Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Mont-Saint Michel: A City on a Hill

The sun was still yawning awake as I stepped out onto the quiet streets of Paris shouldering a weekender bag and a pamphlet with directions to a bus stop. I'm off on an adventure! I thought, trying to grasp what exactly I was getting myself into this weekend.

I had seen the corner ad in my French language school activities pamphlet: "Tour de Mont-Saint Michel,  85€,  Samedi et Dimange." That was all it said. Mont-St. Michel had been one of my must-sees in France, and I knew  I wouldn't find a cheaper price for this bucket-list item. I made a trip to the school office the next day, and managed to nab the last seat on the bus. So there I was, at the crack of dawn while Paris slept, boarding a bus with 35 strangers from 22 nations to see the glorious, ancient city of Mont-Saint Michel.

(Now before you go all "Taken" on me, check out this post, which first inspired me back in my little office in Columbus that maybe, just maybe, I could travel the world on my own.)

I found an open seat next to a kindly woman who was the only one on the bus who didn't speak a word of English. Because you can only say "how are you" and "this town is beautiful" so many times, the first day was a quiet one. Our tour guide also spoke French for the entirety of the trip, which at first frustrated me. (But, by the end of the two-day trip, I found that my listening had significantly improved, and I could actually understand what he was saying.)

What I didn't know about this trip is that we were making lots of little trips on the way to Mont-Saint Michel throughout the Normandie region, which made it even better for its worth! Our first stop was Etratat, a small coastal town in the north of France. This place is famous for its seaside cliffs. You can see why:

(I couldn't resist one over the edge...)

From Etretat we journeyed westward to Honfleur, the sweetest little seaside town you will find in northern France. A colorful jumble of tourist shops lined the marina, and a bagpipe player (wait, this is still France right?) fanfared every visitor's entrance.

Next stop: Deauville, the world-famous resort town of the France's north shore and hotspot for international high society vacationers. It is famous (among other things) for the Promenade des Planches, a string changing rooms along the shoreline where famous Hollywood actors and moviemakers come to change into swim clothes and take a dip in the Atlantic. The star's name is then inscribed on that stall, like the stars on Hollywood boulevard. I found a number of silver screen actors names that I watched as a kid, though I was sorely disappointed not to find Carey Grant or Audrey Hepburn, but we didn't have time to walk the entire shore.

We did, however, manage to find the original storefront of Coco Chanel's first boutique. I was surprised it was only identified by a poster which we found by accident.

I also was finally able to dip my toes in the English Channel. Another bucket-list item bites the dust! Or sand, if you will....

From there we made our way to Caen, our hotel destination. While the rooms were just enough quirky-Euro-budget-hotel-feels to make you check for bed bugs, the French's continental breakfast was sublime (seven choices from the cafe machine).

I was miraculously rooming with two of the three other American girls on the trip. When we finally ate dinner it was 10:30 pm. Sufficient to say, Europeans eat on a different schedule.

The next morning, we finally set out for Mont-Saint Michel. What glorious countryside we passed through on the way! I found it funny that there were moments that the farmland looked so familiar that I almost forgot I was in France. (Also, the cows here are very fat. Like...poofy fat. It made me chuckle out loud.)

And then all of sudden there it was, looming in the distance. You don't see it coming, and then all of a sudden, there... an stony crown on the grassy knolls.

Despite its fame as an island, the surrounding waters have been receding for years, leaving a treacherous wasteland of quicksand surrounding the city. We took the safer route and shuttled up to the very gate of the city. Then, we stepped into another world, as if by magic.

The origin of the city dates back to AD 706, and to walk the streets is to feel like you have suddenly walked back in time to the medieval ages. Inns laid in stone and crickety wooden signs line the narrow, dusty streets as you make your way up to the abbey.

The abbey itself was magnificent, by far my favorite part of the trip. The halls are tall and the light is glistening. As one of the American girls commented, while Sacré-Cœur and Notre Dame were dark and oppressive, this abbey seemed full of light and air.

And standing there on stone centuries old, I could feel the presence of God stronger than I have felt it during most of my time in Paris. I sat to pray in the abbey, and let the tears come. And then I heard Him speak so meekly it was as a whisper.

Sometimes I worry if I will have what it takes, to withstand temptation and fight a good fight, to finish the race. Sometimes I worry that the things of this world will make me lose my path, will make me forget why I am and who I am. These fears were even greater when I moved away from everyone and everything I've ever known. Who will I become, I wondered. Will I still know myself a year from now?

But in this euphoric, incredible moment, I heard God remind me that despite the change of address, the shift of friendships, the loneliness of being a foreigner, the godlessness of a capital of the world, the instability of terrorism, and my own vast number insecurities, despite all this... He is still God. I am still me. That all the changes and fears of changes do not change the eternal things which have been built up inside me these past 23 years. That despite this, my relationship with Him remains as ever before and ever more.

"You are the light of the world. A town on a hill cannot be hidden." Matthew 5:14 (NIV) 
"Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire." Hebrews 12:28-19 (NIV)

Let us never forget that like Mont-Saint Michel, we are each a city on a hill which will not be hidden and cannot be shaken. The things which God builds in us are eternal things which can outlast anything, even moving across continents.

Until the next adventure,


  1. So glad you're blogging! I'll be following along, for sure. How exciting! And this post was absolutely gorgeous- your words, your experiences, your photos! Adding Mont-Saint Michel to MY bucket list right now!

    1. Thank you so much Andrea! Some touristy places in France get overhyped, but this is certianly not one of them. Well worth the trip.