9/21/15

My Travel Book - The Mont-Saint-Michel - The End of the Spring Tide - September 1, 2015





A room with a view

The night seemed to fly by. We went to bed quite late and we woke up quite early. Early enough to watch from our bedroom window the tidal bore come in again. (Which probably explains why the room was so expensive after all! Watching the tidal bore from our bedroom!)



At 8:03 a.m., its emergence was so sudden and fascinating that I did not even enough time to get my camera. I drew my iPhone instead!




As soon as the tidal bore hit the bottleneck under the bridge, it turned into a torrent, just like the night before.

Yesterday evening, before “hitting the sack”, we had decided not to go up to the abbey again. My knees did hurt quite a bit and above all, Popeye had a very important conference call at 10:00 a.m. which made it rather impossible for us to go up there again and back down on time for his call.

Just fine with me. It would be very nice to walk around on the city walls and watch the rise of the flow tide right after the tidal bore. High tide would happen at 9:44 a.m. and then the waters would start ebbing very fast.

Yesterday we had missed the morning tide because of a very thick fog and heavy rains. The evening tide had been just perfect , especially the bores. But it happened at nightfall so we missed quite a lot, especially the tide at its peak.

The last part of the spring tide was to be just perfect. Sunny and beautiful weather. Not too many people either on the Mont. Most visitors wanted to stay on the bridge and watch the tide lapping the ramparts.

We were stuck on the Mont so we made the most of it. I found a very nice spot, not very far from the hotel, on a terrace. It was lovely. Right above the small platform that goes from the Mont entrance to the bridge. With an open view onto the bridge itself.

Since it was daylight, sunny and rather warm, there was a lot more bustle on the bridge and on the waters alike.

Last night we had spotted two lonely kayaks quite far away from the Mont. The morning was so lovely that quite a few kayakers had decided to embark on an incredible adventure. They were to paddle over the bores or what was left of them once they had mingled.
The water was rising terribly fast. Already reaching over the entrance of the bridge but not deep enough yet.




The first kayaker got stuck on the platform and needed a little bit of help from the firemen standing there. (They were real firemen but at the Mont, they have to be divers as well since most dangers come from the sea. And there were a lot of them around.)

 



It was interesting to watch the kayaker get stuck while facing some rather intense tidal flow. Since the tide rises very, very fast, he was freed very quickly and rowed away with a whole group quite intent on paddling around the Mont.






While they were crossing, the bridge looked a little bit like it was on the verge of collapsing with so many bystanders on it. It’s only some dimensional effect from being so high above the sea!



And then came the fleeting moment when the Mont-Saint-Michel became an island for less than one hour.







An island as far as wise people were concerned. Because there were many reckless people who could care less about the many safety instructions. Some did make openly fun of the firemen and chose to come back to the Mont or to leave it by foot, braving the sea not realizing that they were risking their neck. The currents are really strong and as soon as the tide starts ebbing, there is a very powerful undertow.







Luckily nothing serious happened. Some people got wet from head to toes, of course. No one fell down and no one was carried away by the flow.

We left as soon as the way was officially open. 




One last look at the abbey when we left the hotel and back onto the bridge to get into the shuttle that drove us to the parking lot.



And one last look at the Mont-Saint-Michel.

“Did you notice that there will be a 117 spring tide on the 29th of September,” said Popeye.






*Good Luck, and Good Night*

9/20/15

My Travel Book - The Tidal Bore at the Mont-Saint-Michel - August 31, 2015







 By the time we ended the visit of the abbey, it was around 5:30 p.m. Too early to stay up there and wait on the terrace for the 9:21 p.m. spring tide. The tidal bore was expected to get to the Mont around 7:45 p.m. (9:21 p.m. being the time when the tidal range would be at its highest, more or less 14 meters on that day.)

We wanted very much to watch its arrival from the west terrace which was the best place ever to be that night. The abbey would be opened until 10:00 p.m instead of the usual 5:30 p.m. which shows how important spring tides are now for the Mont.

