Western France

Mont St Michel rises from the landscape like something out of “Game of Thrones” or some Tolken-like story. You can see it rising above everything else in the vicinity from 50 km out, and as you approach the magnificence, the grandeur of the Mont becomes overwhelming. It is huge and dwarfs everything surrounding. Sitting on the mudflats of a bay on the West coast of France, it attracts a ridiculous amount of visitors. We opt to walk out to the Mont and become more and more impressed as it looms closer. The main street is packed. Bodies jostle each other past souvenirs and restaurants. The crush overwhelms as we move upwards through the street to the abbey at the summit. The crowds die back somewhat as we enter into the open courtyard and pay to enter the abbey. Entering the main chapel we realize we have stumbled in just as mass starts and the singing and chanting of the white robed monks is almost magical. Z sits enthralled and peppers me with religious questions after we leave. The abbey is multi-storied and has multiple rooms, we work our way through it, and it is interesting, but has far too many people for my taste. After exiting we find a deserted restaurant and gorge ourselves on Mussels. As always, our strategy to avoid the crowd works like a charm, down one alley and then another, we find ourselves in deserted passageways. We explore the back alleys and streets of the mont, crowd free and enjoy some marvellous views. We walk the walls and ramparts, again almost empty and marvel at how far the tide goes out in the bay, further than the eye can see.

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We are at the swankiest campsite thus far. a five star thing with a golden gate as you drive up to the entrance. The complex boasts 5 pools and over 12 waterslides and the pools are actually heated to everyones delight. I’m convinced that the steamy indoor swimming complex was the cause of the illness that has plagued me for the last 3 weeks. We had a resurge of interest in travel again here, and then all fell ill and so we slowed down again… France, the place to go slow. If one were to ask me “why go to France?” I would say, “To sit, to eat, to drink, but if you want adventure, try another country.” Or at least that has been our experience.

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Another day we decide we want to see the Normandy coast and aim our GPS for Juno beach where the Canadians landed. On the way there we are sidetracked by a sign to a German battery museum. The young man running it is a historian and said that the historical accounts of the Normandy invasion didn’t add up, so went searching in farmers fields for a German battery he felt had to exist. His father tripped over a cement chimney and found the buried battery and they bought the land and have been excavating the battery for years. An American cover-up they believe…

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As we approach Juno beach the car crests a rise and a dense bright crimson field of poppies appears. My breath catches in my throat and I sob at the sight. How can such a thing evoke such emotion? A symbol seen every November in my 36 years made concrete, real… “In Flanders Fields” funs through my head and I leap out and stand awestruck in the field with tears streaming down my cheeks. The power of that symbol, of that image, I didn’t realize how deep it embeds how the power of a simple flower blowing in a field can have this effect.

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We drive on and stop on a beach where cement bunkers still sit in the water offshore. The kids beachcomb and we think about what this would have looked like 100 years ago. What did those storming the beach feel, how did the cold water soaking into their clothing feel as they faced gunfire landing on the beach. We feel somber as we leave and visit the Canadian Cemetery. It brings history home. It makes it tangible, real in a way books and lessons cannot.

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We stay in this area for a week, visiting local towns, swimming, eating and finally getting sick and spending a couple days laying low. On our last night, the night before having to pack up and leave at 7am, I manage to nearly cut off my middle finger with a ceramic knife. Somehow the knife had been thrown into the dish bin unsheathed, and I slice my knuckle to the bone. I can’t stop the bleeding and T helps me find the first aid kit and gauze as Derek grabs the dishes back to the tent. I can’t stop the bleeding and I realize I need the hospital. We drive into St Malo at 10pm and I spend 4 hours in a French hospital. The bleeding has stopped after 3 hours of pressure, but then the doctor opens the wound back up again and she can’t get it to stop, so she hands me some gauze and tells me to keep pressure on it and she will be back. She returns 30 mins later and tapes it up, “As stitches will be too hard, tape is fine.” Someone from England later tells me that the French use 3M for everything! We get back to our site at 2:30am. You aren’t supposed to drive into the campsite after 11pm… there are fines if you do… Derek sneaks in with headlights off and we fall into an exhausted sleep for 4 hours.

The next day we are off to the Belgian border for our last week in France, which hopefully I will write about soon. We are in Krakow and our days are busy. We walk for 10 hours everyday and by the time we return to the hostel, I am too tired to write.

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3 Comments

  1. Jo-Ann Zyla
    July 4

    Your pictures are glorious, especially the photo with the roses and the fields of poppies. How wonderful to be part of a scene that has lived only in your imagination all those years such as the ‘fields of poppies’. You seem destined to experience much more than the average tourist: Spanish police station, French hospital! I really felt I was there with you.

  2. Melanie
    July 11

    Amazing photos Sam!

  3. Melanie
    July 11

    Amazing photos!

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