We are in France for one week because Wendy's choral group, Kol Zimrah, was asked to perform at the Copernic Synagogue in Paris!!!!! And, since Wayne is a full-fledged KZ groupie, we decided to take advantage and see parts of France that we have not seen before (our last time here was in 1995 for our 20th anniversary!)
Fly to Paris, train to Rennes (in Brittany), car to Mont St. Michel, Normandy (tour), car to Bayeux (tour), train back to Paris for sightseeing, eating, and singing.
Saturday, March 9, 2019
Planes, trains, and automobile! Up there with some of the most complex travel days we've ever had. Left O'Hare at 6:30pm Friday, landed at DeGaulle at 9:30 am Saturday (neither of us slept much nor well). Quickly got through customs, and made our way through the airport to find the RER train to take us to the Montparnasse Station. This trip took about an hour. Got to Montparnasse at 11:30, so plenty of time to sit and have some macarons before boarding the 12:57 train to Rennes. This was a very nice coach car, and we sped smoothly through the countryside at speeds up to 315 kph (195 mph)! We arrived at 2:24 and were met by Sebastian who took us to his comfortable, spacious Mercedes van, for the 1 hour drive to Beauvoir and (finally) our hotel.
We are staying at L'Ermitage, which, according to Willy the proprietor, is the smallest 5 star hotel in France. Only 6 suites!
After all that sitting (and because we had 3 hours until he would serve dinner), we took a 2.5 mile walk through this small town, along the River Couesnon (the boundary between Normandy and Brittany), to the edge of the bay to see Mt. St. Michel floating in the distance.
To make it easy after a long day(s) of travel, we decided months ago to eat in the hotel's dining room. Just before we left on Friday we received this email:
- Tasting of hot oysters, Champagne sauce 6: 14 € - 9: 19 € - 12: 23 €
- Tasting of raw oysters n ° 3 6: 11 € - 9: 16 € - 12: 20 €
- Nordic plate, salmon, haddock, halibut, herring, seaweed butter 17 €
- Steak of beef fillet with morel sauce 32 €
- Bar fillet on leek and champagne sauce 32 €
- Grilled blue lobster 12 €/100g
- Fluffy chocolate with a flowing heart 12 €
- Norman apple pie from la Mère Lilie 12 €
Oooohhhh! Picking out a French dinner in advance! There was no question as to what each of us would order:
….and of course, French baguettes, all of which were prepared from scratch by Willy's wife.
All were very tasty, except that the veggies were cooked to the point of mushiness. Wendy did her usual surgeon-like job on the lobster to get every meaty morsel. And while we were eating, the house
dog was walking around the room.....the wrinkliest, Churchill-lookingest English bulldog you've ever seen!
We barely made it through desert with our eyes open, so we then quickly headed upstairs for some much needed sleep.
Sunday, March 10
Today we tour Mont St. Michel. This is an abbey built on an island of granite. It came about when, in 708 (yes....708), a bishop named Aubert was visited in a dream by St. Michel. The angel told Aubert to build a small church on this rock and dedicate it to him. St. Michel is the one who (so the legend goes) decides if people will go to heaven or hell. So Aubert did as instructed, and people began to make pilgrimages to the church. Which meant that they had to make the church bigger. So it was enlarged, rebuilt, and expanded over the next seven centuries!!!!
Over 2 million people a year now visit. Most are tourists, but many still come as pilgrims, often as part of the Camino de Santiago in Spain.
Our guide, Val, picked us up and we drove about 2 miles to the shuttle bus parking lot (you cannot actually drive to the island without a special permit). The bus then drops people off near the end of the causeway (built about 5 years ago after the one from the 1880s was washed away!). We were fortunate to be there at high tide, and also at this time of year, when there are fewer tourists. But, as it is still the end of winter, we were met with winds upwards of 30 mph!!! It was actually difficult to walk the rest of the way to the base of the island!
Over time, a village grew around the church. Later, walls were added to protect it. During the 100 Years War, it was the only part of France not occupied by the British. Once we got inside the main gate, we were protected from the wind. But it was still quite cold!
Here you can see the various levels of the pathways and buildings, all the way to the spire on the church topped with a gold covered statue of St. Michel.
The carved masonry inside the church (and throughout) is truly extraordinary. You can see it here, as the main priest is setting up for morning mass....complete with an electric steam iron for the altar cloth! (Yes.....things do change over the centuries.)
And here is another statue of St. Michel. He is holding the scales (balance) with which he uses to weigh a person's sins vs his good deeds to determine where the person ends up.
Here is a medieval sculpture of the angel and Aubert:
You may be able to see that the face of Michel is missing. This happened when the sculpture was defaced (literally!) during the French Revolution! And, from then on for the next hundred years or so, the church was used as a prison! It was only returned to its original use in the late 1800's.
We toured the refectory (dining hall), several crypts, the scriptorium (where books were copied by the monks by hand), and other smaller chapels.
By the time we finished our tour after several hours, the tide had mostly gone out! But it was still just as windy walking back to the shuttle stop.
This was a really wonderful experience (Wendy had been wanting to see this ever since French 101 at DHS). It is certainly not as gaudy as the Sagrada Familia, nor as brilliant as the Taj Mahal, but it is definitely a must see.
Then we drove to Val's home town of Avranche, for a splendid lunch at the Croix d'Or (Golden Cross). They started us with not one, but two amuse bouches: pain croustillant avec petits legumes et fromage and smoked trout with sweetened cream. tres delicieux!
Then, Wendy had Dover Sole Meuniere and Wayne had scallops with pureed beans and bacon crisps; both of which are locally caught (seafood is very plentiful and popular in this region). So good and so filling. (BTW, once again, Wendy completely and successfully dissected / de-boned her fish.)
Unfortunately, we had no room for dessert!
We then drove to about 1 hour to Bayeux to see the world famous tapestry (spoiler alert: it is NOT a tapestry!) and prepare for the Normandy Beaches and war memorials on Monday.
It is now 9 pm and we are tired and this post is already getting long, so we will say bon nuit for now and finish with Sunday (and Monday) once we get into Paris.