Nantes 2017 – Day 4

Saturday, September 9th 2017

This is our last day in Nantes, the day we return to London. Our train leaves at 12:06 and so we have plenty of time and don’t need to hurry. We do the last-minute packing and look around to make sure we have left nothing behind. Fortunately, according to the forecast, the weather will be dry today so we will not have to struggle with our bags through the rain.

Once again, but for the last time, we take the hotel breakfast and then we check out and pay our bill. The room had been reserved and paid for in advance so there is just the breakfasts to pay for. It turned out that these were really worth the money.

Leaving the hotel, we walked down the side street in which it resides to the main road. At the tram stop and bought tickets from the ticket machine1. Once aboard the tram, it was only three or four stops to the railway station. We looked around for seats and found some where we could watch the comings and goings of the people and relax until it was time for our train. Looking around, I noticed something and wrote a little meditation on it. I wrote it in French and I copy it below.

A la gare, un jeune homme était en train de pédaler. Il était assis à une station de recharger les téléphones portables. Il pédalait et pédalait comme un cycliste mais un cycliste qui n’arrive jamais à destination. D’un coup cela m’a semblait une image de la vie: nous pédalons ou marchons sans cesse sans arriver nulle part jusqu’à ce la mort nous en libère. Un symbole effarant ou réconfortant selon votre disposition particulière.

When our train was announced, we hurried aboard and found our reserved seats. The train was late leaving and this worried me because we had to change trains at Paris. We would arrive at Paris Montparnasse and from there would need to transfer to Paris Nord.

The best way to make this change (assuming you don’t want to incur the expense of a taxi) is to take the Métro. We needed line 4 going to Clignancourt. Finding the métro station posed its own problem as the first entrance was blocked owing to building works. We followed the signs and finally reached our platform after quite a long walk. (it is, in fact, no worse than the tunnels of the London Underground but when you are anxious that you might miss your connection even a short walk seems interminable!)

On the way, we had to stop off to buy métro tickets. There are plenty of ticket machines but the first one messed us about and stole 4 euros off us without giving anything in return. The next machine behaved impeccably but would only accept credit/debit cards. (You need to watch for this on railway and métro stations in France: even if the ticket machine nominally takes cash, it may revert to cards-only if there is a problem. If you don’t notice the cards-only sign and put money in, you may lose it as we did in the first machine.)

The platform was crowded and the train was packed but we managed to get ourselves and our bags on board. We even found seats after the first couple of stops. The transfer from Paris Montparnasse to Paris Nord is reckoned to take about 45 minutes. We reached Paris Nord with 40 minutes to spare.

We bought sandwiches for lunch at a stall and then went up the escalator to find the Eurostar station. This is well signposted and therefore easy to reach. Two passport checks and a baggage check later, we were  released to sit in the departures lounge where we ate our sandwiches.

Boarding the Eurostar was, as usual, slow but orderly. We found our assigned seats and settled in for the two-hour journey to St Pancras.

We reached London at about 17:40 and went to Carluccio’s restaurant on the upper level of St Pancras Station for an early supper, then took the bus for home.

The trip to Nantes was successful and visiting France is always a pleasure. Nantes, though, despite having a good art gallery and the famous Machines de l’Île, seems to me a fairly anodyne city. I don’t think I shall be tempted to return. However, if there were medals to award, I would certainly award one to the Hôtel le Cambronne which, despite its slightly quirky character and droopy shower head, was comfortable and provided us with such good breakfasts.

________

1In France, single-use bus and tram tickets are valid for one hour, during which time you can travel on any number of buses or trams. London Transport has recently introduced the Hopper Fare which allows you to use just two vehicles within one hour but this is rather pale compared with the more generous French system.

Copyright 2017 SilverTiger, https://tigergrowl.wordpress.com, All rights reserved.

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Nantes 2017 – Day 3

Friday, September 8th 2017

Checking the weather forecast this morning, we saw that that rain was ‘promised’ from 2pm. We therefore needed to make the most of the morning.

We had breakfast at the hotel and then set out for today’s first destination to see what is arguably the most famous inhabitant of Nantes.

Île de Nantes
Île de Nantes
(Click for Google Map)

That destination was the large island in the River Loire that forms part of Nantes and is called, reasonably enough, Île de Nantes (‘Island of Nantes’). Its location is shown on the above map and clicking this takes you to the appropriate Google Map.