We went back down to the hotel, feeling very tired but ready to climb up the mount once more less than one hour later. Which we did. We got back there at 6:30 p.m. 


The crowd was impressive but not huge. I am so tall that it was not hard at all to find a good spot where I would shoot the arrival of the tidal bore from. Popeye was more a watcher and a seaman than a photographer so he spent some time finding the best spots I would use later on to keep on shooting.

And the wait began. Many people were new at this game, newer than us. Many did not know one single thing about tides which made the long wait bearable. Someone once said that it is easy to identify stupid people because they can’t help trying to sound knowledgeable.  This thought was expressed in a much rougher way than I dare retranscribe it here. I had a lot of fun.
I heard lots of “oh dear” when people caught sight of two men walking towards the other side of the Mont, a few minutes before the tidal bore was first spotted. Actually they were firemen checking on would-be reckless tourists. There were none to be found and they walked back to safety.


There was a lot of excitement about two kayaks which were waiting for the bore and were swept along as soon as it got there. This is a very usual activity there at spring tide. You’d better be good at this sport because the current is so strong that it can throw you off balance very quickly. Those two kayakers were very good indeed!




I was seriously disadvantaged though because of my defective sight. I had a hard time detecting the very first minutes of the tidal bore because it happened very far away, like ten to fifteen miles away. I had to rely on a few people who had good eyes. (I kept listening!) So I can’t really say I witnessed the first minutes of the tide but then it rushed in towards the Mont at full gallop (and maybe at top speed even) and I followed the whole tidal bore from then on.




I am a photographer so I kept shooting. But deep down inside, I felt flabbergasted at first. Then my astonishment turned into something very close to anxiety. I kept shooting while I was actually starting to feel rather frightened.

Imagine. I was very high above the sea level, on a very secure spot from the tide - besides the fact that tides are no strangers to me. And yet while I was watching this so powerful and humongous expanse of water rushing towards us, I ended up feeling scared. Not scared like whimpering about it. But scared by the very concept of this seemingly peaceful and yet so implacable body of water. Totally smooth and deadly.

I am so used to plain tides. The first tidal wave gets in then withdraws slowly until it comes back with another one and then another one, wave after wave, further and further. And the whole process will take six hours. It may get in very fast in some places like the Ebihens but it is always the same process. Wave after wave. It is quite realistic to escape from the rising tide unless you are caught in a pincer movement.

At the Mont-Saint-Michel, there is no way you can get away from this tidal bore. It is made of one gigantic body of water. Not a real wave. More like flooding, so quiet and inexorable… A lot like some lava flow actually.



Just imagine being caught in that pincer.


From the terrace, the height of the tidal bore was very dwarfed but you have to realize that at full tide, ninety minutes later, it is already 14 meters high and still looking very smooth and calm.


I am talking about the tide that comes in from the east, from Granville in Normandy. The Mont is an island and the tide also comes from the west, from Cancale in Brittany. 


video

This tidal bore is more raging. The waters come in like a torrent of mud because their path is narrower on account of a much more uneven ground .


video

And then the two waves collide and you realize you would never escape from such a deadly trap. The waters do not blend. They make eddies. It looks like a fight for survival. Which tidal bore will get the upper hand?

The road and the bridge (at least part of it since it’s been built to let the waters flow freely underneath) were submerged less than one hour later. Almost one hour before the highest level of the tide. And then the sea lapped against the fortress. It got inside the village, flooding part of the street and the lowest unprotected buildings.




For a while I worried a lot about the incredible stupidity of bystanders on the platform facing the bridge and on the bridge itself. It was getting dark which proved to be rather deterrent. A good thing there were tons of firemen and police officers around both on the bridge and at the bottom of the Mont. 
But people can act so stupidly sometimes. 


A friend asked me if I had been afraid when the Mont turned into an island. Actually it did not bother me at all to find myself so suddenly on an island, a very small one but nevertheless an island. Maybe because I knew for a certainty that the tide would recede as fast as it had rushed in. In much less than a couple of hours, people were able to go in and out of the Mont Saint-Michel. Totally freely.

