Nantes 2017 – Day 1

Wednesday, September 6th 2017

For this year’s trip to France we have chosen Nantes, a major city in western France, an area we have not visited before. The map below gives you an idea of the location of Nantes. Click to go to the corresponding Google Map.

Nantes on the map
Nantes on the map
(Click for Google Map)

Nantes was once part of Brittany but has been detached from it and included in the Pays de la Loire region (département: Loire-Atlantique), an administrative move described as ‘controversial’. (If you want to know how to pronounce the name ‘Nantes’, click on this Forvo page and then on one or more of the recordings.)

Though sited on a river and not the sea, Nantes was in times past France’s greatest port for foreign trade. The city and many of its inhabitants became wealthy through the slave trade, something that is a cause of embarrassment today with visible attempts being made to explain it away. Perhaps we should not be too harsh on Nantes, given that certain British cities also became rich on the proceeds of human trafficking. Let him who is without sin cast the first stone…

We travel from London to Nantes in two stages. We start at St Pancras we where catch the 08:54 Eurostar and disembark in Lille at 11:23. (This train then continues to Brussels and I half wish that we were staying aboard as I have good memories of our trip to the Belgian capital earlier this year, see Brussels 2017.) It’s nice to see Lille again (see Lille 2014) but we have no time to look around as we must board the 11:51 TGV to Nantes, arriving there at 15:54.

The Eurostar is a fairly comfortable train but the TGV, run by the SNCF, is better, offering more leg room, for one thing. Our train is a double-decker, rather a novelty for us Brits. Although this is a national (not international train), I notice that announcements are made in both French and English.

Though I don’t usually talk politics on this blog, I feel bound to say that France’s state-run railway system is far superior to the British system, divided as it is among many private operators, whose emphasis is on profit rather than on service. France shows how a nationalized railway can concentrate on providing an efficient service for its users instead of compromising on standards in order to benefit shareholders.

Hôtel Le Cambronne
Hôtel Le Cambronne

Disembarking at Nantes, we crossed to road to a nice-looking cafe and ordered coffee. Then we studied the map to see how to reach our hotel. Nantes, I am happy to say, has a tram network and we found there was a tram route that would take us from the station to near the hotel.

Our hotel proved a little hard to find, being located in a side street and set back from the road but we eventually located it. It is called Hôtel Le Cambronne1 and seems to be more or less a one-man business. The manager asked if we spoke French and was visibly relieved that we did.

The room is on the small side and there are not many power points (essential in this age of electronics) but we can manage. There is free Wifi but that too is flaky, not always working.

We settled in and made tea. Continental hotels, unlike their British counterparts, usually do not supply a kettle and cups. You need to remember to bring your own. We looked online for vegetarian restaurants and found that there are quite a few in Nantes and so set out to look for early supper. Below are some of the sights we encountered along the way.

Decorative ironwork, Quai de la Fosse
Decorative ironwork, Quai de la Fosse

We descended the rue Fourcroy, where the hotel is located, the the main road, Quai de la Fosse where I photographed this large building, attracted by the delicate tracery of its balcony ironwork.

Monument to colonel Villebois-Mareuil Monument to colonel Villebois-MareuilMonument to colonel Villebois-Mareuil
Monument to colonel Villebois-Mareuil
Henri Deglane, architect, Raoul Verlet, sculptor, 1902

At first sight, I thought this monument in Place de la Bourse (the Bourse, or stock exchange building, can be seen in the background) was the town war memorial but it was in fact erected in honour of Georges de Villebois-Mareuil (1847-1900), a son of Nantes and, by all accounts a dashing military man. The monument records his death in 1900 at the Battle of Boshof, South Africa, during the Second Boer War. Though France was not officially involved in the war, numbers of French and other nationalities joined the Boers against the British.

The relief panel suggests that the Boers and their French supporters, on the left, gave the British a trouncing. The truth is otherwise. Faced by superior firepower and an imminent bayonet charge by the British, the Boers left the field, urging the French to do the same. The French, however, refused and stayed to fight. Their situation, as the Boers had recognized, was impossible and, outflanked by the British and pounded by their artillery, the French suffered losses and were forced to surrender. Villebois-Mareuil himself was killed during the fighting.

Passage Pommeraye
Passage Pommeraye

The Passage Pommeraye, from this viewpoint, looks like a typical Victorian shopping arcade of the kind we find in British cities. What I didn’t realize when I took the photo (and another below) is that its is much bigger than any arcade I have previously seen, extending over several levels. It was the brainchild of Louis Pommeraye and opened in 1840. It was built in the hope that it would regenerate the rundown area in which it was built. The difficulty of the terrain and various court cases brought against the project added to the problems faced by Pommeray but he eventually succeeded. The ‘passage’ has been a commercial success but Pommeray himself was ruined financially by it and died in poverty.

Place Royale and its Fountain
Place Royale and its Fountain

The Place Royale was built in the late 18th century on ground freed up by the destruction of the medieval city walls. The design is Classical and the square was intended to be the cultural centre of the town. The fountain, which suits its setting perfectly was unveiled only in 1865. Despite the royal name, there is no palace or statuary representing the monarchy. The square was badly damaged in the Second World War and restored to its original form in the two decades that followed it.

Taj Mahal Indian Restaurant
Taj Mahal Indian Restaurant

Just off the Place Royale, we found Taj Mahal, an Indian and Pakinstani restaurant. For vegetarians in France, finding an Indian restaurant is like finding an oasis in the desert. France is not very vegetarian-friendly, though the situation is gradually improving. Taj Mahal is not a vegetarian restaurant but, like all such establishments, offers a long list of vegetarian dishes. We found the food pleasant enough but mildly flavoured, no doubt as a concession to the conservative French palate.

