One small paper rectangle, faded - a blurry, worn image of myself looks back up at me from my palm through a plastic covering that has been tinged with brown. Next to this is another smaller plastic-covered paper - crinkled, bent, and fraying at the edges. While once connected through the plastic slips, these two slips are now split apart under the stress of being shoved into every wallet compartment. Despite their rugged appearance, they are actually integral tickets into an accessible, welcoming, and expansive visit in Nantes. Since orientation when an IES Abroad assistant took us to purchase our first Nantes transport (TAN) ticket, most IES Abroad students have been paying 41 euros a month to upkeep them.
Thus, I grasp the tiny slips of paper tightly in my hand as I stand in the early morning winter rain of Nantes, just outside the house of my host family, under the covering of a bus stop canopy. Displayed behind me is a large map of every transportation network in Nantes - every section of the map being conveniently connected by a trailing bus or tram line. There is also a paper displaying the bus schedule for the day. This being a weekday, however, I don’t worry about looking at these - I can make my way to the IES Abroad Center in my early-morning near-sleep state without a map, and busses are sure to arrive around every ten minutes.
I just have enough time to notice the bizarre emptiness of the roads around me (for a city of only around 65 km2 and 303,382 people, there are surprisingly little amounts of traffic crowding the narrow streets) before a large bus appears to my left, its low rumble overpowering the slight pattering sound of the rain. Its signature soft, blue light shines out of the large glass windows, filling the dark shadows of the bus stop as the bus slows to a halt in front of me. I gather my stuff, bracing myself once again for my everyday bus ride as the doors hiss open.
Steps to taking the bus in Nantes
1. I make sure to have my pass ready in hand before climbing aboard. This prevents from awkwardly digging in my large backpack under the impatient gaze of everyone on the bus and in the line behind me.
2. I climb on board and flash my two slips of a ticket at the driver, making sure to add a polite “bonjour!” If I’ve forgotten my bus ticket for the day, it’s easy to pay the 1.51 euros to the bus driver in order to receive a one hour pass, which is stamped in the little machine next to the bus driver.
3. Most of the time I am able to find an open seat at the back of the bus, but in the mornings, it seems the entire neighborhood squeezes on to get to work, school, meetings, etc. There is just a small pocket of air in the front of the bus to squeeze myself into - my hands desperately clutching a nearby post to prevent falling on surrounding businessmen and women, students, workers, children, fathers, and mothers. The clumsy must brace themselves for this aspect of transportation.
4. I don’t look at anyone. Amidst an air of polite carefulness around strangers, people-watching is definitely scarce in France. For the same reason, what most Americans might perceive as a nice, polite smile or nod to a stranger a French person might take as strange, and even suspicious, unwanted attention. Thus, in a bus full of people everyone safely fixes their gaze on corners, windows, chairs, and posted signs. I follow suit, choosing to meditate on the passing scenery, naming familiar roads and alleyways.
How to Take the Tram
While I don’t take the tram to the IES Abroad Center in the mornings like many students, I do still use them weekly to get to various places around Nantes. The tram stop “Commerce” is at the center of the town center, only a ten-minute walk from the IES Abroad Center, and it provides a meeting place for the main three tram lines. From what I’ve seen so far all tram stops have live-updated schedules displayed on large electronic signs (as well as most bus stops in the town center), which makes it easy to know if you have time to grab an extra pain au chocolat at the nearby stand. When the tram arrives, there is no need to show your TAN ticket, just hop aboard! Hourly tickets can be bought for 1.70 euros at kiosks at every tram stop. Routine security checks which threaten high fines prevent people from hitching a ride without a pass - I myself have gotten checked onboard seven times since arriving in France.
Nantes is renowned for its green economy, having been chosen as European green capital in 2013. The town’s transportation systems are a huge part of why Nantes should be regarded as a model for cities around the world, with around 27,000 citizens per day choosing to carpool on electric trams and a bus-fleet run by compressed natural gas - the bus fleet alone having boosted carbon savings for the city to over 80%.
Overall, however, people use the Nantes transportation system because it works well. Stops are not spaced far apart, waiting periods are short, people save time trying to find parking on the small city streets and ultimately the cost of insurance and gas would probably outweigh the monthly 41 euros. The only times it might be faster to walk is during the slower Sunday schedules or thanks to cancelations due to “manifestations” (protests/city events). At these times, I’ll take a 30-minute leisurely walk to the IES Abroad Center. I definitely don’t mind this - by walking around Nantes, my eyes are always discovering new things to look at - whether new boulangeries just around the corner, picnickers spread out on blankets next to l’Edre river, or the dappled shadows of overhanging tree leaves shivering on the grey cobblestone. Without the roar of normal city traffic, the walk is serene and beautiful.
A Super Helpful Transport App for Any City (find it at the app store): https://moovitapp.com/
TAN Website: https://www.tan.fr/
Nantes Green Transportation: https://www.itdp.org/2011/01/20/sustainable-transport-award-cities-nantes/
Nantes European Green Capital: https://en.nantes.fr/home/green-capital.html
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<p>My name is Miah Chu Won Tapper. I come from a large family with two younger brothers and three younger step-siblings, whom I live with on the small island of Oahu, Hawaii. I’ve always had a passion for traveling but until now I’ve only traveled the world in books. As a French major, I’m so excited to be able to continue the adventure in Nantes, France. </p>