The Amazing- Le Mont St. Michel

It would be rare that I do not take the advice of my good friend Corinne, who is an expert about travelling in France (at least I think she is), so when she told me that we MUST stay 1 night on Le Mont St. Michel, I booked a room for just 1 night.

We bought a return ticket from Saint Malo on the direct bus to Mont St. Michel for €23 each. Our other option was to take 2 trains and 1 bus and the cost wasn’t much cheaper for the inconvenience.  The bus company, Keolis is obviously selling day trips to tourists rather than transportation to destinations.  I sucked it up as I looked at it that we paid more for the convenience and it also saved us some time.

The bus dropped us off at one of the bus parking lots, which was not yet full of tour buses, so it looked like we had a bit of a head start to avoiding the crowds; or so we thought.  Instead of waiting in another long line up for a free bus/ shuttle ride to the island, we walked the boardwalk, which was farther than I thought- just over 2 km. It was nice to be able to stop and take pictures along the way, but we were definetly a sight to see or hear as the wheels on our luggage made a not so pleasant noise on the wood boardwalk. Whatever….

Walking on the boardwalk towards to Mont St. Michel

The water was receeding and the tourists were arriving- on foot and by bus

The tide had already started to receed away from the island and back out to sea, when we arrived, and the amount of water that moves in and out here was evident.  We had no idea at the time that we would not see the tide coming in fully, which was a shame. I still do not understand why that was as the posted high tide was at 11:26 am and 11:38 pm.

We arrived at the gates of Le Mont St. Michel and immediately we felt like we were in Medieval times- a bit reminiscent of Carcasonne, and one of the walled cities we visited in Provence in 2012.  We thought we beat the crowds, but we did not. Navigating the narrow and winding street in the thick crowds of tourists to find our hotel while pulling our luggage was a bit of a challenge as the walk towards our hotel was also uphill. The check in at our hotel La Vielle Augerge was in its restaurant. Our room would not be ready until 2pm, so we left our bags and had lunch on their terrace as the weather was starting to improve and the sun was peaking out.

View while eating luch at our Hotel restaurant

After a delicious lunch of a NIcoise Salad- a typical french dish, that is absolutely delicious, we started to explore the  outer perimeter on the wall. As we walked around we found our way to the Abbey thought to date back to 708- originally built as a sanctuary by Aubert, Bishop of Avranches in honour of the Archangel. &In the 10th century, the Benedictines settled in the abbey, while a village grew up below its walls.& Clasified as a historic monument in 1874, it underwent major restoration work, and has been under construction- literally ever since!

The abbey was unfurnished except for the Chapel which had a service on when we were there, so you had to leave a lot up to your imagination as to what the furnishings, etc would have been like. Luckily we are Game of Throne fans, so we were able to fill in the blanks from its set design.

The island itself is quite small, so we explored all that we were able to in a couple of hours, and by the time we were back on the narrow street lined with tourist shops and restaurants, it was literally wall to wall- packed in like sardines with tourists. I was glad that we were staying the night, as we would be able to walk around soon enough without these impossible crowds.

Seagulls are EVERYWHERE

We checked into our room and while waiting for it to be ready, not long after we met a couple from a small town north of where we live- Killam, AB. Heather and Roger were driving through France in just under a month and we were going to be crossing paths with them in a few different places, so we arranged to meet up at our next stop- Amboise to have some english conversation with someone other than our travel partners.

Wonderful view from our room

I had upgraded our room when booking to a sea view room, and was extremely pleased with this decision, as we needed to escape the crowds, and could still take in the landscape’s beauty from the comfort of our balcony; minus the loud and obnoxious sea gulls… BUT to get to our room we had to climb upwards of around 200 uneven stone steps with our bags, and then back down.  And around 5 pm, I got the munchies and was in need of a happy hour cocktail. So back down the steps I went.

