This is the second part of my travel adventures in France. See part one here.
Our trip to France wasn’t an overly planned thing. We had 3 core destinations to cover in a week: Paris, Nantes and Bordeaux. My girlfriend had made reservations for a room near Nantes, had arranged for TGV tickets from Paris to Le Mans and rented a car so we could drive around once we got there.
The rest was up to our inspiration.
I feel I remained rather passive for the first half of the trip. In part because C. had far more experience as a leisure traveller, I travelled a lot but mostly for business. It was also because I hadn’t prepared anything for the trip. I had been rushing to complete several writing assignments before leaving and kept brushing trip research. While it didn’t impair my overall appreciation of the trip much, I now realize that it likely would have made for a more satisfying experience. I could have suggested activities that were more in line with my interests and compare them to what C. had in mind. It happens that we’re both natural leaders and I realized that I prefer to have my own series of options ready. Thus, we would have both exchanged on an equal footing before reaching a compromise that satisfied us both. As I think back, I realize that not choosing among a set of options I contributed to annoyed me.
Our stay in Nantes was a good case in point.
We got our first taste of “French customer service” at the car rental counter in Le Mans. The Avis rep apparently didn’t like dealing with people. She grudgingly gave us our car keys after we refused the bogus car insurance Avis tries to push on all renters. My own car insurance covered the rented car already.We took the TGV from Paris to Le Mans. I was excited to finally experience the fabled European 300+ kmh train ride… but jetlag and the prior night’s bottle of red wine got the better of me. I slept throughout the 55 min trip.
We managed to decipher French traffic signs and made it to a very colorful village called Trentemoult situated on the Loire river right across from Nantes. Previously a fishing village, it now seemed to house lower to middle class Nantaises families and retirees, not to mention several waterfront bistros and crèperies. Our B&B hostess Françoise was absolutely adorable. Our room was both cozy and comforting, situated across Françoise’s house. It had its own terrase, private toilet and shower.
As nice as Trentemoult was, my visit of Nantes left me unsatisfied. It’s the part of my trip where I felt I spent the most time walking through disputably interesting sights and closed attractions. The sights were of little interest to me, one shop owner annoyed me with his over-the-top promoting of everything Nantes and I was really tired after spending 3 days straight walking so much.
I know, I know, I’m being unfair to the city. We visited it on a Monday and a Tuesday of the low season, which means we hit a lot of closed doors in terms of shops, restaurants (Monday) and museums (Tuesday). That was compounded by our inexperience in deciphering France’s byzantine business hours practices, where shops close from noon till 2 PM and restaurants close from 2 to 7 PM. We ended up wasting a lot of time, which might have been better spent drinking wine and eating cheese in a park.
Hence the whole preface about prep. I now realize I made the mistake of keeping my mouth shut about finding a way to balance sightseeing with some more mundane Café lounging and wine drinking… which we did on our second day at tea time at the awesome turn-of-the-20th century La Cigale café.
Fortunately, a few things saved the Nantes trip. First, we visited the absolutely awesome “Les Machines de l’Ile“. It’s an open-to-the-public workshop where artisans and machinists build hand-crafted, animated machines. We rode a ginormous wood-sculpted elephant that spewed water from its fully articulated trunk, flapped its leather ears and slowly brought us from the site’s amazing (but closed) marine life carroussel to the machinist’s workshop. We were shown the next project they were working on: A 50 m-high steel and wood tree-shaped garden featuring several mechanical “rides” like 2-seater mechanical cranes (as in the birds), walking ants and crawling worms that will move from one branch to the next.
The second thing I loved was buying our own meals of fruits, cheeses, bread, pates, pastries and wine at a local supermarket. Eating on our little terrace was quite an unexpected bonus for this “always eats out” traveller. And much cheaper too!This is something one needs to see before dying… Just make sure to come during the weekend outside of the high season.
My unspoken trip goal was to drink a lot of wine… I consider that achievement unlocked!
As we prepared to leave Nantes, gorging ourselves with crèpes, butter cookies and croissants, C. and I mused that the whole region likely sat on a butter mine, it’s the only way to explain why it was everywhere. We also theorized about what kept the French so thin. Our best guesses: 1) Living in 6 story-high apartments without elevators. 2) Walking around so much on slanted streets.
Highlights of Nantes:
- L’ile des Machines (Must see before you die)
- Trentemoult Village
- Françoise’s B&B and her butter crèpes.
- La Cigale’s tea time