Groningen to Munich: A Train Adventure

🎶 This is the story of a girl, who took a train around the whole world! 🎶

Ok, not quite, but that song popped in my head as I started to write this so you get what you get.

This IS the story, though, of a girl who reluctantly agreed to take a train from Groningen to Munich and had a grand ole time!

I mean come on. Look at that face!

When we first decided to take a city trip to Munich, my go-to reaction was to start looking for flight deals. Shane, on the other hand, took it as an opportunity to make a pitch for the train.

It’s “more CO2 friendly” and “doesn’t take that much more time” and “you can walk around” and “we’ve never done it before”.

Valid reasons *I supposeee*, but I wasn’t convinced. I needed an excel sheet. How does anyone plan anything without an excel sheet? Here are the facts:

  1. We would only save 2 hours on total travel time by flying.
  2. We would only save 60 euros total – 2 people, round trip – by flying.
  3. We’ve never done it.

What can I say, I’m easily convinced. Train it is!

ICE International, that’s us!

Remember when I said that we would only be spending 60 euros more, in total, compared to flying? What I didn’t mention is that we also booked ourselves a first class ticket, baby!

This also took a little convincing, because (in my opinion) the difference between first and second class on a Dutch train is not worth the upgrade. The seats are a little bit bigger and you have less hassle trying to find a seat during rush hour, but that never bothered me enough to warrant a first-class upgrade. But, since we would be spending the majority of our time on the German train (5.5 hours, to be more precise), I agreed to first class.

Two words: Worth it.

We took the German Inter-City Express (ICE) high-speed trains from Arnhem, the Netherlands to Munich with a switch in Mannheim (on the way there) and in Duisburg (on the way back). There are 6 variations of the ICE train, itself. We travelled on the ICE 3 and ICE 4.

One major perk of first-class on the ICE is that your seat reservation is included in the booking price. Unlike Dutch trains, your departure time and seat are specifically linked to your ticket. If you would like a guaranteed seat, then it must be booked ahead of time. Relatedly, if you miss your train you can’t just take the next connection*, as the seats have already been booked.

*if you miss your connection, you should find a DB service point in the station and ask for help to re-book.

It is possible, though, to take the train without booking a seat and sit anywhere you want. Each seat is numbered and has a status: if the seat lists only the route then it has not been reserved, if the seat says “ggf. freigeben” then you should “release if necessary”, aka you can sit there until you’re asked to leave.

Considering a seat reservation (in second class) is only 5 – 10 euros per person, it seems worth it to me to reserve a seat. Especially if you’re traveling a group or during busy months.

Shortly after we left, the seat changed status.

The other benefit of first-class? Isn’t it obvious?

Look at that leg-room! There is also plenty of storage for small and large suitcases above the seats, and a luggage rack at each end of the ‘carriage’.

Look at those happy first-class campers!

Apart from the leg-room, another benefit of taking the train instead of flying is the opportunity to get up and move around. Once place you can move around to is the ‘board carriage’ aka: the restaurant car!

For a train, they have a pretty extensive menu. Of course, the usual drinks – coffee, beer, wine, sodas. For food, a variety of sandwiches, soups, fries, and some snack foods like chips, and all for a very reasonable price considering you’re on a train. For example, a 0.5 L of beer was only €3.20 and curry worst with fries was €6.90. Compared to airport prices, this felt like a steal!

Took a walk for a coffee.

Another first-class benefit: in-seat service.

Of course, you can always walk to the restaurant car and you can certainly bring on your own food and drink (as we did), but if you feel inspired, lazy, or a just little bit baller, you can stop a service attendant on their regular walk-throughs and order from them directly.

Plus, at your seat you’ll be classy AF sipping your drank in a real glass instead of a paper or plastic one.

TIP: You need cash to order from your seat. The restaurant car accepts cards and cash.

Regardless, if you are seated in first class then you’ll also get a little freebie snack. We got a bar of chocolate and some mint chocolate bites.