A glimpse of the Basilique Saint-Nicolas
A glimpse of the Basilique Saint-Nicolas

Walking along the rue de l’Arche Sèche, I looked across Square Arthur Collinet and saw what looked like a church and took a quick photo. It turns out that it is really the Basilique Saint-Nicolas and it might have been worth getting a better view of it and perhaps even looking inside. That will have to wait for another visit (if ever we make one). It was built from 1844 to 1867 and in Britian we would refer to it as ‘Victorian’. What is the French equivalent? Second Empire, perhaps.

Another entrance of the Passage Pommeraye
Another entrance of the Passage Pommeraye

We passed by another entrance of the Passage Pommeraye, now lit up and looking welcoming. However, most of the shops would have been closed by now so we did not venture in.

It was time to turn back to the hotel but just as we did so, we spotted a large flock of starlings engaged in their evening murmuration. This is always a magical sight as a huge flock of birds engages in coordinated aerial manoeuvres like a mysterious flying ballet. To be seen properly it needs to be videoed but there nearest I could manage is a GIF of several images of the dance.

Murmuration
Murmuration

The starlings finally flew down in waves to settle in the trees and we started back to our temporary home at Le Cambronne.

Our room is on the third floor and there is no lift. We have a climb of 49 steps to end the day.

________

1Pierre Jacques Étienne Cambronne (1770-1842), later Viscount Cambronne, was a native of Nantes who rose to the rank of General of the French Empire and was wounded at the battle of Waterloo.

In France you may hear mention of le mot de Cambronne (‘Cambronne’s word’). This refers to a passage in Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables where it is said that General Cambronne, on being summoned to surrender by the British General Charles Colville, replied with the common French expletive Merde! (‘Shit!), often used as a brusque refusal. The story is possibly apocryphal but has given rise to a humorous pseudonym for the word it represents.

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

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A trip to ‘N’

Friday, September 1st 2017

As of this date, I am still working to catch up with all of our travels and visits of the last few months. It is slow going and I am currently editing our trip to Glasgow at the end of June.

I am posting this in order to avoid the impression that the blog is no longer alive and also to say that we are shortly off again to spend a few days abroad. I will not say where we are going (at least, not until I manage to write up the trip) but I will give you a some of clues. Feel free to propose your solutions in a comment. (No prizes, alas!)

We are travelling to our destination by Eurostar and SNCF. The name of the city where we will be staying begins with ‘N’. A remarkable possession of the town is a mechanical elephant capable of carrying passengers.

Will we manage to ride the elephant? Wait and see!

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

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The Serpentine Pavilion 2017

Saturday, July 29th 2017

Each year, the Serpentine Gallery commissions a special temporary building called the Serpentine Pavilion and each year we dutifully make our way to Kensington Gardens to see the latest offering – see, for example, last year’s The Serpentine Pavilion and summer houses. The pictures I took of the 2017 pavilion appear below, along with some other views encountered along the way.

Nelson's Column, Trafalgar Square
Nelson’s Column, Trafalgar Square

We passed through Trafalgar Square where the hero of that sea battle, Admiral Lord Nelson, stands atop his column, as he has done for the last 170-odd years, with only pigeons and the occasional maintenance contractor for company.

Fountain with Triton
Fountain with Triton

The famous fountains were were spraying happily with their assortment of mythical beings such as the Triton seen above.

Façade of the National Gallery
Façade of the National Gallery

Overlooking the square, the National Gallery cut a fine figure in the sunlight.

Imperial Standards of Length
Imperial Standards of Length

One of the more interesting items in the square – and one that is easily missed – is the pair of brass plaques, made by Troughton & Simms in 1876, showing the imperial standards of length. The lengths shown are one foot, two feet and one yard, respectively. On the bottom row, and less noticeable, are three hatched squares, each exactly one inch wide and tall. I don’t know whether people any longer have recourse to this standard to check their measuring equipment, especially as, according to the attached notice, they should do so only when the ambient temperature is exactly 62°F (approx. 16.7°C).

Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park
Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park
(Click for Google Map)

We took a bus to Kensington Road and got off at the Albert Hall. Kensington Road forms the southern boundary of a large park (see map above). The park is divided roughly into two halves by a drive that crosses it from north to south. On the eastern side of the roadway, it is called Hyde Park and on the western side, Kensington Gardens.

Albert Memorial
Albert Memorial

Near the road, and placed to be in sight of the Albert Hall, is one of our most opulent monuments, the Albert Memorial, unveiled in 1872 by a grieving Queen Victoria in memory of her husband, Prince Albert, who died aged only 42 in 1861.

The Golden Prince
The Golden Prince

The statue shows the prince, seated as though in thought, perhaps contemplating his many achievements. He is completely gilded, and the whole monument is expensively decorated. The architect was the renowned George Gilbert Scott.

The Serpentine Pavilion 2017
The Serpentine Pavilion 2017

There are in fact two Serpentine Galleries, one to the south (see map) called the Serpentine Gallery, and one to the north called the Serpentine Sackler Gallery. The pavilion is sited beside the former. This year’s pavilion was designed by Francis Kéré. Full information on the architect and the design will be found on this Serpentine Gallery page.

Here are some more views of the pavilion:

The Serpentine Pavilion 2017

The Serpentine Pavilion 2017

The Serpentine Pavilion 2017

The Serpentine Pavilion 2017

The Serpentine Pavilion 2017

The Serpentine Pavilion 2017

There was a coffee stall inside the pavilion and this encouraged people to dawdle and to sit a while inside the building. And why not? This, after all, is the intended function of the pavilion.

The Serpentine, looking east
The Serpentine, looking east

On our way out, we took the drive which crosses the Serpentine lake from which the gallery takes its name. I took this photo from the bridge, looking east.

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

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