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Mick's Weekend

Last Friday, I clocked out of work and raced over to the not-so-near-but-not-so-far railway station to meet Mick. Damn! I can't believe it's already been three years. This time, for the bonus nerd points, he was wearing a Terrahawks t-shirt. That's perhaps something you had to be a certain age to remember?
We all went to McDo and introduced Mick to the future.
And... Yes. He is also of the opinion that it is better to talk to a McGirl instead of a McChine. I wonder if they're going to roll out this automatic streamlined ordering system in the UK? Well, gotta hand it to McDonald's, they have managed to extract every last bit of humanity from the fast food service. We ordered. We sat. A McGirl brought the order a few minutes later, put the trays down, and was gone before I got to point out that she'd forgotten the straws...

The next day was an early start. Up at the train station for half nine, we bought tickets to go on the tram-train to Nantes. This is a fairly new service, not quite a train, not quite a tram (but closer to a train). The SNCF automatic ticket machine is a bit of a pain in the ass. Three people going the same way? Well, I couldn't find any option for multiple tickets, so I had to do the ordering process three times over.
Then we had the fun of "composting" the tickets. You see, in Britain you buy a ticket and get on the train. Eventually a guy will come around and ask to look at your ticket and when you give it to him, he will clip out a notch or a hole with a gadget like a small hole-punch. In France, you buy a ticket and then feed it into another machine that stamps the time and place on the ticket. And then you get on the train. And nobody looks at your ticket...

The inside of the train is...very French.

We travelled through fields and towns.

Across rivers.

Alongside BBQs:

Power to trains in France is provided by overhead wires (as opposed to Britain's "third rail"). As such, large points and track switches on the entry to a major station is a complicated mess of electrics.

This one goes somewhat faster. TGV means Train (de) Grande Vitesse. Or, in English, "Very Fast Train".


So... We were in Nantes, and about all I could tell you was that we were in Nantes. I took a moment to look up a position on GPS which put us a little bit above the island. Which wasn't terribly useful as not knowing any about Nantes, didn't help. To put it into context, imagine being dropped at some random point in Reading. Actually, Nantes is smaller than Reading but has roughly twice as many inhabitants. It is France's 6th largest town. And we were lost somewhere in the middle of it.

After some deliberation, I made an "executive decision" to go this way (East, I think) following the signs that said "Centre Ville". We never got there, as after walking by a seemingly never ending succession of Kebab joints and tabacs, we went around a corner to see this to the North:

This is the "LU" building. LU, as in Lefèvre Utile, though maybe better known for the "Petit Écolier" biscuit.

And to the south?

That looks suspiciously like a Castle. Not these poncey "châteaux" that are glorified manor houses, but a proper decent solid walls and ramparts style castle.

Walking inside, this isn't poncey either. This is epic. But what else would you expect from the residence of the Dukes of Brittany for hundreds of years?

Nantes undertook a mammoth restoration programme and turned the castle into a big museum. We didn't have time for that, so we looked in the bookshop/giftshop. I don't quite know what the connection is between Nantes and Japan, but there was some samurai stuff on sale, including a limited edition "only available here" book about the history of the samurai. A large book, with an equally large price tag - I think something in the ballpark of €245! More into my price range was a little origami kit written in Japanese and English (uh, no French!) and a manga (in French) set at the castle called "Christmas at the Castle". I think. More on these two things later.
Wandering around, one could also spot roving bundles of cuteness, but spotting was about as far as it went as the attached boyfriends tended to look like ex-Yakuza sushi chefs, the sort you see in movies who are pretty handy with a cleaver.

We also walked partway along the ramparts. Looking down into the courtyard, you could see people taking pictures of each other taking pictures:

Looking the other way, something extraordinary:

In the foreground, the Nantes Tramway. In the background, the mirroir d'eau.

This impressive construction was inaugurated the same Saturday. I'm not sure whether it was the morning or the afternoon, but out came a brass band, the mayor of Nantes, etc. For the time I was nearby, there were fewer people.

