It needs to be said that I am shamefully late posting about this city trip, as it happened nearly TWO months ago. But really, better late than never and all that jazz, so there you go.
Nantes, Brittany, France.
3 days, 3 posts. I'll post the next two over the following two days :)
Just an FIY, there will be no outfit shots in these posts, with a good reason. I dressed like a muggle and I refuse to have photographic evidence of these things.
Well, there were pretty bad unrests in Paris and other large cities in France when we travelled there. In fact, the days before we went, several people had been arrested in the outer parts of Nantes itself, and there already had been several protests.
So in lieu of that, it didn't seem intelligent to pursue my original plan of going in full steampunk. France may be known to be a very steampunk friendly town, I figured blending in and looking like everyone else was, in this case, a more intelligent plan.
Much to my surprise, I only saw ONE slightly more alternatively dressed girl in Nantes in the time I was there. ONE. Even the girl working in the steampunk shop (yes, yes there really is a steampunk shop) wore normal clothes.
So that leads me to believe that looking drab and boringly normal for 3 days was the best course of action. But like I said, I don't want any evidence of it, so there are no photos :D.
This is part 1: Friday, February 10 2017
As usual for us when going on holiday (damn you flight hours!) we got up far too early for a holiday to catch the 5something train to Louvain. Thankfully, Bert's dad also gets up at stupid o' clock to leave for work, and his mum gets up with him, so she was able to give us a lift to the train station. Luckily the train wasn't delayed, because it was hella cold (no surprise there) outside, waiting for the train. I had thought we'd never make the, very short, lay-over time to catch the train to the airport in Louvain, but our train was *gasp* on time, so we did manage to catch the first one to the airport, which was 9 minutes after we arrived.
As usual, this was a total FOUL by the NMBS, because they make you pay a hefty additional charge for the “privilege” to take a train to the airport, but don't think that they will make sure that there's trains suitable for luggage going there. No, not at all. Luckily we were only going on a short trip, so only had our backpacks and one smaller trolley with us. And even then that was still quite a hassle. It was quite obviously that people also traveling to the airport, especially those with far bigger suitcases etc than ours, agreed with our opinion.
Of course, when we arrived at the station, ready to enter the airport, Bert was immediately stopped for the extra security checks. Because obviously, having a beard and long hair warrants this or something *eyeroll*. The security guards were friendly, but still, it was a off putting.
At least at the airport, things were efficient. We were able to check in our luggage really smoothly and quickly. I had a note from my doctor so there was no drama about medication (to be fair, at Brussels Airport there never is) and we were there early enough to still grab second breakfast (I feel like we are hobbits when on holiday) at Panos. Which was still overpriced, but slightly LESS overpriced than the other options. And also, less crowded than e.g. Starbucks.
Because we are always at the airport far too soon, we had some time to kill, and spent it wandering around the stores to look around and take some random photos.
100% would wear glasses like these. Although preferably in black.
The flight itself, sadly, was the flight from hell. The staff was friendly, don't get me wrong. There was no turbulence, but GOD FUCKING DAMNIT the fellow passengers. L'enfer c'est les autres (Hell is other people) has never been this fucking true.
First of all, there was this woman seated near us, with a SCREAMING infant. If there is one thing I can not sleep through, it is screaming infants. When I dozed off, with my head on the little table thing, the douchebag in front of me, who was unable to sit still properly, bounced in his seat so badly that I ended up being smacked in the face by that table. And he barely apologised for it.
If I had travelled with anyone other than Bert, that would have been the point where hell would have broken loose. But Bert hates drama and confrontation, so I had to settle for GLARING (which amounted to nothing).
So yeah, flight from hell. Also: last flight where I say nothing, because people need to fucking learn to behave on a goddamn plane.
Also: if your spawn is unable to not scream at the top of its lungs for longer than 20 minutes: don't travel with it. The end.
