France, Paris, Mont Saint-Michel (Sep, 2014)
Currently still in Paris, have to go and pickup my new hire car for the next six days, got to the hire place, took me a while to find it, eventually got there, signed up, threw all of my gear in and then setup the GPS to go to Mont Saint Michel, some 600klm away, I decided to travel south through the countryside of central France through Le Manns, then onto Mont Saint Michel, so now with the GPS set of I went, onto the freeway and straight into a massive traffic jam, stuck there of almost two hours, getting crankier & crankier, eventually free of the traffic jam which put me behind schedule, but go the autobahns.
Arrived at Le Manns, a city on-route to Mont Saint-Michel, it is where they have the motor races, thought that I would get a shirt that had something to do with the local races there for my daughters boyfriend, but after looking up and down half a dozen streets, could not find anything, so decided to call it quits and move on. I continued to drive further south I had hoped to get to the southern part of France where the vineyards are, went via Angers, Cholet, but as I had lost time in Paris, was not able to make it, so had to turn away and head west, stayed at the lovely old town of Roche-sur-Yon, it was very late but their doors were still open, ran by an elderly couple, he did everything, cooked and fixed things, and the lady did the front office, worked well, enjoyed the stay.
Next day loaded up my gear and headed for Mont Saint Michel, I have mentioned it previously, but will repeat, the tides at Mont Saint-Michel vary some 13+ meters, but unlike normal tides they have a period where the tide level does not change at all, and a period where there is a super tide of over 13 meters, when this happens the Mont is isolated by sea water, and thus becomes an island. It is at this time that that everyone wants to be there, and as planned months in advance that moment which last over two days just happens to be over the next two days !!!
Arrived at Mont Saint Michel, whilst you can stay at the Mont, there are many old ancient hotels there, but are normally well booked out in advance or are just way too expensive, so I elected to stay at the local pub, always a great choice if you are a photographer, as they tend to know the local stories, points of interest etc, perfect. So booked in and got all my gear ready to go, even though I was staying here for the next three days, I was keen to get out and about to check out the different vantage spots etc. Drove down to the sea’s edge, and there it was just appearing out of nowhere, this amazing place, located about 3klms of the mainland, connected via a thin piece of land and an elevated man made walkway, it is shaped like an upside down cone, with a historic abbey at the top, and it’s steeple making it look more like a pyramid, very medieval and beautiful at the same time, you just want to go out there and photograph it.
Over the following two days I shot the Mont from various angles from sunrise to sunset and into the night, spent a bit of time relaxing, having a beer at the pub and catching up on some post-processing, emails, Facebook etc, I needed the break. So the first day I spent my time wandering around checking out the best spots, shooting the Mont from wherever I though would be a good angle, studied the lay of the land so that I could take advantage of the best angles when I needed them the most, and the best way to get there as I am always in the dark when walking to where I want to shoot the sunrise from.
Part of the experience is being out on the mud flats, these flats extend as far as the eye can see from the Mont, some 20klms I am told, and on occasions are known to have areas like quicksand, thats right the legend of the area says that you just might disappear out there without a local experienced guide to show you the way around, I however decided to go it alone and traverse the flats myself using my own cunning and special sense of survival, in other words just follow in the footsteps of those that had walked before you, then I got game and just wend wherever I wanted, what quicksand?? At anytime on the lowed there were many hundreds of people walking on the mudflats all most being guided, they walked for kilometres out from the Mont.
Whilst I ventured out easily on the mudflats, you need to be aware that the tide comes in fast, on this occasion the high tide was a 13+m tide, so it rises very quickly, not sure how fast exactly, but if you were out a kilometre or more and the water was at your feet, by the time you got back to safety, I think that you would have to swim the last hundred, so be warned. After the mudflats, I went into the township on the Mont, absolutely beautiful old buildings, the abbey itself is just amazing, being always maintained and continually restored, I understood that there are thirteen resident monks living there and a continual stream of others making their individual pilgrimage there. It is a step into the past that is for sure, you just feel that you have gone back one thousand years, hope that it remains the same for the generations to come.
So on the last morning of the high tide I again load up my gear and head out into the dark at about 5:00am, get into the car and drive out to the carpark, which is closed, but I had discovered a way in the previous day, so in I went, got the closest carpark, thew all my gear on my back and like a donkey of I headed out to the Mont to get there for a dawn shoot, thick fog surrounded everything, so much so that if you had not been there before you would not have known which way to go that is for sure. So off I walked out into the fog, quite cold, with the only guidance being a string of lights on the side of the walkway for the first 1klm, then it was every man for himself. It is about 3-4klms out to the Mont, so it takes a little time, but like always the load that you start with seem to get heavier & heavier as you go along, whilst I have carried my gear over many kms perhaps thousands of them over time, I just never get used to it, perhaps the gear is getting heavier, or is it I am just getting older & weaker, probably the latter.
Anyway it was good news to finally get out there, still in total darkness, the air was so think that you could hear the early morning tradies talking when they got to the Mont, and others that you could see under a light pole in the distance, thick fog and sunrise are great elements for a landscape photographer, they just add extra mood to your image, I suspect that in the years ahead that the post processors of the day will be able to add the fog & sunrise lighting to the image, they will not however have to get out of bed early, or have to bear the cold, just do it all in the comfort of their home or office, but the difference is that we the dumb shall have the story to tell of the what we did to get the image, this in my opinion is the difference between a great image and a piece of art, the story is an integral part of how the viewer obtains an emotional attachment to your image, therefore it is an important part of my photography.
Well I had all of the elements in a line, the tide was right, I was there at the right time, I had fog, sunrise light was about to happen, right position all good, there were a few others around but not crowding me at all, the cops had stopped the traffic as the water was due to go over the road shortly, all good, I had been shooting for about half an hour, watching the fog bring the Mont in and out of view, across the water 50+ meters from me were another photographer and a couple of guys with a octocopter, their new fangled machine lifted off and up through the fog it went to photograph the Mont from above, I was so jealous of their potential shots, I had visions of the peaks of the Mont appearing out of the fog, with beautiful sidelit sunrise light on it, an image that I could not get where I am that is for sure.
But alas somethings just happen, these guys were from the France Channel Two news team, they were there to photograph the high tide around the Mont, and they had interviewed several people during the morning so far, then out of the blue or fog in my case, they arrive at my tripod, and ask to interview me. So I spent the next ten minutes talking to these guys, they told me where they were from, and that it would be on the news tonight, yea yea I thought, heard all of that before, but true to their word here it was the full interview on the TV, and the web, not sure that it made good viewing but it was done either way, I was jiggled later by a friend that it would only be me, who would tell the TV crew to go on hold so that I could take a shot, which was true by the way.
So my time at the Mont had come to an end, it was a great experience, loved the Mont and the local area, if you get the chance go and do it, spend a day or so there, it will be worth your time.