Saturday, July 31

Medieval Normandy France

Our first view of Mont St. Michel on a rainy morning looking so spektral and medieval. It's a little hard for me to get excited to go site seeing in the rain with kids but this was worth it! Although we weren't the religious pilgrims of bygone centuries, we were among hundreds of tourist pilgrims making the trek that day. This place is so unique because it lies about a kilometer from the super flat shoreline and at hight tide is surrounded by water. It sure does command the skyline! Before the causeway was built, it could only be accessed at low tide. It's a tiny little island of granite that resisted the ocean's erosion and only 40 people live there - most of them selling their wares to tourists now.

Mont Saint Michel has a long history! Before this grand monastic edifice was built in the 800s by a monk told to build it by a vision of St. Michael the Archangel, the Romans, Breton, Franks, and others laid hold of it. William I, the Duke of Normandy annexed it from Brittany in 933 and it's been disputed for centuries between the Normans and Bretons - but the river makes it obviously part of Normandy. The Bayeux Tapestry depicts one of their battles here in the 1060s where soldiers are being rescued from the quick sand in the tidal flats. [View from the seaward facing balconies outside the cathedral at the top.]

There was quite a bit of climbing to get up there! What a fun drawbridge with at least three doors, layers of protection behind us at this gate!

The street was CROWDED! Boy are we grateful our neighbor told us to leave the stroller behind! Only four people abreast could fit comfortably down this winding main street, so imagine two-way foot traffic with the occasional tour group and a bit of stairs thrown in for fun. And the unfortunate stroller sluggin' souls. But not us!

Another friend loaned us their child carrier backpack and it was a lifesaver! We were mobile with speed! Perfect to alternate between Morgan and McKay who were grouchy and needed naps in addition to being way too slow or scary to watch on all those steps!

We skipped paying for the audio guide since we were running on borrowed time with the kids. We let our Rick Steves book be our guide and it worked well for us. Once inside the cathedral, there's this tiny statue on a column that we would have missed had it not been pointed out in the book. It's St. Michael the Archangel, the reason for this whole grand experience. I believe his spear is piercing a dragon (our demons) while his scales weigh our sins vs good deeds or something like that.

The pretty cloisters. I have never seen an empty cloister that didn't have random tourists popping around every corner so I have to work hard to imagine it as a quiet place of solitude. It could be mighty nice if there were some cushions to sit on! We sat ourselves down in here and let the kids eat contraband animal crackers. Morgan's pitch denoted she wouldn't take no for an answer or put up with my piece-meal handouts. She wanted the bag and she wanted it NOW!

Here's Easton showing interest in the silly book mom's always totin' around and reading from everywhere we go! His first and last time thus far.

None of our interior pictures turned out so well and this is already getting long. Sufficed to say it was interesting although quite bare inside.

As we loaded up the van, a man came along trying to ask for if we had jumper cables - once we figured out what he was trying to ask for in French. He must have been wandering and asking for quite some time because it took a good five minutes to follow him to his camper. For some reason, this was just too cute to me that we were able to give him a jump. His wife and another couple they were traveling with were all so happy to get going again and they even tried to pay us. Instead, we were more than happy to be rewarded by the sun coming out from behind the clouds so we could get this great shot on our way out!

The bakery Ryan grabbed a treat at on the way to Mont St. Michel . . .

. . . and then again on the way out because it was so tasty! A rhubarb tart I think.

Next we drove to Bayeux to view the Tapestry. We can't say "view the tapestry" without saying it like Indiana Jones does in the third movie! We really liked this more than we expected!

The kids were hungry and tired. We ended up having to wait a half hour in a snaking line. I'm so grateful I was reminded of the timeless "hide a coin" game. Each kid got a penny and got to let someone else try to guess which hand it was in. Even Morgan was entertained with her own penny! It was truly AWESOME and saved us and our neighbors from a half hour of sheer anguish!

The "tapestry" measures 1.6 ft x 230 ft - pretty darn long and tells the lead up and story of the Norman invasion of England by William of Normandy soon to be William the Conqueror at the Battle of Hastings in 1066! In true political propaganda style. [Again, borrowed pics - this time from the museum's website.]

First you view the real deal in this darkened room with a personal audio guide explaining each sequence. They even had kid's audio guides which Easton and McKay loved pushing all the buttons on. Then you can go see a short movie where historic details clue you in, complete with enactment scenes. McKay came out of the movie with new sword swinging moves and almost got us to buy him an overpriced sword and shield in the gift shop. He was too darn cute!

The "tapestry" has all sorts of details that make historians giddy - armor, clothing, weapons, strategy and so on. No one knows how old this long embroidered cloth is, but it was made to hang in the cathedral to serve as the stained glass windows do and retell the story to a largely illiterate public. It is first referred to in a cathedral inventory of 1476.

One side note at the end of the movie Ryan and I got a kick out of was that on some D-Day monument in Normandy, the British had inscribed something to the effect that "From the people conquered by William at Hastings come the liberators to his/these shores." I know that isn't right, but I can't find the umph to research it online when I have a half dozen posts already waiting to be posted.

And then we ate there in Bayeux. Eating out with exhausted, starving children is one of my all-time favorite things. NOT!!! Morgan screamed at random in anger at me for who knows what or in complete ecstasy seeing a dog go by. It often sounds the same. The boys horsed around, hollered in their "inside voices" confused because we were outside, and played swords and balancing games with their silverware while everyone around us looked on in alarm as their quaint cafe had obviously been intruded upon by unruly Americans.

I will never forget one man's disgusted look in our direction as the kids acted out one particular time. If looks could kill! Then I felt sorry for Morgan's love of canines exposing one couple who was blending in well. Morgan just had to get a closer look at their dog and Ryan asked the couple if she could. They were happy to oblige but there was a split second look that to me seemed to say, "Oh no! You've blown our cover!" It may be that they didn't want Morgan messing with their dog which is all well and fine. They too were American, but enjoying a leisure childless meal and as I said, blending into the scene well.

Completely unprompted/staged! The boys pulled these poses and we got ourselves a good laugh, thanking our lucky stars that they redeem themselves!

I could be wrong, but this series of McKay totally make me think he takes after Ryan's mom! Some recent pics of Debbie, one of Ryan's sister's girls is said to resemble Nancy as a child and these of McKay look an awful lot like Debbie to me. We've already established McKay's smiling eyes come from the Smith side, but I think it goes farther on this kid! Oh he melts me! He's taken to lately adding the word "fireworks" to anything he wants to emphasize as being beyond super-duper. For instance, "Mom, I love you fireworks!" or "Easton, you are a fireworks bad guy!" as they play.