As much as I love discovering new cities, I felt the tug of an old French friend.
My beloved Nantes, capital of the Loire Atlantique, was calling me back.
Returning to Nantes felt like finishing a dream I had already started.
Where it all began... Link to blog 1: do-you-know-nantes.html
And like so many do-overs, this homecoming brought
both surprise and a sense of satisfaction.
Much like rereading a favorite book, it reinforced my affection
for the city, heightening my appreciation to a whole new level.
What impressed me most about Nantes the second time around?
I was held utterly spellbound by one very distinctive feature.
Time and time again, I came upon a multitude of faces -- unforgettable
faces -- that portray and animate the city in a most unique way.
Yes, Nantes shows it face -- literally -- on nearly every corner of the city.
Whether sculpted, painted or creatively assembled, Nantes bares its soul
through the eyes and expressive character of each face.
Usually human, sometimes animal or beast, rarely repetitive or predictable,
these faces made me see the city in whole new light.
Nantes presents a wide range of sights.
Much as you'd expect in this part of France, it nails
historic spectacle with traditional Loire treasures -- a 15th century castle
featuring a magnificent moat and Renaissance courtyard,
a larger-than-life art museum and a soaring 15th century cathedral.
But it's the relaxed and downright laugh-out-loud adventures that I love most,
enticing a visitor to extend his stay longer than planned.
Each face tells a different story -- at times dignified and thoughtful --
and as often as not, the polar opposite, lighthearted and irreverent.
The faces of Nantes -- I love them all.
"It is only at the first encounter that a face makes its full impression on us."
Arthur Schopenhaeur, German Philosopher
onerous creatures of the sea, the faces of Nantes will keep you entertained.
It's a city that works to keep you on your toes, proud of its reputation
for stoking imagination and creativity.
After all, this is the place where Jules Verne created
audacious novels such as "Journey to the Center of the Earth"
and "Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea".
Action, adventure, unlimited imagination -- that's the story of Nantes.
No need to travel "Around the World in Eighty Days" to see the very soul of this city.
"Anything one man can imagine, other men can make real."
Jules Verne, "Around the World in Eighty Days
A good place to start is the old quarter, home to the city's centerpiece castle.
At Chateau des Ducs de Bretagne you'll come face to face with Anne of Brittany, whose face helped make her queen two times over*.
*she married two French kings -- Louis XII and Charles VIII
Anne wanted nothing more than to keep Brittany
autonomous within the kingdom of France.
Today her city no longer belongs to her beloved Brittany.
During the mid-20th-century, the borders were redrawn and Nantes
became part of the Loire-Atlantique within the Pays de la Loire region.
From the castle, immerse yourself into the cozy medieval-flavored Bouffay quarter. Half-timbered houses and narrow cobbled streets
have never buzzed with so much youthful enthusiasm.
Young people are enamored with this quarter,
drawn by rollicking bars and tempting creperies that line its old streets.
Contemporary art mixes with the traditional
as is so often the case in art impassioned France.
The square where the guillotine used to exert its punishment
is now one of the best places to drink a beer in the sun.
"On victory, you deserve beer. On defeat, you need it.
always wanted to learn how to battle evil spirits.
You've come to the right place....
In order to combat malignant spirits, architectural ornaments
called mascarons were placed on many houses.
Admittedly not too effective, they contribute to a fun parade of homes tour.
These faces, especially the grotesques, are a cornerstone
of fun, funky, unconventional Nantes.
Be on the lookout for these stone faces, often found on doors and windows.
A good place to root around for a good look is on the Île Feydeau.
Monumental mansions feature the look-at-me faces
alongside pretty ornamental wrought iron balconies.
Popular in the 18th century, they almost seem more suited
to today's exhibitionist instagram-ready century.
Give in and search for your own favorite ugly mug on rue Kervégan.
Allée de Turenne, lined with rich shipbuilders' houses,
is rich in architectural beauty and historical context.
Sea monsters and creepy seafarers bring it to life.
In truth, real monsters lived here - aka slave traders who put Nantes on the map.
More about that later.
"People are strange when you're a stranger
Faces look ugly when you're alone
Women seems wicked when you're unwanted
Streets are uneven when you're down"
"People are Strange" lyrics by Jim Morrison of The Doors
There are so many choices -- Theatre Graslin or the Jules Verne Museum? Cathedrale de St-Pierre et St-Paul or the Jardin de Plantes?
Marché Talensac or Passage Pommeraye?
Plan your days wisely for you will never run out of opportunity.
Or do as little as possible and just soak up the scenery
in the many squares of Nantes.
Make your way to Place Royale or Place Graslin where café sitting
counts as a cultural shot in the arm.
Indulge in the beautiful 18th & 19th century architecture -- palaces, fountains
and an art nouveau spectacle called La Cigale will leave you hankering
for a mountain of euros and a real estate agent.
Better yet, stop by any one of Nantes 100 -- yes, I said 100 -- public parks.
The Jardin des Plantes -- easy to find as it's just across from the
train station -- is a particular bright spot to begin.
Stop and smell the roses -- or any of the other 10,000 species
in the Jardin des Plantes*
*They take particular pride in their camellias, first introduced in the 19th century.
