On the road to Mont St. Michel in France
France, January 2019
it’s my life: from time to time “wanderlust” or “get away sickness” is troubling me. For those who don’t know what’s the meaning of this: it describes my state of mind that make me want to leave my home, I am longing for distant horizons. After 40 years of marriage Dick is used to this odd behavior, so he give space to my impulse to go away. However, he make demands. Due to the fact that it’s midwinter, it’s January 2019, and because he knows my preferences, we have to stay away from Germany. I must hug the shores.
Dick would prefer to leave for warmer places but if there is only a time frame of 9 days available to move around with the RV, that’s not workable. Right away I devote my attention to the preparations for a new travelroute and search for realistic destinations. Whether it’s the coast I should stick to or the documentary about the Abbey of Mont Saint Michel, I don’t know, but without any difficulty our travel itinerary is on paper. We will visit the coast of Normandy and Mont Saint Michel will be the final destination. Of course we don’t justice this beautiful part of France to travel it in such a short time but we don’t have longer time and it’s always possible to return tot his part of France.
Because travel preparations are a source of joy for me, preparation is already holiday, it takes some time to complete our travel schedule. Next to look for accommodation for the night (preferable free parkinglots) I have to look for scenic hiking- biking- and geocache routes. After a few days, a plan is ready that Dick may approve. Not that he studies this plan, he never does! But he also saw the documentary about the Abbey of Mont Saint Michel and want to visit the Abbey as much as I do. Besides, it’s just a plan and we can easily change it.
Monday January 21th I visit my auntie Ank while Dick takes the RV from the storage, fill the propane tanks, ensure that all batteries are charged, provides the technical equipment and pack most of our stuff so on Tuesday morning, January 22th I only have to carry our food in the RV and we can hit “the Road”. There is a weather alert “code yellow” and everyone is advised not to go outside. As a result, at 10.30 am we are practically alone on the road and see the first wet snow falling.
The road remains quiet and is clean till we cross the Belgian border. The intensity of the precipitation is increasing, car traffic on the highway has dropped to practically zero and soon we are driving alone through a snowy landscape. Over Highways we drive to the French border and then continue our route over French N-and D-roads (smaller roads) further to the Southwest. By 2 pm it clears up and we arrive in Saint Pol. At a traffic light we are stopped by a Frenchman who ask us where we are going. When I say “Montreuil” his face brightens and he asks if he can hitchhike. Against our habit we ask him to come inside with his luggage and drive on. It’s a Parisian travelling to his family home in Hesdin, 16 miles away.
Due to the weather forecast, snow and more snow coming, there are no buses today so he is very pleased that we take him with us. After letting him out in Hesdin the clouds breaks open, blue sky appears and the sun is shining. What a weather. At 3 pm we arrive at the parking lot in Montreuil sur Mer. There is nobody here so we have a choice where to park our RV. Then we walk into town.
Montreuil sur Mer (Montreuil at the Sea) is an old fortified town and the ramparts take you around town. Although we are lit by the sun on our hike, it is bitter cold and there is a strong wind. This wind chills even more, but it does not stop us looking for geocaches, to enjoy the surroundings and the blue sky and sun.
I would like to return here in summer when there are events around the famous book by Victor Hugo: “les Miserables”. After all, the story in this book has taken place here. Walking around these defensive ramparts, fort and Church you feel carried back in history. At half past five we are back at the RV, we turn up the heater, insert the outer insulation mat in front of the window and warm our, to the bone numb, body while we drink a delicious glass of wine. At night, it freezes and snow is falling so on Wednesday January 23th we wake up in a white world. In a miniature snowblizzard I get a French baquette at the bakery in the town and after a delicious breakfast we drive on. Not really long because soon we join an endless row of trucks on the road, a real trafficjam.
After waiting for half an hour we leave the highway one by one. Further down the highway is blocked. Quickly we pick up our map and find a parallel road that take us to Rouen. Not really a good choice because the environment here is very “vallonnée” (hilly) and together with snow it means icy and slippery roads.
Fortunately Dick move in time to the opposite lane when, in front of us, in the middle of the steep road, a truck stops. He will not be able to continue until the driver has beaten the slope free of ice with his hammer. The weather is getting worse and worse, but this winter wonderland is beautiful and the camera is working overtime. At a certain point, it’s enough for Dick.