Happy hour with a view

Many people walk out on the sea bed at low tide. It is very muddy

Around 5 pm the streets really start to quiet down as the tour buses are leaving, so a lot of the stores start to close as do many restaurants, so that basically the restaurants that also are hotels remain open for dinner service, and even these ones are closed and dark by 10 pm, which is early for France standards in the cities. Snack foods are slim pickings in Mont. St. Michel, but I found some french fries, which I can eat as in France most places only fry their fries, and not the majority of its menu like in Canada and the U.S., so they are gluten friendly. I also bought a sugar crepe for Kalyna and a small bottle of sparkling rose Cider, which is a local specialty, then back up the steps I went to enjoy my own little Happy Hour while enjoying the paid for view on our balcony.  I started to eat my fries outside but we noticed quickly that I was attracting the attention of the sea gulls, and as we had been warned that they are very agressive here, I quickly moved inside with my snack and only had my drink outside while researching where Rick Steves would recommend us to have dinner.

I would LOVE a glass of wine!

We chose to eat at Cafe La Mère Poulard, not to be mistaken with La Mère Poulard, which is a rip off tourist trap right where you walk in the gates.  I had already decided that I wanted mussles again as this would be our last night where they are caught then served only hours later- or so I thought. The service started off good, but then tapered off quickly which was becoming a very common experience for us in France.  I am not sure if it is because there are more servers at home, or they are tip driven, but our experience was very lax to get you a menu, a 2nd glass of wine, or water when asked for politely.  BUT, the food generally come out OMG fast! That said, the food was even slow at this restaurant, which would not have been a big deal, had I had something to drink while we waited.  Please don’t get me wrong, I love to experience a lingering meal like in Italy, but this is NOT the same. Service basically has lacked so far for us.

Back to the room once again for us- Kalyna to face time her friends and me to get dressed warmer to go and take pictures of Mont. St. Michel illuminated from outside its walls. I was also wanting to see the tide coming in, and with it being just after 10 pm, it should have started.

The streets were even more quiet and all of the restaurants were officially closed. The only ones left in the streets were us tourists, and most of us were headed in the same direction- to take pictures. I was surprised to see that the water was still far out at sea, and did not appear to be coming back in, in the 30 minutes that I was outside the walls. It was pitch black now and getting colder so I made my way back to our room to prepare for our earlyish departure the next morning.

I have learned from past experiences that it is better to be early than be too rushed when travelling. We got up with enough time to get ready, pack, walk with our bags down the 200+ steps, check out, have breakfast then walk to the shuttle, take the shuttle, find the bus stop and get on the bus to go to Rennes where we were renting a car.  Our good intentions led us to be extremely early for the bus, as when we went to breakfast at our hotel restaurant, we discovered that the €10 breakfast was  pastries, coffee and juice. I did not want to spend the equivalent of $15 for coffee and juice- and there were no apologies for being unacomodating. So we went up the street and stopped at the only to go place open, and ordered a coffee and a croissant for Kalyna, which came to €9! €6 for the coffee and €3 for the croissant!!! That is MORE than at Starbucks, which I did not think was possible! I guess we should have stayed and at least Kalyna could have had more than 1 croissant and juice too…..

Leaving Mont St. Michel with my $9 cafe

We were happy to have seen M.S.M. but I was happy to be leaving as I HATE getting ripped off and tourist traps! My advice for you is if you stay or just go for the day- take snacks, food and drinks with you. If you have a gluten allergy, this is even more important when it comes to breakfast. AND stay away from La Mère Pollard- you can’t miss it when you first enter through the gates.

It was now afer 9am, and we had plenty of time to take the shuttle, and find our way to our bus to Rennes. But again, the tide was out at sea, with no sign of it coming in. I was disappointed to not have seen this transition, as it was incredible to watch in Saint Malo. Oh well- You Tube will have to suffice…

Off to Rennes, and our driving adventures in the Loire!

