After visiting the towns of Giverny, Rouen, and Honfleur I swung southwest past Caen towards the coast. I’d always wanted to visit the iconic Mont Saint-Michel. It was a little out of the way of my intended path towards the chateaux of the Loire Valley, but I figured it was worth the detour.
Mont Saint-Michel is on a tiny island one kilometer off the French coast near the town of Avranches. The island, which consists of only 247 acres and 44 permanent residents, is basically a big rock 300 meters high that is enveloped by the tide of the Atlantic Ocean twice per day. When the tide is out, the barren tidal flats spread all around the island for hundreds of meters.
The island was fortified in ancient times since it was so easy to defend due to the tides. If attackers couldn’t breach the walls at low tide, the rapidly advancing tide drowned them before they could retreat to the mainland.
A monastery was built on the rock in the eighth century and an abbey was added in the eleventh century. A small village grew up along the lower portions of the rock to provide for the pilgrims that visited in the middle ages. Later, the island was used as a prison.
Today the island is reachable by a special causeway road from the mainland to support the three million visitors who make the trek each year. After a scenic drive through the rural French coastal flat lands, I pulled my car into a large, modern parking lot. I joined the queue of mostly Japanese tourists outside the obligatory visitor’s center and waited for the bus.
After a short ride on the causeway to the end of the road, my crowd of tourists disembarked and started walking the rest of the way to the island via a sidewalk. The view of Mont St. Michel at this point was stunning. Everyone pulled out their cameras for the photo opportunity.
After taking a few snaps I continued walking. Thirty meters farther I stopped to take another photo. As I pressed the shutter and heard the camera click, something smacked me in the back of the head. Whaaccckk!!
It almost knocked me off my feet. I whirled around to see what had happened.
I had been assaulted by a Camera Nerd.
If you’ve been anywhere as a traveler you’ve seen the type. He was an American middle-aged guy with a paunch and a beard. He was dressed in tourist khaki polyester pants with eighteen pockets. He had hiking boots, a baseball cap, a fanny pack, and a cell phone in a holder on his belt. His sunglasses were on a string around his neck. His fishing vest had thirty-six pockets, most of which were empty.
But the thing that distinguishes Camera Nerd is his camera. He is of the expert opinion that bigger is better, and the biggest is the best.
This Camera Nerd had a camera as big as his head, and a telephoto zoom lens as big as a loaf of bread. Like me, he had decided to take a splendid photo of Mont Saint-Michel at just this spot. Unlike me, while he was looking through his massive telephoto lens, this dude KEPT WALKING FORWARD!
Who does that? He’s in a crowd, seriously limits his field of view, and keeps walking.
“Dude! Watch where you’re going! You just smacked me in the back of the head with your lens!’ I yelled.
“Oh, sorry.” He said and kept walking. He was already intensely focused on lining up his next shot.
I stumbled through the gates of the village and walked ever upward towards the abbey. There is only one road in the village, called Grande Rue (big street). Cafes, shops, and hotels crowd the tiny pedestrian street. The views of the surrounding tidal flats from the top of the rock are tremendous.
I decided to skip the tour of the abbey and just relax at various points along the high walls. I could see groups of people hiking across the tidal flats toward another island in the bay. I wondered when the tide would come in.
Outside the gate, I saw one of the groups come in from the flats. There were about 20 grade school age children with their teacher. All of them had walked barefoot in the mud.
The kids, and especially the young boys, had big grins on their faces as they washed their feet with a hose before piling into a couple of vans. Mud was everywhere.
That would have been my kind of school field trip.