Before we knew we could order from our seat…

Do you know what else was VERY impressive? The SPEED of these trains! Dutch trains don’t tell you how fast they are going, plus they go through a lot of towns so I’m not sure they are designed to go at high speeds. These trains though… 293 km/hour = 182 mph! 🤯

Approximately 8 hours later, well-fed, stretched, and rested, we arrived at Munich Hauptbahnhof (central station)!

Take home message:

  1. Taking the train was worth the little bit extra. While slightly more expensive and a little longer travel time, the time passed quickly and it was nice to be able to walk around.
  2. First class was worth the upgrade. The reserved seats, the extra legroom, and the (literal) first-class service! It made the journey much more enjoyable. I did walk through second-class and it was also nice, but as you can imagine less space overall. In addition you get free newspapers (if you’re a German reader), unlimited free wi-fi which was actually decent, and charging capability at your seat.
  3. Book seats ahead of time. If you’re opting for second-class, it’s worth the few euros to secure a seat, especially in peak season. Second-class also has free-wifi, but it’s limited.
  4. Pack those snacks! No train ride is complete with out snacks. You can bring whatever you like on to the train, the only restriction is no personal food in the restaurant car. Forgot snacks? Then there are plenty of options on-board.
Inside Munich central station.

Soon to come – more about our few days in Munich!

Tot ziens,

Whitney

Happy New Year from Holland!

Ah – the New Year. The practice of leaving the old behind and ushering in an era of new beginnings. When you say it like this, it sounds calm and peaceful, right?

Not if you’re in the Netherlands.

Ok – so maybe my video isn’t that dramatic but it surely felt dramatic!

Notice that constant low rumbling in the background? That’s the sound of non-stop fireworks being set off in gardens, in the middle of the street, in parks, and in trashcans all over the city.

And do you notice that (despite the fog) you can’t actually SEE any pretty firework lights? That’s because it’s not about what you see, it’s about blowin’ sh*t up.

Let’s back up a little.

New Year’s Eve and New Year’s day in the Netherlands, aptly called ‘Oud & Nieuw’ (Old & New), is the one day of the year where fireworks are legal.

Correction: the one 8 hour period of time where fireworks are legal.

From 6pm – 2am all bets are off. You know that horror movie ‘The Purge’, where for 24 hours crime is legal? This is how that feels – minus the burglary and murder.

I started to type ‘vandalism and bodily harm’ in that list, but I couldn’t in good faith. This year a man and child were killed in a firework-related fire, and they are still counting injuries and tallying damage costs.

In 2018, citizens of the Netherlands spent 70 MILLION euros in total on fireworks. And to reiterate, that can be used LEGALLY for 8 hours.

They can be purchased at shops like the one below, which we can only assume make enough money in the month leading up to Oud & Nieuw that it can afford to be closed the other 11 months of the year. In addition to shops like these, you can buy fireworks in the home improvement stores or online. Granted, some types of fireworks are still illegal to purchase, but no worries. If you want the big boys you can just pop on over to Germany and bring back what you want.

“Always the lowest price!”

Like I said before, technically it’s only legal to set off fireworks during the designated time, but let’s be real, this doesn’t stop people from starting earlier. Each day after Christmas the booms increase, culminating in the ‘main show’ which starts at midnight and rings (booms?) in the new year.

If they are illegal, how can people start so early? Two words.

No enforcement.

Until you’re blowing up trashcans and bus stops (yes, that really happens) then the police will leave you alone.

Between 2 trashcans is a logical place to set off fireworks, right?

One thing that IS highly enforced are the ‘Vuurwerk-vrije’ (firework free) zones. For example, we live directly across from the main hospital where, for obvious reasons, they don’t want firework chaos. There was a constant patrol of people making sure these zones truly stayed ‘firework free’.

I made Meatball her own firework free zone.

This year, to add an additional level of danger and mystique, the temperature dropped quickly and a thick fog set it. You really had to pay attention to where you were walking!

Fireworks over city center in the fog.

Because we live in the city center, we only witnessed smaller displays. As you might imagine, the further away from the city center you get the larger the show and the bigger the fire.

Yes, this brings me to my next Oud & Nieuw tradition. Bonfires.

