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The Mont

Raise the gate!

Shops and hotels

Main Street

From the ramparts

Restaurants with a view

Looping around

Up and up

Residential

Rooftops

Rooms and spaces

Little touches

Démodé

In the mud

Around the back

Defenses

Mini chapel

Back inside

Brilliant

Ah, much better

Ghosts

Main drag

Lights on

Abbey

Out on the water

Abbey and stars

Such a view

Bed

Up to the Abbey

Construction

Inside the abbey

Altar

Roof

Minas Tirith

Down the side

Out the back

WoW?

Lovely quiet

Halls of might

Chimney

Heating challenge

Foundations

Manpower

Ah, so that's how

Hampster

Stairs and stairs

Seemingly just a hallway

Knight's Hall

Sunset

Worth it

Countless video games and movies have used the unique Mont Saint-Michel as inspiration, with the most famous example being Peter Jackson's "Lord of the Rings" trilogy. Wandering minstrel Geoffrey Morrison climbs over the velvet ropes to show you this iconic medieval marvel.

It's a little over half a mile from the shore to Mont Saint-Michel, but a bit further from where you actually park. There are free buses that shuttle you from the parking lot to the main entrance.

Check out the full story here: A Tour of Mont Saint-Michel.

Caption by / Photo by Geoffrey Morrison

An actual drawbridge and portcullis greet you as you enter. It doesn't seem like either has been used in a while.

Caption by / Photo by Geoffrey Morrison

As you enter (that's the drawbridge entrance in the center there), you pass restaurants and shops. This isn't an innovation for tourism; shops were here for centuries. Behind me the path curves up toward the abbey, but when I arrived there were so many people, I decided to head up to the ramparts first (the stairs on the left).

Caption by / Photo by Geoffrey Morrison

This is the opposite view from the previous slide. After a reasonably wide entrance, the pathways narrow quickly. Some you'd have to turn sideways to pass through.

Caption by / Photo by Geoffrey Morrison

There's something so cool about being on the ramparts of a castle. A tie to history, perhaps? Or just how different it is from modern buildings.

Caption by / Photo by Geoffrey Morrison

It's hard to tell from a distance, but most of the buildings along the front are restaurants. Not a bad view to add to your meal.

Caption by / Photo by Geoffrey Morrison

After you turn the corner from the front of Mont Saint-Michel, you can come back in toward the shops. Here's a view down the main drag. The entrance is around the corner in the distance.

Caption by / Photo by Geoffrey Morrison

Or you can continue upward. The abbey and cathedral loom over the town.

Caption by / Photo by Geoffrey Morrison

Above the shops, but below the abbey, is a residential area. People do actually live on Mont Saint-Michel: according to a 2009 census at that time there were a total of 44 residents.

Caption by / Photo by Geoffrey Morrison

This gives you a good idea of how crammed in everything is.

Caption by / Photo by Geoffrey Morrison

I wanted to go into every building, just to see what was inside. While you can go into many of them, some are privately owned. So that would be breaking and entering.

Caption by / Photo by Geoffrey Morrison

Here you can see one of the original artifacts of the Mont: "La machine automatique d'horlogerie de distribution de l'argent."

Caption by / Photo by Geoffrey Morrison

Not sure what these ancient devices are, however.

Caption by / Photo by Geoffrey Morrison

The tides can vary up to 14 feet here, some of the greatest variances in the world. Not, however, the days I was there. So I sadly didn't get that Mont-surrounded-by-water photo. Got some other amazing ones instead.

Caption by / Photo by Geoffrey Morrison

The pictures you usually see of Mont Saint-Michel are from the front. Well here's one from around back. Trees, mostly.

Caption by / Photo by Geoffrey Morrison

The steepness of the island here acts as a natural defense, but that didn't stop them from putting walls up there anyway.

Caption by / Photo by Geoffrey Morrison

I wasn't quite sure why they'd have this mini chapel around the back, until I saw what happens back here at sunset (you'll see those pictures a bit later).

Caption by / Photo by Geoffrey Morrison

After looping around the outside, you come back in here, beneath the abbey. The maintenance crews have smartly used the ramp that the monks used to use to haul up supplies as their own ramp for hauling up supplies.

Caption by / Photo by Geoffrey Morrison

Even though the tides were low, this is one of the more dangerous photos I've ever taken. The tides come in fast, and the mud is sticky, so you can get swept away, or drown, pretty easily (there were warnings everywhere).

Smartly I went out here alone after midnight.

Caption by / Photo by Geoffrey Morrison

The main benefit of staying on the Mont is being able to explore it without a crowd of people. I spent hours walking around, hearing just the echoes of my footsteps, glancing off the stones.

Caption by / Photo by Geoffrey Morrison

Ok, it was really creepy. I'm not a superstitious person, but walking around here alone was eerie. Awesome, but eerie.

