Nantes is a river port, and, during the pre-modern period, was a major player in sea trade as it was about as high upstream as ships of the day could go. When the Industrial Revolution led to the possibility of iron hulled ships which soon became bigger than any wooden hulled ones, Nantes found it couldn’t handle the larger vessels … and that’s where St. Nazaire came in … it was just a sleepy fishing village until the merchants of Nantes decided to turn it into the front end of their trade.
Anyway, I stopped overnight and hit the Ducal Palace and Museum …
There were some interesting Roman, Medieval and Modern (WW2 German occupation & Resistance) displays in the museum … but, as is all too common, they were poorly situated and badly lit, so no photos of the interior, sorry.
Puy du Fou
This is a French ‘historical’ (for some limited values of ‘historical’) theme park that is, evidently, much better than Disneyland Paris … and on the recommendation of one of the backers of Orbis Mundi I spent two days there …
Sure, it’s a theme park. I get it. But it was annoying.
The real reason for being there was, anyway, the live performances – which were amazing … at least the ones with English commentary (or English commentary that worked) were … around 10 or 11 and it took me two days to manage to squeeze them all in as the place was hugely crowded both days (the end of August and just before most French schools outside of Paris and the deep south went back.
Of course, the performances were even less historical than the villages … but, what the heck, they were huge fun.
The next post will be about the Musee des Blindes (Tank Museum) at Saumur followed by two Loire Chateaux.
The site of some of the German WW2 U-Boat Pens … so big and made of such thick concrete that they are still there … too bloody hard to demolish!
You seriously wouldn’t want to suffer from even mild claustrophobia if you had to travel or work in one of these things … or any of the WW2 or immediately post WW2 diesel-electric subs. SSNs and SSBNs, however, are a different kettle of fish … as Le Redoubtable (Cherbourg) shows.
Famous? Sure! A small island off the coast of France and the site of a famous Monastery … and connected to the mainland, historically, only at low tide.
These days it’s connected by a permanent causeway/bridge and recent works have reversed and will, in future, prevent the silting that the causeway was causing and which threatened to make the island permanently (at least in human chronology) connected to the mainland.
Walking back down the bloody hill was as bad, worse in some ways, than walking up … I went down the main drag, which is narrow, chocka with idiot tourists who thing it’s their absolute right to walk three or four abreast going in either direction, and unwilling to stand aside unless you simply stand your ground and don’t give way … considering the main drag is only 3-4 people wide for 90% of its length, this makes negotiating it a chore.
Not as famous as St Michael’s Mount, but an important Breton port with a well preserved old walled town.
The Old Town was full of narrow, cobbled, streets … what is it with Europe and cobbled streets? The uneven surface is enough to cause severe danger of twisting or breaking ankles … gimme tarmac any day! Still, it looks touristy, I suppose. I understand they are a bugger to maintain and replace as well.
This the last of the D-Day/Normandy stuff … some of the vehicles on display at the various museums as well as the site of the famous Pegasus Bridge which the British Paras took and held against German counterattacks …
There is an excellent WW2/D-Day Museum in Caen, well worth a visit … but a lot of what’s inside, most of it actually, is audiovisual … so you’ll just have to take my word for it.
About 30 klicks or so outside, however, is La Coupole, the remains of the prime German V2 site in France … where rockets would have been assembled from components brought in from elsewhere, prepared and then rolled out to twin launch sites in the adjacent quarry.
Or it was … until about 2-3 months before it would have been completed in early 44 when the Allies bombed the crap out of it. They didn’t destroy it, actually, but it was damaged badly and, after the war, they did do a number on it for security reasons (afraid the French were going to be taken over by the Commies, I guess … reds under the beds … )
In the last decade or so the locals have excavated it and opened up the main levels under the damaged dome as museums … one on the V weapons and the Resistance in the area during WW2.
Again, a lot of the stuff inside the museum was audiovisual and the few physical artifacts were poorly lit or in cramped spaces that made it impossible to capture accurately. Couldn’t get an angle on the V2, for example, no matter what I tried.
The D-Day Beaches
The next several days I spent hitting the various D-Day Beaches (not all by any means) and on a trip up to Cherbourg.
The location of the famous tapestry … rubbish lighting make it impossible to capture on a camera. However, there are some displays in the museum upstairs that are of interest.
Not much in the way of easily accessible WW2 stuff there … but the Cite de la Mer had Le Redoubtable on display, one of the very first French nuclear ballistic missile subs.
On my way to Lille I stopped at Liege and checked out the Grand Curtius museum. It is actually several museums in one – but, as is usual, it was undergoing renovations while I was there and the arms & armour collection (it’s near Herstal, of FN/Fabrique Nationale fame) was mostly not on display in the one spot, or even at all. Still, a chunk of it was …
The Mons city museum covered WW1 and WW2 overall and as it affected the local area.
