Mark’s first trip to his other “birth” country.
Browsing: French Summer 2013
Canadian Border Agency officers always seem surprised when I say I don’t have any alcohol to declare, and they hardly believe me when I claim my backpack isn’t full of French food—yet it’s true. But I still bring back a few things every time I visit my home country… especially cosmetics.
There are plenty of mascarons and gargoyles in Nantes, especially around old neighborhoods like Bouffay, Quai de la Fosse, the Château des Ducs, etc. These little design elements are often overlooked or forgotten by locals because they are part of the landscape but as a tourist in my former hometown, they catch my eyes again!
After a month living at the heure française in my hometown of Nantes, we are getting ready to go back to Canada. And as usual, I can’t help wondering if I would be able to “fit in” again in France as a resident. We were short-term travelers there but I did spend 18 years of my life in France after all, and Mark and I have dual citizenship, French and Canadian.
Saint Michel Chef Chef—no, the second “Chef” is not a typo, this is the actual name of the small village where I spent my summers as a kid, yes, we do shorten the name!—is on the Atlantic Coast, stuck between the posh La Baule beach and other no-name stretches of sand.
Bastille Day, the French National Day, is celebrated on the 14 of July, usually with fireworks. It is not a huge display of patriotism like Canada Day—I can’t remember spotting any French flags in the crowd!—but a chance to party, drink and enjoy whatever festivities is organized locally.
Once we arrived close to the finish line, we spotted different kinds of people. Real Tour fans with their flags (lots of British, a few Spanish, a few Australians) and sometime L’Equipe (the sports newspaper) under their arm; tourists like us who probably happened to be around Tours and figured it was a fun way to spend the day; local families who tried their best to catch the freebies distributed by the caravan (Free cookies! Free flag! Free t-shirt!).
On a whim, we decided to go to Tours to catch the Tour de France (more on that later!). I am possibly the worst backpacker ever in France—my geography is approximate at best, I am only familiar with Rennes, Paris and the Atlantic Coast close to Nantes, and despite being French, I don’t have any travel tips for my own country other than “when you see a free bathroom, use it, you may not find another one easily”.
Although I can appreciate nice landscapes, I am still a urban person and I cannot imagine living in the country. I like being surrounded by people, I like the messiness and chaos of cities, the pollution, the dirt, the noise… all the downsides of city-living don’t bother me much. But above all, I love cities’ and people’s little oddities and quirks. A funny sign, graffiti, patterns… it is fascinating.
The first thing I did in France was to get a haircut. I needed a fresh start.
One of my goals for this trip was to “reboot” my brain. After a major lifestyle change—going from an office job to freelancing—, the nine months of pregnancy and then the first eight months with bébé, I was in survival mode.
My parents live in Nantes’ downtown core and around 9 a.m. or 10 a.m., I witness the city waking up. On Sunday morning, I kept on bumping into drunks looking for a way back home (too much partying the night before) or trying to bum a smoke. On Monday morning, delivery trucks brought fresh fruits and veggies at the local supermarkets. Around 10 every day, waitresses and waiters take coffee tables outside and set them up before the noon rush.
Nantes’ unique courthouse is well worth a visit—if you don’t mind unsettling optical illusions (think Inception) and the overall oppressing atmosphere. The dominant colours, black and red, kind of give you a strange idea of the judicial system: the courthouse looks like a jail! The implacable geometry and play of light and shadow was supposed to reflect the power and force of the justice system—I find it creepy and oppressive.