Meanwhile, Popeye and I were having a late supper at La Mère Poulard. Very nice supper with a gorgeous omelette with lobster. So good. Then we made a huge mistake. Instead of choosing a light apple tart, we went for… the omelette with apples. Gorgeous again but we wished we had not done that because too much can turn to much too much! Their omelette as a dessert is just as big as the omelette as a main course, except that they don’t warn you! (They probably were having a good laugh in the kitchen since we were the last diners.)





By the time we went to bed, the brige was functional again.








*Good Luck, and Good Night*

9/16/15

My Travel Book - The Mont-Saint-Michel and Spring Tide (August 2015) - Part 1







Once upon a time, the Mont-Saint-Michel used to be an island solely accessible at low tide. Then a causeway was built at the end of the 19th century to allow people to travel back and forth no matter what. I mean, without taking tides into account.

(Do I have to remind you that the Mont-Saint-Michel boasts one of the most impressive tidal range in the world if not the most? Up to fourteen meters from low tide to high tide, especially during spring tides when the sea supposedly rushes into the bay as fast as a galloping horse. It is a very hazardous area to cross between tides and mud flats.)

Then the Mont became very famous and tourists flocked in and out using the dry causeway and the car park that had been conveniently built very close. The bay started stilting-up. The situation worsened until the French government decided to launch a huge program to remove the siltation and make the Mont an island again.

The project was voted in 2006. An hydraulic dam was to be built. The causeway and its car park were to be destroyed and replaced by a very light bridge with a shuttle service from a remote car to provide access to the Mont at low tide.

In March 2015, the Mont-Saint-Michel became an island again.


We went to the Mont on the 1rst of January 2015. Walking on the bridge was impressive but the labours of Hercules weren't over yet. A few big earth-movers were at rest that day which was as gloomy as a winter day can be.



We deliberately avoided to go to the Mont in March 2015 because we knew there would be too many people there due to the 119 spring tide. But Popeye who is a true seaman noticed that there would be an interesting spring tide at the end of August.

We made reservations at a hotel in the Mont (as early as March) to make sure to spend the night there and watch three tides coming in from the Abbey - two on the 31rst of August at 9:01 a.m. (113) and then at 21:21 p.m. (114) and the last one on the 1rst at 9:44 a.m. (114 again).

Since we live 90 minutes away from the Mont, we decided to get up at 5:00 on the 31rst and hit the road as early as possible. We wanted to watch the tidal bore from the coast. There was a perfect spot at a place called “La ferme Saint-Joseph”. (Thank you very much, Google maps!)

“Ok,” said Popeye at 5:45 a.m. “Let’s check the weather.” Oh well, we barely could see the garden. And please don’t think that it probably was too dark because at the end of August, the sun still rises quite early in Brittany, at least when it is not foggy.

And yes, we were in the depths of an ocean of very thick fog…  “Let’s go,” we said. “The Mont is one hundred kilometers away. There is still hope!”

And off we went. It was not raining at Les Tertres. It was not raining around Saint-Malo. And then it started pouring cats and dogs. “Oh well,” we said and kept on going. 



We were getting closer and closer to the Mont except that it was getting very hard to find our way. Just a figure of speech since we knew the directions! It was still raining and a very thick fog was settling down all over the countryside. So thick it became quite  hard to see the houses in the villages we were going through.


We stopped because we knew the Mont was there, 500 meters away but lo and behold it was totally invisible. Just like a nightmare. You know when you dream about some place you are trying to get to and you can’t because there is this impenetrable fog. It is scary and you wake up, feeling quite happy to find yourself in friendly surroundings.

Well, there were no friendly surroundings and no way we’d get to watch the tide that morning. Our hotel room was to be ready around 3:00 p.m. It was 8:00 a.m. Still pouring, by the way! There was only one sound solution. We made a U-turn and headed back to Les Tertres.