A view of the Loire
A view of the Loire

There are 10 bridges crossing to the island (6 on the north side, 4 on the south) but we crossed by a pedestrian bridge called Passerelle Victor Schoelcher. You will not see it on the map unless you expand this several times. It lies between the first and second bridges counting from the left on the north side. (Victor Schœlcher (1804-93) was a politician and important figure in France’s abolitionist cause. It is somewhat ironic that in this city known for its important role in the slave trade, Victor Schœlcher is given a monument but such a small one.)

Approaching Les Machines de l'île
Approaching Les Machines de l’île

We approached our intending destination and our first view of it is shown above. The Island is home to a remarkable and justly famous enterprise called Les Machines de l’île. Nantes was once an important centre for ship building and the big buildings, called les nefs, used for that purpose now accommodate Les Machines. These are a collection of animated mechanical animals and a huge carousel on the theme of the marine life. You will find more information about this on their Web page and this Wikipedia article may be useful as an introduction.

First sight of Le Grand Éléphant
First sight of Le Grand Éléphant

It is possible. for a price, to tour the whole exhibition but we had come to see the undoubted star of the show, the mighty beast known as Le Grand Éléphant (no translation needed, surely!). This mighty pachyderm walks and carries up to 50 passengers and is the main attraction of the exhibition and fast becoming a symbol of Nantes itself.

Open-air artworks

Open-air artworks
Open-air artworks

As preparations for running the elephant had not yet started, we went for a walk and photographed the two large wall paintings. They belong to an organization called La Fabrique or Les Fabriques (they seem uncertain whether they are singular or plural) which I think is an art studio – or is it studios, plural? Anyway, click on the name for their Web site and decide for yourself.

We returned from our walk to find that some of the barriers around the elephant had been moved away as though the beast were about to move. In fact, quite some time was to pass before it was actually set in motion. A lot of preparation is necessary, it seems.

The 'works'
The ‘works’

The interior of the elephant’s body is more or less empty to allow room for passengers. On top there is an open howdah and on the side an opening resembling a balcony. The ‘works’, that is, the machinery that makes the elephant walk and perform its actions, are accommodated in a trailer attached to its rear. Although, when it is in motion, the legs move as though walking, the elephant actually runs on wheels.

Preparing the elephant
Preparing the elephant

These two men were getting the elephant ready for work. The one on the left was using what looked liked a computer screen while the one on the right was filling the tank with water. (We’ll see what this was for later.)

The driver in his cab
The driver in his cab

Unlike the Indian mahouts who sit on the elephant’s neck, the driver of this elephant occupies a small cab above the front wheel.

The elephant in motion
The elephant in motion

At last, the preparations completed and the paying passengers having mounted on board, the Grand Éléphant set forth. It was quite an impressive sight.

Spraying bystanders
Spraying bystanders

There were no barriers to prevent people approaching the elephant and some did. They received a surprise when the elephant sprayed them with water! The spray was very fine, more like a mist, and nobody seemed to mind.

Carrousel des Mondes Marins
Carrousel des Mondes Marins

As we left the main complex, we came upon this huge structure called Carrousel des Mondes Marins (‘Sea Worlds Carousel’). It was not working today and in fact looked as if it has been out of action for some time. According to the Web page (English version), ‘Adults and children are plunged into the same imaginary universe of this incredible mechanical aquarium, which you can discover at your own pace.’

Ateliers et Chantiers de Nantes
Ateliers et Chantiers de Nantes

This handsome 19th-century building bears the name Ateliers et Chantiers de Nantes. This was a ship-building company formed in the 1880s to take advantage of the boom in naval ship building at that time. Today it is used by the University of Nantes.

River Loire and Bridge of Anne of Brittany
River Loire and Bridge of Anne of Brittany

Just before leaving the island I took this photo of the river and the Bridge of Anne of Brittany which we then crossed to go back into the town. Anne of Brittany (1488-1489) was a native of Nantes and Duchess of Brittany and twice Queen Consort of France.

Notre-Dame-de-bon-port
Notre-dame-de-bon-port

Leaving the island, we made our way on foot to our next destination, taking in any interesting sights along the way. One such was the mid-19th-century church Notre-Dame-de-bon-port. The reference to the port in the name harks back to when the church was built in what was the old port area but which was beginning to disappear under new urban buildings.

