Mont St Michel

30th & 31st July 2013

France is actually a large country when you’re trying to decide where to go and what to see – bit obvious I know, but I just hadn’t realized before how big it was. Anyhow, I decided to leave Belgium and the Netherlands for another time and start heading down towards Spain and Portugal. Also, since I’d been to St Michael’s Mount in England I decided to visit Mont St Michel here and that was on the way – sort of!!!

Hotel Arianne, Pontoroson

Hotel Arianne, Pontoroson

Once again my choice of accommodation was more or less guided by proximity to the train and price – of course, but being a popular tourist destination in France prices were a bit steep even in little Pontorson. Although the hotel was fairly close to the train station I still managed to have trouble finding my way, not hugely lost, just a little off track – bewildering!! But, once I found it, the Hotel Ariane turned out to be a good find; lovely people, a bar and a nice leafy outdoor area just to name a few of it’s charms. It wasn’t difficult to find where to catch the bus to Mont St Michel either.

Main thoroughfare of Mont St Michel

Main thoroughfare of Mont St Michel

Totally surprising is how I’d say I found Mont St Michel! I was so not prepared for the number of buses and tourists. I’ve found out since it is the 3rd most popular tourist destination in France!! Needless to say the island was quite crowded, more so around the shops than higher up and in some parts of the abbey itself; but with a little effort I found a couple of quiet spots to have a picnic lunch and a sketch or two.

The entrance to the town is through an ancient fortified guardroom and gates with a huge porticullis – all chock a block with tourists and modern day trappings but still very intriguing. The narrow main street through the village is crowded on both sides with shops and restaurants. If you keep following along behind the people in front eventually you get to the Grande Staircase leading to the Abbey.

Mont St Michel ponticullis

Mont St Michel ponticullis

The first church on the island dates back to the year 708 with the abbey, monastery and fortifications being added through the next few hundred years. It was also used as a prison for political prisoners during the French Revolution. The cloisters and refectory, the views from the ramparts, as well as the giant tread-wheel down in the foundations were highlights. I’d love to have been able to stay on the island and enjoy it after dark with-out the crowds, but we can’t have it all can we.

 

 

 

 

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A decision to make – to go north or south?

26th July 2013

French counrtyside Boulougne sur Mer to Calais, (shame about the sign!)

French counrtyside Boulougne sur Mer to Calais, (shame about the sign!)

Well this part of my travels was a bit like wandering in the wilderness – couldn’t seem to make up my mind. From Paris to Arras, on to Boulougne sur Mer and Calais then back down to Rouen before heading to  Pontorson to see Mont Saint-Michel. Just no real plan and almost feeling like I’ve wasted at least a week.Then again, it’s all new and different so I just need to plan ahead better in future!

A few new summer clothes in Boulougne sur Mer have helped lift my spirits a tad, a couple of skits and a top. A bus ride, (because the trains weren’t running), between Boulougne sur Mer and Calais, was a nice change. We called in to all the little train stations on the way, seems I saw more than I usually do on the train.

Poster in Musee Memoire 1939-1945, Calais, France

Poster in Musee Memoire 1939-1945, Calais, France

There’s an old fashioned WW2 museum at Calais set in the middle of a lovely park that was well worth visiting. Among other things I found a few newspaper articles about the North Africa campaign of WW2, where my Dad served at Torbruk and other places.

Also found this poster that’s been reproduced massively in recent times, pretty sure I’ve seen a pic of P!nk using this pose.

One of the huge differences between Europe and Australia that always strikes me is the architecture. The town halls in Australia are barely noticeable in most places but here they’re like a palace. Calais has a particularly special one I think, at least from the outside, It’s one of the prettiest I’ve seen and the gardens surrounding it were spectacular.

Hotel de Ville, Calais, France

Hotel de Ville, Calais, France

Rouen was just an overnight stop on the way south again, so I didn’t see much. After arriving I headed to the Musee des Beaux Arts, which wasn’t far from the train station and little hotel where I was staying, but was disappointed to find it shut. It was on my way back from there I found myself feeling quite unsafe for the first time since leaving home almost 4 months ago. Taking a different route I seemed to be in a bit of an unsavoury area and closing in on evening it just felt wrong and a little scary. Quicker steps, tighter clutching of my bag while trying to appear nonchalant (I read somewhere you’re supposed to try and not look worried, lol), and five minutes later I was back on busier streets. Wow, that was rather weird and totally unexpected but maybe a good reminder as I’ve probably stopped being quite as vigilant and careful as I was at first.

My room in Rouen was a little gem, almost right next to the train station but absolutely no noise – how cool is that!! Check it out here – Hotel Le Depart

 

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No idea where to go next!