Saint Malo in 2 Nights

(Please check back to see new pictures for this post- having technical issues in France, so will update when I get home)

So our trip was planned- where to go, flights, hotels, car rental, train tickets all booked.  Next research. Or not.  

I love Rick Steves guide books, but when you are going to several places it is overwhelming the amount of work- time and patience it takes to make everything come together. Then there can be information overload on learning the history, what to do, etc about each place. I don’t know about you, but as I have gotten older I retain less information, so what I started reading months ago, was lost in my memory bank when I had time for a quick refresher the week before our trip- AND with limited vision. So, all that said, in advance of our arrival in Saint Malo, I knew that  they were famous for Gallettes- buckwheat crepes, and mussles, and had a beach. Was good enough for us!

On arrival via train, we took a taxi to our hotel, and boy am I glad that we did. Aside from it being quoted as a 30 minute walk, it actually could have taken us hours to find it in addition to the far walk from the bus station to the Old City, where our Hotel was located.  The old city is like a maze, and it was confusing us just riding in the taxi, let alone us dragging our luggage behind us on the cobblestone streets.

We were extremely pleased with the location of our hotel- Hotel St. Pierre as it was only steps from a popular beach because of the interestingly designed and executed Ocean Pool that even has a diving board. And also the wall that you can walk on around the perimeter of the city was also steps away.

I was also pleasantly surprised with the shopping close by, and picked up a few treasures for myself, and my boys. Kalyna spent her own money on some Berkinstocks that you can not get in Canada, so she was as happy as a pig in mud!

BUT, one of the best parts of staying in the walled city of Saint Malo is that there is  a crepe shop- literally on EVERY corner, that also sells Gallettes! I was in gluten free heaven!!! Also the rest of the food was reasonably priced in most restaurants (make sure to check the menu before entering a restaurant), and the Mussles were one of the cheapest items on the menu and some of the best I have EVER tasted!!! If you aren’t a mussle fan (I still suggest you open your mind and try them just one more time here), there is also a great variety of other food, including fresh seafood, which is what I love the most, so that is what I was always looking for.

An interesting fact to learn was about the Canadian heritage and history with this city. Jacques Cartier, who was credited as &discovering& Canada, lived and sailed out of Saint Malo. There is a statue of Jacques, a small Quebec museum and also the Quebec flags are flown in tribute to Quebec being the twin city.

Unfortunately when we arrived it was cloudy and cool outside and was spitting off and on.  A unique part of this area is its tides. They are some of the largest in Europe, and when I looked online for what the high and low tides were over the 2 days we were there, it was a difference of 27ft from high to low tide! That is huge in numbers, but our pictures and video of when the tide was out, and we were able to walk to another island, or of how big the beach was is incredible to compare to when the tide was high, and there was a very small beach, and in other places no beach at all, the ocean pool had disappeared and you could only see the very top of the high diving board that is on top of the wall that forms the pool.

You can only see the top of the diving board!

You can walk on the sea floor at low tide

The sea floor is coverd and the beach is small

At low tide we walked out to the 2 islands

The bay empties at low tide

I would absolutely recommend going to Saint Malo again, as there is a lot to do in this area for all types of people, but be prepared for cooler weather!

Did you know Fondus was French?

After a nice siesta at our hotel we walked to Montmartre which was within walking distance of our hotel. Techically anything within around 30 minutes is walking distance we have discovered in France.  It is so different from home, but so good for us. Plus there is always so much to see along the way that the walk is always interesting.

One thing Kalyna said that she wanted to do in France (she just informed me of this in Paris) was to have a Fondu one night. Cheese? Sure, why not! And since there was a recommended Fondu restaurant in the Montmartre area, we were able to combine things from our to do lists.

