Le Mont Saint-Michel
Le Mont Saint-Michel was pretty much my favorite thing I experienced in France during my week-long trip this past summer, but boy was that a hard excursion to pull off. I sensed most visitors had rental cars to get around, but not me.
My friend and I stayed over the previous night in Bayeux during a little weekend expedition to Normandy, but on Sunday morning he had to catch a train back to Paris. I considered going too, but I had vaguely heard of this place Le Mont Saint-Michel and wanted to go check it out for myself. An array of Disney movies in which it made a cameo may have made the difference.
The night before I did some light research, and I found some tenuously-documented shuttle busses and train schedules that would probably get me where I was going. I purchased a train ticket from Bayeux to Pontorson and the journey was set to begin in the morning.
On the train ride to Pontorson was the one and only time in France that I needed to present my train ticket, and the conductor asked to see my ID too. That was alarming until I could decipher her French and realize that’s all she needed - there was no other issue, but that’s when I started to feel pretty vulnerable all alone far away from the Parisians who only pretend they can’t speak English.
I also bought my return train ticket and it took a few tries and some time for the credit card transaction to process. Good thing it finally did.
I took French for a few years back in high school, largely unsuccessfully, but this trip showed me that maybe there’s still a little memory hanging around.
Two others and I got off the train in Pontorson, which is located about five miles south of Mont Saint Michel. Fortunately the bus I read about actually existed, and it was waiting at the rural train station when I arrived. I boarded, paid a few Euros fare, and took a seat. Only one other person and the driver were on board, much to my surprise considering how popular I thought this place was.
For years, it has always cracked me up how many people randomly appear at ski resorts. You drive for miles and miles through weaving backroads with barely any other cars in sight, and suddenly you arrive and are greeted by thousands of other visitors. Where did you all come from?
The ride from the train station took lasted about fifteen minutes before the medieval abbey came into view. The tides were low and we drove right across the causeway. I got dropped off right near the town, and I meekly asked the driver in French how to catch the bus back. She pointed to a spot on the other side of the road.
Having already selected my returning train to Paris, I had about four hours to explore before catching the shuttle back to Pontorson. I started up the little hill inside the fortified walls towards the town. A surprisingly large number of people live in Mont Saint Michel (50) and they have a very nice row of shops shortly inside the entrance. I spent the next few hours wandering the entire grounds and seeing the cathedral on top.
I was pretty apprehensive about catching the bus back to the train station. There was one that was timed to line up with my departure, but I wasn’t feeling bold enough to rely on it. I decided to target the preceding one. For a while I didn’t think it was going to come either though - I stood at the end of the causeway for a while as an endless stream of parking shuttles passed by and picked up loads of passengers to bring them back to their cars. Several times I thought my bus was finally coming into view, only to have it be revealed as yet another parking shuttle as it grew nearer.
It finally came - right on time, but not a minute before - and one other person rode back with me. He promptly disappeared when we got to the trains, leaving me alone for a ninety minute wait. A nice, but completely French, station attendant passed through the newly-renovated but seemingly seldom-used station lobby a few times while I was there. I didn’t think he noticed me as I was crouched behind a row of chairs against the wall to charge my phone.
Some time later I heard the bus from the abbey pull up outside again - the last trip of the day and the one a more daring visitor would take. No one got off except the driver I heard get into his car and drive away. Shortly after, the attendant announced the station’s closure for the day. I showed him my ticket, clarified the meaning of 6:41 PM, and he indicated where I should wait outside. I exited, and he locked up and walked off, leaving me alone.
I continued waiting on the platform and eventually two others appeared about ten minutes before the train’s scheduled arrival. I envied that splendid timing in the moment. The train did come in to view, and I rode it 40 minutes to Foligny. The connecting train was delayed, so I got to walk an additional mile that day in the 10 by 10 plot on the Foligny platform, and there was a nice family with dogs to keep me company. I finally boarded the train to Paris, and three hours later I arrived.