The photo above was from our first Dutch Oud & Nieuw in 2014, but you get the picture. Bonfires in the street.

Bikes. Christmas trees. Furniture. Whatever-your-heart-desires.

Burn it.

My dad asked the reasonable question “So does the fire-department work all night then?”. Short answer: no. They just let it burn.

We did discover a leftover bonfire the next day though, on what I liked to call our “survey the damage” walk around the neighborhood.

Notice the street sign in the pile…

And, unrelated to fireworks but also an Oud & Nieuw tradition, olliebollen!

Had to have our friend, Kaitlin, try them!

I would describe olliebollen (literally translated to ‘oil balls’) as a giant deep-fried donut hole, traditionally made with or without raisins and dunked in powdered sugar. They are available starting mid-November, but the bulk of the olliebollen are eaten on New Year’s Eve.

As evidenced by the line that wouldn’t stop growing…

So, my DOs & DONTs for Oud & Nieuw?

DO: Get to the olliebollen stand early! I suggest the ones with raisins.

DON’T: Wear a nice coat out. Firework-induced burn holes are a thing.

DO: Come prepared! Arm yourself with sparklers & firecrackers. You never know when you might need them.

DON’T: Be indoors at midnight! Embrace the chaos!

and finally…

DON’T: Expect to sleep that night. In America, the main party is the lead up to midnight, and here all the parties start at the earliest 10pm and most at midnight. Bars & parties not your thing? No worries, the fireworks last well past their 2am cutoff. They will be sure to interrupt your sleep. 😉

Happy New Year from us to you!

Tot ziens,

Whitney

Bremen, Germany

It’s the most wonderful time of the year!

Time for Christmas markets, folks!

The 6th edition of “The Shwits Drink Too Much Glühwein” was hosted by Bremen, Germany with a special guest – our friend, Kaitlin, joining us all the way from North Carolina!

Bremen, Germany’s 11th largest city, is located about 3 hours west of Groningen by Flixbus, closer even by car, making it a pretty popular destination for Groningners during the Christmas season. Since we’d only been to Bremen for the airport (another hot-spot for the budget airline, Ryanair), we decided it was time to pay it a proper visit.

The Bremen Christmas markets were exactly what you would expect out of a Weihnachtsmarkt. Lots of food, drinks, shopping, and general merriment!

The market Schlachte-Zauber, which is next to the river Weser that runs through Bremen.
One of many glühwein stands.

As I mentioned before, this was our 6th year of Christmas markets, and you could say we’ve established a ‘system’, so to speak, of how to best approach the weekend.

Step 1. Big lunch – traditional German food, obviously.

Step 2. Glühwein.

Step 3. Shopping.

Step 4. Curry worst.

…and the cycle continues.

Now here’s where our years of experience come in (lol). BYOA: bring your own amaretto!

You can (and will most certainly want to) add amaretto to your glühwein at the cost of an extra €1.50 per glass.

€1.50 per glass! Crazy. Do yourself a favor and bring a flask. 😉

We stayed mostly towards the markets in the direct city center (near the cathedral), but if you wander about 5 minutes out you’ll hit the Schnoor district – the medieval center.

This section of town was adorably cute and I am nowhere near a good enough photographer to capture the amazingness of this area. Cobblestone streets, houses that date back to the 14th century, small alleyways that cut you into secret courtyards – it was fabulous!

We also had to go see these guys…

The Town Musicians of Bremen!

I’ll be honest, I didn’t (and still really don’t) know the story which was written by the Brothers Grimm. Long story short (pun intended) it’s about 4 farm animals who think they can make a better living as musicians.

Naturally, you have to give ’em a little rub for good luck!


And with that – we came, we saw, we conquered!

And nice touch with the stoplights, Bremen.

Tot ziens,

Whitney

Merry Sinterklaas!

I don’t think that’s a thing people say, but ya know what? I like it so I’m going with it.

The arrival of Sinterklaas kicks off the season in mid-November.

It’s December 5th which means it’s pakjesavond (present evening) and if you were a good little one throughout out the year, maybe Sinterklaas replaced that carrot in your shoe with some treats! Tonight is the big gift-giving evening of the Dutch holiday season!

