After the trials of my initial 72 hours in Paris, Nantes happened. Arriving at Gare de Nantes without any clue of what to expect was definitely an experience. Before coming to Nantes, I hadn’t done much research on the actual city of Nantes. Not knowing that there was a tram stop right outside of the station which would’ve taken us directly to Médiathèque (the Line 1 stop to go to the IES Abroad Nantes center), Jenny called an Uber for the both of us to take there. We were talking in French to the Uber driver about how we were studying abroad in Nantes—and then we just stopped talking. The Uber was crossing the bridge from Île de Nantes to the downtown…Jenny and I just looked at each other speechless. I don’t know why, but for whatever reason, we thought Nantes was going to be some smaller village in the middle of the countryside. Like, we thought the train was going to drop us off at a platform station in the middle of a grass field with cows and sheep wandering through the pastures. Okay—we didn’t think that lowly of Nantes, but the sight of a large metropolitan downtown was definitely not what either of us were expecting. The city looked like an arrondissement cut right out of Paris and pasted in Nantes. There weren’t any horse-drawn carriages driving down cobblestone alleys around old stone buildings surrounding the castle. On the contrary, a modern tram zoomed across the street in front of the Uber and hundreds of people were walking around the streets as if we were back in Paris. In the distance, there was a singular black ‘60s skyscraper like a sore thumb sticking out of the Neo-classic landscape of 17th century architecture. This was not the Nantes that I was expecting, but this was the city that would quickly become my other home…
I’ve never had to take public transportation before coming to France. In fact, my first experience on a subway or a high speed train was in Paris. My first day in Nantes was my first time taking a public bus (other than the old-fashioned buses in San Fransisco). Charlotte (my host mom) was explaining how everyone would be busy the next day so Hippolyte (my oldest host brother) would show me how to take the bus to the IES Abroad center today. Charlotte handed Hippolyte 3 bus tickets, 2 of which he handed to me. We left the house. Walking left, up the street, we headed off to the Fallières stop for bus 54. Hippolyte and I were making small talk in French as we walked up the street. Then he interrupted the conversation and quickly asked whether or not I could run before running off ahead of me because the bus was already at the stop. We sort of laughed as we boarded bus 54 towards Saupin. Forged in my memory is the feeling of heat and sweat, mixed with the scent of everyone’s BO inside the bus. “This is hell,” was all that I could think of during the moment. Getting off the bus at Delorme, although the temperature outside wasn’t any cooler, was definitely a relief. Hippolyte, leading the way made me repeat after him: “Bord à Fallières. Descende à Delorme. À droit et à gauche vers Place Graslin. Et à droite et à gauche vers IES Abroad.” After, he had me lead the way back home…and needless to say I was already lost after taking a wrong first turn.
Bus 54 quickly became my commute to and from school. At the beginning of each month, I would purchase a monthly bus pass from one of the plethora of TABAC’s (like a 7-Eleven in terms of frequency but for tobacco). There was a system to riding the bus: When you saw the bus arriving, you would wave your bus pass out in front to signal for the bus driver to stop. Once you board the bus, you would show the bus driver your monthly ticket along with your public transportation ID with the corresponding serial number. 4 of 5 times when you ride the bus there isn’t going to be any room to stand, let alone sit—sort of like COVID doesn’t exist on the bus because the maintain 1m distance signs are a comical irony or middle finger in your face. Let’s just say there isn’t any personal space what-so-ever when you take the bus or any of the trams (heading to the university). When your stop is up next, you would press the red button to indicate an arrête demandé. The final step to exit the bus would be to press the button to open the doors. After completing this process, you’ve become a regular commuter like me.
