Tuesday, August 11, 2015


Nantes Place Royal
On our first day in Nantes we decided to walk to the city center to explore the town.  There was a large sculpture and fountain in a square named "Place Royale".  We ate sandwiches while sitting at the foot of the fountain.  Later, after reading some information about the history of Nantes, I learned that the city came under some heavy bombing by the Allied forces in 1943.  The picture here shows the "Place Royal" after the bombings but somehow the fountain remained intact.  This definitely provided a good perspective on the history of the city.   Nantes was larger than I expected and had an active city center with many shops and restaurants.  It was busy but much less crowded than Paris.

We went to the a Hyper SuperMarche  (Something like a Super Target) on the outskirts of town to do grocery shopping for the week. The grocery store was built in a large indoor mall called Atlantis that would rival many of the big malls in the United States.    I noted a couple of differences however.  First of all, you have to insert a coin into the shopping cart to unlock it for use.  (I guess that helps people return them to the correct location which is the only way you can get your money back).  Once you have your cart you can go up moving walkways to different levels of the mall.   I've seen something similar to this at IKEA.   Here however you can have your cart full of groceries in the mall and then go into a clothing store like H&M or Hollister or some upscale jewelry store.  That part was a bit bizarre.  One of the things I've really enjoyed about many of the places we have stayed at is that there are small markets in walking distance of our apartments.  You can get things fresh that day for what you plan to eat. There are also boulangeries on every corner with amazing breads.  It's definitely a different way to get your food and that's why I was a bit surprised to see the mega mall in France.   I'm not sure how popular it is with the locals, but it's my guess that there are a fair amount of people who like to get their food the old traditional way for this region.

Atlantis Shopping Center
Nantes is only about an hour away from the Atlantic Ocean so we decided to take a day to go and relax at the beach.  We drove out to La Baule where we read that they had a nice sandy beach that was 5km long.  It was indeed nice sand and the town was quaint with a cool beachy feel.  We spent most of the day building sandcastles and throwing the ball.  The water was a bit cool but we decided to venture in.  To our amazement the water continued to be very shallow.  We walked out probably about 50 meters and the water was still only to my knees.  Out probably 200 meters and it was still below my waist.  As it got later in the afternoon, the water started to retreat due to the tides.  One of the guys near us on the beach said you can make it all the way out to the lighthouse which seemed a very long way away.   We decided to give it a try and we did get there with the water up to our chests at the end.  I decided to look on a map when we got back to see how far it was that we walked through the water.   The picture below shows our route and it was approximately 1 km from the beach.   Now, I grew up in a land locked state so I'm not well versed with beaches and the tides but I thought it was quite extraordinary that you could walk out that far.   I've never done that before!

Beach at LaBaule France.  We were able to walk about 1km to the Lighthouse through the water
Playing at the beach

We took one day to go to a big park by the apartment named Parc Proce.  We tried going here on a previous evening but it was closed as there was a fence around the entire park with locked gates. That's something I'm not used to as the parks I've been to in the United States don't have locks.   Once we were in, the park had some very nice flower gardens.  We also found a sort of kids bobsled track that they could race down while riding in little carts with wheels.  Eden enjoyed it and didn't want to quit.  She ended up getting another ride as the man working there gave her another token for free.   

Parc Proce Flower Garden
Joel going down the bobsled track in the park

One of the highlights of Nantes is Les Machines de l'ile.   It is an artistic project that combines the worlds of Jules Verne (who was born in Nantes, France) and Leonardo da Vinci.  The main attraction is a huge mechanical Elephant that 50 people get on and ride.  As the elephant is walking around the grounds it sprays water out of it's trunk and on the people watching it.   Caleb and Danielle also had the opportunity to try out two of the other machines that were built.   They also have a huge three story carousel with a marine theme where each of the seats was on another machine that the kids could control. 

Joel, Eden and Danielle with Le Grand Elephant
After our ride on the Elephant

Side view of the Elephant
Danielle on a Fish machine creation

Caleb on mechanical Inchworm

Joel and Caleb in a shell on the Marine Carousel

On one of the last days we drove 2 hours north to Mont Saint Michel which is a small island with a church only 1 km off the coastline of the Normandy region of France.   The tides here can vary up to 46 ft which are some of the largest in all of Europe.  The abbey was built in the 8th century AD and was a site for pilgrimages.     Today it seems like a modern day tourist pilgrimage as the number of people, parking lots, and shuttle buses seemed to replicate Disney World.    It was worth it though as it really was an incredible site.   We had lunch at a nearby restaurant of mussels and fries (moules frites) and it was fantastic.  Best mussels I've ever had.   Tomorrow we head off south through Bordeaux and to Pamplona Spain.

Note from Caroline:  Fortunately, there was an AMAZING bakery/pastry shop only 200 meters away from where we are staying, that have the best pain au chocolat (chocolate croissants), croissants, baguettes, and tarts. Unfortunately, there in an AMAZING bakery/pastry shop only 200 meters away from where we are staying that have the best pain au chocolat (chocolate croissants), croissants, baguettes, and tarts.

Mont St Michel

On the West Terrace of the Abbey on Mont St Michel

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