Saturday, 31 August 2013

But we didn't see the elephant ...

‘Why are you going to Nantes?’ Everyone asked us...
Well, first of all, it’s in France, and we like to get over there at least once a year on a short break, whether we’ve arranged our main holiday there or not.
Second, it’s on a fast train route, so wimps like me who won’t go on a boat can get there via Eurostar.
But the main reason for picking Nantes itself was because of the Great Elephant.
Those of you paying attention at the time of Liverpool’s year as European City of Culture might have heard of La Princesse, the Enormous Spider that patrolled the streets there in 2008. She was made by a company in Nantes that specialises in such automata, Les Machines de L’Île. Le Grand Éléphant is another of their creations, and I wanted to see it.
We arrived in the early afternoon at the beginning of the really hot weather - mid-July. After an 8.15 am Eurostar from Ebbsfleet, and an uneventful connection from Gare du Nord to Gare Montparnasse on the Metro we had travelled westwards on a TGV line that we hadn’t been over before, and set out for the hotel. We reached the Tourist Office first, who pinpointed the street on a free map of the town, so we were easily able to find the hotel and book in. Despite it only being about 3 pm, after our early start - 4 am alarm - and the heat, we just couldn’t summon enough energy to go looking for elephants that afternoon, so we rested and then had a stroll round the immediate area, which was full of pavement restaurants, and found a splendid crêpérie for our evening meal.

Castle Bailey - still wet!
Thus fortified, we explored a little further and found Le Cigalle - a restaurant recommended to us - and booked for the next evening.
Thunder and heavy rain in the early morning didn’t daunt us, and after learning of the birth of Prince George of Wales - though his name was still unknown - via the French television news in the breakfast room, we set out for the castle as somewhere undercover for the morning.

L'Oubliette in the sunshine 

By the time we were finished from a fascinating tour, the rain had stopped, and it was lunchtime, so we ate in the open-air L’Oubliette in the castle bailey, and after walking round the walls and crossing the moat, went up to the cathedral forecourt to catch the tourist train. For whatever reason, the 2.30 train was not running, so we spent time in the cathedral itself and then caught the 3 pm one, which took us all around the city, and past Le Cigalle, as well as the ‘Île des Machines.’

The Tourist Train

We could see the Marine Carousel and the beginnings of the Heron Tree … but no sign of the Elephant.
We completed our tour of the cathedral and its crypt, and bought a few goodies in La Trinitaine - a shop specialising in Breton delicacies - before returning to the hotel to change ready for Le Cigalle. We walked there through the newly restored Passage Pomméry, a nineteenth-century shopping arcade set into the side of the hill.

Le Cigalle

The ‘Place’ where the restaurant is situated was under repair, so the outside of the building is not currently at its best, and the outside tables had been moved round the corner from where they were the previous evening, according to the changing area of the work being done. But we had booked, so an inside table was reserved for us … in the most riotous Art Nouveau suite of rooms you could wish to see.

Inside Le Cigalle

The food lived up to the surroundings, so we felt our second day had been a success.

...fell from the sky?

The next morning saw us finding ‘the wall that fell from the sky’ and then taking the tram to the Talensac market. 

Talensac Market -
southern outer arcade

Apparently it is so well-thought-of that it is on the American tourist route, and certainly it is well up with other ‘halles’ we have seen. 

Japanese Gardens

From there it was a short walk beside a tributary of the Loire to L’Île de Versailles - another former industrial area that was made into a Japanese garden in the 1980s.

Looking towards New York!

Another short tram hop [all included in the city pass we’d bought, which got us into the castle and on the tourist train without extra payment, too] and we were at La Tour de Bretagne - self-styled 'the only skyscraper between Paris and New York,' taking a lift up the 32 storeys to Le Nid. The covered balcony all the way round gave us wonderful views across the city; we were able to pick out where we had been - though we couldn’t manage to discern either Paris or New York on the east or western horizons! 

Stork's head ...

...and his body - and the eggs!

Our city passes also came up trumps for a free drink at the bar inside, where we could sit on the neck of a giant stork - the bar was his body - and look over the parapet to the views. 

Our table, and the individual chairs, were like hard boiled eggs.

Duchess Anne of Britanny

Another open-air lunch, though nothing special - our antennae let us down this time , and we returned to the hotel to cool off. We had planned to go back to ‘L’Île des Machines’ in the afternoon to see all the automata and perhaps even get a ride on the Elephant himself … but it was just too hot, and we couldn’t manage to get ourselves out again until the evening cool, when we strolled round the corner to find a Moroccan restaurant. Wonderful briques, couscous, Boulaouane rosé wine, and mint tea - oh yes, and an Île flottant between us for pud.

The final morning was just a quick march for the train before the day heated up. Then another hot metro crossing of Paris and Eurostar home. We had a lovely time - we must go back some time …

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