This area is a unique part of Paris, as it suddenly becomes hilly, like in San Francisco, which you then know that you are headed in the right direction, especially since NOTHING is symetrical in Paris, including the streets.  Sacré-Coeur is up on a hill (that the Parisians call a Mountain???) which overlooks Paris. The view is stunning, and the people watching is a great sport if you have time to sit on the steps.  There are ample guys there selling water, and even Heineken by the bottle while you sit on the steps beneath the Cathedral if you did not come prepared.

(Check back later as I have some great photos to put here, but I can NOTdownload them onto my tablet as someone changed my camera setting from JPEG to NEF, and do not have the bandwidth to change all of my 1000 pics with limited wifi- NOAH……)

The one thing you need to watch out for are the men from Africa- I am unsure of where in Africa, so I apoligize that I generalized; Africa.  There are numerous of these men and they are agressive! They are all holding unfinished string bracelets in their hands and they have no sense of personal space or boundaries, and can make you feel unsafe. They initially approach you and ask you where you are from- ignore them and say No Merci (thank you). They then try to put a bracelet on you- firmly say, No Merci! Walk away, and keep walking past the rest of them that will continue approaching and will keep talking to you. Some tourists just end up giving them money to get them to go away, and that does not help. Some use this as a distraction to pick pocket, but really they are looking for money.  As you walk away annoyed they will say, &Don’t worry, be happy!& Ironic as we were perfectly happy until they harrased us!

We were both starving so we made our way to Le Refuges des Fondus using my Ulmon map app on my phone. What did we ever do without a GPS in our hands at all times???

Refuges des Fondus is a popular restaurant as there were several people waiting outside. I spied that there were baby bottles on each table and after saying, &Why the heck are there baby bottles on the tables, a young group of American women who were going to school in Paris explained that they serve the wine in baby bottles as it is so cramped in the restaurant that this prevents wine spillage. So smart!!! Plus this was a part of the unpretencious charm this restaurant had.  When the owner came to tell us that there was a table ready, there was another couple also waiting, and as the 4 of us were polite we all looked at each other not knowing who should get the table, as we were usure who got there first we ended up sitting together at the same table and even split and shared a beef and cheese fondu. They were in town for an HIV conference- Alex was from London and Alesia was from Italy, but worked as a Physician in the UK.  We had such a lovely dinner with them, and just in case you were wondering what I ate with the cheese fondu- they gave me potatoes!  The meal cost €25 per person, and incuded a glass of Kir, an apertivo plate, 1 type of fondus per couple, 1 baby bottle of red or white wine, and desert, which also was gluten free- a home made marshmallow with a caremel sauce drizzled on it. OMG! YUM!

The next best part of eating at Le Refuges is the experience. It is family seating- against the wall is a bench, and in order to get in and out unless you are at the end of the bench is to climb over your table. It is definetely close seating, so you get to know your neighbors, which I loved!

Before walking home, I needed to take Kalyna to see Moulin Rouge and its famous red windmill. Funny that this was my 3rd time to Paris, and I also had not seen this iconi Parisian landmark. Moulin Rouge use d to be a hip place to go in Paris, but as we walked towards the windmill, it started to feel more and more seedy. We both said we saw Moulin Rouge and quickly left as the &good time& that we could have found there was not &our kind of good time& if you know  what I mean.

Instead of walking home through this crazy neighbourhood, we took the nearest Metro, and that is where we had a @subwaycreatures experience! I follow @subwaycreatures on Instagram (follow me t_tymko) and get easily amused, disgusted and totally grossed out at what happens in the subway in New York.  We were quietly sitting at a seat waiting for our train, when a homeless? man, who either had mental issues or was totally drunk, approached me and proceeded to point his finger at me and said,  &T’es moche! Dégolasse! Molle!& He also said a lot more, but he was talking fast and it was slurred, but this was the general idea of what he said to me, as he was actually pointing at my right leg, which had some scratches on it.  I had no idea what he said, and I just said back, &Je parle en englais- I speak english& He repeated himself, and I said the same thing back. He looked at me confused then luckily the train arrived and we quickly walked a couple of cars away from where he was to get away from him.  Kalyna then told me what she thought he said to me- &I was disgusting, stupid and gross (dégolas) At first Kalyna thought moche was mushy, and apparantly he didn’t like my calves.  We didn’t know if we should laugh as we were just very confused. I did howerever text my Subway Creature friend- LIndsey to tell her about my encounter, then as we were walking out of the Metro, we saw a Dispicable Me poster with the Minions on it, where is said, &Moi, Moche et Méchant  2& So was I also Dispicable since he called me Moche? We laughed at the coincidence!

