Since my last post was all about my adventures in Nantes, this post will be about my adventures elsewhere in France. Last weekend, the other IES Abroad students and I did a day trip to Mont Saint-Michel and then Saint-Malo. We left early on a Saturday morning, so early in fact that the sun had not yet risen and the streets were practically empty. As I walked from my host family’s house to IES Abroad, I basked in the quiet, empty serenity of my neighborhood, which is usually bustling with noisy traffic. We boarded a charter bus and headed towards Mont Saint-Michel. The drive took a few hours, during which time I caught up on some reading and listened to a few podcasts. The night before we left, I had taken a moment to learn a little about the histories of Mont Saint-Michel and Saint-Malo, but of course you can only learn so much about a place without visiting it. For readers unfamiliar with Mont Saint-Michel, it is an island community on the border between Normandy and Bretagne. If you do not know what it looks like, make sure to look up photos of it or look at the photos I have included in this post before you read on.
As we got close to Mont Saint-Michel, it could be seen off in the distance and somewhat resembled a large hill on the horizon. In lieu of a rounded top, however, this hill had a church at its peak and was constructed of tightly packed houses and shops. Driving closer, the details of the UNESCO world heritage site began to make themselves out in more detail. One could observe individual buildings, the different vertical layers, and the statue of Archangel Michael at the very top of the church spire. Once we were close enough, everyone on the bus whipped out their phones and started snapping photos. I had accidently dropped my phone beneath the seat (per usual) and was disappointed that I wouldn’t be able to take any pictures. Although, at the same time, I felt like by not being distracted in trying to take the perfect picture I could better appreciate the view in the moment. Since it was winter, there were not many other tourists visiting that day. We began our tour by climbing a good number of stairs before reaching the Abbey at the top of the island. We toured its many rooms at our leisure. In between each grand chapel was a maze of hallways and passages that left me feeling completely disoriented. Afterwards, we were free to explore the rest of the island on our own. Some friends and I found a decent, albeit touristy restaurant for lunch. It was pretty chilly and despite dressing for cold weather (see photos), I was getting continuously colder and eventually my feet felt numb. Consequently, I was quite eager to warm up inside. My buddy Patrick and I decided to order muscles since they are a regional specialty. They were warm, delicious, and covered in a creamy sauce. For dessert, we found a crêperie that was again a bit touristy.
Soon after, it was time to get back on the bus and head toward Saint-Malo. It was less than an hour drive, and after arriving we had a few hours to walk around on our own. Everyone started off by walking on top of the ramparts that enclosed the small, independent community. One side of the city faces the ocean, and the walkways on top of the ramparts offered spectacular views of the beach and bay. The beach was rocky in some areas, sandy in others. Its rockier areas reminded me of the beaches near my aunt and uncle’s house in South Portland, Maine. I strolled the ramparts for a while, descended onto the beach for a moment, then headed into town. The streets were bustling with both tourists and locals going into and coming out of all sorts of little shops. I stumbled upon a bookstore filled like a can of sardines with old, rare books as well as vintage photos and postcards. By pure chance, I ran into Patrick on the street and we finished up our visit by checking out a few shops. There was a neat fish shop with a plethora of seafood, or “fruit of the ocean” if one were to translate verbatim from French. Next up was a cheese shop that had a wide array of choices and made me wish I knew more about cheeses (soon enough, I will). I climbed back onto the bus feeling exhausted from walking and cold, yet completely content and grateful to have been able to spend time in these two places.
I write this post in Montpellier, where I am staying for the first part of vacation. After enjoying a pleasant ride down here getting to know my blablacar (France’s ride sharing system) driver, my friend and I took a stroll around the center of town. Yesterday, we walked through a good portion of the town before getting to a zoo, where we found ourselves surrounded by couples and their young children. Today we took the train to the coastal city of Sète and went to the beach! Despite the windy weather, we were able to enjoy a nice lunch on a sandy beach. I was disappointed, though, that it was not warm enough to swim. Upon returning into town, we walked around for a bit before heading back to Montpellier. So far this vacation has evidently involved more walking than I imagined and my legs seem to be in agreement. Although, I have to admit that walking is without a doubt the best way to discover a new area. Furthermore, I feel slightly less guilty for not running and for stuffing myself silly with hearty food at every meal. Later this week I will be traveling to Bordeaux to meet up with one Grinnell student and two Grinnell alumni!
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<p>Bonjour! My name is Keanan Gleason, I am from Albuquerque, New Mexico, but currently live in Iowa where I am a third year student at Grinnell College. I am double-majoring in Economics and French, and this spring I will be studying abroad in Nantes, France! I hope to get to know my temporary home by going on lots of runs, eating at various restaurants, and exploring with friends.</p>