Théâtre Graslin
Théâtre Graslin

In Place Graslin stands a theatre with a portico entrance. Designed in Classical style by local architect Mathurin Crucy, the Théâtre Graslin opened in 1788 and quickly became the city’s opera house. Ravaged by fire 8 years after opening, it was rebuilt in its original form in time for a visit to the city of Emperor Napoleon in 1811.

Cathédrale Saint-Pierre-et-Saint-Paul
Cathédrale Saint-Pierre-et-Saint-Paul

Standing in the Place Saint-Pierre is the Cathedral of Nantes, dedicated jointly to St Peter and St Paul. Like many cathedrals with medieval origins, this one took several hundred years to build. Started in 1434, it was declared finished only in 1891 (a span of 467 years).

Porte Saint-Pierre
Porte Saint-Pierre

Nestling beside the Cathedral (if such a large object can be said to nestle) is a gate which is a vestige of the old city walls. It is dedicated to St Peter, by himself this time. Various periods of building contributed to this ancient monument from the 9th century inwards though it is mainly of the 15th century.

Musée des Beaux Arts
Musée des Beaux Arts

Not too far away was our destination, the Musée des Beaux Arts. This very fine gallery of fine arts would need several visits to see and really absorb all that it has to offer. The time we could  devote to it did not do it justice though the visit was nevertheless instructive and enjoyable. I can give you only a few examples of what we saw.

Portrait de Napoléon Bonaparte
Portrait de Napoléon Bonaparte
Francesco Maximilien Laboureur, c.1804

Every museum in France of course boasts one or more sculptures of Napoleon. We British may regard him as a villain but his presence on the scene forms a solid piece of French history and he has had, and still has, many admirers. Francesco Laboureur (1767-1831) conceived ‘his’ Napoleon as a Roman grandee with toga and laurel wreath, exuding  confidence and nobility.

Alom
Alom
Victor Vasarely, 1968

I have to admit that I am not a fan of abstract art though I admit that some works grab my attention and impress with their more intriguing qualities. This painting by Victor Vasarely (1906-97) gives an impression of depth and relief. It is entitled Alom, the Hungarian word for ‘Dream’.

A Delta Wong Vert and Studio Pôle
A Delta Wong Vert (Upper)
Studio Pôle (Lower)
Jean Dewasne, undated

These two paintings are also very striking and fit into my ‘intriguing’ category. Jean Dewasne (1921-99) began by studying architecture and then moved to painting. He also produced what he called ‘antisculptures’ by painting on 3-dimensional surfaces.

Kizette en rose
Kizette en rose
Tamara de Lempicka, 1927

Returning gratefully to the world of figurative art, here is a portrait that is immediately recognizable as a work by the inimitable Tamara (de) Lempicka (1898-1980). It is a portrait of the artist’s daughter Kisette (‘en rose’ – dressed in pink). This is apparently a picture of a neatly dressed and well-behaved young girl but the deliberately slightly awkward pose and the defiant expression suggest an underlying unruliness that might break out at any moment.

Le Greffeur
Le Greffeur
Léon Fagel, 1896

This sculpture, in realist mode, shows a gardener preparing a graft. It is by Léon Fagel (1851-1913), it fits into the current of ‘naturalism’, reflecting the lives. labours and sufferings of ordinary people (cf. the works of the novelist Émile Zola) current in the 19th century.

Sans titre
Sans titre
Sigmar Polke, 2001

This untitled painting caught my attention, firstly because it is a very attractive portrait and then because of the unusual technique. The artist, Sigmar Polke (1941-2010), created his own unique style influenced perhaps by photography.

Leaving the museum, we found that the promise of rain had now been delivered. We started back for the hotel but as the rain became heavier, decided to take shelter in the hope that it would ease.

Café Bar Le Select
Café Bar Le Select

We went into a café bar called Le Select and dawdled there awhile. When the rain seemed to ease off somewhat, we made a dash for the hotel. We stayed there until hunger prompted thoughts of seeking food. A nearby restaurant satisfied our needs.

Copyright 2017 SilverTiger, https://tigergrowl.wordpress.com, All rights reserved.

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Nantes 2017 – Day 2

Thursday, September 7th 2017

Today is my birthday and this trip to France is in celebration of that. So bon anniversaire to me!

The day started with a cup of tea. As noted, French hotels do not usually supply a kettle so we bring our own. We also have plenty of adaptors for plugging the kettle and our other devices into European power sockets.

