Day 6 – How’s Bayeux? And France’s oldest tourist trap!
Day 6 – The World’s most charming tourist trap
Our third day in Normandy figured to be slower and more relaxed than the other two. It was.
Having been so engrossed in the D-Day experienced the day before, we hadn’t had time to visit the historical Bayeux Tapestry, so we made that first stop Saturday morning.
The Tapestry, which is really a 200+ foot needlepoint, is thought to have been created around 1077 either in England or Normandy, and chronicles in pictograms the saga of the Norman conquest of England, culminating with the Battle of Hastings in 1066.
The audioguide that came with the tour was excellent and told the story, tableau by tableau. Not to be missed if you ever get to Normandy. We wandered through the museum for a bit and then hit the road for the hour and a half drive south to the Mont Saint-Michel, which would be the ending point of our Normand excursion before heading back to Paris for a couple of days.
The hour and a half turned into about three, as we encountered boompair to boompair traffic for about three miles behind a wreck on the Autoroute. And as aggressive as these folks drive – and it is aggressive – they were very patient awaiting the wreck to be cleared. No shoulders, no esplandes. We were stuck. And nobody honked their horns, cursed or made silly French gestures. That would come later.
The Mont Saint-Michel is a medieval abbey sitting on a small island on mudflats at the border of Normandy and Brittany. When the tide comes in, the mudflats disappear and the island is all but isolated. From afar, Mont Saint-Michel looks like a fairytale castle. Steeples, ramparts, quaint village nestled behind the fortifications.
But when you get close, it looks like the world’s cutest souvenir stand. Thousands (seemed like more) of cars packed into huge parking lots a good two miles from the causeway to the island. Tens of thousands of people walked a nearly a mile to the trams that shuttled people across the causeway to within 350 meters of the entrance.
By the time we got across the damned bridge, we were almost ready to leave.
The crowd on the tiny winding streets and stairways running through this picturesque medieval castle was so thick and pushy that it made the mob scene at the Louvre look like a walk in the park. It was so thick that we almost missed the quaint wax museums and souvenir stands lining the canyon-like street of the village.
The specialty of Mont Saint-Michel is omelets, whipped, beaten and fluffy unlike any others. So we stopped to get one and escape the screaming kids and their smoking parents. It was simply a fluffy plain omelet. Nice. Not thrilling but nice.
What was thrilling was that outside the deck of our dining room were the ramparts of the fortress, meaning we didn’t need to stand shoulder to shoulder with everybody squished between the walls of the town. We could do it outside, where at least we’d have a great view and a breeze.
AND A TON OF UNEVEN STONE STAIRS! We climbed until we reached the base of the Abbey and democratically decided (unanimously I might add) that our energy would be better spent getting through the crowd and back to the car since we had a four+ hour drive back to Paris.
Verdict: Mont Saint-Michel is worth lookee. But no touchee!
We took the Normandy autoroute back to Paris. A “modern” toll road with a speed limit of 130 Km/Hr (about 80.) The only thing really modern about it was the toll booths. I figure it cost about 50 Euros in tolls to get from Mont Saint-Michel to Paris. But aside from one 40 minute delay (the crews were still fixing the guard rail from the accident that we had been stuck behind that morning) we flew back in the “fast” lane in our little Toyota what have you.
Now what nobody told us (or we had forgotten) is that it is illegal to drive in the left lane of a French autoroute. It’s strictly for passing. But that’s where I drove. To my amazement, we only got flipped off a couple of times and nearly run off the road a half dozen.
Almost missed the incredibly beautiful Normandy countryside … it looks like a postcard. Or Brenham.
We were quite happy to be finished with the car and back in Paris, where we returned to the same charming little Montmarte hotel in which we stayed earlier in the week. Still had time to enjoy one of the best meals of the trip and the company of a nice French couple who were seated just inches from us.
We’d only ever been to Paris. Now I know what visitors to the US think when they get out of New York for the first time.
Tomorrow we’ve got CHILLING OUT on the schedule to begin our second week on the road. Will be joining our son-in-law’s aunt at her apartment in Paris for lunch. Just what the docteur ordered!