It was still foggy there. We went back to bed and slept the disillusion off until noon!
 
We decided to give it another try even though at noon, it was cloudy and misty at Les Tertres.

But it would be fun to spend one night at the Mont Saint-Michel, on the island itself, wouldn’t it?

Normandy is a wonderful place after all. The fog had totally cleared up when we got there around 2:00 p.m. We could see the Mont from quite far away, exactly where we knew it was hiding, this morning, wrapped in fog. 


Of course the tide was at its lowest then. We drove to “La ferme Saint-Joseph.” There it was, so close. Le Mont Saint-Michel and Tombelaine. So beautiful. Worth coming back indeed. Truly bewitching.


The tidal bore was expected around 7:00 p.m. so we leisurely walked along pastures and we came across a few salt meadow lambs and ewes. Sheep of renown. So few of them though.



Time to drive to the Mont. Our room was ready! We were starving too. We wanted to eat an omelette at La Mère Poulard which happened to be our hotel as well. People come from all over the world to eat La Mère Poulard’s omelette. We had travelled 120 kms three times on the same day to get to the Mont. Worth a reward!


The omelette was great, tasty and delicious, more like a soufflé than a regular omelette. Yummy, really. The first and last time I had eaten there was like 55 years ago… and I just couldn’t remember its taste… Well, I have other “madeleine de Proust” in my life!The hotel was quite disappointing though except for the fact that our (ridiculously small but so-called “Prestige” bedroom) window was facing the bay towards the bridge and the Couesnon. Which is probably the reason why we paid a walloping price for it!


As soon as our famished selves were satisfied, and believe me, one single omelette de la Mère Poulard does fill you up, we started the long and painful trek up to the abbey. 



Painful it really was but so gripping. Somehow most of those worn-out and very uneven steps were the same steps thousands and thousands of pilgrims had trudged upon while ascending to the Saint Michael's shrine. They also were the ones taken by hundreds of prisoners going to jail throughout several centuries too.

The interesting thing is that once you get to the abbey which is the only reason why you are going to the Mont-Saint-Michel after all is that there will be more steps up and down inside. Then you climb more steps and there you are. Open space. Breathtaking. The bay as seen from the terrace of the abbey. 



We were lucky. We were expecting to rub shoulders with thousands of people, the way it was in January. (Except that the abbey was closed.) Because of the 114 tide and the 14 meters tidal range…

Actually it was perfect. There were people, mostly Germans and Italians and Spaniards. But not too many. The abbey is a huge place and it was definitely not crowded.

We went through the visit on our own because this is the way Popeye likes it. (Besides the fact that we had missed the last conducted tour! They stop at 4:00 p.m. by the way.) We made the most of the booklet offered by the Center of National Monuments. To be fair, it was enjoyable.




The abbey is austere, unadorned and monacal. Which makes sense since four monks and seven nuns came back to live there permanently in 2001 thus asserting the religious component. The Catholic Church did create the first sanctuary dedicated to the Archangel Michael in 708, the abbey being built around the Xth century to accomodate pilgrims and monks.


The abbey may be monacal but it is also very obvious that it used to be a military stronghold never to be conquered by the British armies during the Hundred Years War. It is surroundered by ramparts and fortifications that still hold on beautifully.



I wrote about trudging up the stairs following the footsteps of many prisoners. When a state owns such a stronghold protected by the sea and almost impassable mud flats, what do you think it will be used for? Yes, the Mont was turned into a jail as early as the XVth century. During the French Revolution and the First Empire (1789 to 1815), the monks were driven away from the abbey which became a huge and very safe prison until 1863.


Nowadays the Mont-Saint-Michel belongs to the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites and draws millions of tourists every year.



But it has been part of our national legend for ages, Christians and non-Christians alike. Simply mention the name “Le Mont Saint-Michel” and there it is, the wondrous pyramidal shape built on top of a huge and invicible rock.

And now it is its old self again - an island even at low tide.




Imagine!




*Good Luck, and Good Night*