City Highlight: Nantes

Let me spring back to my stay in Nantes. Having stayed there just short of a month I had plenty of time to explore and learn about the city. First of all, Nantes is pronounced nahnt. The city is an amazing mix of Medieval old world, Britagne rule and French moderne. I've mentioned how Nantes appeared to be a mini Paris and in actuality it is far from it. Surely, Paris has neighborhoods, historical landmarks and cultural spots but it isn't moving like Nantes. Nantes is bustling yet small. The city is constantly working to NOT be Paris. Nantes boasts an epic public transportation system, a city-wide green campaign and a supportive arts community. The outcome is a city on the brink of next all the while keeping it extremely real and very old French. 

I began my tour of Nantes just four days in visiting Les Machines. Just across the Loire River there is a park that boasts quite a few oddities. Les Machines' offers the amusement of the Great Elephant and some really fascinating themed carousels. If you continue the park walking The Green Line you will find other art installations placed park and river bed. The line is a Summer event for art creations throughout the city. If you simply walk the ten mile green line and follow guides put out you will see some epic visual and performance art pieces. There were pamphlets in my aparthotel but there was a headquarters of sort near the chateau. I'm not sure if this location changes each summer but it appeared to be a bright, busy meeting place for locals and tourists alike. Of course, we didn't see all the highlights over the ten miles but we visited quite a few. Bare in mind some exhibits are conceptual, only for a limited amount of time or ever changing so plan wisely.

Nantes has a lot of crazy history. War almost brought the city to its knees and there are plenty of places that show before and after photos after a German occupation.The Loire  river was a well known port for slave trading. The city has made a strong effort to explain and apologize for their part in it. Just walking odd streets you will see commemorative works and plaques about slavery. There is a strange irony in seeing works to respect people lives lost within a very dark time for the city. To view them is a somber yet awakening experience. Memorial de L'Abolition de L'Esclavage is by far the most moving visual and conceptual piece I'd ever seen. I don't wish to spoil it but it is a phenomenal experience bringing you through the process of slave trade on the Loire and a global response to an epidemic we still face. I learned so much about the slavery they don't teach us about in school and much more about the human slave trade of today that no one talks about. 

The city architecture varies from swaying medieval row homes on cobblestone streets to Haussmann style apartments in the city centre. Yes, there is a major chateau in the middle of the centre. There are also massive city walls that once protected it now hidden by sprawl. Nantes has a dynamic city scape that is very true to the French mystique. There is nothing like walking the city's winding roads and running into epic cathedrals, tiny shoppes and authentic French cafes with rattan chairs out front. The wonderment then changes once in the surrounding suburbs where there are cottage homes adjacent to pre-fab urban apartments. Oddly, the old places are filled with scents of baking bread and city life. The newer places smell of lavender and salt of the Atlantique. Nantes is close to the coast, has a modern tram system and even an Apple Store. There is the Atlantis, a modern mall just on the outskirts and an older emporium of sorts, Passage Pommeraye in the city. It is just the right combination of McDonalds, rose gardens and trashy euro pop boutiques. All fall within a healthy amount of movie theaters, froyo shops and chic bars.

Since Nantes is the 6th largest city in France the city cannot stop growing. There is a ton of construction, new businesses opening and sites being restored. The beauty of the expansion is that there is still plenty of untouched land. One can sense there is a lot of thought and planning going into city which is divided into tiny, spirited neighborhoods. Nantes is popular to a vast community of people moving from outside and nearby cities as well as expats. This provides an incredible cultural mix in the city centre. There is so much food it is nearly impossible to make a choice. I loved that we could eat in a different country every night. We ate Mexican, Italian and Thai. My favorite an Italian spot, San Marco, like eating in a family home - small menu, fireplace in the main room and the best bolognese ever. There was a Lebanese sweet shop and a few Asian and African grocers. Of course, Nantes has an open air market on Saturdays, plenty of boullangeries but there are also great supermarches like Carrefour, Monoprix and E.Leclerc

I will admit as much as we took in we missed a lot. We both stayed in very specific parts of Nantes keeping us from the north, east and west parts of the city. We also skipped many cultural and informational sites throughout because of time and or money. I surely would have spent more time seeking out events around the green line, exploring the unknown parts of city centre and taking a tram aimlessly to another direction in town. I was only introduced to a niche group of people and I wish I had the time to converse with others about the city. It was nothing to see the same faces in the streets daily and I'm certain if there were no language barriers conversation would have been welcomed. We also encountered our fair share of English speakers or broken French supporters. So Nantes is highly recommended for travelers and expats alike. A great city to start in or stick around. Just do your research on accommodations since hotels are far and few. Also bring a sweater or zipping hoodie for nights in Nantes can be chilly. A tram ticket, some good walking shoes and a few Euros will take you far and wide in Nantes, France. If you move too fast you may miss something. So take it slow, stop for coffee at the Le F Bar and enjoy one of the youngest, oldest cities in France!

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