Destination Europe Part III
Mont St Michel (MSM) is located in the Bretagne region of France in the Gulf of St Malo (towards West of France, on the shore of Atlantic Ocean, closer to England) on a cone shaped islet. The islet is crowned by the Benedictine abbey about 73 meters above sea level.
If Eiffel wasn’t in France, there is a strong belief that the Mont St Michel Castle would have been nominated for being a wonder of the world. All treat this magical location as a miracle place. This most scenic location is coupled with amazing history.
Several thousands of curious tourists throng this town for two reasons; one for the enormous history of the islet and second the peace and quiet of the area, especially the serene ocean settings. There are people who travel from capital Paris and other nearby cities and spend their weekends here. Normally the routine Europe tour operators don’t cover this place as it is located out of their way to reach central Europe. This is one of the advantages of planning your own holiday. We fortunately had the advise of our cousin Fr Alwyn and we are thankful to him for suggesting this place.
The place is connected from Montparnasse train station in Paris and takes about 3 ? hours to reach. However, the train takes us to the last train station at Rennes in about 2 hours, from where a bus takes us to MSM in 1 ? hours. That’s pretty strange for a country and the region so well connected with the railway network. Rennes is a quiet town, with the same type cast as most locations – old churches unused for religious purposes, but converted to host government offices!
An erstwhile abbey in Rennes, currently used for government offices
The first chapel at MSM was founded in 708 by Aubert, Bishop of Avranches after the Archangel Michael had appeared to him in a dream. In 966, duke of Normandy, Richard 1 established the Benedictine monks in this place. The church was rebuilt on a larger scale in the year 1023 by Abbot Hildebert II. In 1420, and during the hundred years war, the fortifications of MSM were reinforced. The abbey, which became part of the Congregation of St Maur in 1622, was dissolved during the revolution (1789-95) and was used as a prison in the 19th century. It was severely burnt in 1856.
The current structure is built on granite topping of the hill, but some limestone is also used in the cloister. MSM was built as a medieval castle, has two large towers to defend the entrance to the castle. This sanctuary was used by the allied forces in Normandy during the second world war.
Seeing the beauty of this place, we thanked Fr Alwyn without whose advise, we wouldn’t have reached here. By now, we had started one healthy habit ? climbing up all the towers that we visited. This was the first place where we had to climb without the help of the electronic devices (unlike at Eiffel).
The narrow lane inside the gate of the castle is full of tourists.
Naturally therefore, has bars, restaurants and its own post office too.
Help from a guide for the uninitiated.
The Castle known for huge walls(L); Entry into the heights of the Castle Tower(R)
Louvre, Versailles and other locations:
This is our fourth and final day in Paris. After finishing the distantly located Mont St Michel, it was once again time for doing the rounds in & around Paris.
We reached the Basilique du Notre Dame (Basilica of Our Lady) which is located at Zero point in Paris. We had just breezed past this place on Day 1 but could not enter as it was late in the evening. Here too, we had a long queue to enter the church. I don’t need to repeat that the view inside these churches and cathedrals is simply amazing. I captured as much as I could, in my Canon Powershot. Fortunately, there is no restriction on photography in these sites of international heritage (unlike in many historical and religious places in India) except at certain points.
Not surprisingly, the predominantly catholic France has a place of importance of Mother Mary in all of their historic churches and cathedrals.
Miniature design of the famous cathedral
Artistic window glass designs – biblical and colorful all the way
Tall walls, high roofs
On to Louvre Museum:
Our next stop is at the Louvre Museum. The place is famous for the paintings of Mona Lisa, the inverted Pyramid (the Mary Magdalene is buried here) and several other matters of interest for historians. This interpretation of the ?Da Vinci Code’ states that place is mammoth, would require up to 3 days at least to explore if one wishes to do it fully. We neither have time, nor too much interest in history, so we do a ?broad idea visit’. As we were going to Rome later, Fr Alwyn advises us that the visit to the Sistine Chapel would be similar to Louvre. To be honest, we don’t even need to know that, because as such, with limited time in Paris, we cant do justice if we enter such a massive place. Perhaps for the next time, we decide.
Large glass pyramid outside the museum
Ancient and monumental structures of Louvre Museum
A part of the queue to enter the museum
The inverse glass pyramid over a normal concrete one ? referred in the Da Vinci Code
Soon after this, we make a quick passing visit to the Church of Lady of Miracles (known for the medal of the scapular) as well as to the church of St Vincent de Paul (the charity saint) which are located near to each other.
Lunch was at a Vietnamese restaurant, where we quickly grab a bite with some delicacies of Far East, well different from the sandwiches of France, reasonably priced too.
There is a little time in between to slip into the Gallerie La Fayette, the famous shopping arcade of the grand brands of the world. We spend only a few minutes inside as we still have to cover the Versailles Museum by evening.
Inside the Gallerie La Fayette ? literally a gallery and the renowned glass works on the roof.
Over to Versailles Palace:
After all those visits, its time for us to visit the Versailles Palace to see most wonderful art and craft all studded in one beautiful place. It takes about 45 minutes from a Paris rail station. All the wealth and fanfare of King Louis’ XIV and Queen Marie Antoinette of the pre-revolution days are on display here. We specifically see and admire the Hall of Mirrors that was recently opened for public after substantial renovation. We still see some scaffoldings being used for renovation as the work is still not complete. Long queues stop to amuse us any further, as it appears, that’s a way of life for this tourist friendly country.
Familiar sight outside the monuments – long queue outside the Versailles palace
Amazing pictures all over the walls and rooftops
Each of these locations with art, craft and sculpture are converted into museums, thereby earning sufficient revenue for the Government to maintain these places of historic importance. A clear infrastructure is built, sufficient publicity is created and that results in hordes of tourists resulting in enormous revenue for the Authority. Ancient churches are retained in their original splendor and an entry into some of these massive cathedrals or converted museums costs around 10-15 Euros. Again, the visitors are in thousands with long queues to enter. Sufficient security safeguards are ensured as our backpacks are well screened.
Queen Marie Antoinette?s historical royal bed and her clock in front of the bed!
Area behind the Versailles Museum – place to relax
Magical hall of mirrors at Versailles Palace(L)
Just as we head back to our hotel in order to pack our things to reach Paris Austerlitz to catch the train to Lourdes, our companion Fr Alwyn is still not satisfied. On the way, he ensures that we had a photoshoot at the beautiful Luxembourg Gardens.
Luxembourg gardens in Paris
Is that one tree and many trunks or many trunks and one vegetation?
All connected well together at the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris.
As I stated earlier, the days are long and therefore, we could not see Eiffel in lights, which I believe is a great sight to behold. We hope that sight will be available to us at the end of our holiday, where we have to halt for a night before taking our flight the following morning.
In the next episode, it’s the glorious Lourdes, a peaceful, spiritual and miracle town of south France. Bon soir, Au revoir!
Author: Agnel Pereira- Bahrain