“We’ve been standing here with our thumbs out for over an hour now, Dave. It’s time to give up!”
“Come on, Denisia. We’re almost there. Let’s give it a few more minutes!”
It’s 1984, Northern France, on the border between Brittany and Normandy. As college juniors studying in Paris, neither Denisia or I have hitch-hiked before, let alone in a non-English-speaking country like France. What seemed like a grand, edgy adventure – hitching to Mont Saint-Michel – is starting to feel like a real drag. And then – finally! — it happens: a bedraggled, 30-something Frenchman driving a beat-up Peugeot pulls over to give us a ride.
“Où vas-tu ?” (Where are you going?)
“Allons-y.” (Let’s go.)
Our driver, Philippe, is clearly a crazy man. The roads are way too narrow for him to be driving the way he is, accelerating around curves, passing trucks with an inch to spare, and all the while balancing a cigarette delicately in the side of his mouth. Either we’re going to die in a blaze of glory or the car is going is going to break down miles from nowhere – one of these options seems certain. And then we see it in the distance, the magnificent silhouette of Mont Saint-Michel rising over the ocean, like Cinderella’s castle on a misty island.
Bidding goodbye to Philippe, we hop out of the car and approach the “Mont.” Known in ancient times as “Mont Tombe,” the site has a colorful history. It all started in 708 when the archangel Michael supposedly visited the bishop of Avranches and told him to build a church on this rocky islet. During the Hundred Years War of the 15th Century, the English besieged the French-controlled Mont Saint-Michel but never managed to take it. Later, in the time of the French Revolution, the existing abbey was closed and converted into a prison, staying that way for the next 300 years until the island was eventually designated as a national historic monument in the 19th Century.
Mont Saint Michel, today, is an impressive sight, particularly from a distance—a series of ancient buildings from the middle ages, huddled on the sides of a big rock in the English Channel. What makes it particularly intriguing, of course, is the fact that the walkway to the Mont floods out from time to time, cutting the island off from the mainland and turning it into an island. In other words, you have to time your visit appropriately.
As I take in Mont Saint-Michel on an overcast French afternoon, I feel a sense of awe that such a beautiful and unusual site still exists in the world, and that somehow I get to visit it. At age 20, I experience Mont Saint-Michel the way a kid recevies a new erector set. “Wow, this is expensive. Are you sure you want to give it to me?” Saint-Michel is my first bucket-list item—there will be many more, but we always remember our first, don’t we?
(What’s on your bucket list? How many items have you checked off? If you’re waiting for retirement to visit the rest of them, consider the changing nature of the universe. There might be another pandemic, or something worse. You might start experiencing health problems. You just never know. Why wait?!! Do your bucket-list travel now, while you can!)