Sunday, October 5, 2014

Grandpa's Old Haunt...

I reluctantly carried the Dreaded Plague into Bretagne.

Mont Saint Michel ~ The Pilgrims Route

Jude and I had pre-paid tickets for the Train a Grande Vitesse and a pre-paid stay at the hotel just across the plaza from the terminus of the line.  Earlier I'd taken Mother Nature to task for giving us a wet, cold summer and She wanted to make up for the mess by offering us a Glorious September.  It was dry and warm and was perfect for spending a few days away.  There was no way we were going to miss this opportunity.

It was less than 15 minutes out of Saint Malo and my mind was in a Fuzzy Haze of antibiotics and my stomach filled with tasty sandwich au jambon.  I was regarding the passing scenery in the aforementioned Fuzzy Haze when a realization crashed in on me.  I Fully Understood we were descending on a Truly Magical Place. Sitting in a farmers field was a ring of neolithic standing stones.

A walk thru Saint Malo on our first full day brought us to one of the Top Five Greatest Meals Ever.  The next day saw us out at Mont Saint Michel with our final full day in Bretagne being spent in Dinan.  Yes, magic could be found everywhere.

Mont Saint Michel ~ The Pilgrims Route

We like to travel on the shoulder seasons.  That is, we like to visit places when the prices are lower than during the peak and when there are fewer of us tourists to clog things up.

Mont Saint Michel was a source of concern for us as we'd read where the place is practically insupportable! with the vast numbers of tourists and pilgrims visiting the old monastery.  The site is the second most heavily visited location in France (after, of course, Paris).

Incredibly, fortune was on our side.  There was plenty of space to walk.  There were clear views of just about anything you might want to see.  We were able to take Mass with the brothers and nuns who live in the monastery.  We were able to pass thru the monastery with ease.  Lunch tables were un-filled in a surprising number of restos that are found on this history steeped island.

Mont Saint Michel ~ The Pilgrims Route

Back in the late-800's the Viking Rollo (aka: Robert I), son of Rognvald Eysteinsson, invaded what is now northern France (Normandy) and gained control over the region that includes Mont Saint Michel.  Rollo appointed an archbishop of Rouen who's direct control included the Mont.

In 933 William Longsword (William I) annexed the entire peninsula from the Bretons.  Squabbles with the Bretons would leave William dead after being ambushed while attending a peace conference.

The 1000's saw William the Bastard (aka: William the Conqueror) fighting in the region around the Mont as he maintained control over his father's and grand-father's land.  Some of the Big Events from the Bastard's life are recorded on the Bayeaux Tapestry.

Mont Saint Michel ~ The Pilgrims Route

Even as the Dreaded Plague was dragging me down Jude and I were like Two Little Mountain Goats.  We climbed, walked, skirted, and wandered all over the island.  I climbed the long, steep staircase to the monastery three times!  The first was with Jude to see where the stairs lead and to decide the seemingly over-priced museum was Probably Not Worth It.  I again climbed the stairs to ask questions of the Front Desk after we started to reconsider our initial decision.  And I climbed yet once more with Jude once we realized we simply had to see the monastery since that's what we'd come all this way to do!  Such were the continuing effects of antibiotics and the plague on my State of Reasoning.

As for the expected Vast Crowds, why were there so few people during our visit?  Was it our Good Fortune in planning?  Were there fewer people due to the Air France pilots strike?  Or was this a broader indication of the general state of the global economy?  Some things might just remain a mystery.

Voila une petite histoire...

I mentioned to someone in our French/English conversation group that Jude descended from the Dukes of Normandy but that I couldn't remember the details.  This sparked everyone's interest, a long conversation ensued, and Jude set out to re-research her family history.

Mont Saint Michel ~ The Pilgrims Route

Jude's daughter and niece had looked into the matter and had come to similar conclusions.  No one saved the Family Tree for future reference (the websites in question had deleted their research histories).  So... Jude was off to look into the matter once again and try to keep a record of her findings.

Here is what Jude found.  Some of her family who moved to Montana were named Eckley.  They came from somewhere along the east coast of the US.  Importantly, Jude was able to trace her family through the Eckley line back to Devon, England.  Many years before jumping the Pond to the New World the Eckley family line was connected to the Giffard/Gifford family line.  Many years before jumping the Channel to England, the Giffards had lived in Normandy and were, in fact, the Dukes of Normandy.  Many years before jumping the North Sea to invade northern France, the Dukes of Normandy had been Kings of Norway and Danemark.  Jude's daughter found a link to William the Bastard, as well.  It was a simple matter of following the lineage of one of William the Bastard's own Bastards, et voila!

Jude is a direct descendant of Rollo, William Longsword, and William the Bastard.

Hence our interest in things related to Mont Saint Michel.  The monastery island had been under direct control of her family for several centuries.  Our visit had been a visit the Old Family Stomping Grounds.

The Dreaded Plague could not keep us from paying the place a visit and submitting it to inspection to make sure they were keeping things in Good Order.

Mont Saint Michel ~ The Pilgrims Route


  1. Fascinating! You never know what you might find when you just poke around. Sounds like y'all had lots of fun. :)

    1. It was wonderful. We hit the cross-over point on the weather vs tourists curves. :-)