The most challenging part of our recent trip to France was the day Therese and I spent traveling from Rouen to Mont Saint Michel. I’ll start out by telling you that, though the day started out pretty shaky, by the end, it had turned into a pretty special day. A day when we got to see this:
We earned that. Don’t believe me? Here’s what we had to do to get there:
1. taxi ride from Mercure Central Rouen to Rouen Rive Droite Train Station/waiting for train to leave (45 minutes).
2. Intercities train (with unreserved seats) from Rouen to Paris Saint Lazare Train Station (1 hour, 37 minutes)
3. Make connection from Saint Lazare to Montparnasse Train Station (1 hour, 28 minutes)
4. TGV train (reserved seats, yay!) from Paris Montparnasse to Rennes train station (2 hours, 14 minutes)
5. Wait in Rennes Train Station for Bus to leave for Mont Saint Michel (2 hours, 23 minutes)
6. Bus ride, Rennes to Mont Saint Michel (1 hour, 12 minutes – yes, the bus arrived 3 minutes early)
7. Walk to Mercure Mont Saint Michel, check in (5 minutes)
Grand total time traveling: 8 hours and 44 minutes
Grand total, pooped people: 2
Don’t get me wrong – along the journey, many things went smoothly. For example, there was this appetizing sandwich that I bought from Columbus Cafe in Paris’ Montparnasse Station with grilled chicken medallions, tomato and mayonnaise on a heavenly seeded baguette.
The stress related to traveling to Mont Saint Michel was mostly about the bus ride from Rennes (number 6 above). I had previously read a very informative forum discussion on TripAdvisor, which says, in part, that you don’t need to have a ticket ahead of time to get on the bus from Rennes to Mont Saint Michel. I wanted to trust that information, but I wanted certainty more. I wanted to have the bus tickets in my hand before we began our journey – I didn’t want to get to Rennes and find out that the bus was sold out.
Well, I should’ve trusted my TripAdvisor buddies, because they were right. In short, everything went very easily and smoothly upon arriving in Rennes, just as they said it would. I will go into details below as to how we made the connection in Rennes; but suffice it to say, that while things HAVE changed in Mont Saint Michel (and I will go into what those changes are as well), the combination of the bus from Rennes and the shuttle bus arrangement at Mont Saint Michel makes visiting the Mount a cakewalk (or, if you prefer, a causway-walk).
So, yes, the Rennes bus. I consider myself to be a seasoned traveler, and the truth is that I have negotiated my way through similar situations – Chile comes to mind, where I had to find the right bus to get me to the airport, and I did so just in time to check in before my seat assignment was given away. Nevertheless, I would have been thrilled if there was a step-by-step guide from the train to the bus in Rennes. Therefore, I will provide such a guide here.
Okay, so first you arrive on the TGV train from Paris in Rennes. You walk toward the front of the train and take an escalator up toward the “Sortie Nord” or North Exit. When you get to the top of the escalator, in front of you will be a reassuring information booth. If, like us, you are a little unsure of yourself, you can stop here and the nice person will direct you toward the bus station.
After you talk with a nice person, turn to your right and you will see a sign directing you to the aforementioned Sortie Nord.
If you look closely, the second symbol from the left on the sign is for a bus. Promising, isn’t it? Walk past the sign, and this will bring you to a down staircase/escalator.
As Yogi Berra says regarding a fork in the road, “take it,” and go through the doors at the bottom. You are now on the plaza outside the train station.
This is where it got a little sketchy for me. If you turn to your right, you will see a building across the plaza marked “Gare Routiere” – that is the bus ticket office/station.
Inside the bus station, you will see windows where you can buy a round-trip ticket for the bus to Mont Saint Michel.
If the bus station is closed for any reason, you can buy your ticket on the bus itself. The ticket is the thinnest wisp of paper, but hold onto it, since it will serve as your return ticket as well. When we presented ours to our bus driver, he wrote the letter “A” on them.
But I am getting ahead of myself a bit. After you purchase your tickets, there are seats just across from the windows where you can sit and wait for your bus. A board at the right end of the room gives listings of buses, their departure times and their “Quais” (or gates). The Mont Saint Michel bus is easy to spot, because it is the only bus that has letters (LMS) rather than a number listed for its “Ligne.”
To the right of this board is where you exit to access the bus gates.
The Mont Saint Michel bus always leaves from Quai 2.
Then you get on the bus, and about an hour into the 1 hour, 15 minute ride, you’ll have your first sighting. And if you’re like me, your heart will be in your throat when you see the Mount for the first time.
So what’s changed with Mont Saint Michel? Well, generally speaking, they are limiting access to the island itself. Therefore, the new drop off point for most vehicles is in the middle of a little village that has sprung up on either side of the road, about a half mile from the island. To get any further, you have to take the free shuttle bus – but the shuttle runs frequently, and stops a couple of places in the village, so it is totally convenient. Incidentally, they are building a new bridge to the island that will take the place of the causeway, which is expected to be completed by July 2014; however, when that new bridge is open, it is not going to change the system in place at Mont Saint Michel. Here is the map we were given in the Rennes bus station that explains where the Rennes bus stops and so forth.
I like to comfort myself with the thought that, at the conclusion of our day’s challenging journey, I felt a little bit of what the pilgrims to Mont Saint Michel over the centuries felt – awe and relief. Yes, they walked hundreds of miles over the course of months, while I was taking buses and trains hundreds of miles over the course of one day. But with all the stress and aggravation that we went through to get there, our experience was similar – I’m sure it was!