Les Machines

I’ve been to Disneyland. I’ve been to Lego Land, and of the two Disneyland was the one that sucked. Of all the over rated, puerile and insipid institutions that sell themselves as family fun, it has to be the absolute worst. I would not take my family back to Disneyland for anything (and I’ve done some strange shit for nothing), not unless I wanted them to hate me for the remainder of my days. So, imagine my surprise, no, my satisfaction even, when I experienced a tourist attraction that not only lived up to my expectations, but exceeded them in every way. Read on…

The good ole Lonely Planet uses words like “quirkiest” and “wacky” to describe this utterly unique experience. This inadequate description did nothing really to pique my interest. It was only when I saw images of the attraction that I became interested at all. Having said that, it would be a difficult job for anyone to describe this place, but I’ll give it a go. Born of the creative genius of François Delarozière and Pierre Orefice, this magnificent cross between an artistic project, and a Jules Verne novel looks like it came straight out of the pages of a Leonardo da Vinci manuscript. Imagine a 2 1/2 story mechanical elephant which you can ride in and on, that makes it’s way around the former industrial estate of L’ile de Nantes, spraying people with water as it goes. Actually, you don’t have to imagine it, here’s a video.

And you get to ride in it! So that was their first foray into giant mechanical beasts. Since the debut of the elephant there’s been a giant spider, a dragon and the gallery contains a collection of giant insects that will eventually inhabit a colossal iron tree called the Heron Tree which will stand 28 meters high and span over 45 meters. Visitors will be able to ride the giant insects along different sections of the tree, as well as ride the herons to the top. But it doesn’t end there. The workshop, which you can observe from a public platform above, is constantly working on new and creative ideas for our enjoyment. But wait, there’s more. One of the stops made by the Grand Elephant is the Carrousel des Mondes Marins, or Marine World Carousel. An amazing and original concept of 3 three levels in one carousel. It’s so original, it won a prize for the most original tourist attraction in the world back in 2014. Instead of the vapid candy coloured ponies you normally find on a carousel, you get your choice of more interesting things like a giant squid, a manta ray, a bathysphere (look it up), an angler fish, a hermit crab with a side-car and much more. Each ride is interactive allowing you to operate levers to move parts of the animals, blow smoke and other stuff. It’s pretty difficult not to have a good time here. The whole thing is finished in wrought iron, giving it an 1800’s type appearance and adding to the Jules Verne feel.

Now, back in Aus an attraction like this would cost a fortune to take your family to wouldn’t it? In fact, you’d probably leave them home and go on your own. And they’d have shit food on offer too. And ban you from bringing your own bottled water, bastards. Not here. A ride on the elephant and a visit to the workshop costs an adult 8.50 euro. No, it’s not missing a 1 at the beginning. The elephants route is broken up into three sections where passengers are unloaded at the end of each section and new ones taken on so you have to be pretty unlucky to miss out. We boarded at the second section and our ride lasted for around 45 minutes. OK, so 20 of those were spent turning the thing around, but who cares. We were on a giant elephant for chrissakes! The carousel was around the same price and you got to go on twice. As for food, there are several restaurants dotted along the route. Some do combo deals of your choice of an entree and a main, or a main and a desert for around 10 – 12 euro each with a drink. We chose one near the end of the last leg of the elephants journey and watched it come “home” as we ate.

So, there you have it. A totally unique combination of fantastic imagination, functionality and value for money. The next time you hear someone go on about how good the Imax experience is at Darling Harbour, slap them.

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