Seth's Sabbatical in Rennes

Here is the page that will let you keep track of Seth's life in Rennes. From time to time, I'll add photos, etc., and maybe news.
Some basic, general information:
  • Rennes is the capital city of Bretagne (aka Brittany) in France. You can read about it on wikipedia.
  • I wonder what the weather in Rennes is like... right now... in Celsius...
  • An aerial view of my place in Rennes. Google is just slightly off the mark -- my apartment is in the building just to the west of google's marker, the building with the small parking lot to its south.

Oct. 25: The going away dinner...
  • Last night was the going away dinner (Andrea, an Italian PhD student will also leave next week, so it's a two-for-one). The evening started at the home of Francois (my host), and progressed to a nice restaurant near his home in the very, very small town of Chance' (about 300 people - we met the Mayor in the restaurant).
    Click the photo below for the tour of dinner (the photo is the house of Francois, Chateau Sabloniere - or so I shall call it).



Oct. 24: Signs in Rennes
  • Over the last couple of months, I have taken lots of photos of the signs in Rennes. Many of the local businesses have small signs above their shop doors depicting their trades. There are also plenty of signs that tell dogs how they should behave. And there is the occasional sculpture - not technically signage, but close enough for this web page.



Oct. 23: My apartment.
  • It's not super interesting, but since my stay in Rennes is winding down, for the sake of competeness, click the image below for a quick tour of my accomodations.



Oct. 22: Some random images from Rennes.
  • The Parliament of Bretagne. This is the old Parliament building for Bretagne (there is no longer a Parliament of Bretagne), and the Bretons are pretty proud of it, and of its history. On the right is a close view of the ornamentation on the roof --- very cool.



  • The Vilaine. The Vilaine is the river that runs through Rennes. In places, it's quite beautiful (but I suppose most rivers achieve this). These views are from the center of town.




  • Le chat qui peche... In french, "chat" translates to "cat" (not so difficult). But the word "peche" is more difficult -- it could either be the verb "fish" or the verb "sin" --- there's just no way to know whether this cafe is called "The cat who fishes" or "The cat who sins." Click the image for a larger view, and draw your own conclusions from the expression on the faces of the cats in the window.



  • I don't know the significance of these cartoonish characters, but the french girls dig them.



  • Hey... I know that guy! That's right. In the display of the store that sells windows, it's a life-sized cutout of Yves Lecoq. You know... I've been to his Chateau, and I'm not at all sure he's using these windows (but I didn't really pay such close attention to the windows, so I can't be sure).




Oct. 19: The Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Strasbourg
  • The museum is small, but has a nice collection. The architecture alone is worth the price of admission. But best of all, this museum contains the only replica of Kandinsky's Salon de Musique. The original was in Berlin, so it's no surprise that it no longer exists. The museum in Strasbourg acquired the rights for the reproduction, and it contains also a few paintings that served as studies for the work. It's very cool, even if you can't tell it from the photos. The walls are covered with ceramic tiles, about 1.5 feet square, to create a bright and shiny, immersive experience. The room with the Arp sculptures is also very nice.
    Click the photo below for a (very brief) tour of the museum, starting in the Salon de Musique.



Oct. 18: Strasbourg.
  • Last week, I had the chance to visit Strasbourg while I was in Alsace. Click the photo below to take the tour.
    Strasbourg is a real city (much, much larger than Obernai), with a river, canals, beautiful scenery and a nice museum of modern art. And it has an amazing, beautiful cathedral (in the photo below). It's impossible to take a good photo of the cathedral, because it's just too big. The one below is taken from far away (from the terrace of the modern art museum), and doesn't even show the bottom 20 feet or so (which are obscured by the surrounding town buildings). When you see the cathedral photos in the tour, you'll understand the problem. Gutenberg spent time in Strasbourg - you'll find him in the tour, in the aptly named Place Gutenberg. And you'll see the Strasbourg Christmas store... but only from the outside.



