Left at the crack of dawn (possibly before) for the Normandy Coast. Took the train from Gare Montparnasse to Dol-de-Bretagne, then the bus from there to the island of Mont St Michel. Driving up the peninsula, the gray marble water of the Couesnon River looks like smoothed terracotta in the stillness of morning. The tide is low and calm- emitting an emanation of serene mysteriousness. It feels more like the coast of Ireland (i.e. Cliffs of Moher) then it does a part of France. Hikers energized with croissents and cafe-longe march along the marshy path, pressing their walking sticks into the silt. The seabreeze bitterly snaps the cold against my skin.
The mysterious aura is abrubtly ended upon entering the tourist trap. Packs of Asian tourists with their loudly clicking cameras and gereatrics cause a congestion as they snail upwards along the cobblestone path towards the Abbey. Intolerable clots form around stands offering free sugar cookies and apple cider. Then again around the shops handing out identical samples. Irritated, I hastenly navigate through the soon to be diabetics in time to vanquish my sins at twelve o’clock mass.
The cold wind chills the abbey like an icebox. It seeps in through layers and I can feel it in my bones. Constructed out of granite, it is almost unbearable . I think about retreating until the friars and nuns emerge. Dressed in angelic white robes, they begin to light the candles. The place suddenly feels warmer. The friar gathers the long rope laying between the center aisle separating the rows of stiff pews. Giving it a powerful tug, the bell echoes imperfectly, penetrating through my frigid body then once again after the waves ricochet back. The bell’s sound unnoticeablely fades to the comforting chants. The psalms softly follow a harp’s lead. I follow along, raking through the frail pages of the petite psalm book. Everything is serene until an old French man blows his nose into his hand (later of which I am to shake in greeting).
Then it is a slowly unraveling domino effect. Apparently unaware of social politeness, four-eyed Asians continue to ignore the multiple ‘No Photography‘ signs as they flash their Fujis. The last possible space untainted by tourists' assault. Undaunted, the young priest begins leading an inspiring sermon. He lifts my spirits, telling a story of a bird, free to choose any direction to fly in. After mass, I lookout at the residue of the Atlantic, swallowed by the Gulf of St.Malo's marble clay and glistening in the sun.
I weave down to the ancient, famous omelette eaterie, Le Mere Poulard, which has the fluffiest, largest omelettes even seen. Two eggs enlarge to the shape of twenty. The downstairs is oversimplified and overrated, but an unintentional escape upstairs uncovers character-lined walls leading to a high-class cigar bar (which is no doubt never as packed as the downstairs chicken coop). Afterwards, I hightail it back to Paris in need of class after endless free butter cookie samples and fanny-packs.
If you go, don't miss:
Mont St. Michel
- Free entrance into the Abbey with mass attendance (highly recommended)
- Morning mass recommended, 11:00AM
Le Mere Poulard Restaurant
Grande Rue, 50170 Le Mont-Saint-Michel, France
+33 2 33 89 68 68 · merepoulard.com
It's like a dream. No, better. Porto is separated by the Douro River, that is made all the more splendid by its six bridges. At the base of the Dom Luis I Bridge near the Sandeman Port Distillery, colorful women dressed in traditional Portugeuse dress dance through a specialty market offering olive oil, wine, port, cheese, bollo pastries, boudain-like sausages. Inside the Sandeman Distillery, groups of tourists tour and hear the story of how an Englishman conquered the port industry two hundred years ago. After paying penance and completing the routine tour, everyone eagerly tastes the sherry and tawny. Too sweet for my taste, I prefer the dark red wine and salty olives of the Portuguese in the gardens of the Serralves.
During the Serralves em Festa, the Parque de Serralves are filled with art of all traditions- artists, musicians, and contemporary art demonstrations span the grounds. Giant plush Royal thrones sit patiently in the middle of a field. Women untangle from the limbs of a tree, their silky dress flutters in the breeze. Photographers appear out of nowhere with wide lenses, snapping up the beauty from all angles. The soundtrack of a live jazz chantress with an orchestra accentuates the fluctuating smells of minty herbs, geraniums, and mossy leaves. Artist hang their crafts, their flamboyant colors mosaicly broadcast amongst the dark greens of the forest. We relax in between the gentle foliage facing a quartet of jazz musicians that emit lazy Spanish beachcombing tunes ideal for cracking that first cerveza of a hot summer's evening.