This could very well be our last holiday season in the Netherlands since Shane’s next position is still up in the air, and I’ve used this time to fully embrace the spirit of Sinterklaas. And by embrace, I mean eat myself sick on Sinterklaas-specific holiday treats.

So, in honor of the evening I thought I would do a quick round-up of those holiday goodies you will only find during Sint-season!

Pepernoten! Pepernoten! Pepernoten! Pepernoten!

THE thing. Without pepernoten there is no Sinterklaas!

I’ve literally seen them sold in a 5 kg (10 lbs) bag…

There are two types: pepernoten & kruidnoten.

Both are small cookies, but pepernoten is the more traditional version with an anise flavor. Kruidnoten are a more like a spiced cookie. Since I’m not a fan of anise, I tend to prefer the kruidnoten – as does my mother who made a special request for “those delicious little cookies” the last time Shane came home. Lucky for her, the grocery stores have started to push the seasons, and pepernoten have been available since October!

The kruidnoten section in our local grocery store.

The flavor possibilities are endless. There are entire seasonal shops which sell only pepernoten, kruidnoten, and flavored kruidnoten aka: the cookie covered in some form of flavored chocolate.

Carmel sea salt, coffee, raspberry, dark chocolate, lemon… not that I’ve tried any.

Chocolate Letters

Another important gift of the season, and another one that comes in all shapes, sizes and flavors – although the most popular flavors are milk, dark, and white chocolate.

Tradition dictates that you’ll receive the letter which corresponds to the first letter of your first name. But, if you’re name starts with an unpopular letter (sorry Quincy or Zelda) then you’ll be hard pressed to find them. If this is the case, the standard “S” – for Sinterklaas – is appropriate.

Chocolate letter… with pepernoten!

Marzipan

Particularly in the form of a pig.

Conveniently displayed next to the “super kruidnoten”.

Yes, that pig is made of marzipan. Yes, it will get chopped up and sold as smaller pieces.

If a chunk-o-pig ain’t your thang, no worries. Small pigs are also available.

The marzipan pig (made of milk, sugar, and almonds with a consistency of soft fondant) is a New Year’s German tradition to wish good luck (Glücksschwein!), and also a holiday gift tradition in Scandinavia. Given the relative location of the Netherlands, it’s not surprising it carried over.

Banketstaaf

Loosely translated to an ‘almond log’, it’s a buttery, almond-paste filled little piece of holiday heaven with origins in the Netherlands.

A word to the wise: share it. I mean, or don’t, but be prepared to go into a sugar-almond-million-calories induced coma afterwords. #worthit

My Sinterklaas paketje from work – a chocolate letter & banketstaaf.

Speculaas

Speculaas is a shortbread cookie with a spiced flavor similar to that of pumpkin pie spice in America. Actually, if you’re in America and lucky enough to live by a Trader Joe’s then you might know these cookies – called Speculoos, which is the Belgian spelling. You can usually find some sort of speculaas cookie year round, but this time of year the cookie itself changes to a more festive pattern.

Speculaas – smeckulaas. BOOOORRRINGGG.

Ditch that plain cookie, and go for the filled one!

Gevulde Speculaas

My crème de la crème. Re-named to ‘crack-ulaas’ for its sheer power of deliciousness.

Take two, large planks of soft speculaas spiced cake and add some almond paste (same as in the banketstaaf) in the middle and BOOM.

FILLED SPECULAAS. You’re welcome.

I’m genuinely sorry for anyone who isn’t able to try it. So, if you happen to run into some, buy it!


And with that, I’ll leave you with my favorite song of the season:

Sinterklaas (wie kent hem niet) by Het Goede Doel

I recommend the entire video, but if you’re in a hurry start at ~1:30.

Gah, the 80’s were great!

Tot ziens,

Whitney

Utrecht, the Netherlands

Guys, we did it.

It’s taken us 5.5 years, but we made the long and treacherous 1 hour and 56 minute train ride from Groningen to Utrecht!

