Les vacances d’hiver

Welcome to your bumper holiday edition of belledejournal. That’s right, everyone’s favourite non-religous holiday “winter holiday” has now been and gone. Get set to read about a giant bird’s nest,  mechanical elephants, old biscuit factories, a visit from the BFF, how I fought the law and won and the new chez nous. This is a polite way of saying, get the kettle on, it’s gonna be a long one.

Lisa and I have long since lamented the fact that every time we have holidays, we get paid during them. This means that only those financially-responsible people who don’t spend all their money in the first week of the month have any money left to book something. Yes, we could book in advance, yes, we could budget but let’s be reasonable here. We ended up going to Nantes because it was 30€ return and purely for that reason. Little did we know it was actually really cool and we had such a good weekend there.

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The start of the journey was not promising, since there were no seats left in 2nd class, Lisa suggested we just stand. Stand…. for nearly 2 hours….no no. I, however, decided this would be my Rosa Parks moment, that people would be naming primary schools and parks after me forevermore for taking a stand against France’s class system. Sadly, the result was instead a 7€ fine. I don’t think those class-obsessed pigs at SNCF were ready for my movement. More worrying was when we arrived at Nantes. We got ourselves to the main road then like good tourists took out our map. So as not to inconvenience any passers-by we stood next to the outdoor seating area of a restaurant and we were therefore tucked away nicely in a corner. This however made us a mental-magnet. An old man came and stood in the tiny gap between us and the wall, faced the corner and started singing whilst shuffling about. While Lisa and I tried not to pee laughing, a man came up to us and asked us if we had any cigarettes. We told him we didn’t smoke, he walked away only to be replaced on the mental-carousel by a woman who was gesticulating wildly and talking at a volume previously unknown to humans. Our ear drums recovered in time for the smoker to return, fag in hand and ask us if we had a light. We still didn’t smoke so declined and decided this was a good time to just wander looking for our hotel instead of lingering any longer.

Having googled what was fun in Nantes, we set off for a bar which was weirdly only open 10am-2pm but even weirdlier (it’s a word, I’m an English teacher…shut up) it was in fact a bird’s nest 32 floors up. It’s in an otherwise unremarkable tower-block and basically, there’s a massive bird whose neck goes the whole way from the door to the bar, the bar of course being its body. Thanks to it being so high up the view is incredible and there’s a terrace the whole way round the bar. Here’s a handy visual guide.

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Later that day we casually rode a mechanical elephant at Les Machines de l’île. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen before and I think I would make the trip to France for just that. Essentially, it’s a group of geniuses who create mechanical animals. Currently there’s a huge carousel of sea monsters and their next project is a 50m tall tree which will house cafes and gardens. Don’t worry about having to climb the tree if you want to switch branch to another cafe, you get an animatronic caterpillar to help you. Here’s the model (1:10 scale). Below it is a child riding the prototype caterpillar. It was probably the best day of his life. It probably always will be. I have never been more jealous of another human being
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I took about 42,658 photos of all the animals and the workshops to the point that, Looney Tunes style, my camera actually started smoking. Any building which could house all these things had to be huge and it was essentially a huge warehouse that was open at 2 sides, so was pretty open to the elements. It was about -3 so whilst waiting our turn on the elephant we almost froze but it was worth it to have a a shot on this…

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It reaches top speeds of 3 kmph so we took a leisurely stroll on the elephant through the surrounding area with crowds waving to us like we were elephant-riding royalty. After our mechanical adventures we headed for Le Lieu Unique which is a a former biscuit factory which has now been turned into a hipster hangout with gallery and gig spaces, boutiques and bars. Naturally like the wee hobbit people we are, we didn’t bother seeing the exhibition that was on and instead settled ourselves into a cosy corner with an apéro of multicoloured sandwiches, meats and cheese and a kir framboise. Later that evening we had the best crêpes ever at a restaurant run by the loveliest couple who were delighted we were foreign (I think they noticed from our cider consumption and subsequent giggling). The next day I had the best burrito ever, it was like a foodie weekend. French burritos are normally terrible, they try and make everything that isn’t French, French. I’ve eaten in Indian restaurants where I’ll happily order a dish that boasts 2 out of 3 chillies on the hotness scale whereas at home I’m like “Is the korma spicy? No, but even a wee bit? Imagine I was allergic to spice, would you tell me it was spicy??”.

