Mapping the Heartbeat of a City

Miah Tapper
September 23, 2019
View from the Tour Bretagne






The sound of a single clap does not produce such a reverberating, echoing, bone vibrating effect. No, there were hundreds in the square that day - each person’s hands coming together in unison with their neighbors. It was the declaration and acknowledgment of some important cause that connected them all that day, that hour. I stood in the periphery, cursing myself for not having checked the news in the past two weeks. If you are to get anything from this blog it is that unless you want to accidentally find yourself in the middle of a passing protest you’d never heard of, CHECK THE NEWS.

Signs of all colors flashed up around me and as I strained to catch a glimpse of their words - desperate for more information - a group of painted-green faced people, children holding fuzzy stuffed animals, excited university students and, here and there, scattered members of Les Gilets Jaunes sporting their famous yellow vests, crowded in front of me. My thoughts whirled - wondering not the first time since arriving in France: what in the world did I get myself into? 

It all started earlier that Saturday when I stepped out of my host family’s house into the chilly morning air. I sported my new sneakers and a backpack holding a detailed map of Nantes, large water bottle, and monthly bus/tram pass. My mission: to finally ingrain the layout of Nantes in my brain so that I would never again have to use Google Maps to find my tram stop. So, I set off on the bus that morning alone in the direction of a flea market with the simple intention to wander.


Stop one: A Flea Market of Ancient Treasures

Inside the old house of my great grandparents, you never knew what you were going to find. Dust that marked the respectful ages of the mounds hoarded in each closet, corner, and bedroom would swirl gently in the flickering sunlight coming through the wooden panels. My eyes were always dazzled by their effect. Young and naive, I fancied myself a time traveler as I rummaged through the items on “clean-up” days. From large purple rings to antique canon cameras, everything was a treasure because of their age, the work it took to find them, and the hands that had held them. 

The Flea Market was a bit like that. 

Each vendor had a spread of items - on all assortments of tables, cloths, boxes, or sometimes the bare ground, featuring anything from antique books, to wooden carvings, to children's toys. I flirted between each stand several times, sometimes stopping to gingerly flip through an antique book on the Paris Exposition, other times to pick up a small copper animal figurine. I witnessed for the first time in my life the sale of a cobbler and admired his assortment of stylish shoes. It was impossible to soak in everything from the flea market that first visit and I vowed to return as I set off deeper into the more unknown outskirts of the town.

You can find the flea market every Saturday at Place Viarme, from 8 am to 1 pm. For more information visit:


Stop Two: An Irresistible Farmer's Market

Due to some wild stroke of luck, or perhaps the innate instinct of my hungry stomach, I later managed to stumble upon a glorious sight: tables of fresh fruits, vegetables, and bread lined up on both sides of a long building. Further investigation revealed even more delicious options inside. How could this wonderful place have hidden for so long, just out of reach of my normal walking path? I ended up going for Indian food, a cuisine I can never resist and sat down on a nearby bench to eat.

The Marché de Talensac holds fresh food that is local to the region of Nantes, and is open every day except Monday from 7 am-2 pm. For more information click: 


Stop Four: The Map of Nantes

Just as the northern star acts as a comforting guide for those heading north, the looming peak of the Tour Bretaigne can help to lead any lost tourist towards the town center. Around 2 pm, I ended up meeting there with Brian, a fellow IES Abroad student, and for just 2 euros we were both at the top. At last, nothing could help me get my bearings in a new city more than standing at a birds-eye view from its highest point. The view was spectacular - and stretched all the way to the city limits. However, though Brian and I could make out a few familiar landmarks, so much more of the city was rested unfamiliar. As we gazed out at the best map we could find, we were still lost. 

For more information on the Tour Bretagne click: 


Stop Four: La Coeur

After the tower, Brian and I took off in different directions, and I began following a gathering crowd towards the Place Graslin near the IES Abroad Center. Countless families walked on all sides of me holding small children on high shoulders, determinedly pushing strollers up the hill, and grasping the hands of grandparents. Somewhere among them, a lone protester began a clap that soon echoed down the streets.




As I looked around me I felt even then, without knowing what I had walked into, the deeper meaning of the booming heartbeat around me. This communal spirit was what fueled the deeper map of Nantes - the network of arteries and veins that pumps life into its roads, creating community events like the flea and farmer's market. Later, I would find the words “Global Climate Strike” featured on almost every news outlet, reminding me that this powerful network stretches across the globe.

After a full day of wandering, I finally felt found.

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Miah Tapper

<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.&nbsp;</p>

Home University:
Kenyon College
Kailua, HI
French Language
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