Farewell to France

The morning started much like yesterday, the sky overcast and the air damp, a mist had rolled in during the night and now blanketed the fields surrounding the little house we were staying in. Undeterred by the morning we loaded the car and after a quick breakfast and saying our farewells we embarked on the last leg of our French journey, leaving Fougeres and heading to Cherbourg and the ferry that will carry us back to the UK. On a spur of the moment decision we opted to retrace our steps from yesterday, so instead of heading directly to Avranches via the inland route, we headed back via Mont-Saint-Michel, the memory still strong in our minds of such an impressive place. Now, there's a world of difference between being the driver and being a passenger, not just the 'who's controlling the steering wheel' aspect, but the simple ability to note where exactly you're going, to take some mental plotting points, a little bit of Hansel and Gretel in the woods if you like, making note of landmarks should you ever need to find your way again, like we did today. Fortunately we could remember enough of the road with it's tight twists and turns, its blind corners and yet more 'deviations', they only had us lost momentarily this time! But without too much delay we found ourselves back in the car park, at the very front one too! From there we bustled back onto the courtesy bus and headed into the mist and light rain that was now falling softly on the Abbey.

Even slower than our ascent was our descent, again because of the slippery cobbled paths, we'd already seen a couple of young children take a tumble and didn't fancy being the next. We stopped outside one of the creperies and decided to indulge in a treat – finding it hard to believe we'd been in France for a week and still not having eaten one! – of Crepes de Normandie, which essentially was a standard sweet crepe which had a rich caramel sauce inside it, absolutely decadent! Lingering there over a 'rustic' baguette pizza (yes, it was as odd as it sounds, but delicious as well!), the caramel crepe and two latte's we contemplated our next move, which entailed braving the elements and making a break towards Avranches and on to Cherbourg… or almost. Unfortunately for us on the way out we discovered a small Cidre/Calvados stall, needless to say some time and a few Euros later we emerged grinning from ear-to-ear with our arms ladened with goodies, for the record the Creme Calvados is extraordinary.The walk from the bus terminus to the mount was hastened this time, not because of the tourists or hordes of school children (they'd come later!) but by that soft and gentle rain that was rapidly becoming less friendly! Quickly climbing the forecourt we followed behind some other visitors through a small doorway into part of one of the towers, crossing our fingers AND holding our breath that we were in fact going into the mount's lower streets… it was that or we could have just let ourselves into the staffroom? On through a dim passageway we popped out into the middle of the main street that then nestled us nicely between all of the gimmicky gift-shops. Being some of the first visitors for the day has its advantages, only half of the shops were open, and those still racing to get setup for the day, which means no pushy selling! I'd like to say we strolled up the steep and winding cobbled footpaths, but in reality between the misty rain, the slippery stones and the pitch of the climb it was more of a trudge against the odds, a bit like trying to pushy a slimy brown substance uphill, if you catch my meaning. Slowly we did manage to climb to the foot of the Abbey and what a sight was waiting for us, the view is magnificent and I'd eagerly recommend it to anyone who's thinking about making it to Mont-Saint-Michel, it may look daunting but it is most definitely worth the effort! We explored all around the ramparts and wandered along a few lesser walkways, we peered out across the slate-rooftops to the salt-marshes where they fatten the local speciality of mouton (mutton for us English speakers). On our way back down we paused outside the statue of Jeanne D'Arc and visited inside the chapel of Saint Pierre. I can't say as it was an overly spiritual experience, I suspect after the years of tourists flooding the doors it may have lost some of the 'spirit' that lingered there, but it was still humbling to stand where others had for many hundreds of years, to be where pilgrims had made the enormous effort to cross the causeway and climb the mount to offer some benediction and hope to gain their God's favour or forgiveness.

Having had a light brunch and shopped almost until we dropped we were now in all haste making for the ferry at Cherbourg, we had plenty of time, but you never know. I know years ago, five to be precise, I made comments on our emails back home about French drivers and their motorways, about the speeds they do and aggressive nature of said driving. After this trip I have come to the conclusion that France must be the birthplace of road-rage. Not because we specifically encountered any, but we certain witnessed an awful lot of near misses and horns being honked enthusiastically. It seems most French drivers are absolutely convinced they personally own the roads and all other users must yield to their presence. *cough cough* no wonder some of them lost their heads *cough cough*

We eventually reached Cherbourg, the road was relatively easy to follow – no major deviations or wrong turns – however once in Cherbourg the fiasco that was getting to the ferry terminal after dropping the car off would have made a prime Three Stooges or Abbot and Costello skit. We spent the better part of an hour inadvertently seeing the sight that is Cherbourg, missing turns, going down narrow one-way streets (thankfully the right way this time!) and once again being caught up in deviations that led nowhere. Oi vey! Eventually we found the office and after a brief discussion with them it was revealed that instead of leaving the car in the city centre at the office, we in fact had to take it to the ferry terminal. Sigh. Back into the car and off we go, another deviation, two wrong turns, one right one and we were within sight of the blasted terminal. Not an awful way to spend an hour, but certainly a stressful one, at least we were prepared for just such an incident and had allowed more than enough time to counter its effect. Car parked, keys and paperwork returned and we were finally saying farewell to France… or at least we would have been if we'd been allowed to check-in. Upon approaching the ticket desk we were informed that we were early, which we knew, and our check-in time was an hour before boarding and to come back then. Fair enough we say and go to make ourselves comfortable in the bar/lounge, order some Jambon and frites (which was really nice after not having had anything to eat since 11am, and get settled to wait. The time flies and come 17.30 back we go, and guess what… there was no 'come back' it was instead a 'why are you here? Go through for boarding'. Sigh, sigh and double sigh. Walking quickly back down to where we'd been seated we quickly then made our way through the ticketing/border security. Well, it was shall we say, informal? One guy who checked our passports, another who issued our tickets and that's it. No baggage X-rays, no customs, no immigration, no… anything. We then sat in another waiting room until the courtesy bus ran us out to the ferry.

Brittany Ferries really do offer a very nice service, the staff were a little confusing, asking if we wanted to leave our bags in a storage room, then announcing that all passengers must remain with their baggage, offering us access to the various lounges, but then implying where you were to go, but they did it all with a smile and it did give us a few laughs. The crossing itself was thankfully quiet and uneventful, much better than flying! Upon reaching Poole we clambered off the ferry and found the next available taxi and headed for our hotel. At 21:45 it's been an incredibly long day and we're thoroughly exhausted. France has been a lot of fun, full of surprises, both good and not-so-good, we've seen a lot of amazing sights and met some lovely people. If nothing else we'll remember walking along the Rive Seine in Paris, of standing in Monet's garden, of walking the halls of Chateaux Falaise and climbing the mount of Mont-Saint-Michel. France is always a place that challenges us, literally and metaphorically, with the language differences to say the least, and whilst I'm thankful for the experience of spending time in a foreign country I'm looking forward now to rambling along quiet country lanes, of visiting family and exploring the various regions of my forebears. Salute and Au revoir France!

 

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