Adventures and misadventures in France.

Archive for August, 2013

Machines de l’Ile

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The Machines de l’Ile is a mechanical art exposition based in Nantes. Their whimsical attractions are mostly plant and animal machines inspired by the works of Leonardo DaVinci and Jules Verne.

The Elephant

The Carousel of Marine Worlds

The Heron Tree

Set to open in 2019, the Arbre aux Herons is still in the conceptual phase, but it’s going to be a towering feat of engineering and design measuring 50 meters across and 45 meters high. The structure will be an immense tree-shaped garden, include moving animal machines large enough to carry people throughout the branches, a bar, and swinging herons circling above. The creators have many of their preliminary designs on display including scale models of the tree, prototypes of the animals, a greenhouse testing the durability of various plants, and a single 3-story “branch” walkway.

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It doesn’t sleep. It waits.

It doesn't sleep. It waits.

Our neighbor just planted this little guy in our (shared) yard. We’re going to call him Stump Gnome.

He reminds me of a scene from The Full Monty, which was on French TV this weekend. Also South Park.

Le Puy du Fou

 

If Disney World and a Renaissance Faire got together, the Puy du Fou would be their beautiful French love child. Le Puy du Fou is a historical theme park nestled in the heart of France that serves as a tribute to French and Christian culture throughout the ages. Add in thousands of eccentric employees and volunteers, animals, and over-the-top special effects, and you’ve got the attraction voted 2012’s Best Theme Park in the world.

BUT WAIT!  That doesn’t look like any theme park I’VE ever seen before! Where are the roller coasters? Who makes a family theme park that revolves around periods of war? Was that a colosseum? Where are the anamatronic woodland creatures, and whose idea was it to include gigantic flame throwers?

Le Puy du Fou was unlike any other amusement park (or Ren Faire) that I had ever visited. Instead of the usual rides and attractions, it’s filled with a series of reconstructed period villages and outdoor theaters built to accommodate 300-14,000 spectators.  We only visited for the day, and with six shows on our priority list, it took a bit of scheduling wizardry and hustling to see each 20-50 minute show.

Middle Ages

The first show we attended told the story of Marguerite, a shepherdess who must defend a castle from invaders. Plenty of cool horse tricks, an immense castle set disappeared into the ground, an another castle appeared in its place to spin around and shoot flames, and Jean d’Arc (Joan of Arc) made an appearance.

Vikings

The vikings show came next, and I began to realize a common theme across each show – conflicts of the French Christians versus their barbaric enemies. A full battle ensued, including a viking invasion by boats that appeared out of the water (with living people inside! how did they DO it?) They had wolves attacking people not 10 feet from the front row, someone got lit on fire, towers exploded, and people were dragged behind galloping horses. Easily one of my favorites.

Knights of the Round Table

King Arthur pulled the sword out of the stone, faces challenges, and earns the respect and authority he deserves. Except that the stone spurted flaming water (another SFX mystery), the round table emerged out of a lake and re-disappeared below the water, and a table spun around. Not to leave anyone unimpressed, they included an actual swimming mermaid.

Romans

Set in a 7000-seat colosseum, this show represented Christian Gaul rebellions against the brutal Roman empire. We got to see plenty of gladiators and wild animals roaming around. The highlight, however, was an actual full-speed chariot race. There are only a handful of people in the world qualified to race 4-horse chariot teams, most of whom are employed by the Puy du Fou.

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Birds

The Puy du Fou has its own falconry school. One show was meant to showcase their expertise, but also managed to include the story of…

Blah blah blah spirit of the falcons blah blah blah friendship and harmony singing singing…

Which was not particularly interesting until they unleashed 150 birds of prey simultaneously into the crowd. The birds are even trained to perch on spectators’ hats!

Musketeers

After char broiling in the heat all afternoon, it was time to visit the Richelieu Theater, the only indoor show at the Puy du Fou. As the name suggests, the show is loosely based on the story of the Three Musketeers. The stage is enormous – 80 meters long – 2600 square meters total. To put it in perspective, that’s half the size of an American football field. After some witty banter and fight scenes, we were thrown into a world of glowing horses, flamenco-dancing women – and the stage became a lake. The splashy dancing, horses, and crazy lights continued as the entire stage flooded with six inches of water.

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Orange Mocha Frappuccino

Do the Jitterbug

At 8:30 am this morning, I walked in on these two dancing to “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go.”

Design Progress

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Max and his team of assistants (though I prefer to call them minions) have busy producing 3D images of the new office building, set to open by May 2014. The boss has been taking a lot of employee input into consideration. One level of the new building is going to feature a workout space, cafeteria, and recreation room with pool and foosball.

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Beaches of France : Guerande and La Turballe

Part 3

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This funny instrument is called a vielle à roue, or a hurdy gurdy.

Guerande is a fortified medieval city just north of La Baule and St. Nazaire. We decided to drop by the inner city on the way home from our beach weekend to visit the original church, get some lunch, and maybe sample their Brittany wares. The region is known its heavy Breton influence, sailing culture, and coarse salt production. Today, the city is filled with artisans and their shops selling paintings and sculptures.

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Later in the afternoon, we wanted to get a look at the marais salants, salt flats, in La Turballe. Not much to see, just piles of delicious lying around.

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Oh boy! Salt!

Next to the flats, we found a parking lot with signage leading to a beach. Adding to our weekend of spontaneity, we decided to take a stroll to check it out. Fifteen minutes of marching through a forest filled with picnicking families and the beach finally came into view. On such a hot day, we were excited to finally see a natural and tranquil beach. We finally reached the top of the dunes and looked down to admire the clear water and the bay below.

The face of ignorance

The face of blissful ignorance.

Look at that view! The sand is so soft! Let’s go dip our feet in the water!

Hey that’s weird… there’s a woman swimming – naked? And there’s another guy and he’s – also naked? And those people over there… and… uh oh…

As it turns out, this particular beach was far more natural than anticipated. We had stumbled upon an unofficial naturist beach. Standing at the top of the dunes, we tried not to stare as couples, families, and groups of friends all paraded past us to enjoy their naked day at the beach. After a few moments of shocked silence and attempts at nonchalance, Max turned to me and asked:

Can we go back to the car now?

Maybe next time, Naked Beach.

Beaches of France : La Baule and Pornichet

Part 2

“The most beautiful beach in Europe”

The morning after our St. Nazaire fiasco, Max and I woke up early and drove to La Baule, a bay spanning 12 kilometers (7.5 miles) in southern Brittany. The enormous and beautiful beach is covered in restaurants and “clubs”- bars for parents to relax while their children engage in camp activites. The entire bay is lined with hotels, luxury apartments, and a rambla for long strolls.

We parked in Pornichet, the low-key southern end of the beach, and walked forever to find some sandwiches and gelatto in the main shopping area. We had the beach mostly to ourselves until mid-afternoon, when people flooded into the water or posted up in one of the rental tents. We had to be on the lookout for enormous jellyfish that regularly washed up on shore, but otherwise spent the afternoon reading relaxing in the sun.

European beaches are notoriously laid back, but coming from America, it’s still surprising to see women casually spending the day topless on the beach (more on that later). In France, however, toplessness doesn’t seem to provoke any attention, positive or negative.

That evening, we avoided the crowds by returning to Pornichet for dinner (more forever walking), and enjoyed a tasty seafood dinner at Le Normandy.

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Check out the lemon juice contraption.

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