I do not do well without the option of someplace to practice. If I know that I can easily access some kind of keyboard instrument, it’s far easier to say “no” and continue procrastinating. However, if there is absolutely no possibility of my being near an organ, I become incredibly antsy and desperate for somewhere to play. Whether this is a result of habit, self-imposed guilt, or actually the true expression of my personal need for music, it certainly makes it a challenge to focus on non-musical sightseeing!
Despite this internal battle, I have thoroughly enjoyed visiting two of the most touristic locations in France: Mont Saint-Michel and Versailles.
On a scale of one to ten (one being the worst and ten being the most amazing), Mont Saint-Michel merits a good fifteen as a beautiful, historic place to visit. Not only are Mont and the Abbey atop it absolutely stunning, those running this tourist destination have figured out how to deal with the over three million annual visitors. Of course, August, when most people in France and in Europe take vacation, is the busiest month during which to go. I visited on August 26! Despite this, I was amazed at how well people were able to navigate the narrow streets (some wide enough for only one person at a time) and the rooms of the Abbey.
I have nearly convinced myself to retitle my blog to better line up with my unspoken intention to eat and run my way through France. Not only did I try all of the regional specialties that one “should” get while in this part of lower Normandy (fluffy omelettes, mussels, and lamb), I also managed to get lost on the winding roads leading away from the coast with less than 20% phone battery and make friends with a bunch of cows grazing in a nearby field. Thank goodness the Mont is easily visible from hills, even seven kilometers away!
While exploring the Abbey at the top of the Mont, I made it a sort of “scavenger hunt” to find the various parts of the dragon hidden throughout the architecture (referring, of course, to St. Michael’s battle against the dragon). As one might guess, St. Michael himself is found at the top of the spire above the church. I wish you luck in getting a good picture of him!
Comparing Mont Saint-Michel to Versailles, they are as different as can be. Although nearly the same number of people visits both locations, the stifling rooms of the palace of Versailles cause the hapless visitor to dodge camera-wielding tour groups and screaming children while they try to study a little piece of history. If one wants to see the inside, I suggest that you visit in the dead of winter.
More than making up for the disappointing tour of the inside of the palace were the gardens. Immaculately cared for, and including over 1,000 orange trees, these gardens take up over 800 hectacres (and must have a veritable army of gardeners) and also contain the Trianon and Petit Trianon, both of which I was able to visit and neither of which had even a fraction of the amount of visitors as the palace. Simply bringing a book or a bike (or a boat!) and watching the many people who frequent the park while admiring the scenery makes for a lovely afternoon, especially if stopping for an espresso is part of your plan. Très français!
Needless to say, I am sufficiently “touristed out.” After two more days in Paris, I look forward to my next travel to the medieval town of Sarlat to study with Michel and Yasuko Buvard on the 1752 Jean-François Lépine organ in the cathedral and on several lovely French harpsichords for a little French Classical retreat. The perfect way to end my travels and get ready to settle down in Toulouse!