Our first full day in Paris was full and Great!

First full day in Paris- Hotels, Eiffel Tower, Peti Cabs, and Galeries Lafayette

Paris Day 2

Today was our 1st of 2 full days in Paris and even though we went to bed at a decent time, my body refused to figure out that I need a good nights sleep. Instead it was in nap mode, and I kept waking up thinking I was done my nap multiple times. Still groggy, we started our morning at 9am with breakfast, which was included with our room at Hotel 34B, Astotel Paris

Choosing hotels is not an easy feat with all of the choices that are available to us on the internet, and if you are the one in charge of choosing a room/ hotel/ B&B, etc and it isn’t great all fingers are pointed at you! So, no pressure. This said, we Loved Hotel 34B! It was escentric, whimsical (check out the decor in my photos) and all the services and ammenities included were great! While walking in the hallways, we felt as though we were on location of the movie, &The Shining&, waiting at any minute for Jack Torrance to jump out and say in his creepy/ crazy voice, &Here’s Johnny!& Creepy yet yet funny at the same time! They had an complimentary snack bar including soft drinks, water, coffee and juice just off the lobby open till 2am. As well as in our room we had a mini bar stocked with the same drinks- complimentary as well. The Wifi was great, and the beds were comfortable! It was in a central location (9th Arondisment) with a Metro stop (Grands Boulevards) very close. The Opera House and Galeries Lafayette were also very close to walk to with ample choices for upscale shopping.  

One of the things Iike about Europe, is taking the Metro in the big cities. I don’t know why, but it feels like a part of the adventure. Luckily having Kalyna with me, she was able to be the navigator as my eyes were still pretty blurry and interpreting the signs and metro map was a challenge for my eyes. A smile was put on my face when a man playing the accordian came aboard our car and gave us the full Parisian experience.

We arrived at Trocadéro, the station closest to the best visual introduction to the Tours Eiffel- Eiffel Tower. After taking multiple pictures of us and for other tourists, we walked towards this Grand Monument! It became quite real very quickly that many security measures had to be taken as a result of the terrorist activity in this city. We waited in line for over 30 minutes in a somewhat short line to be checked and cleared to enter the general area under the Eiffel Tower.  We then waited in a much longer line for over 1 hour to buy a ticket to be able to walk up the stairs of the tower- I did not remember having to pay to walk up last time, and there most definetely was not a long wait to walk up, or my tired 3 children and husband would not have followed me to the staircase back in 2012.  

After buying our tickets, and clearing another security check point, we make the trek up. The weather was cool and starting to rain but once we got to the 1st platform to admire the 360⚬view, it felt worth the wait.  We then waited in another cattle corraling line up to take the elevator to the top. It was now officially raining, and of course we didn’t have an umbrella or rain coats, but Ihad an Italian scarf for my head and Kalyna had a light jacket on.

1 necessary thing to do in Paris was checked off our list! Next stop was the Champs Elysée and L’Arc de Triomphe.  I am able to do things that I wouldn’t do when Iam not travelling with my husband, Kim. How do I say this in a nice way, expept that Imiss out on opportunities to experience something different due to not wanting to spend a bit of money or cheaping out. Since it is just me and Kalyna I can decide when to make a splurge, and when we saw some fun petticabs on the street, we jumped into one. That said, we handpicked one that was a bit fancier than the rest and even had speakers for music. This next part is where you will also see an experpt in Scams and Scammers. These &guys& have creative marketing. They are quick to show you a flyer with a list of all the places they will take you with the price next to it.  Their goal is for you to decide quickly and get you to your destination, so that when you hand them the €15 the flyer showed, the driver then informs you that was Per Person, so in reality it was €30. We noticed the same &discussion& from many other passengers wherever we saw the petticabs.

