A visit to Nantes
When I retired I joined a U3A French group. For those people who have not come across it before the University of the third age is a voluntary organisation that provides classes and social groups for retired people. Our group is unusual that we run without a tutor. We meet in members houses and play games like scrabble and taboo in French. We also meet up with other French groups for activities such as talks and petanque.
One member of our group noticed a request in the U3A magazine from a similar French group in Nantes in north west France who wanted to do an exchange and as Easy Jet has just opened a route between Nantes and Bristol we thought it was a good opportunity to practice our French and see a new city. The French equivalent of the U3A is the University Permanente. It is different from the English version as it is attached to the main university and classes meet in the University.
Four of us arranged to go and we were met at the airport by our hosts from the French anglophone group at Nantes airport with a sign reading UP Nantes which reminded us of UP Pompei, a 1960’s British T.V. comedy show. For the next three days our very generous hosts showed us round Nantes.
I was struck by the similarities with Bristol, both cities have about half a million inhabitants and are former ports which have lost trade because the rivers, the Loire in France and the Avon in England have become too shallow for modern boats. Both cities also owe much of their prosperity to the slave trade. We visited a very moving memorial to the slave trade in Nantes and discussed its relevance to Bristol which seems to want to forget its past.
Nantes was also the birth place of Jules Verne, the French science fiction writer. The old boat building sheds in Nantes have been turned into a
steam punk museum where fantastical machines are created. The highlight is an enormous mechanical elephant as big as a double decker bus which gives people rides around the dock yard. There is also a huge carousel based on Verne’s story twenty thousand leagues under the sea where you can ride on underwater sea creatures.
We enjoyed meeting the French group and practising our rather rusty French. We also savoured French cuisine both in our hosts’ home and a variety of restaurants. Our hosts introduced to some very interesting bars including the nest (Le Nid) at the top of Le tour Bretagne (Brittany tower) where the chairs and tables resemble eggs and we had stunning views of the whole city and La Cigale (the cicada) with its beautiful art deco décor.
We returned home with greater confidence speaking French and a strong commitment to continue our contact with Nantes UP.