Afterwards, we meander over to pop into the Museu de Arte Contemporanea, which reveals characteristic portrait of Porto's contemporary art timeline. An exhibit on 'Teatro Sombras', or shadow theatre, by Lourdes Castro is colorful, sexy, mysterious yet all-telling. A women's outline lit in the doorway by the light of the moon. On the screen, an unidentified body moves through the shadows, much like the alleyways of Porto.
If you go, don't miss:
Douro River Cruises
Speedy boat trip under the six bridges and almost to the ocean, quick and beautiful.
Museu de Arte Contemporânea de Serralves
Rua D. João de Castro, 210
Show on MapTel: +351226156500
Shadow Theatre YouTube
In March of 2010, the Eyjafjallajokull volcano erupted in Iceland leaving millions of travelers stranded across the world. I happened to be in a fairytale land known as Luxembourg at the time with a friend visiting from the United States. The next snipet is how I found myself in the squalor that is Brussels, Belgium...
An usual Icelandic volcano eruption compounded by a usual train strike in France made the Luxembourg train station was in utter chaos. One frustrated traveler was arguing with a ticket attendant, periodically switching between in French, Italian, and German. The stress was contagious and we began to feel that our immediate departure was more necessary by the minute. We decided to depart on the next train out, either to Brussels or Paris- whichever was first. After about an hour, we hopped on the train to Brussels, ecstatic to have escaped the madhouse in such a short time.
Once the train station was no longer in sight we began to take notice that, although there was a shortage in available transportation, the train was scarcely populated . The woman behind me reeked of stale cigarettes and her mutt continuously emitted a stench of rotten eggs. Every person in the car had a cellphone that rang on maximum volume. The ring, however, was not a standard ringtone but one that was a medley of the most irritating technical sounds obtainable. I began to be convinced that all the other passengers were in a conspiracy to see who could make me jump from the yellow tented windows onto the track.
Immediately once we crossed the border into Belgium, it became gray and cloudy. The landscape was gritty, the grass in the passing fields was dead. As we began to approach Brussels, vile graffiti became more prevalent. Homeless (or otherwise bored vagrants) drank cans of Belgian beer outside Gare du Midi amongst construction, throwing their empty cans into the dust - adding to the piles of filth. The Fine Art Museum was across the street. The color of its columns matched the grey of the street and the sky.
Meandering the streets, a storyline began to take over my mind: I’m in a post-apocalyptic world where a virus inducing dementia has taken over. The virus causes paleness and cravings for waffles from contaminated street vending carts. Instead of the Bourbon Street Lucky Dog carts, these carts were selling waffles instead of three-year-old minced meat conglomeration. I deduced this was the source of the virus.
The whole city is an anarchic toilet bowl. Instead of avoiding the litter on the streets, couples strolling hand-in-hand purposefully kick garbage while smiling at each other. A downtown art installation consisted of a giant orange construction cone. The city produces wafts of waffles, simulating being in a port-o-john while eating a box of Krispy Kreme donuts. If I had an appetite before arriving, it has now been bludgeoned into nothingness. I deduce that I will not be joining Erica for dinner, but drinking myself into an intended oblivion.
Irony mocked us continuously. Ironically, these were the people known for producing comics. The fact that these dirty, barking homeless beings' one call-to-fame was laughter and delectable sweets was impossible to imagine. The sole Tabac nearby carried a sparse selection of intoxicants: merlot or peach schnapps.
A peeing cupid statue dons the mantle over the front door to our hostel, the statue a welcoming to all the tired, poor guests to the Sleep Well Hostel. Needless to say, I was drinking straight from my bottle of merlot by 20:00 in the lobby. Walking up to the front desk (bottle in hand) I asked the receptionist, a Hunchback Dilbert, where to find the book exchange. The only geek to ever state, “I’d rather watch the movie then read the book” leads me to a dungeon where the 'book exchange' was located. It only consists of Lord of the Rings knock-offs. I tried to imagine Hunchback Dilbert joking with friends over waffles in a diner. The scene quickly ends in bloodshed after pancakes are brought.
Around 2:00AM a homeless man acquired a jackhammer and began to test it outside the hostel. Although we were on the 3rd floor, it sounded as though the Jackhammer Villain was beside my bunkbed. I awoke from my booze-induced coma delirious but ready to escape. Once we arrive at the train station, we drop 100 Euros, no longer pennywise, and step into our escape car as the whistle blows.