The ‘Europlug’, intended for use through the EU, does exist but so far our French electric plugs have fitted the power sockets in all the countries we have visited. The advantage of these over the Europlug, which has only two pins, is that they have a connection to earth. As well as adaptors, it’s a good idea to buy an extra long cable for charging your phone in case you want your phone beside the bed but there isn’t a power socket nearby.

Then it was time to take a shower. Trying the shower in your hotel room is always something of an adventure. If showers don’t freeze or scald you, they have other tricks with which to surprise and annoy you. This shower, for example, cannot be fixed in position. If you slot the head into the holder it droops like a dying daisy and sprays into the soap dish which has been cunningly placed in just the right position for this. In contrast, adjusting the temperature works perfectly well, so one mustn’t grumble too much.

Breakfast isn’t included with the room but the manager says we can take it or not on a day by day basis. It costs €6.50 and the pound has currently sunk to near equality with the euro, making food and everything else that much more expensive for British travellers. We decided to try the breakfast here and to see whether we think it worth the money and, if not, to skip it for the remaining days.

It turned out that breakfast was surprisingly copious with juice, coffee, hard-boiled egg, croissants, yogurt, fruit and bread with butter and jam.

La Bourse, now FNAC
La Bourse, now FNAC

After breakfast, we set out to walk to the railway station. We did a little sight-seeing on the way, of course. Above is a picture of the Palais de la Bourse, of which I gave you a glimpse yesterday. Built between 1790 and 1815 as the town’s stock exchange, it was adapted as a department store at the end of last century and is currently occupied by a company called FNAC which sells a range of goods but is known mainly as one of France’s largest online bookshops.

Falbalas St JuniEN
Falbalas St JuniEN

I liked the look of this old-style fashion shop with its black and gold lettering. The firm’s name, displayed in the corner window, is Falbalas St JuniEN. The company still exists and seems to be doing very well with outlets in several cities. I haven’t been able to find out its history (or why the name ‘JuniEN’ is partially capitalized) but it looks as if it dates from the early 1900s.

Castle of the Dukes of Brittany
Castle of the Dukes of Brittany

Until 1941, Nantes was the centre of power of Britanny and the Dukes of Britanny had their castle here. It was built in 1207 and rebuilt in 1466. I believe it was inhabited until the middle of the 19th century. It is now classed as an Historical Monument and is open to the public. Today we were just passing by and took a quick snap. The moat provides water for a colony of waterfowl.

Tour LU Tour LU
Tour LU

This striking tower is not only beautiful but is also something of a survivor. The building to which it belongs was created for the biscuit company Lefèvre-Utile (LU) and served is its factory for the century from 1886 to 1996. The tower and its twin were erected in the early 20th century but the second was demolished to make room for a factory. The remaining tower was decapitated during major works in 1972. In 1994, the site was bought by the CRDC (Centre for Cultural Research and Development) and the tower was restored to its original condition. Part of the site was demolished to make way for housing developments and the rest turned into a national centre for contemporary arts and music. In order to keep the name LU, it has been designated the ‘Lieu Unique’ (‘unique place’).

Our next stop was the railway station. Our plan was to take the train to Saint-Nazaire and travel on from there by bus. In France, as in Britain, there are now sophisticated ticket machines that sell you railway tickets to all destinations. All of those that we have encountered, whether on main line stations or on the Paris underground, can be switched to English or French as you prefer. You have to take care, though, because many such machines work only with credit cards and those which normally accept cash may switch to credit cards if there is a problem handling money. If you are going to do a lot of travelling around, it’s a good idea to make sure that your bank or credit card company is one that doesn’t charge for transactions in foreign currency.

By the way, when you travel by train in France, there is another little – but important – ceremony to perform. You will see notices telling you to ‘composter votre billet’ (‘date-stamp your ticket’). At the entrances to the platforms are small machines, often painted yellow, for the purpose. You need to poke your ticket into the slot and with a metallic clink, the machine prints the date on it. Your ticket is not valid until you have done this.

Gare de Nantes
Gare de Nantes
Nantes Railway Station

The cost of the return fare was quite expensive, at least it was for us, given the weak pound. After thinking about it, though, we decided to grit our teeth and buy the tickets, choosing the cheapest times. The train was packed but we managed to find pair of seats together. Mid-journey there was a loudspeaker announcement from train buffet: ‘Sorry, we’ve run out of coffee!’

We reached Saint-Nazaire which is possibly an interesting town worth exploring but as it was not today’s destination we left it for another time. (If you want to locate Saint-Nazaire on the map, see here.)