We didn't see much of Nantes Atlantique airport when we arrived, other than that it was small, because we went straight outside the second we had our luggage and hopped on a transfer bus to the city centre. Contrary to trains in Belgium, the shuttle busses in Nantes do have room for luggage storage. And they are cheaper than the additional cost for the airport train. (Note how the airport train is not an additional service, its a train that just so happens to stop at the airport on its way to its final destination, whereas the airport shuttle is legit that: a bus that stops at set stops for the airport and that's it).
I have to say that Nantes is a city that does it's best to really accommodate tourists. They have a comprehensive website, a metric ton of handy pdf files with info (shuttle times, stops, maps, restaurant guides, Nantes travel guides, you name it) you can download, etc.
I feel most Belgian towns (heck, most towns in general) could really learn from them.
It didn't take very long at all to get to our stop, and as it was the final stop, the driver was getting off too for a break. He was super friendly and showed us on our map how to best get to the hotel and everything. A stark contrast with most bus drivers here, for sure.
We found the hotel without too much hassle, and discovered that it was actually in a really good spot. We had decided to stay in the Ibis Styles Place Graslin, because out of the 3 Ibis hotels in Nantes, it was the cheapest. It doesn't seem to be the most central when you look at the map, but once you are actually in Nantes, it really is the one with the best location. Because you are sort of smack in the middle between the Isle of Nantes and Nantes city centre with the shops and the castle. It's also around the corner from the big Monoprix supermarket. And in happy coincidence, of both Sephora stores.
The staff at the hotel was super friendly, and I discovered that having an Accor hotel card let us in the room an hour earlier (and not just earlier access, later check out too!), which was great. Sadly we had to get back down to get another room, because the cleaning staff nearly had a shit fit that we wanted to get into the first room they assigned us (actually, that one cleaning lady was one of the few rude people we encountered in Nantes). The people at the reception took it in their stride (as did we) and simply gave us another room.
The lady at reception also explained to us how to best walk to Les Machines de L'île, taking a scenic route that wasn't an actual detour, so that was really nice of her.
I have to say, contrary to the Ibis Styles South Kensington we stayed at last July in London, this Ibis' staff was courteous, professional, friendly and competent. The hotel was smaller than the one in London, which isn't an issue what so ever, and the rooms were pretty much the same. But a little more taken care off, and without a clogged sink. Everything was in pristine and perfect working order, which was awesome really. 100% would recommend this hotel!
And also, when I showed my “print at home” Accor membership card, there was no “this is not a real card” BS like in London, the lady knew exactly what it was, and kindly explained that I was going to be stuck with it forever as they had stopped distributing the classic cards. So that was good to know.
After we dropped off all our stuff, we decided to first find lunch, as we still had a few hours before Les Machines would open. We ended up settling at eating at PAUL, because we both love PAUL. I had the rustic hot dog (it's the only way to describe it!) and Bert had a kind of small pizza and a local kind of cake/bread pudding hybrid thing, which he really liked.
We walked around for a little bit, before starting our walk towards Les Machines. And taking photos along the way:
Two things to note about Nantes.
1. Even though it was February and in the middle of winter, there were still plenty of people sitting outside to eat and drink. Ok, the weather WAS really nice for the time of year, but it was still cold. But that didn't stop the Brettons! Which was kinda cool to be honest.
And also: all roads lead to Les Machines, because you will find posters and sign posts literally ALL over town. I'm not joking.
Which, as a steampunk, I 100%+ approve of.
2. There is random art literally all over town. It's awesome. I really wish I had stopped to take a photo of the amazing Aztec inspired street art on the FNAC building. If you go to Nantes, take the time to look for it because it's hella cool.
The Machines were actually pretty easy to find. Mostly because you know, the elephant is hard to miss. Even though they weren't opening just yet, there was already a pretty massive queue forming, which we had to join to get our press tickets. Luckily I had printed out the confirmation from their press desk, because the woman responsible for the press wasn't there that day, and she had either forgotten or neglected to tell the people at the front desk (you would not believe how much this actually happens, and it sucks every damn time). Which was awkward (it always is), but as I had the paperwork, we got it sorted. I would have happily paid to visit Les Machines de L'île mind.
