Mission Statement

This blog journals my quest of art, whether it is a piece of work that is inherent in nature or one created by artists known or unknown or that I created myself. During this search, I have come to appreciate the magnificence and generosity of God who in his infinite wisdom surrounded us with exquisiteness everyday...everywhere and inspired our human spirit to create beauty that feeds our bodies and souls. Come join me on my journey to find art through my travels and my own creative endeavors. Maraming salamat.

All rights to all posts and contents on this blog, including photos and artwork are reserved by jojo sabalvaro tan.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Life List and Le Mont St. Michel

Le Mont St. Michel

The Smithsonian released a life list of places to visit before you take the ultimate trip to the great beyond. Some of the places are portals into the past where you walk the timeless streets and byways of ancient cities such as Mesa Verde in Colorado, Pompeii in Italy, Tikal in Guatemala and Petra in Jordan. Others are feats of human ingenuity in engineering such as the Pyramids of Giza in Egypt, the Taj Mahal in India, the Mo'ai in Easter Island and the Great Wall of China.

There are sites listed where you have to be there at the right time -  the year, month and even moment can make a difference in maximizing your experience when you go to Alaska to see the Aurora Borealis.  the Serengeti to witness the mass migration of thousands of animals, Iguazu Falls in the light of a full moon or Machu Picchu in the rising sun.

Then,  there is the opportunity to come face to face with history's finest works of art and design - at the Lourve in Paris, the Zen Garden in Kyoto, the Ufizzi Gallery in Florence and Fallingwater in Pennsylvania,

Listed also are spectacular sites that you not only have to see but do such as cruising the Yangtze River, exploring Antartica, climbing Mount Kilimanjaro and hiking and camping the Grand Canyon.

My favorites are the places where you encounter temples so magnificent they could only have been built by divine inspiration - Pagan in Myanmar, the Parthenon in Greece, Angkor Wat in Cambodia and Ephesus in Turkey.

The Smithsonian also included in their list places which may be here today and gone tomorrow because of deterioration and threat of pollution - Venice in Italy, the Great Barrier reef in Australia, the Amazon Rain Forest and Galapagos Islands.

Yet even if my husband and I have been to all continents except for South America and Antarctica and hundreds of cities and towns all over the world, we have only visited 12 places out of the 28 listed by the Smithsonian -

  • Pyramids of Giza, Egypt
  • Venice, Italy
  • Ufizzi Gallery, Florence, Italy
  • Ephesus, Turkey
  • Parthenon, Athens, Greece
  • Angkor Wat, Cambodia
  • Grand Canyon, USA
  • Mesa Verde, Colorado, USA
  • Pompeii, Italy
  • Great Wall of China
  • The Louvre, Paris, France
  • Tikal, Guatemala

We realize that we will not see all 28 in our lifetime because there will always be other places that beckon us more due to familial attachments, opportunity or preference. So we may just forgo going to Myanmar to visit the Philippines to spend time with friends and relatives and reunion with high school classmates for the umpteenth time. We've returned to Italy, France  and Hawaii a number of times because somehow, we just can't get enough of these places.  There are destinations on the list that we know we just can't get to or do anymore due to the toll on our bodies with the passage of time such as a  trek on Mount Kilimanjaro. Nevertheless , whether we get to all these destinations, our lives have been enriched by the experience of seeing and experiencing what we have so far.

To the Smithsonian list, we've added a few of the places that are on our personal life list that we have not visited yet:
  • Jerusalem
  • St. Petersburg and Moscow
  • Lourdes
  • Yellowstone National Park
  • Aurora Borealis in the North Pole
  • South America
  • Hot Air Balloon Ride 
  • Bali, Indonesia
  • Hagia Sofia in Istanbul, Turkey
  • Stay in a Castle

Our personal life list is short now and as I look back, it is amazing recalling the places we have visited so far.

One of the latest destinations we had on our life list we had the opportunity to visit lately was the Abbey at Mont St Michel in France. This place is a popular one on people's bucket list. The rocky tidal island of Mont St. Michel is located in the Normandy Region of France and has held strategic fortifications since ancient times. It has been the seat of a Benedictine monastery since it was built because in 8AD the Archangel Michael appeared to St. Aubert and instructed him to build a church there.
View of Le Mont St. Michel as we approached.

As my husband and I and a best friend from Prep school were driving towards Mont St. Michel on narrow roads dotted with tiny villages, our first sight of the Mont was way off in the horizon, a mirage almost. surrounded by mud flats (it was low tide) and salt marsh fields with hundreds of sheep grazing. This must be the same vision that ancient pilgrims saw and even with my 21st century sensibilities I am in awe.

