Heading south from Le Mont Saint Michel we didn’t really have a plan, other than we needed to check into our apartment in Collioure, a small Mediterranean coastal village some 600 miles away, in three days time. It was overcast and rainy the whole day, and we had just stopped for lunch at a kebab shop in the city center of a largish town called Nantes, when I was looking at the map on my phone to find a way out of town, and noticed an attraction labeled “Les Machines”, just a few blocks away. I convinced the crew to make a stop to check it out before leaving town, and we were all glad that we did!
It turned out to be a reclaimed industrial ship yard turned mad scientist amusement park, with the main attraction being a huge mechanical elephant that you could ride around like a double decker dromedary bus! Very steam punk, very Jules Vern, and very cool. Though the proprietors didn’t list it as an influence, to me it smacked of the creature based machines prolific in the Dinotopia book series by James Gurney- one of my favorites. We didn’t end up riding Le Grand Elephant because it moved kind of slow and it was raining, but opted instead to take the boys on this three story carousel with the strangest assortment of mechanical sea creatures your mind could never dream of. The neatest part was that each machination had numerous levers and pulleys that you could push and pull to bring your creature to life as you rode around this strangest of rides. Needless to say, Hadley loved it. And Oliver too, though I think he might have been a bit overwhelmed by some of the smoke and noise. Aside from the rides, they had also turned some of the warehouses into some cool shopping, a hipster bar and café, and oddly, a competition area for rescue workers to show off new techniques and tools for securing a car crash site?? That’s what it looked like anyways.
After the excitement of Les Machines, we drove further south with two slumbering boys in the back to the coastal town of La Rochelle. We didn’t get the chance to look around much, but the old area near the port was pretty charming, despite the rain, and the hotel we ended up in- a chain called the Ibis Styles- was great, clean, brand new, very modern, and surprisingly cheap at $120 a night, with breakfast included! Their fresh squeezed orange juice machine didn’t stand a chance.
The next day, still rainy, was fruitlessly spent plodding down a very off-the-beaten-track “100 best drives in the world” route that I got from some book at the library. Shame on me for not researching it further. I don’t know who came up with that 100 best drives list, but a rush hour slog from Fort Collins to Denver would be more interesting than what we spent half the day trying to get to, and the other half trying to figure out why. When we couldn’t take any more, we ended up pulling off the road at a hilltop village called Belves, which titled itself as the “prettiest village in France”… my ass. In the subsequent weeks I’ve seen a dozen prettier, not to mention vastly more popular, villages. Quite literally, we stayed at the one open hotel, and ate, or should I say drank a beer and canceled our food order before leaving, at the one open restaurant in town, choosing instead to have a picnic in the hotel room with all our left over roadtrip snacks. In a word, the place was a ghost town. Maybe, if you had never been anywhere else, ever, you might find it charming, but you can tell by my photo portfolio of the town- a few wet and empty alleys, Hadley in front of a colorful but shuttered business, and the amazing camera collection in the doctor’s office Kacey visited the next morning due to an ear infection (yet another manifestation of our nightmare disease we brought with us from America), that I was less than impressed. Oh Belves, what a shameful deceit you perpetrate on the unwitting tourist who reads your self-aggrandizing internet description while lost on a fraudulent “100 best drives in the world” drive. In fact, I bet they had a hand in writing that 100 best drives list. Conniving bastards!