Oct. 15: A very busy weekend in Paris.
  • After the few days in the isolation of the Village Vacances Familles, I flew to Paris for the weekend (after all, the plane from Strasbourg to Rennes passes by Paris... so why not stop in?). The weekend was crammed full of activity -- too much to recap here. So, below are three highlights. Not represented here is the wonderful exposition of Gustave Courbet that I saw in the Grand Palais. Photographs were not allowed in the exposition, but if you click this link you'll arrive to a web page that shows my favorite painting by Courbet, a painting that changed my view of life when I first saw it back in 1996. You can't tell from the photo, but it's enormous - roughly ten feet high by 18 feet wide.
    Now - on to Paris....
  • I spent Saturday with the Favier's (Jacques and Francoise), who were my landlords in 1997-98 when I lived in Paris. The brother of Francoise is Yves Lecoq, who is a famous TV personality in France, maybe at the level of Letterman or Leno. Saturday afternoon, we visited the home of Yves, an impressive chateau on an impressive estate. Click here to see the aerial view. Click the photo below for the tour.


  • Saturday night was the semifinal match of the rugby world cup. My hotel was just across the street from the Gare du Nord (the north train station), which happens to contain the Eurostar terminal (the fast train from Paris to London). It did not occur to me that this was something significant, until Saturday night, after the match (which was played in Paris). Click the link below to see just how the reserved and proper English behave after they've won a rugby match.


  • Finally -- on Sunday I met Gretchen and Andy, who came to Paris from London (thus the choice of hotels) along with Alice, Ed and Rachel. We had a long walk through Paris, punctuated with lunch, coffee, dessert, museums --- the typical Paris Sunday afternoon. Click the photo below to see a few photos from the afternoon.



Oct. 11: Obernai.
  • Yesterday, a small group of people from team Lagadic walked into town (Obernai) to see the sights. Obernai is a small, and I think somewhat typical, town of Alsace. Click the photo below for a little tour. And... be aware that certain Chateau's you will encounter are named for the German word for "hills" --- it may be a bit startling at first view...



  • The actual conference I'm attending is in a "Village Vacances Familles" --- which I think is a French phrase that means "slightly embellished camping ground." The VVF is at the foot of the hills. Here's the view from my room.



Oct. 10: A few days in Alsace.
  • Tuesday morning, I flew to Strasbourg for the "The national days of robotics research" in France. Of the 160 or so attendees, there is one american, and one japanese - everyone else is french. And all of the speaking here is in french.
  • The actual conference is not in Strasbourg, but in a camping ground just by the very small town of Obernai (20 miles or so from Strasbourg). The WiFi connection is horrible - so it will likely be a few days before I can put many photos on the web... but Strasbourg is beautiful - so photos will arrive.
  • The region of Alsace is just by the border with Germany (near the Black Forest), and the food shows the german influence. I think the photos below (last night's dinner) might just be the thing to get my dad to renew his passport...

    Click on them to see a more detailed version.

Oct. 5: Beaulieu -- the campus of the University of Rennes 1.
  • There are two universities in Rennes, cleverly named Rennes 1 and Rennes 2. I'm spending my sabbatical at the University of Rennes 1, on the Beaulieu campus. Click the photo below for a tour. The campus is quite nice, particularly for a french university. Most universities that I have visited in France are in or near city centers, lack scenery, and are often populated by dismal gray buildings of a 1950's vintage.
    Do take the tour... I worked hard on the captions (well, sort of).



Oct. 3: Dinner with the lab.
  • Last night, Lagadic (it's the name of the lab - the Breton word for "eye") went for dinner. It was a good night. Click the photo below, and take the tour of dinner.



