Sunday, July 10, 2011

Day 5 - July 3 : Bretagne

The next morning we woke up in Villedieu-les-poêles and continued our breakfast ritual of finding the local pastry shop. This morning I had a chocolat pépites, which means chocolate chips. It was a pastry similar to pain au chocolat, with a cream filling in addition to the chocolate chips. Yet another completely delicious pastry.

After breakfast, we started on the road to Mont Saint Michel. Since my first trip to France, I have always wanted to make it out to Mont Saint Michel and somehow never have, so I was very much looking forward to this. Our hotel was about a half an hour from Mont Saint Michel, so after about twenty minutes of driving through the Normandy countryside, we crested a large hill that looked down to the coast and we got our first glimpse. As we got closer, I pulled into a little scenic view area and we were able to see Mont Saint Michel across the marshes and dunes where the local sheep graze. It was just like the postcards.

The sheep grazing on the grass next to the Baie Saint Michel

Mont Saint Michel in the distance

As we got closer, it became apparent just how enormous the island is! We stopped on the causeway to get a couple more long distance shots and then pushed forward to the parking lot. Some of the lots are submerged at high tide, which was about an hour before we arrived, so while we were heading up to the entrance, we could see the special street cleaning vehicles that clear the sand and debris from the lower lots as they become exposed. We headed up to the entrance to get our first look at the inside of Mont Saint Michel. As we made our way up to the abbey, we passed countless shops, restaurants, hotels and maybe homes on the lower levels. From each and every level we had many opportunities to take in the beautiful and unique views of the Baie Mont Saint Michel that each vantage point had to offer. The Mont basically spirals its way up to the entrance of the abbey, so we were constantly going up the front of Mont Saint Michel via a thousand and one stairs and ramps.

From the causeway

From the parking lot

The entrance to Mont Saint Michel

One of the narrow streets lined with shops and restaurants

View along one of the paths through Mont Saint Michel

Already quite high up on the Mont, we finally saw the entrance to the Abbey, an extremely tall and imposing archway. After we got our tickets, we continued into the abbey and continued going up. Once we arrived at the top level, we had an amazing view from the plaza in front of the church. We could see for many many miles both into Normandy and Bretagne, plus out into the English Channel. The Abbey was an amazingly tall and complicated structure on top of the already tall and complicated town that we had just walked through. Following the tour of the Abbey, I felt as though I was walking through a maze full of enormous rooms and stained glass windows. There was also a really cool interior courtyard with a garden on top of the Abbey. From what I gleaned from a French tour that was walking by me in the church, even though Mont Saint Michel has been a state owned site for a couple hundred years, right now there are 6 monks living there. Sometime in the past few years they applied to rent out space on Mont Saint Michel and practice their religion there- if you go at certain times of the day you will find the monks doing vespers.

The entrance to the abbey

Inside the abbey

The view towards Bretagne

The English Channel and Normandy

The interior courtyard of the abbey

The courtyard inside the abbey

After we made our way through the labyrinthine Abbey, we descended back down to the bottom of the Mont, taking the opposite route down. There we perused the many gift shops and bought some snacks. One of the things that is really notable about sightseeing in France is the importance that the French gift shops give to the regional products. Everywhere we went the shops were filled with regional foods, such as pommeau, calvados, many cheeses, jams, salts, and cookies, and regional products, such as soaps, candles, copper pots, and leather goods, in addition to the usual supply of tourist trinkets.

After we finished shopping, we headed out to the next destination, Fougères, a well-preserved medieval town. On the way, we stopped at one more tourist shop, that was like a whole market with many amazing regional products. If only I were rich... The trip to Fougères only took about a half an hour, and we were soon walking through the town and by the castle of Fougères which looks much the way it did back in the 14th century. The castle, which fortified the original town, had amazingly huge walls that I was able to walk on. From the walls I had an awesome view of the town and the surrounding countryside.

Château Fougères and its moat

Old houses built right next to the Château

The entrance to the old medieval town

Walking along the castle walls

View of the outside of the castle from on top of the walls

After visiting Fougères, we pushed on to our next stop, Vitré. It was about a half and hour drive and when we arrived we checked into out hotel, Le Petit Billot, which had the friendliest owner that you could imagine. When she realized that we were four adults and we had booked one room, she gave us a second room for the price of one, just so we would be more comfortable. I guess that we were very lucky to go on a Sunday night, when tourism is low. She also spent several minutes giving us suggestions on what to see and where to eat. After settling in, Mariellen and I checked out Vitré while Mémé and Melissa took a much needed nap. Vitré is also a well-preserved medieval town with a slightly less than well-preserved castle. The shops and restaurants were very cute, exactly what you'd expect in a medieval town. The castle is currently undergoing restoration and was not open when we stopped by, so we only saw the outside.

The streets of Vitré

Château de Vitré

Château de Vitré

After regrouping, we went to dinner at the restaurant recommended by the owner of the hotel. She promised that it was a very good restaurant with many choices. Unfortunately, we never found out how good it was because the waiter broght us our menus and then ignored us! We waited for at least 20 minutes for him to take our order but he never came back. We left in protest of the poor service and had yet another sandwich! The sandwich was pretty good, but it was the dessert that was worth writing home about. It was a chocolate mousse cake with a chocolate crumb on top of the graham cracker-esque crust called a chocolat royal. It was extremely rich and decadent, so eating one piece was almost too much!

After dinner we walked to a nearby park for a quick stroll before bed. The park had some very interesting trees, that seemed to be growing sideways and a family of black swans, which I had never seen before. After enjoying the relaxing walk in the park, we turned in for the night.

The crazy sideways growing trees

There was a small group of black swans

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