As usual, piss poor lighting and badly placed glass cases made most of the displays unphotographeable … but the museum was actually quite good despite all that.
There are a lot of WW1 museums and memorials in the area … wonder why?
This small but excellently presented museum is at Passchendaele – unfortunately most of the displays are, you guessed it, behind glass, poorly lit and almost impossible to photograph.
However, the basement has a reconstruction of a Trench Bunker system and this leads ourtside to the reconstruction of a section of German and of British trenches … but, again, the lighting in the Bunker was piss poor and only the trench sections were possible to take decent photos of!
Never heard of it, you say? Well, if you know a little about the Battle of the Bulge you may have. Diekirch was one of the locations attacked by the Germans during that period and the civilians were only just evacuated in time by elements of a US army unit whose officer realised that the Germans were going to make a huge mess of the town.
The town was substantially damaged, but is now rebuilt – and the old Kaserne (military barracks, originally for the Luxemburg contribution to the Belgian Army and later for their own forces has been converted into a museum with lots of WW2-Occupation-Bulge memorabilia as well as a comprehensive look at the Luxemburg armed forces and their pre- and post-war existence (lots of contributions to UN ops and the like).
As is all too common, displays are either so dimly lit that you can’t take decent photos without flash … and flash isn’t permitted … or they’re behind glass and lit so that reflections from the poorly placed lighting make photography impossible … and in a number of cases they are simply so jam-packed together that you can’t get a decent angle on anything.
Still, I managed to get a few shots …
They have a large hall (in the process of being expanded) on one of the top levels which contains a large number of soft-skinned WW2 era vehicles (and some light armoured cars and the like) … but, well, remember what I said about things being jam packed? That was the case. For the most part you simply couldn’t get an angle that would show the whole vehicle without something else getting in the frame.
There are, however, several large items (tanks and artillery) outside at the front of the museum … see below …
Luxemburg was interesting … cheaper by far (for fuel) than Germany or Belgium since they have either no fuel tax or a much reduced one and, interestingly, open on Sundays. The place I stayed at was actually built over a huge shopping mall less than a dozen klicks from the Belgian border and not more than a half hour from the German one … and it had huge numbers of German and Belgian number plates in their parking areas, and was massively crowded inside … probably because Belgians and Germans (some of them, at least) are normal people and don’t really like having the entire country close down on Sundays … so they go to Luxemburg to shop!
Germany is like Australia was in the 1950’s, bugger all is open on Sundays … Belgium and France are like Australia in the 1960’s, there are usually limited trading hours, with supermarkets opening late (9-10) and closing way early (usually 12-1:30). Backward as all get out.
Not a lot of things to see along the Rhine between Munich and Mainz/Trier … or not in the time I had left in Germany, so I prioritized and did a long drive up to Mainz where there is the …
Gutenberg was a Mainz boy – born into a wealthy family there. Need I explain why he is a rather important figure?
Unfortunately, the lighting inside the museum was absolutely piss poor and I simply couldn’t get any worthwhile photos … of the printing presses.
Still, they had quite a few … and two Gutenberg Bibles.
Museum of Ancient Seafaring
This was the unexpected sleeper … technically speaking it’s not really about seafaring so much as it is about riverine craft. Building on actual boat remains excavated at various nearby sites the museum has reconstructed actual full size replicas of several riverine craft from the Roman riverine forces as well as commercial craft.
The museum also has many dozens of wooden models of Roman and Classical era ships, ocean going (well, mediterranean going) and riverine.
Being an actual Kingdom, and a pretty large one in pre-1870 terms for Germany, the Wittelsbachs (the ruling dynasty) managed to collect some nice stuff … a lot of which is in the Residenz, which I covered in my last blog post. However, they also encouraged the development of a number of major museums, including this one, which has a really nice collection of Greek, Roman and miscellaneous antiquities, mainly pottery (which wass both ubiquitous and has the fortunate property of being damn near eternal, even when broken).
The Egyptian Museum
When I was in Munich last portions of what’s on display here were evidently on display in the Residenz, but not optimally … so they built a new, smallish, museum in the museum precinct to contain a much large selection of the items they have on hand … and display them much more advantageously …
Munich … the last time I was here I didn’t manage to see the Residenz (i.e. the residence of the Bavarian Dukes/Electors/Kings) … but this time I did. The Treasury is quite amazing … the things the rulers managed to pick up over the years!
The Residenz Treasury
The Residenz Rooms
There are supposedly close to 300 rooms in the Palace, and you can visit over 200 of them … though not always the same ones. I must have had a good crack at seeing almost all that were open … here are some highlights …
That’s all for today, folks. More on Munich … later …