Some years ago Calvin and I spent a week 1000 kilometers from here in Brittany, in a charming medieval town called Dinan. During that week we decided to make a day trip to Mont Saint-Michel, one of the most popular tourist sites in France. It wasn’t far away but we didn’t know how to get there from Dinan. This was before Google maps were available in the palm of your hand.
Dinan had a tourist office, where nice people handed out pamphlets and answered questions. While inquiring there about travel options to the Mont, we overheard an English couple asking about how to get to Disneyland. They, like many English in Brittany, had come over either from or via the Channel Islands rather than through Paris. The tourist office girl had no info on the trains, so I suggested to the Englishwoman that she could easily check schedules online if she didn’t want to go to the station. I also told her where a nearby cybercafé was. A little later, when we ourselves were at the station looking up schedules to the Mont, the English were in front of us at the ticket desk. The woman plopped down and asked, “Do you speak English?”
“Pas du tout.” The ticket man shook his head.
“OK. We want to go to Disneyland. How much is that?”
“Madame, no Engleesh.”
“OK. CAWM-BEE-YEN to Disneyland?”
“Madame.” He looked around the room in what I thought was an exceptionally patient plea for sympathy.
I stepped forward and interjected that fares could vary a lot depending on what day she’d be traveling, whether she bought tickets at the desk or online, how many people, etc. She ignored all this.
“I just want a rough idea,” pointing to the clerk’s computer keyboard as if to imbue it with language skills she herself lacked.
Shrugging, the ticket man asked, “Ow ma-ny?”
“Two adults and one child.”
“OK. We are DOO adults and OON child.” Her volume increased and the stone floors of the station, empty on that rainy spring day, produced an echo.
The man quoted a figure and the woman seemed happy.
But I digress. I had already read that Pontorson was the nearest train station to Mont Saint-Michel, and that is indeed the case. Where I made my mistake was in assuming that the Mont was also within walking distance from Pontorson. We reached Pontorson by train and set off on foot from there. We began to suspect we were in trouble when, about a half mile from town, the sidewalks ended and we were hiking in the narrow, overgrown shoulder of the road. We knew we were in trouble when, about a half hour into our hike, there was still no Mont on the horizon. We noticed and admired the many clean, attractive buses marked “Brittany Transports” that swept past us as we trudged through the weeds. A few times I heard rustling in the tall grass that I hoped came from waterfowl or other harmless fauna of the littoral, but which, at the same time, I worried might also be fierce French bobcats.
The coup de grace came as we passed a sign cheerfully proclaiming, “Mont-Saint-Michel 10km.”
Buses from Pontorson to the Mont run about every 15-30 minutes all day and cost just a couple of euros.
The Mont was startling in its mass of tourists. At the time, I cooked professionally and felt an obligation to eat one of la Mère Poulard’s legendary omelettes at the eponymous restaurant, even though I knew its creator was many decades into her post-earthly existence. I was dissuaded, though, by the price. Twenty euros for an omelette made little sense to me so we ate somewhere else.
While cafe-sitting after lunch I pulled out my copy of Elizabeth David’s French Provincial Cooking – yes, I had it with me – and looked up the passage about la Mère Poularde’s omelettes. Even 50 years ago, when Mrs. David wrote her book, there was considerable dispute over which restaurant on the Mont could lay the truest claim to Mere’s legacy, so I didn’t feel so bad about not having one of the bastard omelettes.
We visited the Abbey, which I guess you’re supposed to do. I’m glad we went to the Mont, but I did it and don’t think I’ll need to do it again.
We took the bus back to Pontorson.