We drive on snow, covering an icy road and Dick struggles to keep the RV with his wheels straight on the bitumen. The growl of my husband is enough to find the nearest ramp to the toll road and after crossing the blizzard, we are so far to the west that the influences of the sea become noticeable and the road and the surrounding meadows look like it’s spring. No snow anymore.
After crossing the Seine over the huge Pont de Normandie, we arrive in Honfleur, one of the beautiful fishing villages in Normandy.
Near the harbour is a parking, at least 150 RV’s stay overnight here in summer, now there are only 10 RV’s so we have every possibility to park in a nice spot. After a cup of coffee we take a walk through the picturesque narrow streets over pebbles and along scenic houses. What a difference with the summer months when this place is overloaded with tourists. Now, with temperatures below freezing and an icy wind, we almost walk alone. The disadvantage is that many shops and eateries are closed.
But the largest French wooden church Sainthe Catherine, with its separate bell tower, is open.
At 6 pm we find an eatery where Kebab is sold. We both like Kebab so we take a chair and enjoy a good meal. The last 10 minutes walking back to the RV are easy, warmed by the tasty food. Already this afternoon, when the sun was still shining, we put the insulation mat in front of our windshield so we immediately can step inside and enjoy our books.
At night it freezes and on Thursday morning we wake up in a cold winter landscape illuminated by the rising sun. I walk to the bakery, in France you must buy fresh bread every day, while Dick removes the insulation mat. In the warm sunshine we start the day with fresh baguette and coffee. We fill our water (present at this RV parking), dump our black and gray water and then continue our trip in quiet French towns where the only traffic consists of a huge wild boar, crossing the road.
Around the Memorial in Caen is construction work and the parking is not really tempting to stay so we drive to Arromanches les Bains where we find a parking in the center of town. I like to walk to the caissons on the beach. The Allies submerged a lot of them in June 1944 to create a temporary port where troops and equipment could disembark. The liberation of Europe was set in motion. Unfortunately, it’s high tide and the beach is disappeared so we can see only a part of the caissons, most of them are submerged. We walk in Arromanches, find some caches and decide to drive to Barfleur, a small harbor town in the northwestern tip of Normandy, belonging to the most beautiful villages in France. We already had a two-hour walk in Aromanches, so we arrive at Barfleur at 4 pm. Next to the harbor, protected by a wall, we find our spot for the night between some fishing boats on shore. Just like everywhere, it is quiet outside and only some local fishermen are present on the quay to fix their fishing nets for the next sailing.
That take some time because now, on low tide, all ships touch the bottom of the harbor. They have to wait for high tide to be navigable again. Although it feels cold, a strong and icy wind blows and the sun disappeared behind the clouds, we enjoy this friendly town overlooking the sea. Because it’s getting dark we see the lighthouse of Gatteville. With rays of bright light it shines over the sea and also our RV. I do not think there is a quieter place than here, along the beach, between the abandonned ships and surrounded by sea. We sleep good and wake up at 8 am on Friday January 25th. Outside it is a bit foggy but the wind has finally settled down and it is 39 degrees. Lovely weather to walk to the bakery in the village to buy a baquette so we can have breakfast. At 9.15 am we drive the 1,5 miles to the Gatteville lighthouse. At the foot of the Phare you may spend the night, with seasight, but it’s a place for warmer days.
Unfortunately, this second highest lighthouse in France, almost 246 feet high, is closed. We can only walk around and admire the outside. Fortunately there are two caches here, so we stroll over the beach before continuing. In Fermanville it is not tempting to stay, it starts to drizzle, so we decide to stay overnight in Cherbourg on a parking next to the ferry to Ireland. Not only this RV parking is located very conveniently, within walking distance of the center of Cherbourg, there are also water and dump facilities.
On our walk to the center we stop for a moment at the Titanic monument. This iconic ship left Cherbourg in April 1912 to find its way to the New World but finally found its destination somewhere in the depths of the sea. The rest of the afternoon we walk in the center of town, visit small shops and look around. Back at the RV we take some water to clean the dirt of the RV. The last few days with snow and rain were disastrous for the outside of the RV. At night we go back to the city center and have good food in a small eatery. Unfortunately, the “Cité de la Mer” is closed this time of year. Too bad because we would like to visit the aquarium as well as the French submarine. Now we will leave tomorrow morning. But again we have a reason to return.
