Sign in France


 
See you soon!
 
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Trams Are Terrific In Melbourne!

Today’s photo of the day is one of the simply terrific trams that they have in Melbourne, Australia. This bright yellow tram runs back and forth along the Bourke Street shopping precinct in the center of the city, including through the pedestrian only shopping mall that flanks both sides of the street.

They are clean, efficient, and frequent and are a simply wonderful way for both locals and visitors to get around this wonderful city!

 

A bright and clean yellow tram in downtown Melbourne, Australia


 

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Is Sydney Always Sunny?

Today’s photo might deflate those folks who live in colder, wetter climates worldwide and who have the mistaken notion that it is sunny in places like Sydney, Australia 99.9% of the time. Nope! They get some whopper thunderstorms. And the scene below is after a particularly wet day out dodging the rain and trying to take decent photos.
 

A Wet Walk Quayside in Sydney, Australia


 

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The Gentle Beauty of Granville in Normandy, France

It was late in the afternoon and the appearing-then-disappearing sunlight streamed through each intersection in sporadic bursts. The two main streets of the Haute Ville section of Granville are lined with beautiful old stone houses, many dating back to a period between the 15th to 17th Centuries.
 

Stone buildings line the Haute Ville (high town) section of historic Granville in Normandy, France


 
The upper portion of the town is surrounded by an ancient fortified wall from the 15th Century and is perched high atop a hillside overlooking the latter portions of Granville built on reclaimed seafront.
 

The jumbled rooftops of the lower town section of Granville in Normandy, France


 

Coastal overlook with World War II bunkers visible in Granville, Normandy, France


 
This part of Normandy hugs the curving coastline and has some of the loveliest towns in all of northern France. Granville has much to recommend it both historically and visually and can easily be visited on a one-day outing.
 

Pastel colours of the seacoast on a sunny day at Granville in Normandy, France


 

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Pampered Pets And Then Some!

If you judge by the cartoon graphics on this shopfront windows, the pampered pets inside this pet grooming shop will be getting head massages and exfoliation!

I spotted this window in the Normandy town of Villedieu-les-Poeles and it did make me laugh.
 

Pampered pets are a specialty in this French shop in Normandy


 

 

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