I know our days in the Netherlands are numbered, so I have an unofficial Dutch bucket-list running in my mind. We’ve hit a number of the major Dutch cities – Den Haag & Rotterdam, for instance – but Utrecht was still on the list. A few of my old colleagues (& friends) live in the area now, so we had an inexpensive ‘nachtjeweg’ & mini-reunion courtesy of an NS Spoordeel.

Part of the Mucosis crew in Utrecht!

Expat Tip: Take advantage of the NS Spoordeelwinkel!

We’ve used this a few times now. The deal is for two people: one night in a (mid-range) hotel with breakfast included and a return train ticket from anywhere in the Netherlands for ~ €100 – 120. Considering for us, coming from Groningen, a one-way full-price train ticket is €25 per person, this is a steal! If overnight isn’t your thing, there are ‘dagjes uit’ (days out) and other activities.


And speaking of hotels, this was the view from our room window. Notice something earth friendly and cool?!

It’s not a bus stop, it’s a Bee Stop!

It’s common knowledge that the bee population around the world is declining. To help out the Dutch bees, Utrecht has transformed over 300 bus stops into bee stops to encourage pollination. Such a simple yet innovative idea!

Back to Utrecht.

Utrecht is unique, in that there are two levels to the canals: the street and the boat level. When Utrecht was built, it was designed with a series of cellars underneath the street level which were used by the business or house above it. Today, those cellar’s aren’t used for storage, but (in the city center) have been transformed into restaurants and bars which line the canals. I can only imagine how nice this would be on a sunny & warm day!

This two-level set-up also means that the road itself can’t support the weight of delivery trucks – then or now – due to the hollow cellars underneath. The solution? Delivery boats! We didn’t witness it, but apparently the ‘Utrecht Beer Boat’ and the ‘trash-boat’ make regular appearances though the canals.

The two-level canal.

Now, you might be wondering: “How did she learn such interesting information about Utrecht?!”

A walking tour, of course!

Tip: Utrecht Free Walking Tours

They offer tours in English 4 days per week, two times per day. They have general city tours (which is what we did) or specialty tours (WWII, for example).

Our tour group. Photo courtesy of our guide, Donna.

The tour started out at the Dom Tower. I wish I had taken a picture to show how dissapointed I was when we arrived. Not because the tower was unimpressive – it’s 112m (~365ft) and the tallest building in Utrecht. It’s also under renovation and completely covered with scaffolding. *facepalm*

We also missed out on the museum DOMunder, which is a tour through the archaeological site underneath Dom square that dates back to 45 A.D.. We (mostly I) convinced people to go to Museum Speelklok, which is a museum dedicated to the self-playing musical instruments that are notoriously Dutch.

A typical Dutch street organ (in Groningen).

To be honest, if you only have time for one museum in Utrecht, don’t visit Museum Speelklok unless you’re really into musical clocks/instruments. Don’t get me wrong, they were cool to see, but it seemed over-priced and it was very, as our tour guide eloquently put it, niche. If you’re into learning a little about the city, then I would recommend something else.

Shane for scale.

One thing that I did really enjoy was De Letters van Utrecht.

It’s a piece of street art started in 2000. It’s an ongoing poem written in the bricks of the street. The unique part is that only one letter-brick is added per week – every Saturday at 13:00 you can see them add the next letter. The artist intended it to be a gift to future generations by creating an poem that can be carried on for generations. The full poem to date can be found online, and if you’re interested in contributing then you can apply to write a line of text.

The rest of our walking tour took us through the park and through city center.

It was quick, but a nice weekend away with good friends!

In other news, Shane and I tried to go see a movie last night and it was cancelled because two dead bodies were found in the theater…

That’s a first.

Tot ziens!

Whitney

Château du Val: Saint-Just, France

When your friends invite you to their wedding in a literal castle, you say yes!

Ok, so we would have said yes even if it wasn’t in a castle. Not the point.

Our road trip culminated at Château du Val, which is located just outside the tiny town of Saint-Just in the Brittany region of France.