Nantes has introduced many efforts to reduce air pollution and CO2 emissions.
Green space is taken seriously in this forward-thinking city.
to Cathedrale de Saint-Pierre et Saint-Paul.
Construction began in 1434 and didn't end until over 450 years later.*
Built with beautiful white stone, the cathedral is an assembly of styles.
*that's even longer than it's taking to build the road by my home...
But for me, the highlight was inside those sacred walls where the tomb
of Francois II and Margarite de Foix stopped me cold.
Anne of Brittany forever memorialized her parents with the tomb,
long considered a masterpiece of Renaissance sculpture.
Surrounded by angels and their trusty greyhounds, the artist
also created an amazing sculpture with two faces -- an old man
representing wisdom of the past and a young woman looking toward the future.
The cathedral has suffered its own fair share of
stranger-than-fiction history over the years.
It was damaged severely by WWII bombing and later
barely survived a massive fire in 1972.
Thank goodness a massive restoration effort has brought it back to life.
A fun-to-know fact of history I recently learned; It was here that
finance minister Nicolas Fouquet was arrested by d'Artagnan**.
Just in case you've never heard of him, Fouquet is the guy who embezzled
state funds to build the fabulous Chateau Vaux-le-Vicomte.
He's the dummy who invited the jealous king to dinner and a hissy fit.
In a bad case of chateau-envy, King Louis XIV jailed him for life and
began his own quest for best house on the block.
**yes, d'Artagnan is the guy made famous by Alexander Dumas -- one of the kings musketeers
it's Les Machines de l'Île -- Nantes' version of the Biggest Show on Earth.
No, it's not a circus or the theatre or a museum
or quite anything I can attach a name to.
Quite simply, it's a spectacle of innovation and daredevil design.
I've been talking about this mind-boggling landmark since the first
time I laid eyes on it and couldn't wait to return.
The Great Elephant will stop you cold.
Who in his right mind would expect to see a 40-foot tall mammal
with working parts strolling around town?
I was worried I'd miss him this time around because I had read he was
"sick" and in "rehab" -- but the gods were kind.
Like all good patients, he was walking around the parking lot testing his legs.
How do they do it??
On a personal tour of Le Carrousel des Mondes Marins --
-- a 3-tiered interactive merry-go-round of sea animals, we enjoyed a "ride".
Calling it a merry-go-round seems inappropriate because this is definitely
not kids' play -- though it's a sure bet you'll reconnect with your inner child as
you manipulate the mouths and tails of these stranger-than-fiction sea creatures.
Coming eyeball-to-eyeball with these hypnotic faces -- a giant squid,
a bulging-eyed crab, and many other SpongeBob-like creations -- may help
you cultivate your own Captain Nemo fantasy.
Get your kicks drinking in their facial features -- bewitching eyes,
noses and mouths; unlike those you see at the Academy Awards,
none of them are made of plastic!
Only natural materials such as wood and leather are used
to bring these aquatic animals to life.
Please make sure you also go to The Gallery which is
where this Jules Verne-inspired innovation comes to life.
These amazing innovators continue to build on their reputation and have fresh
ideas to expand this mind-blowing research-comes-to-life park.
Trust me, you'll be back.
Just follow the Green Line around town. Literally.
They have painted a green line to lead you from one great venue to the next.
It's a traveler's dream.
The one site that is NOT easy to visit is the chilling
Mémorial de l'Abolition de l'Esclavage -- the Abolition Memorial -- an unsettling monument that details the history of the slave trade and the world struggle to end it.
It hurts to make this journey but in the end beautiful FREEDOM rings.
In the 18th century, Nantes was a major center of the slave trade in Europe.
Over half a million slaves passed through its port on 1800 individual expeditions.
Nantes' riches grew as its shipping community made a killing from the evil practice.
This memorial, set inside a recreation of a ships' hold, retraces the history of the slave trade and takes particular care in revealing the slow progress of abolition. You'll see and hear from famous leaders who spent
most of their lives fighting for freedom.
Martin Luther King Jr, Maya Angelous, Bob Marley and Nelson Mandela
are a few of the freedom fighters who lead us to the Universal Declaration
of Human Rights and the word FREEDOM in dozens of languages.
It's an amazing walk through history.
"Education is the most powerful tool which you can use to change the world."
Nelson Mandela, anti-apartheid revolution who did his best to change the world
If you have a taste for adventure, make this your next stop in France.
You can even board at train at the airport* in Paris for a direct ride.
*Roissy Charles DeGaulle
In a matter of a few hours, you'll be searching for your favorite face.
"The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face"
lyrics by Ewan McColl, British singer/songwriter
"The first time ever I saw your face
I thought the sun rose in your eyes
And the moon and the stars were the gifts you gave
To the dark and the endless skies
The first time ever I kissed your mouth
I felt the earth move in my hand
Like the trembling heart of a captive bird
That was there at my command my love
And the first time ever I lay with you
I felt your heart so close to mine
And I knew our joy would fill the earth
And last till the end of time my love
The first time ever I saw your face
Your face, your face"
"Buy the ticket. Take the ride."
Hunter S. Thompson, American writer