“Impressions de Bricker” France Report – Part 1
In this trip report, we’ll cover our Epcot-inspired stops throughout Europe, plus the inaugural Disneyland Paris Half Marathon. Our trip to France for the Disneyland Paris Half Marathon actually started several weeks before the race. In fact, the story of our incredible adventure starts about 20 minutes after California’s Disneyland Half Marathon, when Sarah picked me up in our fully-loaded (with our stuff–not boasting that our tricked-out Kia has A/C and power windows…BUT IT DOES) car and we started the long drive to Indianapolis.
The reason for doing this was mostly our kids, Walter Dogsney and Yossarian the Cat. In the initial stages of planning our fall travel, we realized we wanted to do Florida and France, and we could combine these trips and use fewer miles for booking the flights. It would also put us away from home for a long time. Given that I would also have to head to Indianapolis for work at some point in the fall, it just made sense to drive home to drop them off there to stay with Sarah’s mom.
Walter probably would’ve been fine staying in California. The workers at the kennel love him, and bought him a ball that he gets to play with when he’s there. I’m pretty sure that ball is priority #1 in life for him, with Sarah being a close #2. Licking windows is a distant #3. Not that you care about any of this, but I figure I might as well give you a strong dose of the irrelevant, rambling anecdotes that are the hallmark of these trip reports, so you can get out and save yourself before it’s too late.
Still with us? Okay, well don’t say I didn’t warn you. Fast-forwarding past our long drive from Southern California to Indianapolis and subsequent stopover in Orlando, we arrived in Paris’ Charles de Gaulle airport.
Upon landing in Paris, we had our first encounter with a social club member. Who knew they had these outside of Disneyland?! 😉 After a quick turf war over Redd Rockett’s Pizza Port, we met up with our friend Mark Willard, who would be joining us on the trip. He arrived to the airport shortly after we did, and we jumped in our rental car and headed north.
Our first stop was the place about which I was most excited on the entire trip: Mont Saint Michel. For those unfamiliar, Mont Saint Michel is a rocky tidal island with a monastery and small town situated inside fort-like walls. During low tide, it’s connected to “mainland” France. During high tides, access is cut off, and the walls protect the buildings inside from the rising water.
When you think about it, it’s a bit baffling Mont Saint Michel has not been the setting for a Michael Bay film starring Nicolas Cage as a time-traveling special forces operative and Sir Sean Connery as a British spy woking undercover as a monk. The script practically writes itself.
But Michael Bay films are not what inspired us to visit Mont Saint Michel. An Epcot film did. There’s a reason I’m such an ardent defender of EPCOT Center’s original, lofty ideals, and it’s because they have piqued my curiosity and inspired me. As a kid, I read about manatees voraciously (and even “adopted” one) after learning about them at The Living Seas.
As an adult, travel plans and goals have been inspired by World Showcase. I didn’t even know Mont Saint Michel existed until seeing it in Impressions de France, and it has been a travel bucket list item since. Sarah still remembers me telling her that someday we’d go there.
She laughed it off at the time, but I still wanted to go when we first visited France (and first traveled internationally) in 2012. Unfortunately, without a car, getting there was impracticable during that visit.
This time, the trip was basically planned around a visit to Mont Saint Michel. I had consulted their online tide charts to visit at time when the tide would be at its highest, and we planned on renting a car for a couple of days to facilitate a visit.
Eventually, we decided to just rent a car for the duration of the trip, picking the car up in Paris and doing a one-way rental to Munich. This is the first time we’ve rented a car when traveling internationally (Canada aside), and–with one exception–I’m really glad we did. Normally, I prefer to rely on public transit, and that has mostly worked, particularly in Asia, but for this trip, it enabled us to visit many places we otherwise couldn’t.
Below is the dream-machine in which we’d be spending 37.6% of our trip. (People may knock station wagons, but this car was actually pretty great!)