Before I get to the wedding festivities I would like to take a moment and acknowledge the ‘French-people-eat-baquettes-all-the-time’ stereotype. Well, friends. Sometimes stereotypes are there for a reason. Please let me introduce to you the 24-hour baguette vending machine!

We didn’t use the vending machine since there was an open grocery store 200 meters away, but now I’m having regrets and thinking I should have just bought a baguette for shits & giggles…

Anyway, I digress.

The wedding was a three-day extravaganza, with guests of the bride & groom (Sarah & Barend, by the way), coming from all over – the Netherlands (his family), Ireland (her family), England, Germany*, America (& not just us!), South Africa, and Australia. Both Sarah & Barend used to work in the yachting industry, which is how they met and how they ended up with friends spread across the globe!

*sorry Chelly & Christian – I don’t know how I forgot our weekend roommates!

It was a fantastic three days spent with great people, great food, and great scenery!

I basically took zero pictures – no service, phone was always dead. So, generous thanks to those who donated photos to the WhatsApp group. Hope you don’t mind I stole some. 😉

Bride and groom, & their little – Mia.
Barend – just before the ceremony!

Gefeleciteerd, Sarah & Barend!

Tot ziens,

Whitney

Dinan, France

A small French town you’ve probably never heard of!

Heading in to the final few days of our road trip through Normandy & Brittany, I wanted a place to stop over on our way from Mont Saint-Michel to Saint-Just, where the wedding was located. A few blogs suggested this “Disney-esque” town (pronounced: dee-naan) in the Brittany region and it looked adorable so I was sold.

I will be honest: it was really pretty and really old (founded in 1040!), but it’s a small town and there’s not too much going on.

So, what can you do?

Eat Crêpes…


…and other delicious baked goods!

For a small town there was no shortage of boulangeries (breads), viennoiseries (breakfast pastries, and pâtisseries (dessert pastries).

We had crêpes at the crêperie in the picture above, and lucky for me there was a boulaungerie / viennoiserie only a 2 minute walk away from our Airbnb.

Do you know what was incredibly frustrating during this entire trip? Eating times. We could never seem to figure out when restaurants were open. On the last day we finally realized they open in the morning through lunch, ~2pm. Then everything shuts down until about 7pm. So, good luck with a late lunch or an early dinner. And don’t even THINK about ordering a crêpe after 2pm. “The kitchen can’t make them anymore.” 😑

Walk the Ramparts


Characteristic of medieval towns, the city is surrounded by walls that date back to the 13th century. I love a good wall walk (here’s lookin’ at you, Dubrovnik), and with 3km (1.8mi) of preserved ramparts, you can do a lot of it!

Views from the top.

Climb the Clock Tower


It’s over 600 years old, 43m (~142ft) tall, and still functions! And, despite not being the original bell (it’s recast using the original), it still regulates the city today. How do I know this? We happened to be up top when it started ringing. I recommend timing your visit accordingly.

Take the 158 steps to the top for some great views over the historical city!

Maybe one day I’ll stop making Shane exercise on vacation…

Ehh – probably not.

Walk Rue du Jerzual to the Historical Port


This. street. is. STEEP!

But, if half-timbered houses are your thing then this is the street for you! It’s a lovely walk down to the Port of Dinan, but fuel-up when you get there because you’ll need an energy boost to make it back up! 😆

The River Rance at the bottom of Rue du Jerzual.
The viaduct – built in 1846.

Visit Château de Dinan


It’s a castle, it has a nice museum, blah blah that’s boring. (Ok it wasn’t really – you should go – but for the point of my story…)

Do you want to know what the coolest thing about this castle was?

The toilet.

A modern toilet built in the spot of the ACTUAL castle toilet! Game of thrones-style door included!

Now if that’s not ingenuity then I don’t know what is.

There were also some nice views from the top, for those not as impressed with toilets.

St. Malo Church


Last but not least, you should take a few minutes to pop into St. Malo church in the city center. The architecture of these old churches is never disappointing.

So how much time do you actually need in Dinan?

One full day is enough.

We stayed two nights – arriving around dinner on night one – and this was more than enough time to leisurely explore the city. Perhaps contrary to popular opinion: it’s certainly worth visiting if it’s on-route, but I’m not sure I would go out of my way.

