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View of Cours (=avenue) St. Pierre, from somewhere near the Lu Tower (Lu= famous biscuit company), Nantes, France.

I planned a short getaway during the children’s vacances d’hiver because I needed to get out of Paris. (I was running out of free, warm places to go to for my kids’ entertainment.) I chose Nantes because it was just a two-hour train ride, it was near water and I had read something about a cool attraction for the kids. *SOLD*

Château des ducs de Bretagne: The ramparts of the Castle has funky lights and imagery moving over it at night time. Is this place hip or what?!

Time Magazine voted Nantes to be “the most liveable city in Europe” in 2004. It is the 6th largest city in France, situated on the Loire (River) and is the capital city of the Pays de la Loire region. We stayed at a Novotel that was a 5 minute walk from the train station. There was a superb boulangerie (=bakery) across the street where we grabbed breakfast-on-the-go and a Carrefour supermarket nearby for drinks and extra munchies. Parfait. We meandered through the old part of the city that night and ate at one of many crêpes restos. (Crêpes originated from the region of Brittany.) The streets were buzzing with people after 20h00, just as we old folks with kids were heading back to the hotel. I understand that this city is like a smaller version of Paris, with a growing arts scene and great energy, where (young) people settle because they can’t afford to be in Paris. Like Paris, there is an island in the middle of the river too. In fact, there were a lot of similarities. It was a bit strange…

Heading towards the "Triumph Column of Louis XVI." A bit reminiscent of La Bastille in Paris, or Napoleon's Column at Place Vendôme.

Cathedral of St. Peter and St. Paul, has an amazing front facade, much like Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. But this church took over 450 years to complete.

Notre-Dame de Bon-Port, was a church built for the seafarers as it was close to shore. The dome reminds me of Les Invalides in Paris, without the shine.

Then out of the fog we saw an ugly modern tower among the Haussmann-like buildings. Comme Montparnasse, n'est-ce pas?!

The castle of the Dukes of Brittany (“Château des ducs de Bretagne“) is majestic, and now houses the Nantes History Museum. But why pay money to force our children to behave in a museum when we can run on the ramparts for free and take in the views of the courtyard?

Crossing the moat via stone bridge to gain entry which has drawbridge and portcullis.

The courtyard. The unique whiteness of the (late) 15th century castle is due to the local 'tofa' stone.

A well in the courtyard with at least 6 fancy pulleys to draw water (ropes and buckets not included).

Along the ramparts: The Château is close to the Cathedral St.Pierre & St. Paul, where the Duke of Brittany (Francois II) & his wife are interred.

A walk through downtown led us to the beautiful square, Place Royale, where I wanted to relax at an outdoor patio restaurant to have lunch. Our wonderkids had other plans though, which culminated in BOTH youngsters crying in the restaurant shortly after being seated. Ohh-lah-lah! French emergency plan goes into action: 1] separate the kids and take youngest and loudest delinquent out of restaurant.  2] Have her cry it out at the fountain, and spoil outside diners’ peace (another French faux pas). 3] Reason with her and bribe with candy. (I have no pacifiers.) 4] Return to scene of crime with resto patrons staring at us like a criminal-with-guard-escort re-entering a courtroom.

My surprise salad: love it!! My vocab is SO limited, I didn't know what I was totally getting. Nice artichoke on top.

Needless to say, the meal was satisfying and family-friendly. The restaurant [“Taverne de Maitre Kanter”] actually offered highchairs (rare in France) and a children’s menu. But you really go there because it offers seating in the fabulous square to soak in the sun and relax in its beauty. The square is clean. The fountain is stunning. Quoting Tina Fey in her TV show, 30 Rock: “I want to go to there.”

This gorgeous fountain represents Nantes' relationship with water. The white statue is Nantes herself, standing over lady Loire, in the company of men and women who represent other tributaries.

We lucked out by getting tickets to ride the mechanical elephant on the Isle of Nantes. The Island was the location of the shipyards, a prime industry in Nantes that saw its closure in the 1980s. Les Machines de l’Ile [=Machines of the Island] is an ambitious project that has overtaken the warehouses to present a new universe [think Nantes-borne, Jules Verne meets Leonardo da Vinci inventions]. It is fantastically BIZARRE and AWESOME. Talk about being transported to another time and place…! There is this Great Elephant that can spray water, bellow like an elephant and move like the real thing.

Atop the elephant, we are 12 m high, 8 m wide and 21 m long. It is a marvel of hydraulics, pneumatics and motorized sculpture.

View from the side of the Great Elephant. Are we in a George Lucas film?! It feels surreal riding this machine and being a spectacle.

We rode the giant elephant but it moved slowly. It is more fun to GAZE AT IT, HEAR IT, FOLLOW IT and FEEL IT .

http://www.flickr.com/photos/77766177@N02/6841024550/

Well, that experience was pretty difficult to top!! We caught the train the next day but not before visiting Le Jardin des Plantes (=botanical gardens) which is across from the train station. It was a beautiful, spring-like morning and a lovely way to close an entertaining weekend. Nantes is a great place to visit (not at all like a mini-Paris) and we look forward to more creations from the Island in the future!

View of Le Jardin des Plantes near the main entrance. Rolling hills, large old trees, fountains AND children's playground (not shown). Okay, we'll stay a little longer!

Hey! White pigeons, or DOVES at the gardens. I've never been this close to them. I'll take this as a good sign...

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