Ok, picking up where I left off a couple days ago.

When I finalized plans for this trip – the fourth consecutive year in France during September – I knew I wanted to spend a significant chunk of the three or so weeks in Toulouse.

But I also wanted to add another French city I hadn’t been to before. Last year, it was Lille.

I was leaning toward a flight into Geneva with a quick train ride to Lyon – France’s third largest city. I’d also work in St.-Etienne which has a first division soccer club that had a home match during my contemplated time frame.

But then one of the women who I met here on my first trip to Toulouse helped launch a new restaurant in Nantes, which already was high on my hopeful list of cities to visit because of touts from others.

So, I ended up settling on Nantes so I could visit Elsa – and the great new restaurant/bar/small grocery La Grande Barge.

The Barge has been serving meals since mid-May of this year but celebrates its ceremonial grand opening today.

I couldn’t attend the grand opening but I had lunch there on Monday and Tuesday of this week.

On Monday, I had a pork and rice dish that incorporated Columbo, a blend of spices unique to France. The rice was plumpish, moist basmati and the pork was fatty and tender. Since Elsa is kinda famous for her desserts, I had the “pear crumble” which included flavors of chocolate and hazelnut.

Tuesday was my favorite. I sat outside under sunny skies and had the “bowl of the day,” which is often vegetarian at the Barge but not always. On this day, it was amazing for its simplicity and deliciousness. It was a slice of curried/roasted pumpkin (a product used often by Elsa) grown in Vendée on a bed of buckwheat and beans topped by salad and a perfectly timed poached egg (the bowl is pictured above).

The dessert was ridiculous. She calls it a “tarte au fromage blanc citronnée” which was basically a slice of unbelievable lemon cheesecake topped with a drizzle of salty buttery caramel.

La Grande Barge was packed both days I was there. There’s a core four who work there including Elsa in the kitchen. Jean-Baptiste works the tables. And Francois and Aurelie assure that it call comes together during the busy lunch rush. The restaurant is backed by a collective which I don’t fully understand other than there’s some 30 or so people with a hand in the direction and philosophy which is intensely focused on finding and using local producers. The Barge says almost all of their products come from within 62 miles of Nantes. A map on the wall to the right as you enter shows in detail where everything comes from and who produced it.

When I was there Tuesday, people were also walking away with sacks of local produce sold at the store. Interestingly, and I guess kinda French, the Grande Barge is closed on the weekends.

Just arrived Toulouse which will be the base now for next 12 days.

I flew Easy Jet at midday Wednesday. The flight was an hour from out to in. The fare was only 60 euros including checked luggage fee. I’ve flown Easy Jet now once or twice in each of the last four years and they’ve been consistently reliable and reasonable. There’s no knock to be found on Easy Jet other than their inclination to use portable stairs at front and back – which obviously make it difficult to handle for elderly customers compared to the standard, flat jet way.

I watched a few seniors with trepidation come off the inbound flight with confident physical assistance from airport workers who tightly clutched the customers to ease them down the stairs.

From the Nantes hotel this morning, I took the tram (line 3) and rode it city center. From there, an airport bus operated by the Nantes transit system takes you on a 30-minute ride to the airport for 9 euros. It was seamless.

I’ve meant to point this out after taking previous Easy Jet flights, but major kudos to the airline for a section in their company’s on-board flight magazine which is totally devoted to ground transportation logistics in all the cities it serves.

For each airport it serves in its vast network, Easy Jet concisely describes the best, cheapest way to get to that destination’s downtown. It spells out the fare and contrasts it with the going taxi fare – point to point.

Having worked at an airport now going on 25 years, you’d be surprised at the number of people who land at their destination and have no idea what they’re looking for in terms of public transport. Sometimes airlines or airports steer people to particular modes because of a vested interest. The Easy Jet flight mag does in fact mention its own bus service available in some places – but the bulk of their suggestions are unbiased touts that appear to be backed by practicality and budget considerations.

As I took the airport-bound bus out of Nantes this morning, my first reflection was that the six days there flew by. It’s a great city. I think I like it better than my “add-on ville” last year: Lille.

Yeah, the weather was better this year– and I had a friend I was able to see in Nantes – but it felt a bit more manageable size-wise. It was friendly, diverse and super lively – at least until about 9 PM or so when things kinda wound down throughout.

Among the things and places I saw and experienced in Nantes:

-Le Musee d’arts de Nantes – the highlight here was the Susanna Fritscher work which uses countless white silicon threads hung from the ceiling in the center (or what was called Le Patio) of this bright white room on the newly-renovated museum’s main floor. Quiet, ambient music builds into pretty trippy and loud electronic toonage while contraptions that look like motorized thunder sticks in the ceiling’s corners spin for effect. There was an actual live orchestral concert in the middle of this visually (and aurally) intense scene on the day I was there. I sat waiting for it to start at 3 PM only to be told it was only for those with a special ticket. The rest of the museum groups most exhibitions by time frame. As is my custom as a relative neophyte of the art museum visit, I gravitated toward the current era stuff which included many local and regional painters. There was also a really interesting section devoted to small screen projection of short films including a whole wall full of self-portrait type shorts by Marina Abramovic.

-Jardin des plantes: near the Musee d’arts, this large space is a well-kept display of beautiful trees, plants, flowers and art. It’s free. And because it’s across the street from the main train station, it looked like a place people were hanging out while wait for their connection. There are benches everywhere and all the different types of growing things are marked with a sign and explanation.

-The Navibus to Trentemoult: Everybody touted Trentemoult so I went on Monday which was the only dreary day during my stay in Nantes. Trentemoult (pictured above) is a neighborhood of houses painted in bright, unusual colors. To get there, you take a small ferry boat (referred to as the Navibus). The boat is operated by the city’s transit system and you pay the same fare as if you were on the tram or bus. I enjoyed the boat ride for the perspective of the city but Trentemoult was pretty dead when I went, perhaps because it was a Monday. On the boat ride, you get a great view of the cranes in an area called “Machines de l’Ile.” Nantes – I think – is proud to be associated with the presence of large construction or container-loading cranes – and some are positioned purely (it appears) to flaunt this symbolism. Some look decorative only.

I used the Tram constantly while in Nantes. Four lines (numbered one thru four) largely cover four quadrants of the city and near-exterior of the city. The 3 stopped right by my “apart-hotel” although it took my a few days to figure that out. A 24-hour unlimited use pass cost 5.4 euros bought at machines located at each tram stop.

Left unwritten are food and drink highlights from Nantes. I’m out of time right now but that’ll come next.