This morning our cab driver, eagerly interested in the American election, helped counter our negative impressions of Parisians. He chatted away while threading the cab through impossibly tight corners to take us to Austerlitz Station. Like the Gare de l'Est, this station is rather shabby-looking, and the beggars and homeless who slept around the entrances to the station were more aggressive. But we threaded our way through the bodies in sleeping bags and took a train to Tours.

We had elected the slower country train because our Rail Map of Europe showed the train ride down the Loire valley to be especially scenic. We thought the scenery was OK, and we did identify a couple of chateaux in the distance.

It would have been all right to change trains in Tours, but we heard a train announcement and got off at the stop just before Tours. The train from Tours goes back through the suburb of St. Pierre-des-Corps before heading east to Nantes, so that is where we changed.

Our initial impression of Nantes (pop. 250,000 to 500,000 in the metro area) is its lack of pretension. It's a seafaring town, and the bars have their doors open to welcome the trade. On the way to the hotel we passed the big old castle of the Duke of Brittany, surrounded by a moat.

We arrived a little before 2:00 -- just too late to be served dejeuner in the hotel's dining room. They recommended La Cigale (The Grasshopper), which turned out to be a nifty place. It has several large, high-ceilinged rooms lavishly decorated with tiles, some bearing the cicada trademark, some simply lively designs or bright colors. Michelin says it is popular with film crews and dear to the hearts of surrealists. There are lots of flowers, and once again the food was delicious and the service unobtrusive.

Our entertainment was provided by the beautiful young woman at the next table, who was having a business luncheon with an older gentlemen. Whatever she was selling, he was buying. She picked up the tab after lunch.

After lunch we took a short walk through an arcade to the tourist center in a nice plaza, and then to the Monoprix store, a department store with a basement grocery department, for cookies and soda. On the way back to the hotel we walked through the Gothic cathedral. We've clearly reached the end of the tourist season -- all the summer attractions are buttoned up -- but we'll find plenty to see and do in the area around Nantes. And oh, by the way, our hotel here is about 25% of what we paid in Paris! Not as splendid, and certainly not as well situated, but it gets the job done just fine.