On the Other Side of a Different Sea

Miah Tapper
December 2, 2019
Seagull, telescope, and an ocean view

One chilly, grey Saturday morning 20+ IES Abroad students lined up in the dark at 7:30 am outside of the IES Abroad Center for a day-trip. As I stood with them, anticipation ran through me, not only to experience the unique marine cities of Saint-Malo and Mont-Saint Michel but also to finally see the ocean once again.

Right on time, a giant tour bus expertly weaved its way around a sharp, small corner that is typical of Nantes city streets - almost brushing against dwarfed, parked cars. After anxiously watching its arrival, we leaped on board - excited to get started with the journey.

Arrival Landscape

Cutting, icy wind ruffled our coats, we said a “merci” to the driver and stepped out of the bus two hours later, reminding us that Saint-Malo is on the northward coast of France. I took in my first glimpses of the french ocean while listening to a nearby ice-rink stereo blast french rock music. 

Saint Malo Harbor

A lot of tourist attention is drawn to the harbors of Saint-Malo, and for good reason - many great french navigators come from this small city on the sea - one of the most famous being the discoverer and explorer of Canada - Jacques Cartier. In 1534, Jacques Cartier set sail from these ports with 61 men in April, his ship’s masts perhaps reaching towards similar windy, grey skies. Over 200 years later, Surcouf, a world-famous pirate, would also set sail from Saint-Malo ports, helping to create the city’s reputation as a “Cité des Corsaires” (City of Pirates). 

Brown Brick buildings

The clouds could not dampen the appeal of the Saint-Malo. Brown-stoned buildings stand out warmly amidst the dreary weather - their earthen tones contrasting nicely against the grey-blue sea. 

Friends on Ramparts

My friends and I walked together along the ramparts. These served as strong fortifications during the 18th century, in order to protect the city's marine wealth. Now, they provide a nice, circular view of the beach. I craned my head to take in every glimpse. Back home, I used to look across the sea from the beach of my town, imagining all the other people on the other sides of the ocean looking back at me. I always hoped to one day meet those other coasts. As I stood on the ramparts of Saint-Malo, I was reminded of  that dream, while recalling emotions that I always connect to the sea - immense gratitude for having made it where I am, nostalgia for my beloved home, and humbleness in the face of the reminder that the world is much bigger than me, and  that I am here thanks to the actions of many others. 

Saint Malo Beach

It was great to touch sand again. Even in the cold, I felt the urge to rip off my shoes and dig my toes into its gritty texture. 

Just off the coast, there are also several small islands that can be walked to during low tide. One of them used to be owned by Chateaubriand, a famous French poet, and politician.

Rampart Wall and sea stones

This bouldery mass, which subtle water-colored hues of green, browns and blue, seems to grow onto the upright wall like ivy. Its free-flowing, sculpted forms contrast against the still, fixed bricks of the wall. 

Mussels and Fries Lunch

My friends proudly display their identical dishes. Les moules et les frites (mussels and french fries) are popular foods in many of Brittany’s cities. 


After plenty of time to enjoy Saint-Malo freely, IES Abroad students hopped back on the bus for another 2-hour ride to…Mont-Saint-Michel. This incredible miniature-town rises like an island out of a sea of desolate sandy plains covered in rippling, two-inch high wavy rivers. It was all quite unlike the waterscape of Saint-Malo. When we arrived, several lone groups walked over the empty landscape - their trails leaving safety markers around hidden patches of quicksand. The bitter wind seemed to blow harder as we approached - perhaps remembering unhappy memories of the abbey’s history as a prison during the French Revolution and Empire. However for us then, the tall spire of at the very top of the mountainous island stood out as a beacon for shelter. At the tip of this spire, the highest point of the town stands a golden statue of Saint Michel himself. He holds his scale and signature sward high and proud as he towers above a dying dragon (symbol of the devil), a testament to his story in the book of Revelations.

Mont-Saint-Michel Alley

The city, which holds no more than 44 inhabitants, was a wonder - cramped streets channeling tight rivers of tourists between inviting chocolate, souvenir, and patisserie (pastry) shops. The smallness of the island made the soaring roofs and spacious, columned buildings of the abbey even more breathtaking. I didn’t take many photos of the abbey itself, my eyes were too busy trying to take everything in themselves. Standing in those rooms, looking at structures dating in the 13th century, for a couple of moments felt like traveling in time. I was especially touched by the devotion of the nuns I could see flittingly between hallways and praying on the tiled floors. There is a love and respect for Mont Saint-Michel and what it stands for by the people that live there that fill its spacious rooms. From this derives a strength evident in Mont Saint-Michel’s history - during the hundred years war between France and England, the mount was able to resist attacks from England for up to 30 years. In fact - its determination and bravery provided inspiration for the famous Joan of Arc. 

Mont-Saint-Michel Night

We left Mont-Saint-Michel as night began to fall, its lone black figure standing out impressively against the white cloudy canvas, continuing to point faithfully up at the fading light. I continued to look towards it, still searching for the distant, hidden, yet expansive ocean as we drove away. 

More Resources:

10 facts about Mont-Saint-Michel: http://fiveminutehistory.com/10-fascinating-facts-about-mont-saint-michel-the-medieval-city-on-a-rock/ 

Mont-Saint-Michel history: http://www.abbaye-mont-saint-michel.fr/en/Explore/L-histoire-de-l-abbaye-du-Mont-Saint-Michel

More Blogs From This Author

View All Blogs

Miah Tapper

<p>My name is Miah Chu Won Tapper. I come from a large family with two younger brothers and three younger step-siblings, whom I live with on the small island of Oahu, Hawaii. I’ve always had a passion for traveling but until now I’ve only traveled the world in books. As a French major, I’m so excited to be able to continue the adventure in Nantes, France.&nbsp;</p>

Home University:
Kenyon College
Kailua, HI
French Language
Explore Blogs