And so it all comes down to this. More than two weeks of beaches and sun, of castles and gardens and even a splash of Leonardo da Vinci, and now we have arrived in Nantes. If I’d been asked to list the places in France I wanted to visit even a few years ago, I don’t think Nantes would have made the list. Fortunately, Lisa (as is often the case) is more on the ball than I am and had pegged the city long ago. It has a lot to offer, from a great food scene to numerous cultural sites of interest (museums, concert halls etc…) and of course a cathedral and a chateau, because that’s the part of France we’re in (i.e., France), but if we’re being completely honest (and really, nobody’s holding us hostage, we don’t have to say anything we don’t want to, right?) we’re in Nantes because of the steampunk robots. In other words, we want to see Les Machines de l’île.
Nantes had been giving me Seattle vibes from the moment we arrived; partly it was just the weather being overcast and in the low 60s, but also the general size of the place – a city, but not too big, with office buildings but not too tall. Well, Les Machines des ‘Ile (the Machines of the Island of Nantes) is absolutely the kind of thing you’d expect to see in City Center, maybe in conjunction with Bumbershoot. (In fact, we saw signs indicating that the park subsidized a workshop for Burning Man exhibitions and this did not surprise us even 1%.) This whackadoo park is completely devoted to contraptions that have the appearance of steampunk robot animals. Lest we be accused of hyperbole, let’s be clear about the tech – these are steel frameworks using hydraulics and similar tech to articulate limbs and move the machines around. Nevertheless, the craftsmanship on these things, with the stylized carved-wood plates giving each critter a distinctive look, are a hoot to see in motion. Also – these things have some very predefined movements to choose from, they are in no way free to move, hop around etc… they do specific motions that they are designed to perform. Still cool, though.
The star of the show is undoubtedly the elephant, called “Le Grand Elephant” which may seem uncreative but look at this thing:
It can take up to 50 people on a walk through the park area. And yes, “walk” is being polite, it actually is driven along by that giant tractor in the back. But still, the legs are articulated and move at a good pace, and the articulated head and trunk swing around delightfully.
We might have done more in Nantes, but really we spent a bunch of time with the steampunk robot zoo and felt sated. We had a really nice meal at Le 1, although yet another adventure in “France closes at 2 PM” almost bit us in the ass. We made it in just in time and had some really creative tapas as our reward. From there it was a quiet evening of Indian take out and packing for the trip home. That trip took all of our last day and was completely uneventful. We flew straight from Orly to Porto, which meant we were just a short (and cheap!) bus ride from being home again. Truly, we had been missing Braga for the last few days and were tickled to be back. Luggage could wait; we opened all the windows for fresh air and then dove into our comfy snuggly bed to begin catching up on real life again. Thanks for following along!