Viva la France! Roadtrip Foolishness Pt. 3: Mont Saint Michel

After a long, thoughtful, and educational day at the D-Day Beaches, my crew and I drove the two hours to Mont Saint Michel. We arrived at our AirBnB outside of the actual Mont, in a small sleepy town. We chose to stay outside of the area to cut on costs, and honestly, it was an excellent choice because we met our outstanding host, Christophe.

Christophe was incredibly kind and showed us his garden, let us play with his cats, drank beer with us, and showed us fantastic sunset views of the area. We were sitting on the back patio, drinking beer and listening to his record player and commenting on how lovely it must be to live in such a beautiful area, when he offered to drive us around and show us an incredible sunset view.

We’re adventurous types, so we all agreed and Christophe drove us to the top of a hill where we saw the sun setting behind the distant Mont St. Michel Abbey. I could not get a good photo and I admittedly did not try very hard, because it was one of those views that I wanted to hold dear to my heart and experience without a camera in my face (I know, SHOCKING.)

Christophe also drove us to an old windmill where we appreciated the rest of the sunset and I ran about a quarter mile down the road to get a good shot (see? I’m still crazy about photography.) It was one of the most perfect evenings I have ever had.

The next morning we woke up bright and early to drive to the Mont Saint Michel visitor center/large parking lot. There is a free shuttle that will take you to the abbey, and it is also one of the only ways to get there since cars are not allowed. You can also take a horse-and-carriage, but that’s not free so the crew and I did not even consider it (plus, SLOW.)

We arrived around 9AM during low tide, so we went straight to the surrounding bay and took obnoxious tourist pictures. We then walked the entire circumference of the Mont, taking pictures, shit-talking each other, and climbing over rocks. Later we found out that when people used to make the pilgrimage to the Mont, they would walk around its entirety, like we had done. So that was a pretty cool coincidence!

After our pilgrimage we entered the Mont, ate breakfast at one of the little cafes, and hiked up to the Abbey. It was, expectedly, very crowded, with souvenir shops lining the narrow streets. I LOVED it. I understand some people turn their nose up to “touristy” destinations, but my view of it is obviously a unique place like Mont St. Michel is going to be packed, so instead of getting irritated by the crowds I let myself get swept away and enjoyed the experience. I was in a place I had dreamed of traveling to, and nothing was going to bring me down from it.

We arrived at the abbey and bought our tickets and got to exploring. The abbey itself was gorgeous, ancient, and had spectacular views. We were able to reach the top in time for high-tide and it was so cool watching the water rush in. I think we spent about 30 minutes just watching the water merge and swirl and rise. The inside of the abbey was dark and cool and had many places to sit and soak in the memory of the place.

When it was time to go, I was a bit sad. Visiting Mont Saint Michel is something I’ve been longing to do for years and it was everything I hoped it would be. I know that should the opportunity arise, I will be back.

Safe Travels and Happy Shooting!

 

Viva la France! Road-trip Foolishness Pt. 2: D-Day Beaches

Lawd, we actually did a road-trip through France.

When my friends and I rolled up into the rental car place and they asked where we were going and we told them, “Well, we’re going to go Normandie, then Tours, then down to Marseilles, then up to Chamonix, then over to Lyon,” I think the poor gentleman who was doing our paperwork was going to have a heart attack. As Americans, we frequently forget that driving for HOURS to get anywhere is not the norm in other parts of the world, especially Europe.

However, my homies and I have done this kind of travel before. So it wasn’t that big of a deal, however we did not insure the car and we were paranoid wrecks most of the time we were driving so, word of advice? Go for the insurance.

Anyway, once our three beautiful days in Paris were over, we got our rental and left the city. After driving for 3-ish hours and stopping for dinner at a place called Marina’s in the French countryside and speaking broken French to our waitress who spoke broken English and much pantomime and communal laughter, we arrived at our hotel where we passed out only to wake up at the crack of dawn to go to the D-Day Beaches.

For my friends who are paranoid like I was about entrance fees and parking: do not worry, there is so cost to drive to the beaches, park, and check it all out. We pulled right up to Omaha beach, parked in a lot, and walked around. The only thing we had to pay for was admission to the Operation Overlord Museum (which was pretty informative and I totally recommend.) There was no admission fee to the American Cemetery.

When we arrived in the morning, there were already people at the beach, sunbathing, swimming, building sand castles, and doing normal beach-things. At first I was deeply unsettled by this, because I was taught in school how many Americans died on that very beach, and it didn’t seem right that people were playing in the same spot where there was so much blood, the ocean turned red.

But, the ground didn’t feel haunted. I’ve been to places where grave atrocities had been committed– Dachau Concentration Camp, World Trade Center Ground Zero, to name a couple– and at those places, everything felt wrong. The energy was off, like the land and air had the horrible memories permanently imprinted into them. But at Omaha beach, those feelings were absent.

And I firmly believe it was because of the children playing and the families relaxing. The people that died on that beach not so many years ago died so that their loved ones and their legacies could have fun on a beach on a sunny August day. Instead of leaving the beach as an empty memorial, it has become a place of enjoyment. The ground holds memories of violence and bloodshed, for sure, but it also has the memory of fun afternoons and laughter.

We walked the entire length of Omaha and ate lunch at a restaurant that had all kinds of D-Day Paraphemalia, such as an Operation Overlord coloring sheet (lol seriously) and I wonderful picture of Eisenhower. In true deo-fashion, I took pictures. Also, brie on pizza is a terrible idea, I do not recommend it.

After our adventure down the beach, we walked all the way back, bought some fruit, and checked out the Overlord Museum and the American Cemetery. The museum was, admittedly, really cool. There were dioramas, maps, figures, historical artifacts, actual tanks, and lots and lots of information. My brain was mush by the end, but I learned so much and had a fun time of it. Well, as much fun as a person can have while learning about a harrowing topic like WWII.

Speaking of harrowing, after the Overlord museum, we visited the cemetery and spent a good chunk of time there, walking among the graves and thinking about the sacrifices made by the brave men and women buried beneath our feet. It was a beautiful day, not too warm, and the cemetery was honestly beautiful. The most emotional part of the day was when someone played Taps. My friend Sean and I just stood there for a long while, listening.

Visiting the Beaches of Normandy was something I had always wanted to do. I grew up as a history buff and read so much about the D-Day Invasion in school that I knew I needed to visit its hallowed grounds one day. Honestly, I never thought I’d get the chance to, that it would be one of those goals that would elude me. It seems like a silly thing to consider as I sit here writing about how I was just there, but the feeling must come from knowing about places of great historical significance and feeling as though they are inaccessible, almost fictional. I’m pleased my friends were willing to visit with me and contemplate the ground we walked on.

Safe travels, and Happy Shooting!