Journey Versus Destination

Focus on the journey, not the destination. Joy is found not in finishing an activity but in doing it.

Greg Anderson

Journey Vs. Destination

It’s the journey versus the destination. I’ve heard that time and time again, but often I forget these simple but vital words. Mentally the arrival takes over versus the entirety of the whole trip.

            My friend and I chose to go to Northern France to pilgrimage to Mont St Michel one August. In Normandie, exists one of the most beautiful and isolated cathedrals.  I had watched travel specials of this and each time images arose of this church, my heart knew it had to visit. Tides high and low occur daily, and one can only visit at particular hours. If you don’t leave at the right moment, you are stuck on the island with the cathedral and it’s 44 residents. I envisioned this place as a charming tiny French village that was full of inspiration and spirituality everywhere you looked.

The Paris Syndrome

But the actually voyage to Mont St. Michel was disappointing.  Later I realized that trekking to one of the most visited places in France can have pitfalls. This tiny island hosts 2.5 million visitors per year. The weather was gorgeous during our Saturday expedition, and everyone else seemed to think so too. It didn’t feel as if it was a pilgrimage, it felt it was a line at a theme park.   (Read more about tips for visiting here on this site

The sacredness of this journey was lost due to the high number of tourists that flocked there that day.  We were all transported by bus.  Time slots for the church were booked in advance. But I wondered if this was an error or overbooked?  Could it handle any more tourists?  The streets of Paris were empty in August months. Everyone seemed to have gone to Normandie on this exact weekend.  There was disappointment in going to Mont St. Michel, but I did get to see one of the Black Madonnas (read more about in a later post).  

Disappointment upon arrival to one’s idealized cities can be intense. There is a term for travel disappointment with one particular city- Paris. This disorder is The Paris Syndrome. The romanticized version in one’s head does not meet the real deal moment. People are let down with the illusion of Paris . Yet in addition, they experience physical symptoms such as being irritable, depressed and physically ill. (For more on this check out )

But the entire trip to Northern France was not a waste.  It’s about the journey versus the destination. The rest of my trip was in St. Malo.

Present in St. Malo

There was a longing that existed in me for something beyond myself. I had hoped I would feel moved upon my arrival at Mont St. Michel. But I actually felt it in St. Malo.   I felt connected to nature.  It was here I could observe the tides play. They were a living breathing entity, noticing how the land morphs every 12 hours.  During high tide, land several hundred meters away are islands.  During low tide, they are walkable, and in fact the beach you walk through was actually under water only hours ago.  

This landscape’s beauty was captivating. I knew this is what happened daily at Mont St. Michel in Normandie, and one hour away in Bretagne the tides followed a same pattern. I was mesmerized by it’s ever changing form. And at the same time, I felt like this aspect of Mother Nature could hold me, in adventure, entertainment, awe, and reflection.  It didn’t ask much of me or her other visitors.  The tides demanded respect. Visitors heeded to that.   She demonstrated her fierce power and playfulness.  Her dimensions morph, and I couldn’t help but be in reverence for all that she offered me.  

I began to surprisingly fall for St. Malo. Why is it that anytime we travel to a new fabulous destination, we automatically wonder “could I live here?”  Or at least this is what I do.  I scope out the terrain. I look at the advertisements that frame the real estate offices on main street and ponder what life would be like if I was a local.  What coffee shop would I frequent, could I afford living here, where would I walk my dog, do I know anyone close by? 

The Journey is the Destination

           This was an ideal town in my eyes: walkable, affordable, good public transportation, scenic, relaxing vibe, but it was the nature that pulled me in. St. Malo is in the Bretagne region of France.  All I had heard previously about this town is that it had a great thermal spa.   We traveled to the region for Mont St. Michel, and only planned to use this town as a place for lodging. There were zero expectations.

St. Malo was founded in the 1st Century, has Celtic influence, and has a wall that surrounds the entire city.  Although much of it was destroyed during World War II, renovations were completed to ensure it kept it’s charm.  What I found most fascinating was the seaside and the interplay of the low and hide tide which transforms access to Grand Be and Petit Be, two mini islands that one can generally walk to during daylight hours.  Yet, the path disappears when high tide approaches.

Focus on Your Journey

            So as I visit new cities or towns, I do want to absorb the history of pilgrimage sites, they fascinate me. Yet I realize, timing is everything. Perhaps I should have visited during low season. The buses of tourists would have been minimal, and my awe may have been greater.   In addition, I realize it is nature that I seek.  It’s not the crowds of the infamous structure in town, souvenir shops, or Michelin starred restaurants.  It’s nature I long for, which heals the busy-ness of my mind.   Getting to St. Michel was easy for us tourists. We rode a bus from St. Malo one hour to this location. Perhaps it’s the difficulty in making it an effort to get to one place that makes the reward of arriving so sweet. Or maybe it’s about the journey versus destination.

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