I recently visited Mont St Michel for the third time, this time staying two nights on the island. It’s always difficult to know whether to say “I stayed on the Mont”, “I stayed on the island” or something else, because the former sounds like I’ve been exposed to the elements in the style of a Spartan baby, and the second isn’t really accurate as it’s (still) not really an island, although it’s obvious that the new walkway is having some positive effect on reducing the silting of the bay.
Anyway, at night, and early in the morning, Mont St Michel is one of the most peaceful places I’ve ever been, because there are no roads and therefore no cars. It’s ironic, therefore, that I had the worst two nights’ of sleep I’ve ever had in a hotel room – entirely as a result of the traffic.
The problem with hotel rooms on MSM is that you never know quite where you’re going to be sleeping, because the bedrooms are scattered around the village in what are referred to as “Annexes”. Mine was, at first glance, a beautiful large room in an ancient building, with, of course, a stunning backdrop – which is actually even more impressive after dark.
As you can tell by the angle of this picture, it was pretty close to the village wall. It was also situated over La Grande Rue, which meant that it was fairly noisy during the daytime. But I had thought it’d be quiet at night after the (other) tourists had mainly gone home.
However, it turned out that despite the hideous price of hotel rooms in/on/at Mont St Michel, the owners haven’t invested in either internal or external noise insulation. This meant that I could hear every word exchanged between the couple in the next room – although they weren’t talking loudly – until midnight, followed by his snoring. As I’d planned to get up early the next day to go out with my camera this was slightly annoying, but I went to sleep anyway. Meanwhile, Mont St Michel carried on being magnificent in the darkness.
My first inkling of the real problem with having a room over La Grande Rue came at 5.45 the next morning. And it’s an obvious one, if you think about it. The site gets not far short of 3 million visitors a year, and many of them want to eat or stay there. This means that vast quantities of food and laundry have to be brought in and out – up a street far too narrow for delivery trucks. This means that deliveries have to be done using trolley type things. Trolley type things that make a terrible noise, whether full or empty, when running at high speed over ancient cobbles.
I got up, looked out to see what was going on, swore a lot, both at the racket and the rain, and went back to bed. After about another hour I fell asleep again, and thus my early morning was abandoned.
The next night, however, the trolleys began at 4.20 am… This led to more swearing, but this time I also got up and watched what was going on.
First came the laundry sorters. There were at least two of them, and they spent most of their time having a very loud conversation, presumably in case the noise of the trolleys hadn’t quite woken everyone in the village.
Then there was a forklift truck with a motor that made an extremely menacing howling sound, taking food supplies further into the village for the restaurants.
It also got up to quite a respectable speed on the way back down the street, when it was empty.
Eventually the laundry men were finished, departing with a train of trolleys each. They must have pretty strong muscles to go with their voices, because as I know from my time as a femme de ménage in a French hotel, full laundry bags are far from light.
There was a brief period of quiet, and I wondered whether to make myself a cup of tea or to try to get back to sleep. But the night’s entertainment hadn’t finished. The dulcet tones of “cardboard box being kicked along medieval ramparts” came next, culminating in it being booted down the steps opposite and along the street by a man who for some reason made me think of Enrico Caruso.
By now, it was about 6ish and I was beginning to think that was it, but of course the reason why Caruso was out indulging in a spot of pre-dawn box-booting was that the binmen were coming.
These guys also had a loud conversation, probably about the Health and Safety rules they were infringing, as they had a vast amount of rubbish in the trailer thing they were pulling behind the forklift, and indeed when they finally moved off one guy had to steady it from behind. Although quite what he’d have done if it really had tried to escape, I’m not sure.
As I watched their lights disappear under the archway to the right, I breathed a sigh of relief and headed back to bed.
Then the next set of trolleys full of food arrived…
The moral of this story is always, but always, travel with a set of really good earplugs.
Oh, and just in case you’re thinking “But how much noise can a trolley really make?”, here’s one of them in action. Yes, it really did sound like this.
2 thoughts on “Mont St Michel by night”
I experienced this when staying just off the Boulevard St. Germain a few years ago. I was so exhausted by the lack of sleep that I nearly missed my Eurostar home.
Well I’m kind of used to it in Paris – I’ve even got to the point where I can sleep with my window open! But it’s more constant and less ear-breaking there (or at least it is if you’ve got a room sufficiently high up, which I always seem to have). I think maybe it was the contrast on Mont St Michel that was so distressing. Absolute silence, then this terrible racket.
But I’ve been kind of working on and off on a project to photograph the people who live and work there every time I’ve been, so it did work out OK even though I had to then catch up on my sleep for several days afterwards!