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  • Day25

    We Mount the Mont

    September 14, 2017 in France ⋅ ⛅ 10 °C

    In the immortal words of Kenny Rogers, sometimes “you’ve got to know when to hold them, know when to fold them, know when to walk away, know when to run”. If there was ever a time to put this advice to the test, this was it. After the belting we had taken yesterday, the peloton was not in prime shape. Shoes were still wet, washing was still drying, energy reserves were low and the team was looking to me for a brave decision. I did what anyone else would do under these circumstances – look out the window to see what the weather was doing. It was the same as yesterday, still pouring. Considering that we had another 30 or more kilometres to complete along the black quicksand, (otherwise known as the bike trail), it was very unlikely that most of the peloton would be up to the challenge. I certainly wasn’t.

    “Do you really want to ride ?”, I asked.

    “Not really”, was the overwhelming response. They are obviously much more intelligent than they look. But what other option was there ? I decided to ring the travel company to see if they would take pity on a group of pitiful elderly Australians.

    “Bonjour Beatrice”, I began in my best French. “Please help us”, I blabbered, trying hard to hold back the tears (maybe still an after-effect from yesterday’s sunscreen in the eyes). I explained our situation and asked for her to move heaven and earth to save us from another day in the freezing mud.

    “I vill reeng you beck”, Beatrice promised.

    A few minutes later I had the solution I had been hoping for. Apparently they would be able to arrange a taxi and trailer to transport us and our luggage to Mont St Michel, but our bikes would have to wait till the following day. Of course a few Euros would have to quietly change hands to keep the driver happy. All in all, a most agreeable solution.

    I called the group together and outlined the plan. When I told them that they could take off their filthy cycling gear and change back into proper clothes, their faces broke out into huge smiles. Apparently it was the news they had all been hoping for.

    About an hour later we were all packed and changed into warm and dry clothes, waiting for the taxi. It arrived on time and most (but not all of us) were able to climb inside. Maggie and I ended up in the front seat, next to the driver. Although this gave us a great view, it also gave us several near death experiences. Soon after we started moving it became evident that the driver not only spoke not a single word of English, but also had not the foggiest notion where Mont St Michel actually was. He reached for his GPS with his left hand and his mobile phone with his right hand, leaving the steering to take care of itself. While his head was buried in his electronic devices the minibus wandered straight over the double line onto the wrong side of the road. Maggie’s nails dug a deep crater in my right thigh.

    The driver looked up at the last moment and then jerked the wheel to the right, sending us right across the road onto the verge on the right side. We tried to keep his attention on the road, but he kept getting SMS messages, phone calls and emails (maybe from his stockbroker, or possibly his undertaker) while he was driving.

    The circus continued for the entire drive to the outskirts of Mont St Michel. From time to time we caught glimpses of the famous tidal island and the driver seemed just as excited as we were. I suspect he was surprised that he had actually found his way there.

    As we reached the entrance to the main street of Mont St Michel we were stopped by a boom gate. The driver looked mystified. We pulled to a stop. He looked into space, scratched his head, babbled something in French and just sat there. Behind us a huge line of waiting buses and cars started to build up. The driver rang someone on his phone but the call seemed to keep dropping out. The queue behind us grew ever longer, until eventually a driver came up and asked him what he was doing. He scratched his head and finally turned out of the way and did a loop around the block to have another go. The whole charade was repeated a second time, until finally we saw the boom gate on the exit go up. We pointed to it and the driver swerved across the road and entered via the exit, accompanied by a chorus of cheers and clapping from the Ghostriders.

    We found the hotel (thanks to my GPS) and pulled up outside. The driver opened his door and looked out, at the same time accidentally dropping his jacket out the door. He didn’t see it and started to reverse. We yelled at him about his jacket, but he just smiled and laughed. Maybe this was all part of the performance. It certainly was great entertainment. A bystander banged on his window and pointed to his front wheel. He finally showed interest, got out and retrieved the filthy remains of his coat. He seemed quite mystified as to how that could possibly have happened. Such is life in France.

    We bade farewell to the driver, thankful to be both alive and still dry. After dropping our gear at the hotel we set off to explore the famous landmark that is visited by millions of tourists every year. The distinctive towering abbey dates back to obscure beginnings in 708 when Aubert, Bishop of Avranches had a sanctuary built to honour Michael the archangel. For most of its existence it was only possible to reach the island at low tide, but a recent elevated road and walkway now allows the onslaught of tourists to reach it at all hours.

    Although it is possible to travel across by free tourist buses, we chose to walk across instead and experience the visual sensation of seeing the abbey growing in size as we drew nearer and nearer. Carol’s first experience of the famous abbey was not a pleasant one. As soon as she opened her umbrella, the howling wind grabbed it from her fingers and quickly sent it souring into the air and out of sight. I had visions of Carol becoming a modern day Mary Poppins and sailing right over the abbey rooftop, holding onto the handle of her umbrella. Like Bob’s GPS, the umbrella is probably now somewhere over the English Channel.

    We last visited this spot a few years ago and, although it was crowded then, the crowds have now grown to almost unbearable proportions. As soon as we entered the lower parts of the Mont we were surrounded by a crush of tourists that had all been disgorged from their tour buses. A large percentage were holding on to their cursed selfie sticks so that they could photograph themselves in front (and thereby completely obscuring) every nook and cranny. Those that weren’t carrying selfie sticks were sucking on stinking cigarettes, blowing smoke into every else’s face. This is NOT my favourite type of location. After an hour or so of doing battle with the masses we retreated to the quieter outskirts of the abbey and sought some personal space and fresh air.

    For a short time we succeeded, but soon even this refuge was overrun by a line of smokers. I could not help but feel disgusted at the way they tossed their butts straight down onto the ancient paths or flicked them into the ocean. This place might have survived the elements for a 1000 years, but I can’t see it standing up to the battering it is taking from the tourists every day. We were glad to leave the chaos and walk back to our hotel, assisted by a roaring tailwind. We enjoyed this simple pleasure much more than the abbey itself.

    In the evening it was another superb dinner, this time at the Relais du La Roy. Apparently this is the best restaurant in town and the food was superb. I chose the seafood platter for entrée and it would have been enough to serve as a main course at any other restaurant. I somehow managed to spread it all over the tablecloth , my napkin, shirtfront (and even send a spray of something from a squashed prawn onto the adjoining table). I think people suspected that I am not skilled at this sort of thing.

    After dinner we took a final look at the floodlit island and staggered back to our hotel. Tomorrow we move to St Malo.
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