As I previously mentioned, we’ve now moved house. Gone is the swimming pool in the bourgeoise neighbourhood, we’re now in a smaller place but as close to the city centre as it is possible to be. I can get from my office door to my house door in 8 minutes. Score. The move was pretty seamless and easy (as easy as it can be to move all your belongings on public transport) until we went to give our keys back to our old landlords. Lisa had spent the whole day cleaning the day before and I went up early to hoover and give the place a final once over. Our landlord came in, didn’t look in any of the rooms, asked us if anything was broken and then started talking about how we’d get our desposits back after the cleaner had been in and, by the way, the cleaner was 11€ an hour. We just smiled our why-are-you-telling-us-this smiles until I clicked and asked if we were meant to pay this. He said yes and then said we’d known about this for ages. He told us they did it every year, so I pointed out that the house had been disgusting when we’d arrived (I wish I was joking when I say that there was actually a plant growing out the sinkhole) and that we’d cleaned the house only yesterday so it clearly didn’t need cleaning. He said it would “only” take 8 hours to clean the house and therefore would only be 88€. We left, unhappy but feeling that there was nothing we could do since they had our deposit anyway and given that the wife is a former magistrate I felt she’d know the ins and outs of silly French law. However, my one saving grace was being a downright pro in the complaint letter. Wasn’t I the precocious child who’d written to my MP to complain about the state of the local swing park? Long story short, my fine penmanship got us the money back. Score.

Aside from my Erin Brokovich moment, my exciting news of late is that my bestie, Gayle, came for a visit. She somehow ended up with extremely complicated transport plans, so props for coming to visit! I met her on the Thursday night (baguette in hand, natch) and took her a stroll along the main street of Tours to see the palais de justice and the town hall which are both beautifully lit-up in the evenings. Then it was homeward bound for cider and raclette (pour-melted-cheese-on-stuff meal). What more could a visit really ask for? The next day I upped the ante by taking her to the château in nearby Blois. The reason for choosing this particular château amongst the million which are in my particular region of France is that right across from it is the Musée de Magie. For those of you who didn’t quite scrape that French standard grade, that’s a magic museum. The museum itself isn’t magic but displays a wealth of creepy, you’ll-never-sleep-again puppets and other artifacts which have been used in the magic world. The two best parts of said museum are: a room where you wear glasses which have a mirror attached, so that when you look down at the floor, you’re really looking at the ceiling, which is made to look like under the sea (and which is surprisingly realistic) and so, when you’re walking, you’re constantly trying to step on the rocks and avoid various obstacles, whilst you’re actually just walking along carpet. The other best part of this museum is that it has robot dragons come out the windows. No biggie, right? Well, actually I have no idea, the first time I went the dragons “were sick” and the time I went with Gayle, it was shut for 3 weeks for cleaning. Apparently those puppets get pretty dirty. Anyway, we had a swatch about the château all the same and giggled and the amount of paintings of women in their finery but exposing one boob. There’s probably some sort of art movement behind it but it just looked like the sexting of its day. We also saw paintings that involved sad, creepy eels.

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We later headed back to Tours where we went to all my favourite bars then headed out for dinner at a cute creperie where we were both so full of fondue starter that we only managed a pitiful half-crepe each. We also took a walk to the town hall near our house, where there’s an animal sanctuary which houses crazy-looking chickens, ducks, peacocks, some goats and a donkey. All in all a lovely weekend with my beebs.

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