On saturday morning, January 26th, it is pleasant weather and the temperature is around 40 degrees. On my way to the bakery I pass a small fisherman’s stall full of crabs and lobsters. There is a lot of interest to buy them and the seafood look very fresh, probably directly out of the sea. I leave the crabs and lobsters for what they are, preparing them is not my strongest point. At 10 am, after filling up with water, we continue our journey along the coast. We drive in the tip of Normandy. Unfortunately, after an hour, it starts drizzling so it is not really tempting to stop and find a place to stay. Still we stop at Auderville, the western point and see a lighthouse emerge from the fog and built in sea. At the same time our phone welcome us in the United Kingdom. We are surprised, England is not that close? But after studying the map we see that the channel islands Alderley, Guernsey and Jersey are not far away from this coast. It also brings English radio channels within our reach. Not really annoying because the French channels are good for our language, but there is a lot of talking and little good music while this powerful English radio plays great Irish music, really fitting to the landscape we now traverse. We drive on a very narrow coastal road, so it is good that there is no tourist traffic and arrive at the “Nez de Jobourg”, beautiful cliffs with heights up to 420 feet, belonging to the highest of Continental Europe. Of course we walk towards the cliffs. In spite of the many clouds, only every now and then a sunray can penetrate, we enjoy the narrow path that brings us closer to the cliff. Fortunately it is not raining anymore because in some places the cliffs disappear steeply below us. Slowly we get closer to the “Nez”, where two geocaches are to be find. After we discover one, I climb a steep cliff to find the other. Dick slowly walks back, but keeps an eye on me. I wear a bright orange jacket so it’s not that difficult and he can follow my progress well. Walking along the cliffs, all alone (apart from Dick and me, there is no one to be seen) a feeling of luck overwhelms me. This is why I regularly have attacks of “wanderlust” and want to get away from home. This is life! Being one with nature. Dick, looking down at me from another cliff, hears my shouts of joy.
Chilled to the bone, but very satisfied, we finally arrive at the RV. We will definitely return here in a warmer season. Not only to find the geocache, I did not find, but also to visit the legendary caves here. These caves are also closed for the season.
Over rough and very narrow roads, at right angles where the RV barely avoid to touch the houses and stone walls (fortunately Dick is an excellent driver) we arrive at 4 pm in Carteret. The wind is changed into a storm and the wind chill drops the feeling temperature below freezing. We have to look for a a spot where the RV is somewhat sheltered from the storm. After parking the RV we take a walk to explore the area and of course look for some geocaches. In earlier centuries Carteret was the place where Parisians came to celebrate holiday at sea.
The old-fashioned bath cubicles are still there, placed against the cliffs. The sandy beaches are easy to walk now the tide is low. We walk around together with a lonesome diehard also defying the storm and cold. We climb the cliffs, look down at our RV below and walk over the boulevard to town. After all, we need to find a bakery. When it is getting dark, we go back to the RV, prepare a simple meal and then enjoy our books.
On Sunday we do not wake up until 8.30 am. The storm is still raging in full force and it is cloudy. No weather to walk half a mile to the bakery. After a good shower we drive to the bakery and have breakfast on a square in the center. At 10.15 am we leave Carteret (it’s not nice to stay another day) and drive to Pontorson over small roads. In this winterseason Pontorson, 6,5 miles from Mont Saint Michel, is a quiet town. Although in the afternoon the weather clears up, there are regularly rain showers and after a look at tomorrow’s weather forecasts we decide not to go to Mont Saint Michel today but to walk around in Pontorson.
There is not much to do in Pontorson but the parking at the Carrefour supermarket is large and we are sheltered from the strong winds. All the shops are closed on Sunday so the parking is quiet and we sleep good. On Monday January 28th we wake up at 8.30 am. We almost slept around the clock. After a delicious breakfast with fresh baguette we walk to the bus stop. The wind is still very strong and we do not want to cycle to Mont Saint Michel against this cold wind. Of course we arrive too early at the bus stop, a 200 yard walk , but after 10 minutes waiting the bus arrives and a 15 minutes ride brings us to the bridge, leading to the “Mont”.
