Saturday, December 10, 2011

Nantes is a Great Place to Wear Red Boots, Because it Always Rains!

Greetings from the tropical rainforest of...France?!?  Yep, that's right, apparently here in France, where it's warm enough to have banana trees, it, well, apparently rains almost every day.  Every.  Single.  Day.  But for me, that's just fine, as long as I don't have to drive through a foot of snow in order to get to class, I am just fine and dandy sporting my obviously American red boots and obviously American pink umbrella while trying my best not to smile and say "Bonjour" to everyone I pass, like an obviously American person would do. 
It's a lot of work for me not to smile at everyone, really.  I am loving my time here so much, even with the rain, as I now feel comfortable walking all around Angers, speaking with the local vendors and getting used to the layout of downtown (well, as much as I can-keep in mind my rant on how directionally challenged I am).  Heck, grocery shopping is a breeze now, compared to when I first got here, like I previously posted!
But this post takes me away from my beloved Angers, to the neighboring city of Nantes, for my medical exam.  For my readers who are thinking of traveling abroad, just remember that if you are staying for longer than three months (which I am passing that limit by a mere three weeks), you have to apply for a Visa before you leave the States, as well as get a medical exam in the closest city who has a government office.
So, packing a ton of paper in a bag, praying that it won't rain too much in Nantes, my red boots, my tiny pink umbrella and I boarded the train for a day trip to Nantes, homeplace of Jules Verne, author of Around the World in 80 Days, as well as the famous French bakery, LU (with whom I truly have a love-hate relationship--darn you, awesome LU cookies!), and something called "The Machines of the Island".
Although I found out that I could find all of these things here, I didn't find out until I just happened to pass my History of France teacher that I would also find one more thing prominently displayed in Nantes: rain.  I mean, a ton of rain.  Of course I bought my train tickets with the idea in mind to walk around town all day long, and find this out ten minutes before I boarded the TGV.
This picture would be a lot more awesome, if the rain didn't continuously fog up my camera!

But all was not lost, folks!  Nantes, plein d'eau (full of rain), turned out to be a wonderful trip.  Just outside the train station is a huge garden, complete with a large cage of exotic birds and a greenhouse.  The downtown area resembled Angers, complete with a Holiday marché, as well as an indoor shopping area called the Passage de Pommeraye.   

Stopping in a specialty chocolate shop, I bought myself a little treat, but ended up giving it to the children of a beggar woman taking shelter inside the Passage.  Honestly, that gave me more pleasure, seeing those kids' faces light up at the sight of chocolate for them after watching people going in and out of that particular store all day long, than I would have ever gotten eating it myself.  
Could you imagine looking at this everyday while you were hungry?

With a warmed heart, I stepped back out into the cold rain, and made my way to the medical office, stopping by a café for a quick espresso and--successfully!--asking for and receiving directions from a couple of locals inside.  Luckily, I happened to recognize a few other students from CIDEF who just happened to be at a sandwich shop down the street from the office, and we made our way together to our appointments. 
After two unsuccessful (not to mention cold!) attempts to take X-rays of my chest for inspection, I was finally ushered into the doctor's office with a fresh picture of my ribcage and lungs.  Glancing over my X-ray, the doctor told me everything looked A-OK (in French, bien sûr), and asked me what I thought of my French diet.  I told her that it was quite a change from my own back in the States, and explained that I felt a little out of it because I hadn't been able to exercise in France like I do back at home, where the gym on my college campus is free (as opposed to between 40 and 60 euros a month in Angers).  She told me that it was not a big deal to gain a bit of weight in order to enjoy French food, and I told her I wasn't worried about losing any weight I gained since I was successful in losing 115 lbs. (around 52 kg.) before coming to Angers. 
She looked at me incredulously and stated that I must have translated "50 kilos" incorrectly, and that I must have meant "5 kilos".  I told her that it was not a mis-translation, and she insisted again, in English this time "not fifty kilos?!?"  "Si, si!" I stated, and, laughing in disbelief, the doctor returned to her native French, joking that, in that case, a few pounds gained from French food was nothing to worry about, but that when I come back to the States, that I should eat like the French, keeping in mind how much the French eat (or don't eat, for that matter), even if I am eating like the French already now in meal times and course numbers, but eating those meals like an American, meaning eating as much as I want of the good-tasting stuff.
After I was finished with my exam, one of the other CIDEF students, Dan, and I joined forces and ended up spending the rest of the day together, walking around town in the rain, navigating the public transportation system (which I let her lead, having much more experience in her native China than I did between rural Ohio and Asheville, NC, where there is a public transportation system, but is nothing like in France), and ending our day together by visiting one of the most AWESOME places I've ever visited, the Museum of the Machines of the Island.  I heard that in this museum, situated on one of the tiny islands in the middle of the Loire River in Nantes, I could find "big animals made out of wood," but I couldn't have ever imagined that I would find such wonderous things here.  They were not just big animals, they were not just machines, they were true works of art.  The crown and glory of this museum is an animatronic representation of an elephant, which not only walks while people walk around inside it because it is so big, but also sprays water out of its moveable trunk while flapping its huge leather ears and blinking its glassy, lifelike eyes.  If I didn't know better, I would think that these things were real. 

These tourists had no idea that they would be asked to ride this thing!

Me + pink umbrella + red boots + standing in front of huge animatronic elephant =AMERICAN SMILE
My new friend, Dan, making our way along the (slippery!) jungle-gym-like tree in the front of the museum

In fact, maybe they are.
(And yes, that is me honking, after Dan exclaimed "Oh!"  Just so you know.)

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