Driving in another country is definitely an intimidating prospect, but I think it was worth it. Then again, I was not the one who had to do the driving, so my perspective is a bit skewed. For me, the rental car was essentially just a private train. Except in this case, I had the added bonus of being able to critique the “conductor’s” navigational decisions. You’re welcome, Mark.
The drive from Paris took a few hours, and took us through France’s countryside. As we neared our hotel, we were met by a gate that required an access code. We quickly realized this was the only means of accessing our hotel, and that we were supposed to contact the hotel 24 hours in advance to request a code. Oops.
I scrambled to call the hotel, and we had a code after a delay of only a few minutes. The hotel–Le Relais Saint Michel–was located a short walk from Mont Saint Michel, and after dropping off our bags, we started towards the island.
I had been envisioning this place in my head for years, and I was a bit worried it wouldn’t live up to my expectations and beautifully-filmed footage in Epcot. Those concerns were vanquished pretty quickly the instant I saw it in person. It was everything I had imagined…and much more, actually.
That much more came in the form of the depth of the local community within the walls of the island. The cobblestone streets lined with quaint little shops were my first exposure on this trip to “old world” Europe, and it was a great experience. We dined at Auberge Saint-Pierre, electing to skip the heavily-hyped (and 30€!) omelets for which Mont Saint Michel is known, and then wandered up towards the monastery for a bit.
After scouting potential photo locations for a bit and finding something that seemed like it would provide a good, safe vantage, we headed back towards the island. When we got back, we noticed the water was rising–and quickly. The water was racing like a river inland, swallowing more land with each second.
This was amazing to see, and just standing there, watching this giant rock commune become an actual island in front of my eyes easily ranks as one of my top travel experiences. It was incredible.
I don’t know what we expected. We knew it would happen, and the water would have to come in pretty quickly to cover all of that land in such a short amount of time, but knowing something will happen and seeing it happen are two totally different things. In any case, we decided to call an audible, and just stay up near the edge of the bridge to watch the water completely cut off access. It was too cool of an experience to pass up.
Of course, I was taking photos like crazy. Even though I knew the shots with large swaths of pavement in the foreground wouldn’t make for good photos, I felt compelled. I set up my tripod near the water, and figured I’d grab a couple of photos before the armed police officers nearby forced everyone behind the safety barricades they had set up on the bridge.
I was totally in the zone at this point, and I failed to jump back before the water got one of my shoes wet. I had only brought one pair of shoes on the trip, so this was a bit troubling.
Then, an odd thing happened…while everyone else filed behind the barricades, the police said nothing to me. (I assume it was one of those, “you’ve been warned, dummy” situations.) I had a totally clean view of Mont Saint Michel, and a dilemma: do I get soaked to get the shot, or do I play it safe?
If you’ve read any of my adventures in photography, I think you probably know the answer to this is a foregone conclusion, and it was not really a dilemma in any way whatsoever. Fifteen minutes later, my jeans and both shoes were totally soaked as the waves were hitting my knees. I regret nothing.
That’s the end result of my efforts. Or, at least, the photo I like the most. I stood in the water for a little over 30 minutes, from just before sunset until the blue hues of dusk peaked and took photos pretty much nonstop the entire time. (I’ll edit others later.)
This photo was taken towards the end, and while the sky had a lot more color in it around sunset, I prefer this one. (Please click on the photo above to view it larger and in high-resolution on my SmugMug page.)
As silly as it might sound, this scene in Impressions de France is why. Whenever I’ve mentally pictured Mont Saint Michel, it’s always been at blue hour–like in this scene.
It may not be the best or most dramatic photo I captured of Mont Saint Michel, but it’s the one that most closely approaches the romanticized notion of the scene that existed in my head prior to visiting. I suppose I’m sentimental, but that’s what matters most to me.
Anyway, we headed back to the “safe” spot we had scouted earlier in the day for a different perspective, only to find it under about 8′ of water. Good thing we didn’t bank on that perspective. After about an hour we headed towards the island again, and with access restored, headed inside the island walls for some night photos of the small village and grounds of the monastery.
