Sunday, February 13, 2011

picnics and elephants.

i’m fairly certain the majority of humankind agrees with me when i say that weekends are one of God’s greatest gifts to His people. weekends in france are definitely no exception. actually, they’re a little better, because the french took it upon themselves to boost the weekend relaxation quotient by ensuring that NO ONE can do anything on sundays, and then many businesses are closed on monday as well. it’s a hard life.
anyway, this weekend (just like the last one) was faaab-u-lous. friday was the most beautiful day of all time. ok, not really, but the weather was STUNNING (60F/16C – blue skies) and i was a little high on sunshine. since i don’t have class on fridays, i decided to make it an outdoors day. natalie and i stopped by superU to get some lunchy things, and then we packed picnics and biked into town. i still can’t get over how beautiful angers is – in the 20 minute, 4 km ride into town, i pass by some of the prettiest, most historic buildings i can imagine. and the rest of the town is all that great, classic french architecture, scattered with the random stone wall or timber-framed building. i love it. we biked a little further into town than usual, so natalie could run a couple errands before our picnic. i popped into monoprix to complete my picnic with a baguette and a tarte. we headed down a little park right near the river, at the base of the cathedral steps. there is this huge fountain and a little garden too. plus, there’s a cliff that some of the oldest buildings in town were build on top of. it was a picturesque setting, to say the least. we spread our little picnic out and soaked up the sun for a solid hour – it was awesome. i had my baguette with cheese, yogurt, an apple, raisins and some apple juice. for dessert, we split the tarte. can you say perrrfecttt? yum.
after the picnic, we headed back up the hill next to the chateau. we parked our bikes and walked down a little side street to the “galerie david d’angers”. rachel met us there, and the three of us toured (for free!) one of the coolest little statue galleries i’ve ever seen. it’s in a renovated church, with a glass ceiling! since it was so sunny, there was a bit of a greenhouse effect (it was sweltering in there) but the effect of all that light on the statues was breathtaking. it was so bright and vibrant, the work seemed to come to life a little. there are really only two main rooms, so all these statues are just gathered in the main hall. some are lifesize, some are wayyy larger than life, and there are lots of little ones too. david sculpted quite a few major figures in angevin and french history. it was cool to see the people whose names i’ve been seeing on bus stops, roads signs, even dorm residences. while we were there, a class of probably 1st or 2nd graders was visiting as well. SO CUTE. they had to draw a statue, pick one to imitate, and do some class exercises. i wanted to steal one to bring home, they were so stinkin’ precious. but i feel that way about all french children. rachel, natalie, and i did a few statue impressions of our own, and then headed out. natalie went back to school to nap, and rachel and i spent an hour or two walking around town, shopping a little bit (the semi-annual sales are ending this week :( ), and soaking up the sunshine. we stopped by the train station to buy our tickets for saturday’s daytrip (details later!) and then biked back home. there is a hill about three-fourths of the way back to the dorm that is BRUTAL. i still haven’t made it up all the way – i have to walk it. i’ve made it a personal goal to bike up that hill before i leave angers this summer. anywho, after we got back, i rested for a bit and then skyped with my family. around 7:45, shane and i ran down to superU to get things for dinner. we made the usual, and chilled out in the kitchen with jessie and emma. around 11, the four of us walked over to the other belle-beille residence, where the spanish students had organized a party of sorts. i suppose it was fun, but that is just so not my scene. i didn’t really enjoy it too much, and headed back to my dorm around midnight. being around that many people and being so out of my fun zone put me in a bit of a funk, so i was not in a very good mood when i went to bed. but, sleep is always good for the brain! i did a little research for saturday and then hit the hay.
i woke up pretty early on saturday, because rachel and i had planned a daytrip to nantes! and for only 16 euro return - yay! nantes is about 90km south of angers, towards the atlantic ocean. it is the capital of the pays-de-la-loire region. it’s much bigger than angers, but just as pretty! our train was at 10:36, so we met at 9:45 at the bus stop. we made it to the train station in plenty of time, got our tickets stamped, and hopped on the train. the ride was only about 30 minutes, through the beautiful loire valley countryside. at one point, we passed a little manor house that looked like it should have been in a jane austen novel – it was gorgeous! i only got a glimpse of it as we passed by, but i remember marveling at the thought of who lives there. probably an old couple, who tend their animals and gardens and live 45 km from the nearest anything. we arrived in nantes around 11am, got a map from the welcome desk, and headed towards the closest “office de tourisme”. through my research, i’d found that the city of nantes offers “day passes” that can get the cardbearer free entrance into museums, complementary treats at various restaurants, and unlimited access to the public transit system. for students, the 24 hour pass is only 9 euro!! it’s an absolute steal, and pays for itself in a few tram rides plus one museum entry. we bought our passes at the office located on the same plaza as the cathedral. once we had our nantes guide/passes, the game plan was to go grab some lunch, head to the “ile de nantes”, and then work our way back. we ate at this great restaurant called “le molière” – rachel had a croque monsieur and i had a ham/butter baguette. the sun was shining right onto our table, so we stayed warm and enjoyed the atmosphere of a bustling french cafe on saturday afternoon.