Despite the fact that we visited this place four times, the Mont with its high towering Abbey remains very impressive. It is no wonder that this Mont Saint Michel became a symbol of French National Unity. Already before the year 1000, a church was built on this rock surrounded by sea, in honor of the Archangel Michael and the later Abbey became one of the most important Christian pilgrimage sites. Today we want to discover this beautiful Abbey. Through a maze of narrow and steep alleys, according to the gendarmerie we are on the right track, we climb up to the abbey. There were long queues during previous visits, now only some lonely Japanese tourists are walking around and after a security check of my backpack, we can step inside. The abbey is built over three levels and is impressive and huge. We wander around in this immense complex, through the abbey church, cloister garden, cloister rooms, corridors and crypts.
From halls with slender pillars we enter halls with huge bulky pillars. The light is fascinating. We look around, stunned. This abbey is awesome with unique architecture and it is no wonder that in the Middle Ages this abbey was considered as the reflection of paradise. We enjoy wander around and can not get enough of this discovery tour, despite the harsh cold that prevails everywhere. After more than 2 ½ hours we leave this complex and slowly descent through the narrow steep alleys to the entrance gate.
We don’t buy food on the Mont. Many restaurants are closed on this Monday and the prices of the (sometimes very simple) meals are sky-high. It’s high tide now so unfortunately we cannot walk around the outside of the rock. With the current temperatures, even at low tide that wouldn’t be a tight plan. After a last glimse at this monumental monument, since 1979 UNESCO World Heritage, we walk back to the end of the bridge that connects the island with the mainland. We find out that our bus just left and the next one leaves in two hours, so we enter one of the restaurants near the large parking lots. The prices here are more pleasant and soon we enjoy a French menu. Finally, after also sitting outside, enjoying the sun, our bus arrives and we ride back to our RV.
We do some shopping and warm ourselves. Our heating does overtime. We will long remember this fascinating day.
On Tuesday January 29th it is time to return home. Unlike yesterday, the sky is gray and cloudy. On the motorway appears a sign with the text: “expect snowfall, be prepared” so we decide to change our route to the north and follow the coast, again. A few RV parksites along the coast (on cliffs) are not really pleasant with this weather, storm and wet snow, but next to the church in the town of Berneval Le Grand, we find a nice spot. Just in time, because it starts snowing. Unfortunately everything is closed in town, even a pizza chef in an eatery will not prepare pizzas, so there is nothing to eat but with a cup of soup, a baquette and some French cheese we are also satisfied. In the middle of the night, at 2 am, we wake up by the strong wind blowing around the RV. The RV sways back and forth. All around us it is white. Even here, right on the coast, snow is on the road. Not for long. When we get up on wednesday, January 30th, practically all snow has disappeared, although it is only 32 degrees. After breakfast with (of course) fresh baguette, we leave town and slowly the dark clouds disappaer. More and more blue sky comes in and the sun is warming up. When we drive through Boulogne sur Mer we see white cliffs at the horizon. We do not need more encouragement to continue the coastal road, to one of the “Caps”, high above the sea. Unfortunately, the road is closed but next to the town of Wissant we manage to get a glimpse of the canal with its busy shipping traffic and the white cliffs of Dover in England. A beautiful view.
The road takes us along the coast, to Calais and Dunquerque, along the “Wall” who protect the Channel tunnel against refugees who want to travel to England and a little later we cross the border with Belgium. When we drive further away from the coast, the blue sky disappears and on arrival in Grobbendonk it snows. It does not prevent us from walking around town. It’s always good to know where bakery and eatery are.
In the evening we stay again in a white world, we eat the Belgian specialty: fries with stew-meat. It tastes good. A lot of food is provided, so tomorrow we have the same meal again.
Fortunately, in Cherbourg we were able to fill up with water, so on thursday morning January 31, we still have enough water to shower and wash dishes. Over snow-covered roads, yes there is snow everywhere, we drive slowly north and are back home at 11.30 am. Although the RV is dirty, really dirty, we decide not to wash the outside, considering the still dirty roads. Cleaning will have to wait for two weeks when we intend to drive to Germany for the weekend, just over the border, to find geocaches with Wim and Marjo. It means that at 2pm Dick can return our RV to the storag