The morning of the 28th April arrived thankfully rather more pleasantly than the previous day had ended as at least it was not raining. Time for me to go for a walk then as I do like to do.
I had seen a covered market near where I was staying and decided that would be good for a look round. I am completely drawn to markets and this one proved to be an absolute beauty albeit with the rather prosaic name of Marche Central.
It is one of the very many oddities of my existence that I absolutely detest shopping and yet I could spend a whole day wandering round a market. My idea of Hell is Oxford Street (the main shopping street in London where I live) and yet markets seem to draw me. I specifically love Asian markets as I hope to show here when I ever get round to transcribing the 12 years of very hard work that was almost destroyed when the wonderful Virtual Tourist website was killed off. I have umpteen images of markets from that continent.
Failing one of the Asian variety, what else would you fancy if you were looking for a market? Well, how about a French one with France being arguably the home of gastronomy, which in itself is a French word I believe? Add into the mix that it was just at the start of asparagus season and asparagus is one of my favourite vegetables (along with parsnips and potatoes obviously, with me being from Northern Ireland where we grow the best spuds in the world) and a French market was just a magnet for me. Forget the concept of a child in a sweetshop, this was Fergy in a market in France and it was about the same emotion multiplied by a factor of 10.
In fairness, I was a little sceptical about the Marche Central (Central Market) at first as it just looked too tidy and modern and as if it was almost a tourist attraction but a wander inside soon proved to the contrary. This is very much a working market and I would suggest that I was probably the only non-Nancéien in there. Yes, it was off-season in what is after all a UNESCO listed city but I suspect that even in the height of summer the locals will outnumber tourists 100 to one. This is a proper functioning market and an utter delight to be in.
Apart from the white asperge (asparagus) already mentioned there was meat and excellent looking fish. Normally I would be a bit suspicious of fish this far from the sea (it is fairly inland here) but I have a half an idea of what I am looking for and it all seemed to be terribly fresh with the mackerel as pictured a particular delight. A quick look at the eyes will tell you. OK, you come here to read about my travels and I tell you to look into the eyes of a dead fish. Sorry.
The shellfish also looked suitably fresh and the fruit was a feast for the eyes, never mind the palate. However, no French market, or indeed French village, would be complete without the fromagerie (cheese shop) and the Marche in Nancy delivers in a huge way. I adore Neufchatel and especially Roquefort but basically all French cheeses suit me and there probably was not a variety that was not represented here.
Apart from all the wonderful stalls, there were many cafes and restaurants dotted around the outer part of the market and all undoubtedly showcasing the products from this wonderful venue. If I have one regret it would be that, whilst I was very happy with my hotel, I wish I had been in a hostel so I could just have filled a couple of shopping bags and cooked for a week with the finest ingredients going. Maybe next time.
Even if you don’t wish to buy, you should definitely visit here.
I did take a number of images and, rather than make this entry interminably long I shall attempt to publish a separate one purely to showcase a few of them. This is quite a serious technological step for me and anything may happen so don’t hold your breath!
Leaving the market and ignoring the obvious delights of the many nearby bars, I decided that a bit of a further exploration was in order and just took off randomly as always. As usual I had no map, no guidebook and realistically no bloody clue. I just trust the Fergy “nose” as it rarely fails me and yet again it came up trumps. I discovered what must be the “jewel in the crown” of this fine city in the Place Stanislas which is almost indescribably beautiful and so very, very French that it is almost a cliche.
This superb open space is on the UNESCO World Heritage List alongside the nearby Place de la Carrière and Place d’Alliance and it is the Place Stanislas which could reasonably be described as the heart of Nancy. In days past I wrote for an excellent website called Virtual Tourist and I had a page on there detailing all the UNESCO World Heritage Sites (WHS) I had visited. I shall attempt to recreate that here at some point although I have so much else to do first. I am sure most of you will be aware of the WHS programme but for those of you who may not be or who just want to have a look at the list here is the website.
I had more or less stumbled upon the Place Stanislas in my usual unplanned way and researched it at a later date. It was built between 1752 and 1756 to the design of an architect named Héré and is, to put no too fine a point upon it, stunning as are the immediate environs. I had no idea at the time but this square was built for, and named after, a chap called Stanislas Leszczynski which is, I think you’ll agree, hardly a French name. M. Leszczynski was an odd sort of man and without getting too far into mid 18th century politics he was a King without a kingdom here in a sort of almost pastiche Disney way but like all good stories it has a happy ending insofar as he ended up King of Poland. More relevantly he was Duke of Lorraine at one time (Nancy is in the Lorraine region) hence the magnificent square that bears his name here.
I fear that no words of mine will do justice to the Place Stanislas and hopefully the images will serve it better than this prose as it is just a magnificent place (in all senses of the word) to sit and watch the world go by. Again, I shall publish a couple of images here and attempt to compose another page solely for further images.
I mentioned Disney above and Place Stanislas would certainly sit comfortably in any theme park in the world to the extent that you have to virtually pinch yourself to remind yourself that it is real but it is. The entire South side is taken up by a wonderful building which houses the functioning Town Hall, another side has the Opera House and a very grand looking hotel with the other two sides occupied by old buildings housing a variety of businesses, primarily cafes and one of which I shall tell you about in a moment. Every route leading off the Place (or onto it depending on which way you are going) is adorned with gates ranging from the merely impressive to the absolutely jaw-dropping.