23rd July 2013

St Nicholas Church, Boulougne-sur-Mer

St Nicholas Church, Boulougne-sur-Mer

I really hadn’t thought much past Paris and the WW! battlefields so when I left Arras I thought I might head to the coast then up to Belgium and the Netherlands. I still wasn’t feeling very well after my few bouts of sickness in Paris and a few nights in a seaside town sounded good – Boulonge-sur-Mer ended up being my next stop. I sort of found that by trying to be reasonably close to the train station you sometimes don’t end up being in the best part of town. Not that it was terrible but I didn’t even end up seeing the beach/ocean at all, oh well, another lesson learnt!!

Boulougne-sur-Mer

Boulougne-sur-Mer

I walked and walked in this town, mainly because there really wasn’t much near where I stayed. The old part of town was lovely and even the main shopping/eating part was very different for me, more typically urban I think rather than touristy.

The old town has fortified walls with towers and gates spread along its length, you can walk along the top and get wonderful views across the lower newer parts of town. The path is so very pretty with lovely shady trees on either side in parts and wonderful old buildings all round.Again I was blown away by how old it all was, the ramparts and St Nicholas’ church were both built in the 1200’s, just amazing.

Notre Dame Basillica, Boulougne-sur-Mer

Notre Dame Basillica, Boulougne-sur-Mer

The Town Hall in the centre of the old town is a really pretty building and in front are structured gardens worth a quick look. I had a yummy lunch at a little cafe across from here and watched the people at the next table being served and eat the most interesting mussel dish I’ve seen. I didn’t take them up on their offer to share but they were absolutely ecstatic over them.

I actually spent a bit of time in the Notre Dame Basillica drawing; I even had a couple of little French children trying to talk to me and admiring my poor attempt at portraying the altar, they were very cute.

The streets in the old town were lovely too and lined with all sorts of wonderful facades, old windows and ornate signs.

 

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Woohoo a haircut in France!!

21st July 2013

Well you learn something new every day, and today I learnt that getting foils in France is different to getting foils in Australia. For those of you not familiar with what some of us go through in the name of trying to look a little decent, “foils” is a term for having small pieces of hair coloured to add highlights/lowlights to your crowning glory. Mostly I have it done to blend/cover all my grey hair!! Anyhow, among other things today I had my hair cut and coloured at a very upmarket salon in Arras, it cost me a fortune but it’s been the only place since arriving in France that could fit me in on the same day; and my last hair cut was almost 5 months ago, shock horror!

Arras, France

Arras, France

So, with my improving French and some actions I was all caped up and off we went. Back to the difference in technique for foiling, in Australia the little sections of coloured hair are wrapped in alfoil but here they just lay big strips of cotton wool between the sections. Not terribly earth shattering news I know, but I was  sort of intrigued because cotton wool seems so old-school and France is always looked up to as very fashion forward. Granted this wasn’t Paris but it’s not the back blocks either. Anyhow, I had a lovely couple of hours feeling pampered and left there feeling more like my normal self that I had for quite a while. Sometimes I find it hard to believe I’ve been without a hairdryer or straightener for almost 4 months now, and other times when I look in a mirror I’m horrified that I’m doing it – but, sad to say, what the hair looks like can’t be high on the priority list for the duration of this trip.

Place des Heros, Arras, France

Place des Heros, Arras, France

One of the frustrations on international travel is still phone costs and internet access, most people I’ve spoken to while travelling say free wi-fi is very high on the wish list when booking accommodation and I’ve got to agree with them. I have a sim card for my phone that allows people at home to call me for the cost of a standard Australian call, it cost just $7 a month and I get reasonable call rates all over Europe. Data is not a real bargain but it’s not hugely expensive, however it seems to be pretty hit and miss for overage. I bought a Vodafone sim in England for my ipad but have been relying on wi-fi since coming across to France though I’m finding it more difficult since leaving Paris. Who’d have thought just buying a new sim card could be such fun! Took me 4 shops to find one that had the right size for my ipad mini but the young guy there was an absolute joy. Not sure if he’d have been so helpful to a French speaking person, I think he was extra helpful so he could practice his English. Mind you, I din’t mind in the slightest, it’s difficult to always be wracking my brain during even the simplest exchanges, let alone things out of the ordinary – still wouldn’t miss it for quids though!

I really loved exploring this little town, but my favourite spot had to be the cafes around the Place des Héros, I spent hours there sipping a coffee or wine watching the world go by or having a go at sketching the gorgeous facades. A lovely place to wind down after the hustle and bustle of Paris.

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