On Friday one of my friends and I boarded a train at 6:18 in the morning, leaving the familiar city of Angers behind to venture to the unknown Nantes. Our weeks had been crazy and stressful with the last weeks of school quickly approaching and a day trip where we left all of that behind was just what the doctor ordered. We arrived in Nantes before the sun had broken over the horizon, our first explorations of the city occurring in the dark blue of the French pre-dawn sky.
We wandered through a closed down carnival, through sleepy streets full of students and businessmen hurrying towards their schools or offices.
Boulangeries were open, spontaneous meccas of light and the scents of freshly baked baguettes and pastries spilling out onto the streets.
Statues of Charles de Gaulle are everywhere in France, but only in Nantes have I seen one where the locals gave him a bottle of beer to hold while overseeing one of the town squares.
In our explorations we stumbled upon Nantes' market, which apparently occurs on a daily basis as opposed to the twice-weekly market in Angers. Outside were stalls of beautiful produce, blooming flowers, and freshly pressed juice. There was an indoor part as well that was full of stalls selling meat, cheese, seafood, pastries, bread, juice; really anything you could think of, someone was selling it. The market reminded me of Pike Place Market in Seattle, which immediately made me feel right at home.
I still have no words for how beautiful spring is here in France. Everyone needs to experience it at least once in their lives.
I found this dandelion that took three deep breaths to disperse all of the seeds. I wished for a wonderful day in Nantes and I am happy to report that my wish was granted!
We also found some interesting French graffiti while exploring. Both of us would have missed this piece if we hadn't looked down at the sidewalk.
One of Nantes' many charming squares as the city began to awake.
Both of us had eaten breakfast before leaving, but with a few hours between that meal and when we wanted to eat lunch we decided to stop at a café and have second breakfast. We ended up at Stratto, where I had an espresso and a pain au chocolat and my friend had a beignet framboise.
After fueling up and resting our feet a little we decided to head out exploring again. This time we followed the tram tracks and city bicycle maps to find Les Machines de L'île, where we had learned a giant mechanical elephant lived.
This sculpture also reminded me a lot of Seattle and the work at the Seattle Art Museum.
One thing I've really learned while traveling around Europe this semester is that looking at every city with wide eyes on a daily basis is astoundingly rewarding. Every nook and cranny has been put to use and it's amazing to see the beauty in all of these cities.
Next on our list, while waiting for Les Machines de L'île to open, was finding the Jardin des Plantes. It ended up being the complete opposite direction of where we were in Nantes at the time and once we finally found it, after getting lost a few times, the first thing we did was collapse on a bench and chug water. After we felt sufficiently restored, we saw that straight ahead of us was a pen full of adult and baby goats. We walked in, pet all of the goats and were able to pick up this sweet little kid and cuddle it. It was the happiest baby goat I've ever seen, content to just be held and pet while it tried to eat my bag strap, my jacket, my sweater, and my hand.
After about fifteen straight minutes cuddling baby goats, we began our explorations of the rest of the garden. There was a large number of ducks and a lot of them were just chilling on the grass like these.
By the café in the garden there was a giant playground, which my friend and I immediately took to. We spent about fifteen minutes amusing ourselves on a giant see-saw, and took turns swinging on this swing. Sometimes being a kid again is the most refreshing thing in the world.
I loved seeing how the gardens were kept in a way that allowed for rows of benches to exist in private-seeming alcoves like this on the edges. Many of the benches were full of people eating their lunch and talking. Hey, if I lived in Nantes, I'd be eating my lunch in the botanical garden every day too!
After the Jardin des Plantes, we decided it was time for lunch. Because of Lent my friend can't eat meat on Fridays so we agreed to look for some really good cheese paninis. It was a happy accident when we found La Tartinerie and bought the best three cheese paninis that we've had while in France. I can't tell you what types of cheese were inside, but I can tell you that a) they were delicious, b) there was a garlic spread inside as well, and c) the paninis came with tomatoes. Absolute heaven. We also had the pleasure of eating our lunch right in front of the local chateau and watching hordes of school children enter and exit on what we assumed were field trips.
The bench where we ate is right behind this statue, but it was the cutest thing when the old couple on the left sat down and began to sketch the statue. It made me yearn for my sketchbook and to explore a city and capture it through drawings instead of photographs.
This chateau was different than any other I've seen while in France thus far because it actually had water in the moat!
While looking for Les Machines de L'île again we got terribly lost, and ended up by a skate park. But it had this structure right next to it and we were surprised at the contrast between the ancient architecture and the more modern mural on the inside.
Finally, it was time to ride the elephant! My friend and I excitedly paid for our tickets and waited in line before climbing aboard, going first to the very top and then exploring the lower level. The elephant walked very slowly and it also blew water out of its trunk. The journey was about 45 minutes in total, and it doesn't go terribly far, but it was worth every minute.
After riding the elephant we spent the next few hours just wandering around some more, getting lost and finding our way back to the main road.
With less than two hours left until our train back to Angers, we found the carnival we had passed through earlier that morning, but all lit up and running.
There were dozens of these claw machines, each with different prizes, but this was by far my favorite. Especially since the dolls would sing Gangnam Style (apparently)!
We had planned on getting crêpes while in Nantes, as Nantes is the birthplace of the delicious culinary delight, but after hours and hours of walking around in the sun some ice cream seemed like a more enticing decision. I ended up getting vanilla while my friend got strawberry.
We ended up riding one ride while we were at the carnival before having to head back to the train and begin the journey to Angers. My piece of advice: do NOT ride The Shaker. No matter what you do. Ride a crazy rollercoaster instead, you'll be much happier.
All photographs were taken by me with the exception of the ones which I am in, which were all taken by my friend.