The quick grab and go options for food are an issue for me with my Gluten intollerance, so to keep the Hangries away from Kalyna we grabbed a typical french baquette with cheese for her and an espresso for me as we wanted to avoid the typical tourist trap restaurants along the Champs Elysée plus it was crazy busy from the Tours de France just ending the day prior.

Another great part to staying at the hotel chain we did, was we could visit any Astotel property and use their wifi, restrooms and even have their snacks and beverages. I picked up a fresh nicoise salad from a Patisserie and we relaxed for a bit at 123 Champs Elysées before heading to Gallerie Lafayettes.

Gallerie Lafayettes- where to begin with this shopping experience? It is a Beautiful building in itself, then you add in every designer name brand spread out over its 10 floors. We stopped at 5, and had no idea it had 10 floors until I googled this fact…. To be honest, we stopped at 5 because of  the crazy crowds of bus loads, and more bus loads and even more bus loads of Asian tourists, with no sense of personal space or manners. It was just too overwhelming for us.

It was time for a siesta at our hotel…. Then more venturing…..

France with my Daughter

Paris- Day 1

It is July 23, 2017 and Kalyna who is now 18, and I have landed in Paris for the start of our 16 days in France together; a Grad gift that was promised to each of our 3 children if they graduated from French Immersion.

Want to give your child some incentive to go to University and get a job, so that they can support themselves in a lifestyle that they grew up in and were acustomed to, then take them in the way you like to travel, BUT let them know that this is THE LAST time that you will be paying for anything like Business class, or nice hotels. So this may be Kalyna’s first and last time flying business class- she now writed her own destiny after this trip.

We landed just after 1pm, and we both are exhausted, so the decision was easy to just jump into a taxi rather than navigate the metro, bus and walking to find our hotel in the 9th Arrondissemant. After the last month I just had, I needed to push as many &easy buttons& as possible, even if the cost was more.

What happened in the last month?  The hightlights are: I had eye surgery the end of June, which was supposed to be routine- Refractive Lens Exchange (cataract surgery), which was going to fix my asigmatism, and enable me to not wear glasses anymore. 2 weeks later, my vision was very blurred and my eyes were blood shot, and during a follow up appointment, a spot was found on my left retina, which was later diagnosed as an Edema at an emergency appointment with a Retinal Specialist over 2 hours from where Iive and only 2 days before I was scheduled to leave for France. Further tests were ordered for most importantly, when I returned from France!  During my recovery from eye surgery, KIm and I were both actively involved in the planning and excecution, in addition to being the Title Sponsors of an International Airshow in Lethbridge, where we live and have a business. Rest was NOT in my vocabulary, and that Kicked me in the Butt HARD!

Our plans for Paris were quite simple- Chill, eat, sleep, shop and do some exploring. As this trip was without my travel buddy, Kathy, chilling was on the agenda but not too chill as I would need to wean Kalyna off of her adiction to Netflix and constant SnapChatting!

I would normally tell people that no matter how tired you are when you arrive in Paris to go to the Eiffel Tower, but there was no way possible that this body could rally to do this- instead we napped then went exploring and found an Amazing Crepe shop with a huge selection of Gluten Free options, including Gallettes, which are buckwheat crepes. We then had an Amazing French meal consisting of Escargots, beef carpaccio, french fries, salad and a couple glasses of Rosé. On the walk back to our hotel we stopped for Gelatto and Macarons, then easily crawled into our comfy beds for a good nights sleep.