Nantes

Through November I’m going to do a travelogue each day from our trips. I didn’t get around to it at the time and it feels right to do it now.

Before 2010 I never travelled. I was held back by “What if?” type thoughts and food issues. That changed when I met now wife Sam. She introduced me to Europe and to being able to travel. It’s still stressful and complicated to get somewhere but I’ve done it enough times now that I know I can again. 2020 was supposed to be our last hurrah around Europe to cap off 10 years of travel before Brexit made everything even more complicated. Europe has been such a great place to travel around. We’ve never had any issues and everyone has been welcoming.

Nantes, France.

September 2010

We arrive in Nantes late on Saturday evening. Tired and hungry we tour the city looking for food. My first real night in France and the only place that seems to be open is McDonalds. We keep looking and settle on chips from a little fast food place. At least it’s authentic genuine local food right? On our way back to the hotel we stop in a small bar for a draught pint of Kronenbourg 1664. My wife, then girlfriend, teaches me what to say and I ask for 2 beers. We sit outside and watch the world pass us by feeling good about our first night. People wearing shopping bags walk past us. It’s an interesting night.

The next day is all about wandering the city, seeing the sights and visiting Les Machines de l’île. They’re the people behind the Sultan’s Elephant in London and we were inspired to visit them after seeing a similar project, La Machine (the spider), in Liverpool. I, of course, want to visit late in the day when the light is right. As we cross a bridge we see the Sultan’s Elephant wandering around the docks and all my ideas of perfect light go out the window. It was an amazing sight to see. A dinosaur sized elephant made of wood and metal wandering around an old dockyard.

I never realised just how similar Nantes was to Liverpool. An old port city that reinvented itself with art and culture. They had been doing this for over a decade before Liverpool did its Capital of Culture year. My wife and I have always planned to go back there and really explore. Our 2010 trip was mainly to visit Les Machines de l’île before heading to Paris. One day…

As we watched the elephant walk around my wife mentions to the crew that we’re from Liverpool. They say “This is for you. Watch.” The elephant stands proudly and shoots water from its trunk. Amazing! The people behind the elephant are incredibly talented. The machine is beautifully crafted and a wonder to see. If you get the chance to go I highly recommend it.

After watching the elephant we go on a tour of their workshop. We get to see what they’re working on next. A multi-storey carrousel inspired by Jules Verne. There are boats to ride on and sea creatures to play with. They’re all beautifully crafted and so much fun to see come to life. As it’s my birthday I get to ride on a sea creature and operate the controls. It’s so cool. We’re having so much fun we almost miss the elephant walk through the workshop and get in the queue for tickets to ride it.

The elephant ride is great fun. There was plenty of space to move around on it. You never felt like you were getting in the way of someone else’s photo. Of course this was 2010 and Instagram wasn’t a thing then. The ride goes around the outside of the workshop before entering and you’re about 1 storey high. It’s an interesting perspective on the area. I really loved it.

The following day was my birthday. We wandered with no real plan other than to wander. I love a good wander. The joy is in the wander not the destination. There’s no need to rush or get somewhere. Wherever you are is the right place at the right time. Enjoy it. We wander. We enjoy it. There are little 8bit styled pixel art on the corner of the streets. Most places are closed for some reason on a Monday but we find food in a restaurant called Amour de Pomme de Terre. We get chips with a side of baked potato (yup), some greens and steak. The steak is cut but not cooked. It’s a fun little activity during the meal as we cook each slice to our liking. I’ve never seen it anywhere else and that’s a shame.

Our next day is the trip to Paris. My first time there.

Pete

Photographer and part time Spider-man.