Sunday, 13 July 2014

Rennes & Mont St. Michel - A First Taste of France

I flew direct from Dublin to Rennes, the capital of Brittany in France. A quick two-hour flight by turbo-prop again highlighted the vastness of distance that Canadians are so accustomed to but is much less common here. Ireland May as well be across the Atlantic, it seems so much farther away than the rest of Europe and is so small it seems like it doesn't get much attention from citizen on the main continent.

Departing from sunny Ireland over Dublin. Travellers Note: this is not the preferred seat on turbo-prop aircraft. Very loud and rumbly, with a constant morbid suspicion that if the propeller failed you would be the first to notice as pieces of it flew through the window. I'm not the best at flying:


Rennes is a smaller city of around 200,000 with a tiny airport and one EU passport control officer for the entire crew. Ireland is outside border-less zone so you must enter customs when arriving.

Despite being a smaller city, Rennes was incredible. A full metro system, bike share and bus rapid transit from the airport. If that wasn't enough all buses come equipped with "time to next stop" and "time to departure" clocks. Every bus stop has live next bus times and all necessary information for fares and other routes.

Time to departure screen:


It is clear that every aspect of society is designed for regular people in mind. Transport is cheap, pedestrians are protected at every intersection with "islands" between the two-direction traffic, bus lanes and bike lanes have priority at every road throughout the city. Most spectacularly - and a theme of Europe overall - the entire inner city is permanently or mostly permanently restricted to pedestrian and bicycle traffic. This allows enormously successful and welcoming public spaces and squares that attract everyone in the city.

The main square. Think Tompkins Park on 17th Ave in Calgary, but only in a city of 200,000 and add about 20 times the activity of a regular night. Why can't we emulate this in Calgary?:


Bars, caf├ęs and restaurants pack the streets in the squares. Children play in the middle of the square until well past sunset, even on a Friday night. Safely designed streets isn't even a question; it is so obviously engrained that no one would expect otherwise. There is no conflict here between cars, transit, bicycles and pedestrians. People come first. Always.

Rennes Opera House:



Now the touristy stuff . Mont St. Michel!

Who doesn't love a mideval abbey/castle built on a lone rock outcropping in the sea hundreds of years ago?


Beautiful view from the top:


And they even had something for the urban planning / transit nerds out there. Double-sided buses(!!!):


The driver simple switches to the other end and starts driving. France is shaping up fantastically so far: with history, ridiculous buses and incredible pedestrian infrastructure what could go wrong?

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