A beautiful sunny and 75 F during my first three days in Nantes. Gorgeous. I’m staying at an “apart-hotel” in the middle of what seems like a nice, quiet neighborhood. It’s a big room with a kitchen and no housekeeping – and no overnight front desk presence – so you punch a code in to enter after regular business hours.
I can’t remember why I planned it this way (probably because of cost) but it’s turned out to be a perfect situation. Because Nantes – like all of France I guess – is teeming with incredible near-daily markets – so I’ve been able to eat-in after picking up some great groceries nearby.
Again, it was pure luck – but the place I’m staying is just down the street from Talensac Market – considered the city’s best. On Saturday morning, there were probably twenty vendors selling produce – and at least ten butchers, ten fish-sellers, 15 bakers and 15 cheese makers. I’ve never seen a market like it. There were long, long lines at several of the popular places. I guess the key difference I noticed here compared to American greenmarkets is that here you don’t touch the produce. You don’t collect what you want – and then pay for it. You wait in line – tell the seller what you want – and then the seller scoops it up with varying levels of deference to the customer’s input before weighing it. There are no plastic bags – or very few. You don’t really see them. Everybody has the reusable sack for any and all food-related purchases. I came armed with several on this trip. I wish NYC would get with the program on plastic bags but that’s a gripe for another day.
Everything food is cheaper or the same in France compared to the US except maybe lobster. I saw the most beautiful dark, red-hued, just-caught tuna in Nantes this morning and all the fish-sellers had it at about 25 or 26 euros per kilo. The same Atlantic Ocean I live near is just 60 kilometers due west from Nantes.
There’s one guy (along with someone who might be his wife) selling nothing but a bunch of varieties of raw, cured fish. I’m gonna try to find him tomorrow.
I’ve had a somewhat debilitating head cold going on 72 hours. I’m playing a game now which consists of straddling between taking it easy to gain full recovery – and marching full speed because I don’t want to waste my time here.
Yesterday, I went about fifteen minutes north of where I’m staying to see a full twilight card of horse racing at Hippodrome du Petit Port. The eight race program featured five “flat” races – or thoroughbred entries running on a grass oval of sorts – and three “haies” races – where the contestants must jump hurdles spaced out widely over a long distance run. Admission was 5 euros – and they handed you a free program on the way in.
Small, roughly nine-ounce pours of “1664” – the Bud equivalent in France – cost 2.5 euros. I had a sausage on a fresh baguette for 4 euros. The crowd swelled as the day went on – and the atmosphere wasn’t bad. This was racing at a significantly lower level than what I saw at St. Cloud a year ago but it was a well-organized event from the race caller to the people doing identity checks after entries were saddled to the guys replacing divots on the turf course – all the way up and down. It was a well-organized day. Most impressive to witness was the effort of several track workers forced to corral a runaway horse after the seventh race using only a white towel and a variety of soothing but forceful French phrases.
I did not place a bet because the past performance information didn’t allow me to make the kind of educated guesses I’m accustomed to at home. This hasn’t stopped me before of course – but I didn’t really feed the need to bet.
The third race on the card – the Prix Mellinet – was an 8-10 thousand euro claiming race for all horses four and up. The interesting condition here – one I’ve never seen before in the states for a regular race – is that all entries had to have a female jockey.
I’ll get more into a description of Nantes in a couple days. I really like what I see so far. It’s visually stimulating for sure. It’s quirky and different than the other French cities I’ve been to. But it’s totally French. There’s no tourists really that I can see other than a few here for a tech convention and an electronic music gathering.
I got on a bicycle a couple times today. The extensive Nantes bike share system costs just one euro for one day’s worth of all the 30-minute rides you want during a 24-hour period.
Usually leery of mingling with vehicular traffic, I’m more comfortable riding here than most places because of the nicely-planned, well-marked lanes for bikes only. There’s also many stretches in well-traveled, popular parts of the city protected from cars via sidewalk-like bikeways rarely seen in most urban areas given the fight for space.