Before arriving in France I had a long list of places to travel and things to see. Antz, Liv and I all agreed that one of them was seeing the Les Machines de l’île in Nantes. I purchased annual SNCF passes because they were on mega sale (they are usually €75 each but I got them for €29!) These passes give us discounts on train fares for trips on the weekends and a special child fare. We plan to take so many train trips, I think it’s a wise investment. So I’m sure you have never heard of Les Machines de l’île or le Grand Élephant so pop over to their website to see what I’m talking about.
We have watched several videos about these magical creatures so I booked a day trip to Nantes to surprise the kid a week before her birthday!
The train ride to Nantes was our longest to date. Just over 4 hours but we sat in a Club Four which is a set of four chairs facing each other with a table. This configuration is rare to book so we really enjoyed it. We departed from Gare Austerlitz.
We did everything you could during the four hour ride. We played video games on our phones, ate snacks, napped, read books, colored in Liv’s coloring book and played an intense game of Uno. I taught Liv how to play the card game Speed (my favorite game when I was in high school). We arrived after noon and it took awhile to figure out how to navigate the part of town where the machines were. I would think it is such a popular attraction, the tram would take us directly there. However, we took a tram for about 20 minutes and then had to walk over a long bridge before we found the site.
We were shocked to be sitting next to this cutie on the tram! Our cat Lola would never sit so obediently let alone let us put a harness on her.
We walked past the Château des ducs de Bretagne but it was closed and there was a protest happening nearby.
During the long walk across the bridge I was wondering if we would end up having to climb that ladder to get to the Le Carrousel Mondes des Marins. It’s hidden in plain sight!
We had no idea what this gentleman was selling when we first saw him riding past. I was hoping for some cotton candy but it turned out to be marshmallow squares in very unique flavors.
It’s hard to describe the Marine Worlds Carousel. It’s part steampunk, part nautical. There are three levels. The lower (Ocean floor) levels don’t have a floor, so you board via a moveable gangplank which Liv and I felt too apprehensive to ride. So we climbed to the top. I was so captivated by the sea creatures I kept forgetting to take pictures. It’s so huge I couldn’t get a shot of everything to fit!
As you can see it’s a very surreal experience. I was explaining to Liv how the characters reminded me of the films of Terry Gilliam. The only one she has seen is Doctor Parnassus but she got the idea.
When we reached the top, we were happy to find a floor and the raddest set of creatures. Each one has a moving element that you control like a marionette. Some by steering and some by pedals or pumps. It was very cool but also odd. I couldn’t capture the entire carousel in photos due to the sheer size of it. I loved the music they were playing too. It reminded me of one of my favorite singers Tom Waits.
Next we walked over to the mechanical elephant. I was surprised to see a sign saying that the elephant ride was sold out. It was close to 1pm, and they weren’t due to close until 7pm that evening. When I found someone who spoke English she said they had to close early due to thunderstorms. What a bummer! So we took some photos and marveled at the giant wooden elephant. The gracefulness in it’s movement and agility was remarkable. I wish we could have experienced riding it but seeing it up close was rad.
I’m so glad I brought my wide lens for my camera because our iPhones couldn’t fit it in one frame in photos. Antz took this amazing video with his iPhone X.
Liv and Antz went inside the Gallery and Liv was chosen to steer the giant Ant!
She loved it! We had lunch at the restaurant on the site. It was just about to close so the menu was limited. I got the last Caesar salad they had and Antz and Liv had a chicken sandwich.
The last thing we did was check out the smaller carousel. This one was similar to the large one and the creatures were interactive too. Absolutely enchanting.
The elephant returned from his walk and Liv got a surprise!
She dried off with an ice cream cone and we browsed the gift shop. I bought Liv a Nantes souviner gold coin for her collection and I bought a coffee table book about the Royal Deluxe Company. It was heavy in my backpack but I knew they didn’t have it on Amazon and it’s such a beautiful photography book, I couldn’t pass it up. I hope to one day see them perform in person since I have watched every single youtube video of their amazing giant puppets. The work they do is incredible but they don’t announce their shows until a few days in advance so it’s hard to catch them.
After spending the entire afternoon at Les Machines de l’île, we decided to take the tram back to the train station a little early because Antz had a headache and Liv was tired. To our surprise when we arrived at the tram, it was closed by the local police for some unknown reason. I tried to order an Uber but the app wasn’t working (no wifi) so we had to walk over an hour back to the train station.
Lucky for us we left early or we would have arrived there late. We sat patiently waiting for our train arrival. Poor Antz headache got so bad we had to go to the pharmacy and buy him some medication. Just when our train was 15 minutes from boarding we saw this on the train schedule display.
I asked Liv what en retard meant in French and she said LATE! It took forever to find an English speaking staff person and they told me that due to lightening striking the train tracks, all trains going to Paris were delayed for an indeterminate amount of time. So we ended up stranded at the train station for FOUR HOURS! The staff brought out little snack boxes and bottled water for everyone but it felt like the apocalypse. People were grabbing the boxes like a riot and Antz headache was worsening. Liv didn’t feel great either and it was too hot to wait inside the station so we sat outside at the tracks which meant we couldn’t hear any updates. The announcements were all in French anyway. We started to panic and worry that we would have to book a hotel for overnight. Then finally around the time we were scheduled to arrive back in Paris, we saw everyone getting up and heading towards the tracks downstairs. We pushed through like cartoon super heros and jumped on the train and sat at the first club four seats we saw. Since all the trains to Paris were late, the staff didn’t check our tickets and we didn’t bother to find our original seats. An English speaking couple sat down across from us and told us we were in their seats but I guess I gave the guy a look like Reagan from the Exorcist and he nicely said, No worries, we’ll sit here. The train ride was supposed to be 4 hours but they put the pedal to the metal and got us into Paris by 1 am. I have never seen more exhausted and frustrated people from all over the world collectively sleep like we did. We were all happy to be out of Nantes.
I scheduled an Uber before the train stopped in Paris before all the other passengers but I still got hit with double the fare surcharge. Merde! I told our French friends about enduring this trip and they laughed and said Welcome to France!
So despite being disappointed about the elephant ride and the long train delay, we had a good time. I didn’t think the town of Nantes was particularly awesome. As Antz put it, if you seen one town in France you’ve seen them all.