Café Couleur
Café Couleur

We did, however, stop off long enough to have coffee in a cafe called Café Couleur. Then we repaired to the nearby bus station and examined the lists of destinations.

Aboard the U3
Aboard the U3

A helpful bus driver pointed  out the stop for bus U3 which would take us where we wanted to go.

Street market, Saint-Marc-sur-Mer
Street market, Saint-Marc-sur-Mer

We disembarked at Saint-Marc-sur-Mer and found a street market in progress. We walked down this street, named after the French polar scientist Jean-Baptiste, towards the beach.

Saint-Marc is a small quiet seaside town. So small and quiet, in fact, that it is hard to locate on the map. I give you this link to Google Maps in case you wish to find it. The map doesn’t even name the town. Look to the right of the phrase ‘Plage Saint Nazaire’ where you will find the words ‘Plage de M. Hulot’.

Saint-Marc-sur-Mer has some houses, some shops and restaurants, an hotel and a rather empty beach. It makes Hastings or Broadstairs look like Las Vegas. So why would anyone come here? The clue is in my location information above. The beach of Saint-Marc is now known (and labelled) as la Plage de Monsieur Hulot. In other words, this is the location chosen by Jacques Tati for his famous comedy film Mr Hulot’s Holiday (‘Led Vacances de M. Hulot’). This fact draws quite a number of visitors (including us, of course).

Monsieur Hulot on the promenade
Monsieur Hulot on the promenade

There are sign boards here and there explaining what scenes of the film were recorded there. On the promenade there is a slightly larger than life-size sculpture by Emmanuel Debarre of Jacques Tati in character as Monsieur Hulot, looking out over the beach. It originally included Monsieur Hulot’s trademark pipe but someone broke this off, perhaps for a souvenir, and only a stump remains.

Monsieur Hulot's Beach
Monsieur Hulot’s Beach

The beach, so crowded and full of activity in the film, was today virtually deserted.

L'Hôtel de la Plage
L’Hôtel de la Plage

The one recognizable feature is the hotel where some of the interior scenes supposedly took place. It is named Hôtel de la Plage (‘Beach Hotel’) as in the film.

Resto la Chica
Resto la Chica

We had a sandwich lunch at a little establishment called Resto la Chica (‘resto’ is a common abbreviation for ‘restaurant’). It didn’t take long to see all there was to see in Saint-Marc and we rounded off the visit by taking coffee on the terrace of L’Hôtel de la Plage.

We caught the U3 back to Saint-Nazaire. Unlike London, where all bus tickets and passes must be bought in advance, you can still buy tickets on the buses here. When you buy a bus ticket, it is undated. It is only when you poke it in the machine on the bus, which stamps the date and time on it, that its period of validity starts. (Tram tickets, however, have to be bought in advance of travel from machines at the tram stops.)

Arriving back at Saint-Nazaire, we found we had an hour to wait for our train but this eventually arrived and carried us back to Nantes.

Café des Plantes
Café des Plantes

As yesterday when we first arrived, we went across the road to the cafe. It is called Café des Plantes and takes this name from the Jardin des Plantes or Botanical Gardens beside it.

Supported tree near Palace of the Dukes
Supported tree near Palace of the Dukes

Playing football in front of a big mirror
Playing football in front of a big mirror
Square Élisa-Mercœur

We strolled back to our hotel, taking a few photos on the way. There we made tea and had a rest, going over the day’s adventures. The next question was where to go for supper. We didn’t fancy going far so as we had noticed a pizza restaurant at the top of the street, we thought we’d try it.

On our way out, the hotel manager informed us that he would be closing up soon and reminded us that we would need the door code to get back in. We assured him we had noted it.
At the pizza place we chose our pizzas and Tigger asked for a cappuccino. This confused the waiter who evidently thought that we didn’t realize that a cappuccino is a hot drink and you apparently don’t have hot drinks with pizza. We managed to convince him that, yes, Tigger really did want a cappuccino.
On returning to the hotel, we found the door locked as we had been forewarned and we proceeded to enter the code. We tried 3 times and nothing happened. Had they changed the code without telling us (we’ve been caught like that before!)?Then I looked at the card with the number hand-written by the manager. Maybe what I thought was a 9 could be a 2? Yes, it worked. Relief!

We climbed the 49 steps to our room, put our electronic gadgets on charge and went to bed.

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