It appears to be a large puddle on top of a few thousand slabs of black and white granite. There is a walkway of water jets (which glow at night) and the other half has a mass of tiny jets that release 'fog'. It isn't a deep puddle as most adults seem to keep their shoes on whilst rounding up rowdy children. Some people bicycle right through it.
I'm not entirely sure what the purpose of this is, maybe it makes sense in some deep Descartes context that would hurt my brain to contemplate?
We didn't have time to take a closer look. Maybe if we (that is mom and I) go back to Nantes, we'll investigate further.

Back at the station, the place where they wanted €0,70 to use the toilet (whilst the facilities at the castle were free - what's wrong with that picture?), I was impressed by the fact that SNCF left an upright piano at the station, inviting people to just sit and play it. It looks like Yamaha and SNCF got together to install pianos in many of the larger stations for a competition last year, that has proven popular enough that the pianos remain. And yes, it was being used, by a student creating quite a melancholic piece.

There was time for a wok meal (which could have been a bit better heated), and then to wait for the return journey. We did not have long in Nantes as the tram-train runs with big gaps between each journey. If we didn't catch this one, the next was some four hours later.

Would she check my ticket? No. Nobody asked. Never. Not once. In fact, I was not even aware of there being any SNCF person in the tram-train other than the driver.

While it was in the same place, this wasn't the same unit. It would have come in forwards, and if you look up at the top of the page, you'll see this bears a different number to the one that I was on. Smart people might point out that the tram-train is two units hooked together. Well, fine. The second unit of this one is TT115 and the second unit of the one I came down on was TT101.

The station had an automatic baguette distributor. Well, it is France after all. I bought mom a baguette.

On our way, back over the river (the Erdre), with Nantes fading into the distance.

Another river, this time in the middle of a forest, and blam! the graffiti ceases, the concrete and cars of urbanisation yield to fields and tractors.

The obligatory atmospheric pylon shot:

The other line into town looks abandoned.

That means only one thing. The tram-train pulls into the station. It's the end of the line. We had returned and the journey was over.


We hit E.Leclerc for something to eat for dinner, and then went home - where I bored Mick with a very detailed description of something that I'm not yet ready to announce publicly. He, in return, gave a rundown of the finer points of DMARC for he - bless him - is running his own mail server. A proper public facing POP/SMTP/IMAP mail server. And all the many headaches that such a thing involves. Me? I have an email address on that server (it's the private one I don't give out), but running my own is not something I'd care to contemplate. We pay hosting services to deal with that sort of thing. But Mick? He has taken the bull by the horns and beaten it into submission. I'm impressed.

I also found a moment of clear sky to drag out the telescope and share Saturn. It was a bit hard, what with me being short-sighted and Mick being long-sighted, it made trying to focus the telescope a lot of fun. But we got there in the end.


Sunday was two vide greniers (there's not a lot else to do on a Sunday around here!) and a meal before leaving Mick at the little hotel where he can prepare for his own return journey in peace. Time went by far too quickly, but it was great to have somebody geeky enough to talk to who also had a Zeroid t-shirt.

A busy weekend. Probably not a surprise that I crashed at half ten on Sunday night!

For the next time, I'm thinking ahead. I've ordered a town map of Nantes from Amazon. ☺
Girls at work tell me the big shopping area is called Atlantis, and that it is right next to the Zenith. Right, like I'm supposed to know what that means. ☺
Hopefully the map will make things clearer.


Thanks, Mick, for visiting.
Hope to see you again soon. year? Not 2018!


PS: If you think there's a lot of images in this entry; I took 214. Numerous duplicates and the odd blurry shot, but it still leaves a good hundred pictures to choose from.



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Richard Beeching, 18th September 2015, 15:06
Actually it's only the former Southern Region metals that have third rail electrics, and the Merseyrail Northern and Wirral lines. All other electrified lines in the UK use 25kV overhead. Apart from London Underground which has its own 4-rail system with the neutral return in the middle of the four-foot, because using the running rails for return current would cause galvanic corrosion in the cast iron sections of tunnel.
Andrew, 6th November 2015, 02:05
A piano appeared in Leeds station a couple of months ago, with "play me" labels in a couple of dozen languages (at least I assume they all say "play me", the obscure ones could mean anything!). Dunno if it's a Yamaha ...

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