I hang in the middle, like a true foreigner. I am neither a resident of Nantes nor am I a tourist. I am a residing tourist and a touring resident for these five months. The first three weeks have been spent mostly as a resident, rushing from the bank to administrative offices to the grocery store and back again. But the past couple of days? I was a tourist.
Thursday, I had the opportunity to attend the World Song and Dance Night where I danced a traditional Russian dance. My friends didn’t want to dance and I needed a partner, so I asked another woman standing nearby. She readily agreed and we had a blast. I also noticed that my friends joined in later. Maybe I’m a trendsetter or maybe they just realized that Russian dancing is absolutely fun!
Saturday, the international student organization put together a Welcome Day. Finally, after the craziness, I was able to enjoy the history and culture of Nantes. We arrived at the international house and we told to make groups of four. Well, that was a little difficult because I wanted to go with two girls from Belgium, a girl from Germany, and, of course, my two American friends. If you can do the math, that adds up to six (myself included). Ah well. Close enough (this is probably why I am not a math major). It was a photo scavenger hunt around the city. We had to collect photos of the clues on the paper and we had to be back in two-and-a-half hours. Sounds simple, right? Well, there were fifteen locations and we hadn’t heard of some of them.
Luckily, we were paired with a French student. You’ll never guess his name. No really. You won’t.
I didn’t think I would actually meet someone named François in France. After all, I named the cat in the lobby “François” and when people here asked me what I was going to do when I got older, I told them I was going to marry a man named “François” and live in France. Which was fine. Because I didn’t know a François. Now, I do. If anyone asks, I plan to marry a man named “Pierre” and live in France (I haven’t met a “Pierre” yet)!
Anyway, getting back to the real François. He’s very involved with the international student organization and I had seen him several times before. He was extremely knowledgeable about the history of Nantes. He led us to a monument and would explain in great deal the history of the monument. I was thoroughly impressed. I was also impressed with his ability to navigate the city. I had been to some of the places we were visiting, but I went the long way. François showed us short cuts and we went through narrow alleyways and paths not traveled by the tourist.
Besides the massive amount of history and culture, François also gave us practical student information. He told us about good places to eat, cheap places to go for entertainment (as a student, you can go to the opera for five euros) and places to go if we missed home (apparently, there’s an American who owns a burger joint here in Nantes).
Of course, it was like a marathon running around Nantes in such a short time. We returned to the international student house for some crêpes. It was La Chandeleur, which is Crêpe Day in France (yes, it is a real holiday). My crêpes were yummy and exactly the nourishment I needed after walking so much. I talked to other international students. The international student organization also had cooking ware left from other international students in the past, but I didn’t buy anything. I don’t cook here in France. Eating in the dining hall is the cheapest option.
Sunday was free museum day in France. The first Sunday of every month is free museum day, which is something one of my friends reminded me. I feel like I learned that in French class somewhere along the way, but I definitely forgot about that. So, in the cold morning, my two American friends and I went on (what I call) the Great Museum Adventure.
We planned to go to the Jules Verne Museum. I looked at the map quickly before I left, but I figured I would be able to navigate once I got to the area. Most people know that I have a good sense of direction and I am very comfortable navigating around unfamiliar places. But, on Sunday, my internal compass was on vacation.
I confidently led the two ladies into a residential area…and to a street with creepy, dead-looking trees. It was then that I realized that we were lost. We did get a chance to see a random statue, but we were definitely not in the right area. We found a map. We were supposed to go left when we got off the tram. I led them to the right. I was embarrassed and I felt horrible for making them walk in the cold wind for a giant circle.
We ended up back at the tram and headed in the right direction, up a giant hill and found the Jules Verne Museum. Which said it was open and was free on the first Sunday of the month…except it was closed. It was strange. But, at the top of the hill, we had an amazing view of Nantes and got a chance to see a random piece of artwork.
Cold and tired, we walked to the Natural History Museum. We found it, but we knew that just because we found it didn’t mean that it would be open…except it was. It was open and it was free. We walked inside and saw displays on rocks, birds, animals and wood. There was even a live exhibit on…snakes. Kellene isn’t scared of much. I saved a bug on the PRT one day and I constantly take spiders outside to the green grass. I don’t worry about monsters in the dark. I’m not scared of tight places (as evidenced by my tiny bathroom). But the one thing that I am ABSOLUTELY terrified of is…snakes. Nasty, slimy, slithering, ugly snakes. So, you won’t believe this, but I walked through the exhibit. The entire exhibit. Of course, all of the snakes were dangerous, man-eating, vicious creatures and the little French kids had their noses pressed up against the window. The window for the snakes actually opened up into the room so I kept my distance, but I couldn’t believe the fearlessness of those kids. When you’re a kid, curiosity trumps fear, every time.
We also went to the Château des ducs de Bretagne, which is the giant castle in the middle of the city. We went into the museum, expecting it to be a small museum, but it went through the entire castle. It held not only the history of the castle, but also of the city of Nantes. It was, by far, the coolest museum. There was so much information that I will probably have to go back.
It was fantastic being a tourist, but then came Monday and class and paperwork (again).