Walking towards Le Mont St. Michel on the causeway

We parked in a newly built parking center for visitors to the Mont. It is situated farther from the Mont than the original parking area in order to keep the cars and people safer from the rising tide. We began walking, with our baggage on our shoulders and back, on the newly built causeway towards the island. We walked about a little more than a half a mile    before deciding to board a shuttle* that will take us closer to the Mont.  I almost felt like the medieval pilgrims, 'Almost' is the key word here, since our crossing hardly compared to that of the pilgrims who had to walk across the tidal flats and contend with the tide that rise "as swiftly as a galloping horse", as described by Victor Hugo. Approaching closer, we all  marveled at the sheer magnitude of the site. No wonder it is dubbed the "Wonder of the West" and was made a UNESCO world heritage landmark.

*Additional info on shuttles:There are two free shuttle systems to Mont St Michel. One called the Montoise which services persons with disabilities and their companions and those living or staying and working inside the Mont. This picks up at  the end of the parking area towards the new visitors center. The Passeur can be picked up at the village of Le Mont St. Michel about a mile outside of the walls and a half a mile walk away from the new Visitor's Center.

Porte de L'Avancee

We entered the walls of Le Mont St. Michel through the Porte de l'Avancee at the end of the causeway. This leads straight to the Grande Rue which was filled with souvenir shops and tourists. Instead in my mind's eye  I pictured medieval hawkers of goods, souvenirs, medals, candles and food  offered to the hungry and tired pilgrims.

View from our room

We were meeting up with another friend from school who was coming from Paris. We were all staying inside the walls. and had to get rooms at three separate hotels since accommodations inside Le Mont St. Michel is limited and get booked up months in advance. The other hotel rooms were not yet ready but our room at  La Vielle Auberge was and we were told to check in at a restaurant with the same name. We followed the lady who took us to our room through the Grand Rue, up some step towards the abbey, turn left, turn right, through a door, up some stairs and finally, our room. It was a very nice clean  room with a view. I think that the hotels mainly tucked rooms here and there around the Mont.

Some of the many steps along the Lace Staircase to the Abbey
After depositing our gear in our room, we followed the steps up to the Abbey. A third of the way up is the Abbey's visitor's center where we paid our entrance fees. Then hundreds more steps later, we had a view of the entrance to the Abbey. There is about 900 steps to the top of the Abbey. I will not kid you, it was a hard climb, I was breathless and within seconds of passing out . And I was only about 30 more steps before the landing of the Abbey. I thought it was the end.  I sat on the stairs afraid that I would faint and fall onto the oncoming throng of people and take them with me like bowling pins.

It took me a while to get enough strenght to brave the rest of the steps to the landing where I continued to rest on one of the benches. We had a laugh when we saw a defibrillator hanging on the wall., incongruous in a medieval setting such as this. I have to say, the climb was all worth it and more.  In the church, I said a prayer of thanksgiving that I made it there, probably the same prayer the millions of pilgrims have said before me.

The landing and door to the Abbey
Inside the Church

The Abbey Tower
Again, one has to marvel at this as a great achievement of medieval architecture and engineering. Building this Abbey and Church on on top of a mountain on an island, following St. Michael's order of "Build here, Build high.", was definitely a challenge for the monks from bringing the granite to the island from across the bay and building on a craggy, unleveled ground. The cloisters, where I imagine the monks meditated in silence, had dizzying views of the surrounding area.The view was spectacular. You can actually see how this island and Abbey was fortified. From the cloisters. you can get lost in the abbey itself, filled with a maze of chambers and vaulted halls.

View from the cloisters

The Grand Rue
After the climb to the Abbey, we treated ourselves to a snack of salads, omelets and galettes, bought the ever present and popular Le Mere Pollard butter cookies, checked into the other hotels, shopped for souvenirs and then, hungry again, had dinner of the sweetest Moules - frites (mussels and fries) I've ever tasted (and I don't even like mussels). At night, when the tourists buses and day trippers have departed, we felt like we had the whole island to ourselves. After dinner, we planned to go back to the causeway to view Le Mont St. Michel all lit up and then explore the island in the dark but it started raining. A little disappointed,  we just decided to go back to our respective rooms, I must tell you, when it was time to return to our room,  we had a hard time remembering where it was. There were probably a few tourist who we scared as we tried to open their doors,

The next morning, we had breakfast at Auberge St. Pierre. When we were paying for our breakfast, they asked if we'd like to pay for our hotel bill also. It was a curious practice but I guess everything, businesses and all,  at the Mont are pretty much interrelated. We paid the bill, hotel included, and had no problems.

To have visited and stayed inside the wall of Le Mont Saint Michel is a priceless experience especially shared with best friends. The Mont St. Michel Abbey, built more than 10 centuries ago, is a technical and artistic phenomenon in art and architecture.  I can see why it is the second most visited sight in France and why it is on the life list of many. It is unforgettable.

Au revoir, Le Mont St. Michel. I hope you are still there another 10 centuries from now.

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