Caption by / Photo by Geoffrey Morrison

OK, so here's what the main street looks like, without people. Shops and restaurants, cool signs. Love it.

Caption by / Photo by Geoffrey Morrison

However, even in the wee hours, I could occasionally hear people, their voices bouncing off the cobblestones and walls. Other guests at other hotels? Employees ending a late shift? Not sure.

Caption by / Photo by Geoffrey Morrison

They sure know how to light stuff in France.

Caption by / Photo by Geoffrey Morrison

You can see how much water there often is between the Mont and the mainland. In this case, there are mudflats, but you get the idea.

Caption by / Photo by Geoffrey Morrison

This is why you buy a tripod. At the top of the spire is a golden Saint Michel.

Caption by / Photo by Geoffrey Morrison

Just can't get over how cool these buildings are, even at night.

Caption by / Photo by Geoffrey Morrison

On the left there is my hotel. Location, location, location.

Caption by / Photo by Geoffrey Morrison

From the inside, the walls around the abbey are no less impressive.

Caption by / Photo by Geoffrey Morrison

For a century there's been a causeway connecting the Mont and the mainland. You used to park right out front, which sort of ruins the view, in my opinion.

Well, due to growing amounts of sediment, and a desire to spruce the look up a bit, the French government is building a gorgeous elevated roadway, and demolishing the causeway. This, in addition to a dam nearby, is intended to flush more of the sediment out to sea, preserving the island as an island.

Caption by / Photo by Geoffrey Morrison

Impressive, especially when you consider how long it must have taken to get all this stuff up here.

Caption by / Photo by Geoffrey Morrison

You have to figure it was quite a hike to get here for Sunday services.

Caption by / Photo by Geoffrey Morrison

Ever look up in buildings like this? I'm always impressed how huge they could make buildings back then, with pretty limited (by comparison) technology.

Caption by / Photo by Geoffrey Morrison

Ah yes, now we see some more of that Minas Tirith action. This broad "patio" offered some impressive views...

Caption by / Photo by Geoffrey Morrison

...Like this one. Walls and terraces all the way down.

Caption by / Photo by Geoffrey Morrison

Here's the view out to sea. Notice the little chapel we saw earlier.

Caption by / Photo by Geoffrey Morrison

Ever play World of Warcraft? Look like Scarlet Monastery much? That mini boss with the dogs would be off to the right, perhaps?

Caption by / Photo by Geoffrey Morrison

Who would have thought there'd be this huge open space up here?

Caption by / Photo by Geoffrey Morrison

And just when you thought the cathedral wasn't epic enough, there's a room like this. Multipurpose, presumably, though here you can see it's set up with tables.

Caption by / Photo by Geoffrey Morrison

I'm standing in one of the massive fireplaces. I couldn't touch the walls with my arms outstretched. The shadow you see is the camera's lens. I hate using a flash, but since this was pitch black, I felt obliged.

Caption by / Photo by Geoffrey Morrison

The fireplace I was standing in (one of two, here), likely wasn't enough to fill all of this room with warmpth.

Caption by / Photo by Geoffrey Morrison

Some of the huge columns that help keep the abbey rooted on the Mont.

Caption by / Photo by Geoffrey Morrison

Remember the sled/ramp earlier the monks hauled supplies up (if not, the next slide will refresh your memory)?

This huge wheel is what they used.

Caption by / Photo by Geoffrey Morrison

Using the huge wheel, it would have been a LOT easier to haul up heavy stones.

Caption by / Photo by Geoffrey Morrison

Seems like it would be a good workout for anyone in here.

Caption by / Photo by Geoffrey Morrison

It seemed like every room was on a slightly different level. Either that, or the whole place was designed by M.C. Escher.

Caption by / Photo by Geoffrey Morrison

This gorgeous area, windows and all, seemed just a hallway to get from one place to another.

Caption by / Photo by Geoffrey Morrison

This is the appropriately named Knight's Hall, an incredible space of light and curves, and sadly, the last room on the tour of the abbey grounds.

Caption by / Photo by Geoffrey Morrison

In June the sun doesn't set until after 10 p.m. This was one of the best spots to watch it from, and a half-dozen people quietly enjoyed the sight with me.

That would have been it, but I wanted to see sunrise too, and I'm glad I did, because I got the next picture...

Caption by / Photo by Geoffrey Morrison

After just a few hours of sleep, I trekked out onto the mud one more time. Clouds had come in overnight, and obscured the sun as it rose over the horizon.

As I took a few last pictures of Mont Saint-Michel anyway, rain started to fall and a rainbow formed before my eyes. and then the traces of another right above it.

An incredible end to a magical few days.

Check out the rest of the story at A Tour of Mont Saint-Michel.

Caption by / Photo by Geoffrey Morrison
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