Saturday, January 31, 2009

Nantes (Dec 26-28)

Number one impression of Nantes was COLD. The city is located on an estuary and there is nothing like the chill of wind coming off the water. Our hotel was outside of the city center so we had to take the tram and a bus to get to it. The room was small and very nautically themed. It could have been a cabin on a hokey cruise ship. We were exhausted from our marathon through Paris so we basically settled in and watched the 'Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer' in French before passing out.

The next day was our only actual day in Nantes since we had gotten in after dinner time the night before and were leaving early the following day to get to Geneva. We got up early to face the frigid cold wind again and catch public transport back into town. We had breakfast at a cafe on the main road and then got Nantes day passes so we had unlimited public transport and free admission to a lot of the touristy things. The first place we visited was the castle of the dukes of Brittany. The castle is just off the river and still has a moat around it. It wasn't as big as Warwick castle but it had even more of a fairy-tale-esque feel to it. There was a museum of the history of Nantes inside one of the buildings. It was probably one of the most informative museums I've been to since I came to Europe. Nantes is mostly a residential city now but it used to be a major industrial hub and a political hotspot (apparently the politics haven't completely died out either). Two of its hay-days were during the slave trade and then sugar processing. Nowadays its known on a smaller scale for cookies and candy. There's an old cookie factory across from the castle that has a tower you can climb and look out over Nantes.

We decided that we wanted to over Nantes in a different fashion. Leanna had heard about this place called Les Machines de L'ile which was the reason we decided to go to Nantes in the first place. It's a small sort of theme park with mechanical animals you can ride on. Much of it is still being designed and built but they completed a 14 meter high mechanical elephant that we can ride on like an Indian War elephant. We bought tickets for an elephant ride and got free admission to the machine gallery with our Nantes day passes. The gallery houses the machines that are being built for a sort of carousel inspired by Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. (Random Fact: Jules Verne was born and lived in Nantes.) So far they've built a crab, a giant squid, an Angler fish, and a couple other fish. The small creature holds two people and they all had levers and other controls so the people riding it could move tenticles, fins, claws, etc. One of the coolest things about the creatures was that they were obviously made out of wood and steel. The elephant ride was freezing due to that stupid wind but other than that it was awesome. We don't really appreciate how huge 14 meters is until you actually see the elephant. It was massive. We watched the end of the ride immediately before ours and were shocked to see the amount of expression and personality the machine conveyed. The ears flapped, eyes blinked, and trunk swayed. At randoms time the trunk would spray a mist at any kids who got too close. Watching the elephant go by in the setting sun it was really easy to forget that there was a human driving the machine and it couldn't think for itself. After the elephant ride we headed for the gift shop. We mostly wanted to thaw out a little but being two RPI nerds was also wanted to find some sort of souvenir because we were wowed by the mechanics and physics involved in everything we had just seen. To our surprise there was very little that was unique to the attraction. The majority of the gift shop was devoted to random elephant and sea life inspired toys. There were postcards of the animals but we were hoping for something a little nicer than that. Finally in the back corner we found a few things that at least said "Les Machines de L'ile" on them. The nicest thing we could find were tins with butter cookies in them. We each got a tin because they were pretty nice and had the logo of the attraction on them. It turned out to be a very good decision because the cookies were amazing! Once the tin was empty it proved to be a safe place to store the rest of my souvenirs during the trip.

The last thing we saw before searching out dinner and going to sleep was the Buren's Rings. These rings are set out along the edge of the same river island as Les Machines. They light up different colors at night and make for some pretty pictures. We went at sunset and were still able to get some good shots. Dinner was a quick affair at a cafe followed by chocolate eclairs from a bakery shop. After eating that chocolate eclair I will never be able to enjoy supermarket eclairs as much ever again. It was soooo good.

Once we were back at the hotel it took us a while to thaw out to the point that we could fall asleep. We were definitely not looking forward to our early morning train to get to Geneva, especially if it was still going to be so cold outside. Alas, morning came and it was freezing but we easily made our train and were on our way to Switzerland!

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