As I’ve become more at home, I’ve started exploring different bus routes to get back home to Boulevard Auguste Pageot because sometimes you just don’t want to wait 10 to 30 minutes for bus 54 to arrive (which can be particularly annoying on the weekends with the reduced hours of operation). I’ve experimented with taking bus 6C home because 1) They come more frequently and 2) They have more space so you’re more likely to find a seat. I’ve also started taking bus 10 from my house to Loquidy, where my host brother and sister go to school, to take tram line 2 to the university (à la fac). One thing you need to quickly learn if you want to be on-time to your classes: public transportation in France is hardly reliable. The number of times other IES Abroad students have texted in the WhatsApp group about being late to class due to a missed bus, delayed bus, re-routed bus, or something of that sort is a joke. Weekends are even worse. Not only do the buses and trams come less frequently (even though there’s a surge in the number of riders for the the weekend), but there seems to always be a protest or some demonstration which causes even more inconsistencies with the public transportation. Whenever you see “ligne coupé” or “ligne déviée” you know you’re in for trouble. My last complaint about public transportation is the fact that my bus stops running after 8:30 p.m., which makes coming home from evening classes difficult. A 2 mile journey home can take up to 1 hour because of the time wasted waiting and switching from different buses and trams. If anything, taking public transportation has taught me how to plan ahead and how to have a more flexible schedule.
So far I’ve managed to avoid the 50 euro fine for not having my bus pass when the TAN workers randomly check the buses or trams. On weekends public transportation is always free, so they only check on weekdays (more often-than-not at the beginning the month). A couple of weeks ago on November 11th, a French holiday (or European holiday) to commemorate the armistice of WWI, we didn’t have class. Due to the fact that we didn’t have class, my morning brain thought I didn’t need to take my bus pass with me (I think I thought that the day was Saturday or something). I’m very cautious about remembering my bus pass during the weekdays to avoid the unnecessary 50 euro fine, but the holiday really messed up my mental calendar. Obviously, the TAN workers decided to conduct one of the random searches on a holiday. When the TAN workers boarded the bus, I completely ignored them at first. Why would they check? It’s the weekend so they have no reason to check, right? Wrong. One of the workers cornered me and asked to see my ticket. For a second, I think my heart stopped. Lucky for me, I decided to re-wear the same pants I’d worn the day before, so when I searched my pockets I was relieved to feel the small plastic folder with my bus pass. Although I’d successfully avoided getting fined in Nantes, I was not so lucky in Paris. Everything seems to go wrong in Paris…during the last hour of fall break in Paris, I managed to get fined 30 euros. My friend, Kyle, and I were taking the metro from our hostel (at 6 a.m.) to the train station to get back to Nantes. We were sort of rushing to get to the train station, and the other metro tickets I had previously bought didn’t work. I bought a single ticket for 1.75 euros, but it wasn’t until after purchasing and using the ticket that I realized I bought the wrong one. In a rush to get to the train station, I had purchased a billet réduit instead of a normal ticket. At first, I didn’t think anything of the mistake because the ticket worked. I thought wrong. As soon as we exited the metro, there was an army of SNCF workers verifying tickets. Again, I didn’t think anything of the SNCF workers, so I quickly flashed my ticket to one of the workers and started to walk through. Long story short, a worker pulled me out of the line. At first, I was confused, but the woman explained to me in French that I bought the wrong ticket. Even though I could understand what she was saying in French, I thought I’d try pretending to be a dumb American, which wasn’t wrong. Unfortunately, I forgot we were in Paris and more people could speak English than in Nantes, so I ended up having to pay a 30 euro fine for a 1.75 euro ticket. I think I was more annoyed by the fact that I could have taken an Uber to the train station, saving more money and time than trying to take public transportion. What confused me the most was that she gave me the choice to either pay a 30 euro fine right there or wait to pay 80 euros later…like why in the world would I voluntarily choose to pay more money?
Taking public transportation has been quite the journey. I think most, if not all of the IES Abroad students, are missing the experience of driving. There’s a certain freedom of moving around on your schedule and on your terms. For me, I thought I’d never get used to taking a bus—but now, the bus has become an important part of my day. There’s something almost familiar about bus 54. Maybe it’s a certain feeling you get when you’re shoulder-to-shoulder next to strangers, in your own world, yet a part of everyone else’s. Or it’s the 30 minutes of standing against a pole listening to music and knowing you’re going home soon.
Regardless, here’s a taste of my journey from public transportation virgin to a daily commuter.
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<p>My name is Micah Doctolero and I'm studying in Nantes, France during the Fall 2021 semester. I'm a first-generation college student studying French and Management Information Systems (MIS) at Santa Clara University. Exploring the outdoors, whether the beach or the mountains is one of my favorite pastimes back home in California. I'm a 20-year old with a knack for discovering new places and meeting new people!</p>