after lunch, we walked down to the island for what proved to be an amazing experience. in 2007, the city of nantes started on a project they call “les machines de l’ile” – the machines of the island. the designs are inspired by the drawings of jules verne (native of nantes) and da vinci. the first phase of the project was the construct a 40 foot tall, 50 ton robot elephant. i’m not exaggerating, this thing is enormous. and it’s completely hand-crafted, with beautiful artisanship. luckily for us, saturday was the opening day for 2011, so we got to ride the elephant on its maiden voyage for the year! we got to the hangar where the elephant lives around 1pm. since the box office didn’t open until 2, we sat in the little cafe/gift shop to chill out for a bit. at 1:45, we got in line to ensure our places on the elephant. sure enough, by 2pm, the line was pretty long! we bought our ticket (the only thing i purchased all day besides the pass!) and went upstairs to watch the video about the machines project. it was fascinating! the amount of talent that goes into these animals is incredible. the next phase of the project is a giant tree called “the heron tree”. they’ve only built on branch so far – the prototype branch. it is attached to the hangar, right above the cafe. it’s probably about 60 feet high at the highest point, and has three off-shoot branches. seriously impressive. the artisans are also working on a marine-themed (thanks, jules) carousel. amazing. at 2:45, we boarded the elephant, making our way to the top deck. it was so cool! the whole ride lasted 45 minutes, but we only went like 200 yards. it’s not a very quick robot elephant. but it was neat to see the head move around, the ears flap, the trunk raise up and spray water, etc. there is an engine that propels the elephant, but the legs still move like the elephant is walking. the experience was worth the 5 euros – now i can say i’ve ridden a robot elephant! yes!
after the elephant, we decided to pass on the gallery of other animals, because the line was much too long. we walked back into town and caught the tram to the chateau. it’s a beautiful building, with outer fortressing and pretty and ornate interior buildings. our passes got us free entry to the chateau museum, so we decided to check it out. it was SO NICE. seriously, nantes has to have some money, because this was the nicest, most technological museum i think i’ve ever seen. plus, it was enormous – like 35 rooms! we followed the flow of the tour and came out about an hour later. sidenote – france has some very attractive public servants. all of the employees were quite easy on the eyes. this is not an uncommon trend. anyway, after we finished touring through the chateau, we took a lap on the top of the outer wall and then took some pictures by the moat. there is a street in nantes called “rue crébillon” that is famous for its window displays – they’ve even invented a verb (crébillonner – to window shop on the rue crébillon). the shops are verrry luxerious and fancy, so that was a pretty street. :) we ended our tour with a little treat at “la cigale” – one of the most famous restaurants in nantes. it opened in 1895, and still maintains its old-time charm. the interior of la cigale is AMAZINGLY ornate and fancy, with lots of gold trimming, mosaics, and mirrors. our pass got us a complementary hot chocolate and two little slices of cake. WIN. the hot chocolate was VERY rich – almost like pure melted chocolate. and the cakes were chocolate too – i hate to say it, but i experienced a bit of a chocolate overload that day. we meandered back down to the tram way and headed back to the train station to go home. there is so much to do in nantes that we hardly scratched the surface, but i had a great time visiting a new place!
after hurrying to catch the last bus back to campus, we made it home around 9:15. i was EXHAUSTED but hungry for real food (not chocolate). shane hadn’t eaten yet either, so we made pasta. somehow, i’m not sick of it yet! it was delicious. we sat in the kitchen and talked to djamel and danielle, who had gotten a pizza. around 11pm, i came back to my room and got ready for bed. it was a very long but fun-filled day.
today (sunday) has been pretty lazy, after my active busy friday/saturday. i woke up early to skype for a while, since TWOG got to record their electric ep/album in Oceanway last night and i wanted to hear about it. drew and i talked from about 9am-10am (france time – he was up late!) and then i went back to sleep until noonish. yeah yeah, shameful i know. but i needed the rest. i got up and took a lonnnnng shower, which felt amazing. and i dedicated the rest of my day to getting chores/homework/blogging finished! so i’m in the middle of that. my first test is coming up on wednesday – it’s a translation test, which shouldn’t be too difficult. i’m just going to revise my homework and go from there! i'm going to try to watch my church service at 6pm - i really hope the internet is good enough!! :P
and last but not least, tomorrow is valentine’s day. i’d be lying if i said it didn’t absolutely SUCK to be away from my valentine this year, but physical separation can’t diminish how i feel. so, happy valentine’s day, froffie. i love you, and i’ll see you in 170 days. :P <3
and to all my other loved ones, happy valentine’s day to you too!
love from france,
PS- i've linked a few pictures of things i'm talking about in this post, but my facebook album 'february in france' is much more thorough if you want to see what i've been talking about! :)

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