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
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
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
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.
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
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.)
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
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
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
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
The beach, so crowded and full of activity in the film, was today virtually deserted.
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
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
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
Playing football in front of a big mirror
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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