Few places in the world truly live up to high expectations as we visit them, but Mont Saint Michel was one of the places that truly took my breath away. But before we arrived at our final destination, we first drove to the town of Dinan.
Dinan is exactly what people picture when they picture an old, northern French town. Narrow cobblestone streets, houses built of stone and wood, shop signs that have been hanging since the 16th century- you get the idea. Tourist season is (mostly) over, so besides the townspeople, we were the only ones wandering the streets to take in the views. One thing that many of us have discovered is that a great way to explore a French town is to walk around in search of a café because October in France starts to get a little chilly! It’s also a great way to people watch and understand the weekend habits of the French. We all ate our picnic lunches at various areas around the town, then we piled back onto the bus for our next stop.
As a history major, I freak out over pretty much anything that has any form of historical relevance, so as Mont Saint Michel came into view, I was geeking out. Visiting such an old, beautiful monastery steeped in history is my idea of a perfect Saturday. Picture the castle in the movie Tangled : a dominating structure that takes over practically an entire island, with a bay wrapping around as far as the eye can see.
For the first time in what felt like weeks, we lucked out weather-wise- it was partly sunny, with clouds surrounding only parts of the island, adding dramatic effect to the shuttle ride up to the base of the island. As we learned in our audio-guided tour, the first structure on the island arose in the 6th and 7th centuries and, according to legend, the archangel Michael came to the bishop of Avranches, telling him to construct an abbey on the island. Thus, construction of the abbey began and took centuries to complete. It was added to the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 1979 and can now continue to provide its beauty and culture to the world.
Walking up to the abbey, the first thing you notice is how packed and steep the street is. I say street because there is only one on the island, leading you up the path to the base of the abbey, where even more stairs await. Marching up the stairs and finally entering the abbey, I could really start to notice the intricate details of the base of the abbey and marvel at how this centuries-old structure is still around in such pristine condition. I always wonder at how people could not be interested in history when structures like Mont Saint Michel are still around to explore and appreciate. I constantly found myself wondering and considering the millions of people who have walked those same halls, from the original monks who lived there, to the prisoners kept there, and finally to the tourists like myself today.
Mont Saint Michel is one of the most visited tourist spots in France for a reason: this building has survived, against the odds of French and world history, to continue to exist and tell its stories now and for a long time to come. Visiting Mont Saint Michel will remain one of the highlights of studying abroad for me because of its ability to take me back in time and really reflect on not only history in general, but my place in it.
St. Olaf College