Today I reconnected with my inner nine year-old! Our reason for coming to Nantes was to visit Les Machines de L’Île – the machines of the island in the Loire river in the centre of the city. It started well as we had to get there by tram – and despite being ‘I remember old money before all this decimal nonsense’ years old – I’ve never been on one before.
We hadn’t heard of the attraction until we spotted it in our Rough Guide to France which highly recommends taking a day out to see these incredible inventions.
An enterprising bunch of engineers and designers took over some old abandoned shipyards as part of the regeneration of this beautiful city, then welcomed the residents of Nantes to view each stage of demolition, rebuilding & transformation of this former heavy industry. They describe the revamped warehouses as the place where Jules Verne’s mysterious worlds meet the mechanical universe of Leonardo da Vinci. Personally I’d simply describe it as a joy – where flights of mechanical fancy find form in weird and fantastic half animal-half robots. Think about the creepy meccano spider from Toy Story and multiply it by ten and you won’t be far out.
If that sounds a bit Pseud’s Corner I apologise but like I said, this is the nine-year old talking. Actually I’ll stop talking soon (…well quite soon) as the photos will show much more clearly what I’m banging on about. The visit starts in a side room where prototypes are demonstrated by the machinistes who grab the odd victim from the visitors – like this elderly gentleman climbing a branch on a mechanical caterpillar! He was pulling and pushing levers like a good ‘un.
The journey continues into the workshops for a look at where the machines are designed, built and tested. No photography is allowed so you’ll have to take my word for the fact that there were metalworkers welding alongside master carpenters and CAD geniuseseseses. After a spot of lunch at the cafeteria (extremely rare steak) we went to meet our transport to the main feature – Le Grand Éléphant. This amazing construction of wood, steel and leather has an internal spiral staircase through all its workings, up to the canopied howdah where travellers can look over the Loire to the city and appear in hundreds of photos taken by disbelieving passers-by! The final destination of this incredible piece of engineering art is Le Carrousel des Mondes Marins – a huge carousel with three levels of undersea delights where riders can sit in or sit on fantastic sea creatures and work pedals, levers and cranks to move fins, propellers, lights, claws, jaws and all sorts! Sadly this is where my inner fourteen year-old kicked in and decided he didn’t want to be laughed at by all the kids and so he remained a spectator. Probably just as well.
The ultimate project is to have a City in the Sky; a huge steel tree with real plants growing in the metalwork where people can walk among the branches and see two massive mechanical herons nesting. The herons will ‘fly’ around the tree taking a dozen passengers at a time. L’Arbre aux Hérons is a massively expensive political hot potato in Nantes and is unlikely to be started in the current administration which extends to 2020 – shame.
We loved the artwork around the place so I’ve included some photos of the posters – they run an advertising campaign every year when they open after the winter and there’s always a new attraction or two. Apologies if the pics are pretty low resolution but I didn’t want anyone using up all their data allowance, or putting on their buffer face 😉