Even without it’s very prestigious internationally recognised designation, no visit to Nancy would be complete without a visit here and I really do recommend it.
Here I was in this magnificent square and there really was only one thing for it, I had to do a bit of French “cafe society”. There were a few hardy souls sitting outside a particularly grand looking cafe and I decided to join them although the interior of the Grand Cafe Foy was delightfully inviting and certainly “grand”.
I chose a seat with one of the finest views I can remember as I hope the images attest and ordered a coffee from the attentive and very smartly dressed young waiter. You did indeed read that correctly, I ordered coffee instead of beer which is a remarkable event in itself. Yes, I was a scruffy looking brute although the waiter never batted an eyelid, he probably just marked me down as some Bohemian spirit which I suppose I am in many ways.
Using my mobile ‘phone (which I still did not understand properly and cannot work out even to this day) I managed to send a message to my friend. If you have been kind enough to work your way through this whole series of entries it was the same friend who had inadvertently initiated this whole mad adventure and I told her that I had become all Frenchified. I fully appreciate that the majority of readers will look at this and go, “So what” but believe me when I tell you that for someone as utterly technophobic as me this was my Everest. To send a message internationally and attach a photo, that is a very long way above my pay grade. To do so in such a location was merely an added bonus. It was true, I was regularly speaking a language I barely understand, drinking cafe au lait in a charming square in a French city I knew nothing of and sitting in the glorious sunshine of a Spring morning.
How completely wonderful and it did do much to lift my spirits as I had somewhat fallen out of love with travelling for reasons discussed previously. I was getting my travel mojo back with a bit of a vengenace.
I have to say that when the bill arrived for one coffee it was eye-watering and that was not merely due to the cold, it is ruinously expensive here but I fully realise that you are paying for the location and that is pretty priceless. I cannot remember exactly how much it was although I know I could have fed myself for a couple of days on it but I know it was worth every centime or whatever the € equivalent is.
Having immersed myself completely in the cafe society of the Place Stanislas and nearly bankrupted myself in the process (it was actually worth it) I was heading the short distance back to the area that I had established myself in which was centred on the Rue St. Julien where my hotel was. I felt quite comfortable in that part of town. I spied the accurately if unimaginatively named Restaurant Le Saint Julien and decided that a beer was in order as it usually is for me.
It was early afternoon but the place was just about empty which is always a slightly worrying sign but I decided to persevere and spoke to the “patron” behind the bar who told me the kitchen was closed but I could certainly have a drink although he was closing pretty shortly.
That was fine by me and I was duly served with a large glass of Feldschlösschen which I had never encountered before and my subsequent research has shown that it may have originated in either Dresden in Germany or else in Rheinfelden in Switzerland. It was a fairly generic lager of no particular note although kept and served well enough. If it was the Swiss variety which seems more geographically logical then it is owned by Carlsberg which would go some way to explaining it’s totally unmemorable taste.
I said that the place was “just about empty”, which is true but allow me to explain. There was one other customer there, a middle aged lady enjoying a glass of wine in the smoking room to the front of the premises and which is actually probably the best place in the house. It affords a view onto the street which makes it excellent for people watching even on a day like this when it was really too chilly to stand outside.
I still do not understand how the smoking ban works in France. In some places it is a total ban, in others there are small rooms like this set aside for the purpose. I don’t know if there is a national policy or if matters are determined on a local basis. Whatever the situation, it afforded me the opportunity to say hello to the lady and have a bit of a chat with my newly rediscovered. We had a great time, it was just another lovely little travel interlude.
Although I did not eat there, this is very obviously a food-orientated place and the blackboard outside was advertising “plats du jour” (daily specials) for a touch under €10 which in this area represents very good value. Rabbit in mustard, salmon, steak or pizza for that money is good going. Undoubtedly there is a full menu on offer although I did not peruse it. Whilst it is mainly a restaurant, Le Saint Julien is a charming place just to pop in for a drink but do be aware of the afternoon closing.
It was a perfect day so what better to do after Le Saint Julien than head to TBHQ aka the Milton (via a couple of pit stops) and write it up? If you don’t know what TBHQ is, have a look at the previous entry where I explain it. Obviously, the problem with that was that I was still about three weeks behind with my writing but it proved to be a most pleasant afternoon and evening in charming company again and I did manage to write up a day or two despite the best efforts of various delightful French people to distract me. Yet again I did not speak a word of English all night and was becoming increasingly amazed at my facility in the French tongue. It is quite amazing what you know that you don’t know you know!
I eventually tore myself away from HQ with the intention of grabbing a quick bite before bed but, as always, I got distracted, the distraction in this case being the pleasant but extremely crowded Bar La Quincaillerie. Like the Milton this is a predominantly young place and apparently very trendy but again it was friendly enough and the bar was extremely well-stocked but it was a little crowded for my liking and so I only had a couple.
After this last watering hole I did make the kebab shop I mentioned in the previous instalment and where a very decent kebab and sauteed potatoes certainly filled a hole before off to bed with another great day behind me.
How French had I become? An arty type photo before I was rightly awake, visit to the market, leisurely cafe in a World Heritage site, a couple of bars and speaking French throughout, it was getting crazier by the day.
More of beautiful Nancy in the next instalment so stay tuned and spread the word.