“Guys. Don’t scare us by going on the cliff edge. It’s fucking dangerous”. The message went out into the Whatsapp group created for all of us going on the Normandy trip organized by the BDI. We were 54 international students walking along the cliffs of Étretat, stunned by the beauty of nature and the English Channel’s crystalline water, occupied with getting that perfect Instagram picture. In some cases the hard work of taking that amazing footage made some people move a bit too close towards the edge. It was hard though not to look down at the clear blue water and white beaches that followed the coastline in Normandy. It was like something out of a postcard and despite our efforts the pictures just couldn’t match reality. It’s not hard to imagine why such an amazing place inspired distinguished artists like Boudin, Courbet or Monet.
Since rule number one of the Erasmus-lifestyle is to never rest, we went straight from Étretat to the historic town of Rouen where we learned about the cruel fate of Jeanne d’Arc. A young national heroine of France and convinced Christian, helping the French to triumph over the British and the Burgunds during the Hundred Years War after Archangel Michael and other saints asked her to free her country. Unluckily, after a French defeat in the war, the British took her as a prisoner and on the 30 May 1431 19-year old Jeanne d’Arc was burnt at the stake at the Market Place in Rouen.
On Sunday we continued our trip and this time our destination was the famous Mont Saint-Michel. Instead of taking the bus all the way to the abbey we were dropped off at the coast of the English Channel. Assisted by a professional guide we started a six kilometers long walk through slippery mud, knee-high water and areas of quicksand towards Mont Saint Michel. Even if some of us started this kind of hike with a rather unhappy face, due to unfavorable water temperatures and outfits which didn’t really fit the weather conditions, the walk soon become one of our favorite events during the whole trip.
As we were getting closer to our final destination we could see the stunning abbey and the medieval buildings surrounding it, located on an almost circular island. With a surface of only 0,055 square kilometers, the Mont Saint-Michel receives about three million tourists every year, but to our astonishment 33 people actually live on the island.
The story of the Mont Saint-Michel dates back to the 8th century when the bishop of Avranches had visions of Archangel St. Michael – the same angel who inspired Jeanne d’Arc- and built an oratory for him. Already in the year 966 a community of Benedictines was established and the Mont became an important destination for Christian pilgrims.
Being fortified in 1256, resisting the Hundred Years’ War and French Wars of Religion and even becoming a prison when Napoleon I chased away the monks from their abbey, this place was classified as a historic monument and restored in 1874. Since 1969, monks from different orders moved back to the island.
Mont Saint-Michel is the perfect place for walking around and getting lost between streets and halls that make you feel like you’re time-traveling.
At 4:30 pm we headed back to the bus, tired and a bit cold but filled with new experiences and Instagram friendly pictures. During the seven hour-journey back to Lille, you could hear students talk in eight different languages about the weekend filled with both historical and natural landscapes that the beautiful region of Normandy has to offer.
A big thank you to the BDI for organizing such an amazing trip!
Emma Israelsson, Maria Fernanda Flores, Annika Liebert