Traveling with Mark is undeniably easier now: no more milk bottles, no more diapers, fewer tantrums—he eats whatever is available, uses les toilettes (when we can find them!) and sulks for a few minutes when he is offended instead of crying. I would go as far as claiming he behaves pretty well for a 3.5-year-old kid immersed in a completely different culture and still somewhat jetlagged. Case in point: a woman congratulated us in the train on his behaviour. Our parenting skills approved by French strangers! Where is my long-awaited gold medal?
That said, one of the most rewarding differences between toddler Mark and “little boy Mark” is that he is fully aware of our travels and he enjoys them. He has an opinion and he is involved. He knows how to take the train and public transportation in general, he understands the concept of maps and he loves grabbing my camera to take pictures of what he likes (usually random dogs).
So this year, we decided to take side trips and explore the area a bit more. This is the perks of Europe, the next city is never very far. Besides, the SNCF has a good deal on tickets: for €45, up to five people enjoy unlimited trips for two consecutive days. Considering how expensive train tickets are these days, it’s a bargain.
Our first destination last Tuesday was Saint-Gilles-Croix-de-Vie, in Vendée, a 75-minute train ride south of Nantes. The seaside resort/fishing harbour is very cute with narrow streets, plenty of oh-so-typical shops and a faint grilled sardine smell floating in the air (a local specialty).
I was surprised to see so many tourists strolling around on a weekday. Even the grande plage was busy despite the chilly water temperature (15ºC according to the lifeguards!).
“This is another département,” I explained Feng. “We are in Vendée, Nantes is in Loire-Atlantique. The culture here is vendéenne, Nantes is more into Breton culture by default.”
Feng looked at me, puzzled. “Er… what’s the difference, exactly? People look exactly the same.”
“There is a rivalry between la Vendée and la Bretagne,” I shrugged. “Nantes is stuck in between. It used to be part of Brittany but it became a regional capital during WWII.”
“Meh. You guys all eat crêpes and bread!”
I couldn’t argue with that.