I’ve been itching to write this blog title. You can see why. How often do you come across a town that has the same name as you? But even though this town of around 100 000 people is just two hours north-east of our Alsace home, I’ve never had a reason to go. That is, until we received an invitation to visit friends in Belgium. Pulling out my map, I was thrilled to discover that Nancy is en route. So, I decided to break the 5 hour car journey in this town that is famed for its elegant architecture.
We arrived on a snowy, low-light afternoon. I’d been following road signs announcing my name for the past hour of the drive and I felt like Alice down the rabbit hole seeing buses, trams and shops adorned with my signature as we pulled into our city centre hotel. Checking in, the receptionist welcomed me to “my town” – he’d clearly noted the connection between my prénom and my location.
Once we’d deposited our luggage in our room, I deployed the pram and out we went. I didn’t really have a plan. I hadn’t thought much further beyond coming to my namesake town. But the difference with Alsace was striking. In place of clusters of timber-beamed homey houses, we strolled through geometrically governed roads lined with cream-coloured apartments and exquisitely constructed churches. I noticed with a smile the number of references to quinoa on café blackboards. A word I’d not seen in my three months in Alsace. There was also a large number of “bio” (organic) stores and fancy looking tea purveyors. This was clearly a town where le mode reigned.
We finally found ourselves at the UNESCO heritage listed Place Stanislas – the great achievement of the father-in-law of Louis XV King of France. All golden gates and sharp corners. It was an impressive town square – but for Silas, it was sufficient space to test out his paper aeroplane. I could feel the building need for more child-friendly activity.
I made a bee-line for the park I’d seen mentioned in the guidebook – La Pépinière. I was hoping for a playground but the Parisian-style perfection of its layout wasn’t encouraging.
Then we spied it, a collection of wooden structures. About child size. Yes! A playground. Thank you Rotary: those wonderful community-minded business-people who fund such facilities. The local chapter had donated this fantastical playground 20 years ago. I sent up a little note of thanks to my aunt and uncle who have been involved in their local Sydney chapter for decades. The playground was the highlight of our day.
With my children in tow, I’ve had to accept that elegance is generally a mode of life that is out of my reach. For mutual happiness, we have to find common ground. And playgrounds are often it. So while I was only able to view from afar the refinement of Nancy, I could get up close and personal with this wooden wonderland of carved play equipment.
I’d like to think I’ll be elegant Nancy in a couple of years, but for now, I willing to accept I’m more the homey colourful cottages of Alsace.