The staff was MEGA friendly though. They were doing all kinds of machine demos, and we caught the smaller spider one.
There was a class of school kids there on a field trip (I wish the field trips back in my day were this cool!) so we didn't feel like sticking around them and went to explore on our own :).
After we had seen everything there was to see in the workshop and the gallery, we went down to the carousel.
And crossed paths with the elephant, who was on one of his walks.
Just look how cool it is!
After standing there watching it walk and taking photos
We went on the carousel. Because contrary to the other carousels by both Les Machines and Royal Deluxe, this one is an all ages one, so we could finally ride it.
The kind people from the front desk had rang ahead to the desk of the carousel to let them know to people from the press would show up at some point, and they gave us each a ticket to ride the carousel! Which was super sweet of them.
We ended up going on the manta ray, which is in the “floating” middle floor. They even have these cool steampunk extending platforms for you to mount your ride. It was super cold though, because: winter.
The people working at the carousel were all super, super nice as well.
But yeah, the floating part. I wasn't terribly keen on it because I have fear of heights, BUT if you're gonna ride a steampunk carousel with floating parts, might as well go on the floating parts instead of a more traditional (in as far as that is even possible with Les Machines) carousel creature.
I wrote a full review about Les Machines here, on The Gatehouse, for those interested.
Of course, we stopped by the gift shop too, where I got a tin of caramel sweets with the elephant, and another super cool one with the spider. As well as a souvenir coin. There were so many cool things for sale, but nothing I would really use, so I decided to save my money.
I was a little disappointed I didn't get to see either Kumo or Princesse (the really giant spiders), so I'll have to continue trying to see them another time!
Having visited Les Machines, we went back to town, walking by more awesome randomness,
to commence the search for Monoprix. Don't laugh, we love supermarkets abroad, and we both love Monoprix. I knew there was one near the hotel, because I had seen it on a map, but that didn't mean we found it easy to find. We were right about ready to go to the hotel and ask the staff, when we decided to round another corner from the street of our hotel and le voila, there it was. Because I knew there was also a Sephora on that street, we figured we'd go there first, and then Monop (short for Monoprix), because we were bound to have more shopping from Monop than Sephora.
Of course, before we found Sephora, we found this glorious mural first...
Fact: Jules Verne was born in Nantes, so they like to drop tributes to him all over the place. There is also a Musée Jules Verne, but we didn't go there. Mostly because we had limited time in just 2,5 (ish) days, but also because we visited La Maison de Jules Verne in Amiens, and we are convinced nothing can top that.
(Strange coming from me, I know). Jules Verne may have been born in Nantes, but his real history is elsewhere in France, so we decided to spend our time doing other things.
Sephora likes to pretend you can only get Kat Von D in their two main stores in Lille and Paris, as well as online, but that's obviously a big fat lie. (Both Sephora stores I visited in Nantes carried some of her stuff, I bought none, because the brand's customer service refused to tell me whether or not the products I was interested in contained ingredients that would burn my face off).
The staff in this Sephora was SUPER friendly. A stark contrast to the Sephora in Roubaix. Sure, they would ask you if you needed help, but not in a “get out asap” kind of way but in a legit “we are here to give you shopping assistance should you require it” kind of way. I had two 10% off coupons, and I decided to use one and bought a TonyMoly eye cream stick (because I didn't bring my concealer and was tired of panda eyes), the pocket mirror with built in light I had been eyeing on the site and a luffa. In a colour that matches our bathroom walls. Not for the matching aspect but because it was the prettiest available luffa shade.
After that, we got stuff for dinner at the supermarket, and walked around town before deciding to go back ot the hotel, eat our food and watch movies on the tablet on French Netflix. Which did not, in fact, have Jurassic World. I had discovered it was on Belgian Netflix at home before we left, and had been looking forward to watching it at night. No such luck! Bert did find the first Spider-Man movie with Andrew Garfield, so he picked that instead.
And that was our first day in Nantes, all photos are