I learned from my homestay parents Monday evening that you should always get to the train station 20 minutes before your train is scheduled to depart. It came up in conversation because I spoke of how I am habituated to get to the airport really early, but for trains, it feels like you can just hop on at the last minute. They were shocked at this carefree atitude, but we quickly realized it is another difference of culture; I don't take fast trains in America because we don't have them, so I've never had to worry about missing one. It was on my mind because I got on my train to Nantes about two minutes before it left. Not smart, but I had some Metro problems. Should have planned ahead. Oh well, lesson learned. But the whole story begs the question, why go to Nantes?
Nantes is a city in Pays de la Loire, but has historically is part of Bretagne. Its the sixth largest city in France and is about two hours SW of Paris by TGV (still love it). Beforehand, I didn't find anything particularly noteworthy about it, but I went as I felt to urge to see more of France, and I wanted to see my great friend Walker who studies there. Once again, he proved that traveling somewhere where you know someone who can be a guide is very valuable.
Nantes was somewhere I had considered studying, and as the TGV zipped along the beautiful Loire river with reflections of trees and glorious chateaus, I worried a bit about loving the city and regretting my decision to stay in Paris. But things have a way or working themselves out.
My train left a foggy Paris before sunrise, but came into Nantes with the sun beating down, attempting to heat its way through the low temperatures. Content with the sunshine, I dealt with the cold as I embraced Walked. We proceeded on a vast walking tour of the city. Walker was a great tour guide, which really aided the experience. After seeing the huge cathedral and the ancient chateau (which was really cool because you could see its development over time through the architectural styles) we got an incredible brunch. Strong coffee, some of the best bread I've had in France (which is saying a lot), a plethora of artisanal confitures, a milky honey, and Speculoos spread with eggs and real bacon. Our stomachs content, we chuckled at their inability to understand the American credit card (that swipes instead of using a chip), and set off on our way.
We saw a number of stores, including the oldest chocolate store in Nantes (it smelled of chocolate and history...), the Christmas market (much more jovial than the one on the Champs-Elysees, a mall in a cool building and more. At the Christmas market we tried a number of foie gras, cheeses and hams. they were all delicious, as was the vin chaud to wash them down. Along the way I learned that streets in Nantes were often named after there inhabitants, for example rue de la chapéliers is where the hat-makers were found. Pretty cool.
Walking across the city to the large island in the middle, Walker told me all about the fascinating modernization of Nantes. In an eco-friendly effort, they are attempting to rid the city of cars. Their methods of achieving this goal are increased public transit, and a network of roads that make driving a pain. Not bad in my opinion. There is also construction everywhere. We walked all the way down the island to an area called Hanger à Banane, which houses clubs at night. Along the way we saw the new Palais de Justice a super boring modern building because the new Nantes Radisson is in the old classically styled building. We also saw a great tourist attraction, a huge mechanical elephant in the old shipping yard. It was cool to look at but at noon on Saturday we were apparently up too early for things like that.
After more exploring, including numerous churches and stores, evening came and we tried to go to the Musée des Beaux-Arts. The real museum seemed to be closed (bummer) but we were able to get in free to see one temporary exhibit on 15th century French painting. It was cool because the building was not a space intended as a museum, rather a large stone building with temporary walls put up to hang the paintings. It gave a lot of space around each painting with added to the awe of their depth and perfect rendering of their subject. There highlight of the exhibit was a large work of a meal with Jesus and the Pharases. It had been immaculately restored and there was a video detailing the restoration. Its a painfully slow and meticulous process, but I was glad to see behind the scenes. The problem was that someone had folded the canvas for a number of years, which caused huge faded lines on the creases. On the canvas, you could see the marks from the folds, but the color had been perfected as if brand new. Wonderous.
We left the museum with perfect timing for the sunset to leave an array of colors across the slightly cloudy sky. The departure of the sun meant a change from cultural activities to eating and drinking and we started off the night at Delirium. Delirium is renowned for its huge selection of beer, as well as the strong beers that it offers (some are 12 percent alcohol!). It is also in Brussels, or so I thought. There turns out to be one in Nantes also, so we had a great dinner trying different beers and eating beouf carbonnade. From there we had a typical night of college libations, with the inclusion of a frisbee. Walking around Nantes at night tossing the disc around brought back memories of college back in UPS and made for an awesome time.
Despite the clouds it actually was sunny for a good portion of the time! Keep on adventuring
It rained the next morning, signaling my departure. Sad to leave my friend, I hopped on the TGV. Given some time to reflect, I thought that I like Nantes a lot, but I'm prefer to be studying abroad in Paris. In Nantes, one could quickly run out of new things to do, where I constantly try to see all the things I want in Paris. Also, as Paris is a major hub of travel in W. Europe, it facilitates very easy international travel. As worldwide exploration is a serious goal of mine, I wouldn't trade Paris' airports and train stations for much. Finally, the sunshine I enjoyed in Nantes was seemingly rare. Apparently, as one person put, Nantes is wet and grey. It sure is beautiful though.