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April 20, 2002
France: Bretagne (Russell)

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Le Mont St.-Michel

Before we departed Normandie, we had a rare chance to spend time with some other Americans. At L'Hotel d'Arromanches on April 18th, we bumped into an American military family that was on vacation from their base in Holland. (Actually, eight-year old Jeffrey came wandering into Cameron and Joss' room while they were playing with Lego and made himself at home.) The parents, Rich and Leslie, are here with their children for a gigantic Boy Scout jamboree at Omaha Beach. Several other families are here as well; and for the next two days, Cameron and Joss got to play on the beach with Jeffrey, his sisters Hannah (7) and Julie (13), as well as their "neighbors" Will (8) and Lauren (13). After dinner, we went down to the beach with the children while their parents enjoyed some quiet time at the pub. Gail became the children's heroine by collecting giant seashells for everyone.

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Showing off their shells -- front l-r: Cameron, Jeffrey, Will, Joss; rear l-r: Lauren, Hannah, Julie

At breakfast the next morning, we came down amid hushed whispers among the American wives: "They're taking a one-year trip around the world!" "Why are they doing that?" "I don't know." One of the friendlier women came over to chat with us. "I need to talk to y'all about your tour books. What are you doing about those?" After we satisfied her curiosity she left the breakfast room, but then came back in again a few minutes later. "I also need to talk to y'all about your clothes. I'm worried about those, too."

That morning, April 19th, we took advantage of another late check-out time and didn't depart Normandie until almost noon. We had a short drive that day, only a couple of hours west from Normandie into France's northwest coast of Bretagne (Brittany). This region of France wasn't on our original schedule (which is now getting less and less structured as we go), but Gail had really been hoping to see Mont St.-Michel. We were able to secure two nights' accommodations for a ridiculously low price, so off we went.

Mont St.-Michel is one of France's most popular tourist destinations, featured on countless postcards and posters. It has been one of the world's foremost Christian pilgrimage destinations since AD 708, when the Bishop of Avranches received a vision from the archangel Michael telling him to build an abbey at the top of a small rocky island. A century and a half later, Mont St.-Michel is now a tiered village that completely covers the dome-shaped island. It is not really an island anymore; a 3-km causeway (built in 1878) now connects it to the mainland. And as a result, the surrounding waters recede daily to gigantic mud flats that include deadly pools of quicksand, as well as a dangerous tide that reaches 25 km/hour when it rushes back in.

We stayed at La Jacotière, a small farm-based Chambre d'Hôte just off of the causeway, and we arrived early enough that we drove over to the "island" itself in the late afternoon. On the wall of La Jacotière, there is a photograph taken twenty years ago when the farm was the only thing around. We can only imagine what it was like then, because today the area reminds us of Disneyland at Anaheim -- streets of motels, restaurants, and souvenir shops all around the causeway.

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Braving the tourist crowds at Mont St.-Michel

Mont St.-Michel itself was, in a word, disappointing. In the late afternoon the daytime tourist crowds were just beginning to dissipate (we shudder to imagine what it's like in the middle of the day), but the only thing left behind was endless windows of souvenir shops. As far as well can tell, the only thing at Mont St.-Michel is stores selling postcards of Mont St.-Michel. We had much more fun walking around on the parapets that surround the abbey, as well as wandering around on the mud flats below. We're glad that we came just so that we could say we've been here, but a couple of hours was plenty. Mont St.-Michel is much better admired from a distance.

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Gail at Mont St.-Michel's mudflats, avoiding the quicksand

The bright sunshine of April 19th gave way to rain the next day (our very nice hostess, Madame Brault, admitted that the weather changes very suddenly all the time around here). We spent almost the entire day of April 20th indoors; La Jacotière has a wonderfully spacious public room downstairs where we played several games of cards, and we enjoyed having a down day. We have been subsisting on room-cooked meals and cold grocery-store food for the past several days, so we did get some pizza à emporter for lunch.

On April 21st we had sunshine once again; so after leaving La Jacotière and before driving down to the Loire Valley, we stopped at St. Malo, a resort town, where we spent several hours at the beach. We had sent the boys' swimming suits home months ago, but Cameron and Joss enjoyed playing and building in the sand in the wonderful 25°C (77°F) weather (Gail collected more seashells). The tide came in at the fastest rate we've ever seen; the boys had to keep moving their building sites 10-20 feet further inland every half hour. It was a wonderful couple of hours, and provided us with pleasant memories of our very short time in Bretagne.

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Combing the beach (before the tide rushed in) at St. Malo


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