Until next time, Dinan!

Tot ziens,

Whitney

Mont Saint-Michel: Normandy, France

Ah, Mont Saint-Michel, you tourist-trap beauty!

2.5 million – that’s how many come to Mont Saint-Michel per year, and we were one of them. Well, two of them I suppose.

I honestly had never heard of Mont Saint-Michel until we started planning this trip, but I’m a sucker for a good castle and a great view. And, it’s a top Normandy tourist attraction, remember? In case you hadn’t noticed, it’s a castle on an island. During low-tide, you can walk the surrounding mud-flats for access. During high-tide the castle is completely surrounded by water and unaccessible (except by road, in modern times)!

Tip: It’s pronounced ‘Me-chelle’.

For all you English speakers out there who tend to butcher beautiful French words (obviously, myself included). I wanted to call it Michael, which I guess technically it is in English, but we’re in France so…


A quick history:

In ~708, a sanctuary was built on Mont (mount)-Tombe (now Mont-Saint Michel) by the Bishop of Avranches in honor of the Archangel, Michel. Over time, it became a pilgrimage site, and starting in the 10th century a village began to form after Benedictines (Catholic monks) settled in the abbey. Eventually, it grew into what we see today.

The mont became a symbol of France during the Hundred Years War (1337 – 1453, England v. France for control of France) when it’s fortifications proved too much for the English, and it was never taken.

And, like a lot of other rocky, fortified islands, the religious guys were kicked out and it became a prison. Finally, in 1874 it was classified as a historic monument. Somewhere in there is a story about a commune and an Irish hermit, but that’s for another time…

So, how do you get to the castle on the island?

You can’t drive there, that’s for sure. There are plenty of parking lots (€14 – tourist trap, remember?) which surround the visitor center. From the visitor center, you can either take the shuttle bus (runs constantly), or you can walk ~2.5km (1.5 mi) across the bridge to the village. Their signs say ~30 minutes, but I would plan for 45 minutes if you want to leisurely stroll with pictures along the way.

Tip: If you have kids – don’t bring a stroller!

The walk to the mont is flat, that’s not the issue. Once you’re inside it’s cobblestone, steep streets, and stairs. And, with a stroller you’re guaranteeing to not walk the ramparts – too narrow for stroller + masses of people.


It looks so peaceful from far away…
And as you get closer – notice the people now?

Tip: Pack a lunch!

While the restaurants have nice views, the food inside the village is tourist-expensive. Even better though, you can walk all over / around the village essentially unrestricted. We saw lots of people who managed to find a quiet spot to themselves for lunch: down by the beach, or in a corner with a nice view.

We packed a lunch, but on account of being losers who had leftover cold spaghetti, we ate it in the car.

At the base of the mont!

It’s free to enter the village, but €10 (+ €3 for an audioguide) to enter the abbey. Well worth the money. It’s a legitimate castle perched on top of this mountain with way more space inside than you would imagine possible. Plus, the views are spectacular.

Tip: Walk the ramparts to the abbey.

You’ll want to walk the ramparts anyway, but they are significantly less crowded than the main street leading up to the abbey. When you first enter the village you’ll notice a staircase to your right – take it.

Up we go!

People walking the mud flats. And yes, it was legitimately mud not sand.
Looking out on our way up with guided groups walking the mud flats.
View from the top at low-tide – across the bridge to get to the mont.
Entrance to the abbey.
There’s even a courtyard up there!
View from the top, as far as the eye can see.

Tip: Plan to spend at least 3 – 4 hours (parking + walking + exploring).


So, was it worth it?

ABSOLUTELY!

I couldn’t stop looking at it. I was craning my neck so much on the walk back to the car that Shane stopped me, turned me around, and we just stood there staring until the count of 10 so I could soak it all in.

Oh, and then this happened.

What? It was heavy.

And, considering it was only a 2 hour drive from the D-Day landing beaches in the direction of our next stop, Dinan, it was basically destiny.

Tot ziens,

Whitney