Touring! (the town of Nantes)

No class today. Trash bins crammed tightly in the doorway of my high school again.  So instead of grumbling about the strike, I’ve decided that a good use of my morning would be to tell you about all of the enjoyable things I did last weekend. Just in case you didn’t think I was enjoying Nantes, here’s the lighter side of French life.
Krista and her roommate, Melissa, decided to leave their charming little town of Les Herbiers last weekend for a taste of city life (read Krista’s blog to see just how much she appreciates living in a village with more cows than people ), and I was happy to oblige them!
We found a nice little bar called Au Chien Stupide (“At the Stupid Dog”) and decided to make that our home for the weekend soirées. It has a cool dark art-deco theme that kind of reminds me of my favorite dive in La Crosse, Wisconsin (I don’t remember the name, but if you ever randomly find yourself in that city, look for an off-kilter place downtown with neon murals painted on the walls of crazy tattoo-ish looking scenes. Plus they break every bottle as soon as they’re done with it.). We also ventured over to what is fast becoming one of my favorite bars in Nantes, Buck Mulligan’s, one of many Irish pubs scattered throughout the city. Did you know that there exists such a thing as Alcoholic Cider? It’s divine. How have I never been aware of it before?
“Drinking in the street is chic.” Melissa, Krista, and Gregory outside of Buck Mulligans
Journey to IKEA.
On Saturday, Krista, Melissa, my roommate Gregory, and I all decided to make the long journey to IKEA. It’s about a 40 minute tram ride. As you leave downtown Nantes and head to the newer neighborhoods, the buildings spread out a bit more and you can see for a further distance. I think it more resembles the American suburban shopping centers with green lawns stretching around large, warehouse stores. I’m used to the structures in France being of smaller, narrower proportions than in the states, so when I first lay eyes on IKEA, I stared like a rustic-bumpkin at the gargantuan, blocky structure. A large blue monstrosity with the title IKEA emblazoned across it’s sides, surrounded with acres of parking and parking garages, this shopping complex looks a little out of place in the Europe I’m used to  seeing.
Riding the tram is super!
We navigated the store successfully (if you’ve never been to IKEA, go, and take one of the maps they offer, you’ll need it) and filled our arms with all the essentials for living in France (cinnamon candles that smell like kitchens in autumn, black decals to turn my mint-green walls into a jungle of designs, and big cups! Oh how I’ve missed properly sized mugs.)
On the way back from IKEA we had to get off a stop or two early because of the gigantic manifestation that was happening downtown. But like I mentioned in a previous post, the march was more like a parade, with balloons, music, and face paint.
At one point though, some brilliant demonstrators decided to use flares in their march, causing all of the spectators to cover their eyes and noses from the putrid smoke. However, the flares did make for great, urban battle-esque pictures.
For dinner, I attempted to treat my guests and roommates to a Nepali curry. Going mostly from memory of how Indra always made it, and with a little help from website recipes and my roommate, Peggy’s, suggestions, I think I ended up with a potato/greens combination that Indra would have found acceptable. However, my liberal use of cumin and curry left a very distinct smell in the apartment, which lasted long after the employment of those IKEA cinnamon candles.
Sunday morning, Krista, Melissa, and I visited the Les Machines de L’île, a newer addition to Nantes’ art/culture scene. They’ve built a really cool gallery/workshop in the warehouses of an old shipyard, the sight for many fantastical machines based on the imaginary worlds of Jules Verne. You can sit inside most of the machines (see the seat basket inside the scary tooth fish’s stomach) and work the levers.
My favorite structure is this mess of tangled wood and twisted steel, a tree prototype.
I love this. How cool is this idea?! If there was a city designed out of gigantic trees like in the book Dinotopia (my fav as a kid, fyi), I would totally live there. Something about trees always appeals to me. Drawing them, painting them, talking about them… etc.
Standing on a branch of the tree that’s actually been built.  It connects to the workshops.
Might have to rethink my whole tree city idea, it’s really high up here!
This mechanical elephant likes to walk around the île and spray unlucky victims with water.
As you can probably also tell, it gives rides too.
After the Gallery of Machines, it was off to the Château des ducs de Bretagne located in the center of Nantes.  It dates back to the 13th century. This is only the second castle I’ve ever visited in Europe (the first was in Nice in 2007), so I was still so impressed by the feeling of history when I entered the courtyard. The immensity of the place just astounds me. The walls are so solid, the towers so huge. How were people capable of creating such gorgeous monstrosities out of heavy stone and mortar before modern machinery? The subject still amazes me. One thing I’ve been trying to convey to my students is how lucky they are to be surrounded by so much visible history. It’s quite common place for Europeans, I think, to see and live and work in centuries old buildings everyday. But for an American newly arrived to Europe, it is an obvious and gratifying experience.
Courtyard, the interior of the chateau grounds.
Photo opportunity!
And after our grand adventure touring the spectacles of Nantes, we headed back to my apartment to create our own, very familiar American spectacle: BAKING COOKIES!!
I was being very helpful. 
After we figured out all of the conversions for baking, we replaced the curry odor in the apartment with the billowing warmth of freshly baking cookies.

Big mugs of tea and plenty of chocolate chip cookies, the perfect Sunday afternoon.

We all benefited immensely from the results, especially Melissa, who hails from Costa Rica. I couldn’t convince her that eating the cookie dough was worth the risk of raw eggs, but she did hazard a taste of the baked product. I’m pretty sure it was a successful first bite.

Melissa’s first fresh, homemade chocolate-chip cookie.
Melissa, Krista, Peggy, and Gregory about to dig in.
Afterward, we had a simple but totally satisfying dinner of hardy bread, stir fried vegetables, and cheese. A delicious (and nutritious, see the vegetables comment) ending to a fantastic weekend.
A great big thanks to Krista Schilling for letting me use all of her marvelous pictures in this blog!


  1. Alcoholic cider? Are you kidding? That's what cider is… non-alcoholic cider is just apple juice, surely.

    I totally used to read Dinotopia, though.


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