Study Abroad Diaries: Paris Week Two, Exploring Nantes

Last Friday, we woke up at 5:15am to meet a group of 30 other students and catch the 7:23am train to Nantes, a city about 385 kilometers southwest of Paris. I don’t think any of us really wanted to wake up so early, but a) the trip was free (thanks NYU tuition!!!) and b) sitting on the TGV (high-speed train) half asleep and watching the sun rise over the French countryside that zoomed by was super idyllic and worth it. If you’re ever on a train riding through the French countryside, listen to any song by The Tallest Man on Earth. It’s so good and so, so perfect. Oh, and how could I forget, taking in the crisp smell of fresh bread being baked at 6am from the boulangerie downstairs on our way out also made waking up early worth it.

In a nutshell (or shall I say, Nanteshell, ha-ha), Nantes is a pretty weird place; it’s beautiful and historical and quirky as hell! Here are some highlights from our trip:

  • The region of Brittany is home of the crêpe. So as you can imagine, crêpe was a priority. On our first afternoon, we stumbled upon a cozy little crêperie called Heb Ken and oh my GOD. Guys, I had a spiritual experience with my gallette (the name for savory crêpes made out of buckwheat aka GLUTEN-FREE!) It was so simple - a combination of emmental cheese, tomatoes, mushrooms and onions delicately tucked in a folded-up square. With every bite, I closed my eyes and literally felt the endorphins rush all over my body. I was one with the universe (and the galette). I also got a salted caramel crêpe for dessert. No words. I don’t have pictures either (sorry!!) so you’ll just have to go there yourself.

^a different but also delicious galette

  • Since a lot of the buildings were originally constructed on sand, the city used to be much like Venice, completely surrounded by water from the Erdre and Loire rivers. Eventually, they just covered up the rivers with land, and some of the buildings are currently lopsided, just chilling and leaning sideways. No big deal.

  • Even though it’s the sixth-largest city in France, its population is only 600,000. So the whole time I was just thinking, where the hell are all the humans?

  • It used to be a major port city, so a lot of the buildings used to be homes of wealthy tradesmen. So as you can imagine, they’re massive and beautiful

  • They have this thing called Machines de l’île. I don’t know how else to describe it besides saying it was like walking into a giant greenhouse and watching mad scientists play with a bunch of giant robotic animals, insects and plants, and everyone who works there was acting like it was a totally normal thing to be around. There was also a carousel. This is the abridged version, and I don’t really want to go much into it because it was just. Yeah. A lot of stimuli to take in after roaming a foreign city on 3 hours of sleep.

  • We had dinner at a pretty fancy restaurant (thanks NYU tuition!!!!!) and it was literally 5 courses. One of them was fish and it was glorious and so, so fresh. I didn’t take any pictures of that either, sorry guys! I was too busy devouring it. Another semi-spiritual experience.

  • The city is super focused on sustainability and being green, so all around Nantes they have these really cool public gardens where fresh herbs are growing. Anyone can go there and have a picnic or pick some basil to add on top of their salad. There were also solar-powered buildings everywhere.  

  • They’re big on aesthetics and preserving things from the past, for example cranes from the Industrial Revolution. So along the lovely skyline, a couple of massive yellow cranes will just be stickin’ out. Or you’ll see a massive old boat painted a bunch of colors.

  • We went on a boat cruise on the Erdre, and to be honest, I was expecting it to be terrible. Those of you who have been on some previous NYU-sponsored boat tours will know what I’m talking about. This one, however, was really lovely. The sun was shining brilliantly and we passed such beautiful houses and gardens and chapels and castles and so much greenery surrounding the river. There were kids and families splashing around and hanging out on sailboats or going for runs on the bank. I felt like I had just stepped into Monet’s Garden at Sainte-Adresse.

  • WE SAW A MEDIEVAL CASTLE!! And it had a moat around it!! I felt like I was walking into King’s Landing (if you watch Game of Thrones you’ll know what I mean). I got sort of excited and played the Game of Thrones theme song (yes, I have it saved on my phone and it may or may not be my ringtone) and I felt wonderful. The weird part about that was the fact that it was walking distance from a massive carnival. Talk about mixing modernity with history.

Leaving Paris was strange, because after just a day away I already started feeling homesick for it. PARIS is my HOME? Still sinking in. It was such a good feeling to return to a familiar space that used to be completely foreign not so long ago.