Thursday, September 24, 2009

Biking to Le Mont St. Michel from Courtils

By Chuck

Always mindful of my inferior physical conditioning, relative to Claire, I manfully agreed without hesitation to a 17 Km bike ride to Mont St. Michel. This is the long way – the direct distance is 8 Km; but, it is scenic and it does not have us competing with cars and trucks for space along the departmental highway – the frequent bike trails of Amsterdam and the Netherlands are long behind us. Besides, the campground owners had assured us that the route was flat.

I was immediately concerned when we began coasting faster than I can pedal; unless the laws of Physics differ in France, we would end our return with an uphill stretch. Oh, well, we were committed!

We were extremely impressed with the road signs for bikes along the route. At every juncture, there was a white sign with green borders and letters indicating the direction and distance to our target.

We enjoyed the ride through the countryside – small villes, quaint (or dilapidated – depending on their current state) houses, fields shorn of hay or corn, fields still with corn, polka dot cows – the very definition of bucolic. How small? There was no boulangerie/p√Ętisserie! However, one did have a bar/tabac. It is interesting how the ever-present churches completely dominate each village scene.

About half way there, we encountered the German military cemetery, Mont-de-Huisnes. This two storey construction is the only German crypt construction in France and was inaugurated in 1963, combining the remains of almost 12,000 soldiers from many locations throughout France and the Channel Islands of Guernsey, Jersey, Alderney and Sark. There was a German tour bus there with many relatives and other Germans viewing the site. Claire began a conversation with Frau Hoppe from Mainz; she was visiting the grave of an uncle for the first time; a friend of hers on the trip was visiting her father’s grave for the first time. Frau Hoppe invited us to visit her and her husband when we were in Germany and they would show us around. Claire tells me this is surprisingly common in Europe. There were a number of wreaths on various crypts – and one visitor had left a poem in English.

This is from a letter written by the daughter of a French soldier who was killed at Normandy.

The site was lovely and moving – there were some of the same quotes we saw at the German cemetery at La Cambe the other day, along with some new ones. Also, there was a wonderful view of Mont St. Michel from the top, allowing for the overcast sky that prevented a clear sighting. One curious note: There was a sign outside the entryway that indicated no German Shepherds allowed.

We had traveled 11 Km and were approaching our goal head-on; but, we reached a T intersection that had no signs about which way to turn to arrive at the destination – how typically French! Moreover, this was a “major” highway with no designated areas for bike traffic; we decided against proceeding further, as we had no bike helmets and Claire still needed a driver to complete the year's odyssey.

On the return trip, we stopped for lunch at a lovely picque-nique table. We had our customary baguette and cheese, supplemented with a 10 fruit nectar that is reminiscent of Kern’s. We were enchanted by the quiet, occasionally interrupted by the cooing, cawing and chirping of various birds. There was an annoying mosquito; but, I think a mosquito hawk chased him off.

On our entire trip over the backroads, we encountered only 6 vehicles, including 2 equipes agricole (that’s farm equipment to you) and two bicycles.

Five minutes after returning to Homer and the campground, it began to rain; this was another bullet dodged: we had decided against taking our rain gear and I still don’t have a front fender for my Gary Fischer bike.

The amenities here at Camping St. Michel are quite modern, decent and well thought out; but, they are not labeled well – we are not certain which tubs are for dishes and which are for laundry, for example; and we have seen people use different facilities for each function – c’est la vie. The combination washroom and shower block I use is clearly marked with the male symbol; but women come and go from there freely. We like the fact that both showers and sinks are private – usually only showers are. The separate WC is unisex, with the urinals at the far end, off to one side – near the single common sink for that area. Finally, they have hot water, provide tp and they have toilet seats! What a treat! They do have a washer and dryer; but, the washer is 4 Euros per load; we will pass on this.

After all this, we decided dinner in the village was appropriate. We were more than satisfied.

Restaurant Le Mascaret


Moules Mariniere

Three chocolate with caramel dessert

In closing, here is the promised picture of the sunset behind Mont St. Michel from the Church near the campground.

Camping, €13
2 baguettes, €1.60
2 croissants, €2
Dinner, €42

Total: €58.60

From a wall at the German Military Cemetery:
If people only knew how hard it is to be wounded, to die – they would all be meek and gentle, would not split into parties, would not incite mobs to attack one another, and would not kill. But when they are in good health they know nothing of this. When they are wounded, no one believes them. When they are dead, they can no longer speak. ~ Mihajlo Lalic


Paul King said...

Very beautiful entry. I'm really enjoying the vicarious travels I engage in with each read. Taking notes about where I can go!
You guys look great as always.
Very tolerant of the French to allow German crypt on their soil. I can postulate why (the close proximity and need to heal) but still interesting.
I guess Homer awaits his fix this Monday…
All the best.

Chuck and Claire said...

Thanks Paul. We have found all the cemeteries very moving and the German one's just as well. I remember reading All Quiet on the Western Front when I was quite young and realizing for the first time that each side was made up of very you men, all in the war without choice. So many from all sides were lost. Homer will most likely be up and running on Wednesday.