Since I don’t know what the interest level is on any of these non-Disney spots, I won’t go into excruciating detail here. I have another post on TravelCaffeine that does that, with additional photos, tips, and other thoughts on Mont Saint Michel.
Suffice to say, the next morning for sunrise was more of the same…including my shoes getting soaked as I faced the “dilemma” once again. On the plus side, I did “learn” a little, and wore shorts that morning instead of taking another pair of jeans out of commission for the rest of the trip. Above is a photo Mark took with his iPhone of me once again setting up shop in the water.
That covers about the first 24 hours of our trip, plus some of the background, so I think I’ll wrap up part 1 of this trip report here. I’ll probably pick up the pace in future installments as I know this is only tangentially Disney, and perhaps not the type of content most of you come here to read. (I’m still trying to gauge what level of detail is right for this report, so please share your feedback in that regard…)
Our next stops after leaving Mont Saint Michel were the village of Beuvron-en-Auge and Ã‰tretat. We’ll cover both of those in Part 2 of our Impressions de Bricker France Trip Report.
What do you think of Mont Saint Michel? Have you ever been? Is it a place that’s on your bucket list? Anything else you want to know about our trip to France? We love hearing from readers, so please share any other thoughts or questions you have, in the comments!
Loving this trip report. Only living in the UK I’ve been feeling slightly guilty that I hardly know about these places, and certainly haven’t been. More details please, hoping to use this to help me plan a similar trip. Will head on over to Travel Caffeine for more details as well.
Thanks for putting up this trip report. 🙂
Having lived there for a short time, France is like a second home to me, and it’s neat to hear the impressions of a blogger I normally only read for Disney.
My time in France was mostly spent in the south east, about halfway between Lyon and Marseilles along the RhÃ´ne. So I only visited Mont St Michel for the first time in August. And it is spectacular! When you’re at the top near or in the chapel, it feels like you’ve entered into a fantasy movie of some sort. And the views were great of course. (And what did you make of the painted cow statues?)
That photo is great! 😀
Hopefully the wet shoes you got while taking it didn’t bother you too much!
Can’t wait to see the rest of the trip report!!
(Tip for your next time in France: drive out to Vallon Pont d’Arc: the canyons of Ardèche are awesome (especially to kayak through) and the Grotte Chauvet has a really nice new museum open showing off the prehistoric art. I highly recommend stopping by.)
The film inspired my mom and I to take a tour of Normandy, Brittany and the Loire Valley which included Mont St. Michel. It was covered in fog that day but still lovely to see. Thanks Mom!
Your photos are achingly evocative, your reports make me laugh, and the information you share in your posts is unique. I will be checking out your travelcaffeine site because I want more photos and details, but I must say this is perfect, inspiring and entertaining. Thank you!!
Ditto what Sarah said. Thank you for sacrificing dry feet to capture and share that sunset shot; I could gaze at it indefinitely. Now I’m off to see what that link offers, and looking forward to more posts in this series, with all the detail you care to supply.
I love this trip report! I’ve been to France a couple of times and I even lived there for a summer in college, but I love to hear other perspectives. I haven’t been in a decade and I’m planning to take my husband (he’s never been) to see France and to make our first-ever trip to Disneyland Paris sometime in the next couple of years. I am fully in favor of as much detail as possible given that we will likely be planning a trip that is France plus Disneyland Paris, rather than the other way around. I am especially interested in seeing your photos compared to the impressions de France photos.
Beautiful, inspiring post and pictures! I am a lurking fan brought here by Disney content but loved this tangential trip!! Thank you for sharing!
P.S. I agree – I would love more details!
Tom- we did this similar trip with our children in 1998. Mont St. Michele was one of our highlights as well. One of the truly most magical places ever. And I love your photos…
I am so excited about this trip report! I follow you and Sarah on Instagram and was excitedly following your adventures in Europe and hoping that you would write a report. I read Travel Caffeine as well, so if you don’t fill up this report with details I will read everything you write about the trip on both sites. I have loved Impressions de France ever since I was little and have always dreamed about going to so many of the locations. Your photos are incredible and much appreciated!
