Not long after I moved to France, I had French friends & relatives telling me about Mont Saint Michel.
“Have you been?”
“Um… no, not yet,” I’d say.
“Oh, it is so beautiful – you really must go.”
After I had been in France for about a year, Olivier & I returned from a trip to Normandy.
“So, did you visit Mont Saint Michel?”
“Er, uh… well, no… not yet.”
“Next time! Next time, you must go.”
People kept talking about it. Everyone that had been there agreed on one thing: this place was fucking awesome & had to be seen. I started to feel like such lame-ass for not having seen it yet.
Eventually, upon making another visit to Normandy, I got the chance.
Now, on the wee tiny island of Mont Saint Michel, as you can see behind these two stunning tourists, is a tiny, uh… mountain. (Sorry, I’m from Colorado. My people tend to be snobs when it comes to what constitutes an actual mountain.) At the top of the mountain is a monastery where the tourists can run amok, which is of course, what we did.
Like most places that are teeming with tourists, the lower level of Mont Saint Michel is loaded with restaurants, gift shops, bars, cafés & museums. If you want to get to any of the cool historical shit, you must first be herded through the area where all of the money is being spent.
After we made our way through the crowd of outstretched hands exchanging money & merchandise, we had something very important to take care of: audio guides.
You’ve seen these – the little phone thingys that you listen to while you stroll along, enjoying a guided tour at your own pace. Most importantly, they make you look really, really smart.
Audio guides & brochures in hand, we were free to roam about the monastery.
Now, a quick bit of history of the monastery. If you haven’t already figured it out, the name Mont Saint Michel translates to “Mount Saint Michael” in English. I’m sure you’ve heard of Saint Michael, sometimes referred to as the Archangel Michael.
I am no Christian or religious person of any kind. However, I do seriously dig theology & mythology. I can tell you, there is no greater badass in Christianity than Michael.
So, anyway… history. The story is that Michael showed up on the Mount in 708 A.D. & instructed St. Aubert, bishop of Avranches to build a church. Aubert refused & despite Michael’s hounding, he insisted on being a stubborn shit. So Michael finally burned a hole through his skull with his finger.
His fucking finger.
As you can imagine, that did the trick & Aubert didn’t need to be told again once all of the obstinance had leaked out through the hole in his head. Later, the mount was used for strategic purposes in 933 A.D. by William I, Duke of Normandy. The island endured several assaults during the Hundred Years War, but had such killer fortifications that it withstood them all.
As time went on, the abbey eventually closed & was converted into a prison, which closed in 1863… because why have a prison when you could have a nice little historical monument instead?
With my audio guide pressed firmly to the side of my head, we ambled along, through the various corridors & chambers of the abbey until we emerged outdoors, finding ourselves in the cloister.
We continued on, alternating between being in enormous rooms made of stone & being out in the rain. As to be expected, at the end of the trip, we found ourselves in yet another gift shop crawling with slow-moving cattle.
Naturally, we panicked & decided to flee.
We made our way back down, past the little cemetery & the tiny village. Soon enough, we found ourselves back among the throng of slow-moving tourists. We ducked into one of the many bars along the way for a quick espresso before venturing back out into the rain.
Just before we left, we passed by the famous Mére Poulard restaurant, where the chefs were busy, rocking out with their eggs.
Like every other place in France, there is a specialty. In the tiny medieval city of Mont Saint Michel, it’s omelettes. I could sit here trying to explain to you how cool it is, the way that the omelette chefs beat the eggs in big copper bowls in such a way that it’s a bit musical, or I could just show you:
Honestly, anything that I tell you about Mont Saint Michel won’t do it justice – you really must go. Besides, you probably won’t encounter a pissed-off, muscle bound archangel ready to burn a hole through your skull.