Nantes Starter Pack: Observations from My First Few Weeks

Amanda Carrier
September 27, 2021
Me standing in front of an outdoor roller skating rink with old European style buildings in the background.

Hello from the other side of the Atlantic Ocean! I made it! I successfully arrived in Nantes, France a few weeks ago on September 1st. Since then, I have been exploring, adjusting to city life, starting classes, and fitting myself into my host family’s lifestyle. In familiarizing myself with Nantes these past few weeks, there are a few lesser-known details that I have picked up on that I believe add a bit more quirk and uniqueness to this beautiful region of France.

1. Low flying planes



Low flying plane flying through a cloudy sky over a river.

Living in the shadow of the massive Charles De Gaulle airport in Paris is the Nantes Atlantique International Airport, located just a few miles from Nantes city center. As a result, it is rather common while venturing around the city to see low flying planes in the sky either coming in for a landing or just taking off. It is a small detail, but I did not anticipate seeing large planes traversing the blue sky over historic French architecture before arriving in Nantes.

2. A green line running through town



Green line painted along sidewalk next to a building.

When I walk the sidewalks that line the streets of Nantes, I often find myself walking alongside a continuous, bright green line that is painted down the middle of these paths throughout the city. I had no clue what the point of this line was until I heard some of my fellow IES Abroad peers discussing what they had learned about it. It turns out that this line marks the trail of a self-guided walking tour, “Le Voyage à Nantes”, that leads participants to several historical landmarks, as well as multiple temporary art installations that are only up in the summer. In fact, “Le Voyage à Nantes” ended recently, and I was a spectator of the deconstruction of these installations during my commutes to the IES Abroad Center while that was going on.

3. Lots of dogs



A dog lounging on the ground next to outdoor dining tables.

If there is anything in Nantes that reminds me of home, it is the abundance of dogs I see walking with their owners around the city every day. The biggest difference that I have witnessed between dogs in Nantes versus dogs in my northeastern region of the United States is that the use of leashes at all times is not very commonplace in Nantes. That being said, it is not exactly the chaotic mayhem that you may imagine a place with untethered canines roaming the streets to be. Somehow it is almost even more orderly than what I have experienced in the United States in terms of the behavior of and interaction between dogs out in public. In Nantes, I rarely hear any dogs barking at each other or trying to fight one another. Additionally, I have never had an unleased dog run up to me excitedly or try to jump on me. As they stroll around the city, they appear calm and focused, and they never stray more than a few feet away from their owner. There seems to be a general cultural norm that exists in Nantes where dog owners aim to maintain trained, obedient, and exquisitely groomed dogs for everyone to see in public.

4. A singular skyscraper



Singular Skyscraper juxtaposed against old European style buildings.

The tallest building in Nantes is a skyscraper called “Le Tour Bretagne”, which stands thirty-seven stories tall right in the downtown area. It is a 144-meter skyscraper, which is starkly different than any other building in the nearby area in terms of both height and architectural style. In the 1960s, public officials were inspired to build a skyscraper to represent and display to the world the economic power of Nantes. Tour Bretagne opened in 1976, after some construction delays, housing a multi-story parking garage, a gas station, a multi-level shopping mall, a restaurant, and some office space. However, by the time construction had finished, attitudes had changed in terms of the desire to display economic strength in this manner. The building instead seemed to symbolize cold, impersonal urbanism focused on profit, with architecture that sort of sticks out like a sore thumb in contrast to the traditional old European cityscape of Nantes. As a result, the tower was a failure both economically and in terms of its reception by the public. In order to make use of Tour Bretagne in some way, the government decided to relocate some of its administrative offices there, which is how it is still used today.

5. Folding buses



A bus with pleating in the middle parked next to a sidewalk.

The public transportation system in Nantes is run by a company called “Tan”. The system offers transportation around the city via bus, tram, and even boat to traverse the Loire River that runs through Nantes. The most interesting part of Tan’s modes of transportation to me is the structure of the buses, which is unlike anything I have ever seen. A Tan bus has a segment of malleable pleating on either side of the vehicle, which allows the bus to fold and maneuver tight turns. It seems to me that these buses have been created with a goal of coexistence between old, narrow French roads and modern, spacious public transportation. It is a rather intelligent and logical solution to this dilemma in my opinion. Perhaps it is a small design detail to some, but it certainly had my jaw dropping when I took my first ride on a Tan bus.  

6. An excessive amount of optical shops



Store front of an optical shop next to a sidewalk.

I do not have much of an explanation for this one. I just know that there appears to be an optical store on every street that I walk down in Nantes. I am not sure what has led to the saturation of the eyewear market in this city, but it is a peculiar quirk that I find very amusing.

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Amanda Carrier

<p>My name is Amanda Carrier and I am from Branchburg, New Jersey. I'm a senior at Gettysburg College double majoring in Political Science and French. When I'm on campus, you can often find me at rehearsal with the Sunderman Conservatory Wind Symphony as a percussionist. At home, I love playing with my two cats and going down to the Jersey Shore in the summer!</p>

Home University:
Gettysburg College
Branchburg, NJ
French Language
Political Science
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