Ha, so perhaps you saw all of the Instagram stories that Sarah posted along the way. It seems one of her ‘hobbies’ has become taking video of me for those things without my knowledge.
I will head over to TravelCaffeine to read the rest of this but wanted to comment first. I think the way you’ve done it is perfect, show us some of the trip and direct us to the other site for more. I feel inspired by this post to travel outside the US, and perhaps many of your “Disney audience” will as well. Consider it a public service, you’re exposing your fans to travel outside of the parks. You’re carrying out EPCOT’s mission statement since they’ve given up on it. Also, that blue hour photo from the water was absolutely worth any and all of your ruined wardrobe…. absolutely awe inspiring.
Thank you for sharing! I definitely want to hear more about this trip. Wasn’t, the dungeon scene in Mickey, Donald and Goofy’s “The Three Musketeers ” movie inspired by the tide rising at Mont Saint-Michel?
Thanks to watching that movie as a kid, I always had the notion that Mont st Michel was some scary, bad place. .
I used to travel to Le Havre France for work 4 times a year. Mont St Michel is so beautiful. I’m bummed you didn’t get to try the omelets. They are amazing. But you have to find an out of the way place to not pay a fortune. Can’t wait for more installments!
Driving a rental through Normandy was one of the more relaxing and beautiful things I have done in Europe. Staying as some of the chataux hotel conversions is fun too.
I loved honfleur and thought the d day beaches were very powerful.
The one thing that always gets me is the expensive and non congested toll rode systems in France
My inlaws are Disney nuts and I took them to most of the Disney film sites like the chataux on the water, mont saint michel, Paris, chamonix, nice, etc…
I read TravelCaffeine as well. Here…there…I don’t care – I can never get enough details about your adventures! Thank you and Sarah both for sharing so much of your travels with us…especially since, as another commenter noted above, many of us will never get there. (And your photography – I won’t be able to express it properly, but your photos are always so vibrant and crisp, full of life and perspective – I often feel as if I could have been standing right there! At least, it’s lovely to imagine so.)
I vote for more detail as well! You do such thorough coverage of every aspect of the parks, and it’s all so helpful and entertaining to read, you have earned the right to stray a little. And the fact that you are telling us about a trip that is inspired by EPCOT – it’s not straying, it’s covering all of the facets of being a Disney park enthusiast! The parks can have a powerful impact on how you live your life and this trip is an excellent example of that!
I’d love to hear about the non-Disney stuff you saw along the Disney route! The pictures you took are amazing!
Thanks for this great report. We have visited France several times, but have not yet been to Mont Saint Michel. It’s waiting for a future trip. We have driven a rental car twice in Europe – once for two weeks in Ireland, and then for a week in Italy just last year. It was a bit intimidating at first, especially in Italy, since all the road signs are in Italian. We did get ‘lost’ a couple times trying to get around Tuscany, but it became part of the adventure. As you said, the car allowed us to visit many places that would have been difficult by public transport alone.
I enjoy your blog – keep up the great work!
Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful!! (I only wish you could hear the excitement in voice). Reading about your experience was fantastic. Especially knowing that I will never get there. If I were a writer, I’s deem this to be the ideal location for a semi-quasi locked room mystery. It is beautiful, mesmerizing and very scary.
“It may not be the best or most dramatic photo I captured of Mont Saint Michel”
??????? Well, don’t hold back, Bricker! LOL
feedback on level of detail: more detail, more!
can’t speak for everyone, but I am interested in reading about the non-Disney parts of these trips. I suppose you could have a cross-posted category for these reports that are related to Disney visits, but not solely taking place in the parks.
So excited you are doing posts about your Epcot inspired travels! Can’t wait to hear about Oktoberfest 🙂