I love French bakeries. There is one at every corner and they all carry fresh bread, croissants, pains au chocolat and pains aux raisin. They also have their specialties, from elaborate cakes to simple fruit pies.
Monthly Archives: July, 2010
For our last week-end in France, Feng and I went back on the Atlantic coast. We spent a few days with my family and left to explore St Nazaire, a few kilometers away. The town isn’t pretty: it was heavily bombed during WWII and 80% of it was destroyed. It was rebuilt right after the war in a somewhat minimalist style — understand one main street and square buildings scattered around.
I love cities by night. Most change a lot and reveal a totally different atmosphere — it’s like traveling. I’ve already shown you snapshots of Ottawa by night, Toronto, London, Paris… Here is Nantes, my hometown.
The 12 meters high mechanical elephant is made from 45 tons of wood and steel. Several times a day, it takes passengers for a walk around the Isle of Nantes, located in the middle of the Loire River. Riding it is quite expensive but it’s free to just see it move around, wink, trumpet, and spray nearby photographers with water (oh well, it was a hot day).
Jules Verne, the famous French author, was born in Nantes. And today, in the warehouses of the former shipyards of Nantes, artists try to recreate a travel-through-time world which borrow from both Jules Verne’s imagination and Leonardo da Vinci’s passion for mechanic.
The site has two main attractions: the Great Elephant and the Marine Worlds Carrousel.
The other day, we went to see Kiss & Kill, a U.S movie. You may have heard of it: the English title is “Killers”. Why did the French bother changing the original English title to another English title? No idea. Similarly, “The Spy Next Door” is “Kung Fu Nanny” here. Go figure!
This is a sleepy village 45 minutes from Nantes. Its claim to fame is the cookie factory. Other than that, there isn’t much: a roundabout (French love roundabouts and even the smallest village has one), a church, a bar-tabac (a small corner store) and a news agent.
Sunset is around 10:30 pm in France right now and with the summer heat, we had plenty of time and motivation to roam around Paris at night. I have my favorite spots, they are not so original but they are lovely: le Louvre, along the Seine, the Trocadéro, the Eiffel Tower…
Once we reached the doors of Versailles, we realized we were in trouble. The lineup was so long I couldn’t even find where it started. I asked how long it would take us to get tickets: at least 90 minutes. And to actually get into the Palace, we had to queue another 90 minutes. Feng walked around a bit as we tried to assess how to make the best out of the situation. I looked up at the Palace and I saw people on top of each other by the open windows. No way I’m queuing at least 3 hours for a rush visit.
We got extremely lucky with the hotel the first couple of days: we had booked online again from London with Expedia (which really should be paying me for all the times I mentioned them!). The hotel turned out to be a three stars renovated building in a quiet street, and we had the biggest bathroom I had never seen.
After London, Paris. Don’t hate me for saying it, but at first sight, it felt like going from Peru to Bolivia.
I have never liked Paris. Go ahead, call me a little spoiled French girl, I’m used to it. Saying you don’t like Paris usually gets hate look from people who are dreaming to visit the city of lights, and brings contempt from other French people. They shrug at me, saying: « oui mais bon… c’est Paris quand même ! ».
Aren’t cities at night truly beautiful?
London didn’t disappoint. Lots of lights, lots of sights, lots of amazing skylines coming alive before our eyes after sunset. Next, Paris and Nantes again…
Coming from a country which executed Louis XVI, the last king, by guillotine, I tend to consider monarchy a custom somewhat obsolete and old-fashioned although harmless if a Parliament is in place. We don’t hear that much about the Queen in Canada and I’ve never been very interested in gossip about the Royal Family.
The many bridges crossing the River Thames are all different. The Millennium Bridge is a modern footbridge steel suspension bridge leading to the Tate Modern, while the Tower Bridge, with its two massive towers, leads to the Tower of London. The architecture of the London Bridge is more straightforward but it is interesting to watch all the throng of office workers making their way from The City to London Bridge Station at the end of the day.
Her Majesty’s Royal Palace and Fortress, the Tower of London, is actually more a castle than a tower. It is among all famous for being the home of the Crown Jewels of the United Kingdom.
The castle is made of several buildings set within two concentric rings of defensive walls, and a moat, which is now dry. Currently stored in the Waterloo Barracks, the Crown Jewels are one of the main attractions.
London was a great surprise to me. I had been to England many times as a teen, first by taking the ferry across the channel and later by the Eurostar train. England to me was buying “crips” with vinegar at Woolworth, taking double-decker buses across small cities, listening to Oasis (I liked them better than Blur) and bitching about the overall gloomy weather.
While the Louvre in Paris may be more famous, London also has awesome museums. We took the opportunity to visit the British Museum and the Tate Modern and I must said I was amazed by both.
One really cool fact: these national museums were both free, although small donations were encouraged. How cool! In Paris, museums are quite expensive and it adds up pretty fast.
The tube, the subway, the underground… London wouldn’t be London without it, no matter how you call it.
I usually have a love/ hate relationship with subways: while they are often the most efficient way to get around in large cities, they also receive their fair share of bad press. Dangerous, crowded, dirty, expensive, claustrophobic… not all subways are nice to ride.
The last time I was in London, not including multiples transfers at Heathrow airport, was in 1998. I had never seen the London Eye, the giant Ferris wheel set up in the capital to celebrate the millennium. It was high on my “must visit list”, for both the somewhat unusual character of the landmark and the view from the wheel.
Crêpes are Brittany’s specialty and crêperies can be found everywhere in Nantes. These very thin pancakes are made from flour, eggs, milk, butter, and a pinch of salt. Normally, crêpes are slightly sweeet and galettes are unsweetened: the first one is served as dessert and the second one is the main meal. They are traditionally served with very cold cider.
Happy birthday Canada… from London!
That’s right: from France, we took the Eurostar (more on that later) and are now in London for a few days. And this afternoon, we stumbled upon the Canada Day celebrations in London, in Trafalgar Square — a huge (unexpected) party!
There are two big markets a week in Nantes, and they are both very busy. French do love food after all.
Fruits and vegetables are not always cheaper than at the supermarket but people have their “petites habitudes” (customs) and they enjoy shopping at the same stalls weeks after weeks. They joke, taste the fruits, complain about the price and happily bag a few pounds of this and that. So-and-so has the best meat, so-and-so has the freshest bread etc.