The kids had been home only a few minutes before I got a wild hare and said
“Let’s go to Nantes!”
Nantes is located on the Western side of France, which means a long, long drive. It would have been a perfect trip for a three day weekend, but I thought we could squish it into two if we headed out right away. Mark didn’t wince at the idea (he loves long road trips) and the kids just said “Where are we going now?” I mentioned Jules Verne and one of their favorite movies, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea.
I said we’d get crepes. They gave me the thumbs up.
We got a rental car again instead of using the rail system. At the end of this month we’ll be using Eurail tickets for our spring break trip. After that experience I’ll do a cost and convenience comparison. Look forward to lots of practical and technical stuff then, mmkay?
The fastest route was through Saint-Ettiene and then around to Clermont-Ferrand where we stayed the night. The next day we made great time and stopped in Saumur for lunch. Our skills at reading French menus have improved, but not by much. We’ve learned to prepare ourselves for a surprise every time our order is brought to us.
If you aren’t feeling adventurous with your food, you can always ask “Avez-vous un menu anglais?” and sometimes they will dig one out. Desserts are fun no matter what you get. Here are the before and after images:
Oh yeah. Besides crepes, there was this castle.
As I mentioned, we practically drove across the entire country. Many areas reminded us of western Wisconsin; dotted with farmhouses set amongst rolling hills. Getting out of the city and enjoying a good dose of spring-time in the country was a reason in itself, but there was a purpose and destination to this trip: Les Machines de L’ile.
There is a small museum in Nantes set up in Jules Verne’s honor, but I wanted to see the extremely cool projects dreamt up from his inspiration – ones that were part art and part technology – creations that inspire and wake up the dreamer in all of us. Here is how the artists and inventors of Les Machines describe themselves:
The Machines de l’Ile is an artistic and a tourist project. It is a blend of the invented worlds of Jules Verne, the mechanical universe of Leonardo da Vinci, and the industrial history of Nantes, on an exceptional site in the former shipyards. A ride on the 12-meter tall Great Elephant, climb aboard the Marine Worlds Carrousel of 27 moving sea creatures or the Heron Tree to fly over the hanging gardens.
We finally made it to Nantes in the late afternoon and then had trouble finding the place. Nantes is the 6th largest city in France and half of their streets are dead ends! I starting worrying. Would we miss it after driving this far? When do ticket sales end?
Once we got close enough, it was hard to miss. A giant, mechanical elephant traipsed along the Loire River carrying dozens of people. We could hear the thing bellowing from across the river. I took it as a congratulations and breathed a sigh of relief. I bet Jules, author of books with titles like Five Weeks in a Balloon, Journey to the Center of the Earth, Around the World in 80 Days, etc. would’ve been proud of us and our journey.
Inside the workshop, there were all sorts of creations to look at. Most were set up so visitors could climb onto (or into) the structures and operate them (but only one at a time and with the supervision of a museum attendant).
I love the artistic renderings. This is steampunk at its finest.
We did run out of time. There was another section to see but they were bringing the elephant into the shipyard for the day, so I decided to head outside and watch.
Made of wood and metal like all of the other creations I’d seen, it sprayed me with a mist of water from its trunk. Kailas had taken cover in the gift shop, and wasn’t interested at all in seeing the giant elephant close up. As a matter of fact, Sagan didn’t want to hop on any of those contraptions we’d seen, either. Here are more photos of this place from another blogger, and below is a video I shot of this kinetic colossus as it “walked” by:
Les Machines also has a giant spider which tours around the world and can be hired to show up at special events. The next presentation will actually be in Rheims, France this coming weekend! The people who created Les Machines also worked on this giant marionette, which I find a bit spooky.
Nantes (pronounced Nau) was a city that deserves another trip someday. We strolled the narrow streets that evening, finally not in a hurry to be anywhere or do anything in particular. I’ve seen a lot of crepe machines so far, but never so many in one place:
The next day we had a long drive ahead of us, but we made such incredible time we decided to jump off of the freeway and take a few winding backroads home, stopping along the way for treats, of course.
I’ll admit that for comforts sake, it would’ve been better to allow more time for such a trip. Our weekends are filled until May 21st however, so I took the opportunity now because it might not come my way again. The kids better get used to that!