Oct. 30: More photos from paris.
  • So - I managed to spend a weekend in Paris without seeing the Eiffel Tower, or Notre Dame (well, that's not strictly true - I did see Notre Dame from the #6 Metro as it crossed the Seine), or the Louvre, or any major tourist attraction. Instead, I had dinners and drinks with french pals (Jacques, Francoise, Emmanuelle Favier; Emmanuele and Catherine), took a long walk along the Canal St. Martin, and strolled away an afternoon in Pere Lachaise.
  • The Canal St. Martin runs roughly northeast from La Republique to the metro station Jaures (at the base of the Bvd. de la Villette). It is one of Paris's most peaceful walks - far removed from the bustle of the tourists. Click the photo below and you'll find a recap of the walk.


  • Pere Lachaise is a very old cemetery in Paris. Plenty of famous dead french people are there (and some non-french people). You'll want to click through the show. It starts with the grave of Marcel Marceau (whom you may have met in the Sept. 29 entry), and includes a few more photos of the San Francisco mime that I met there. What you cannot tell from the photo is that the boyfriend is british, making for an odd encounter ----American mime speaking very bad french, with a british boyfriend, placing magnolias (because Frisco is the home of the Grateful Dead) on the grave of Marcel Marceau, in a little one-act mime play, filmed by the british bloke. Chopin is here, as is Gericault. My camera's battery died, or there would be more (I hadn't really planned on the Pere Lachaise trip when I set out in the morning with no extra battery).
    Of course you'll eventually find Jim... Americans in Pere Lachaise always do.



Sept. 29: A weekend in paris.
  • I'm in Paris for the weekend, with a pretty lame internet connection. But here's a photo that just can't wait to get itself onto the world wide web. Last week, Marcel Marceau died. He's buried in Pere Lachaise. After a peaceful morning walk along the Canal St. Martin (photos will appear soon), I found myself more in the mood for peaceful Paris than for the busy city center. So I took the metro from La Republique to Pere Lachaise, where I found the grave of Marcel Marceau. As I stood there, I was approached by a couple, and the woman asked if this was indeed the grave of Marcel Marceau. Her french was pretty rudimentary, and eventually she asked if I spoke any english --- conversation was easier after that. It turns out that she's a mime from San Francisco. In this photo, she agrees to "do some sort of mime thing" by the grave. It's not irreverent --- it's a tribute. Within a day or so, I'll post more Pere Lachaise photos (you'll see more of Madame la Mime, plus the graves of Denon, Gericault, Chopin, and of course, Jim).



Sept. 28: A full moon in Rennes.
  • I don't really have the right camera for night-time photography, but this is what I got. It's St. Melaine and the moon, about five minutes walk from my place. Click it for the large version...



Sept. 27: At the french Laundromat.
  • A few days ago, it was finally time to do the laundry. Laveries (french laundromats) are a bit different from what one finds in the US. Click the image below for a step-by-step how-to guide for doing laundry in France.



Sept. 25: More paintings from the Musee des Beaux Arts.
  • This weekend, I spent some time organizing the photos on my computer, and revisited the photos from the art museum. There are really a lot of good paintings in this museum --- too many to post here (because I think it will choke internet connections). So, here are just a few.
  • Here are two that I think are quite beautiful, but in very different ways. Both are quite emotional - one filled with fear and despair, the other with luxurious beauty in the midst of sadness.

    Click on them to see a more detailed version.

  • One of my favorite modern painters is Pierre Soulages. His paintings are black. But they have a texture, and an emotional pull that I find compelling. Rennes has one of his paintings.


    The thick brush strokes of blackness are powerful for me. They suck me in, and suffocate conscious response.

Sept. 24: Some unexpected images about eating.
  • It's easy to get the impression that french people eat well every meal, every day. I don't think I have ever met a french person who didn't make some sort of sarcastic remark about McDonalds, for example. Sure, you can find McD's and KFC in France --- but what's really fun to see is the French version of fast food. For example, here's the french version of fast pizza delivery: Speed Rabbit.


    The Speed Rabbit delivery folks zip around on these little motorcycles, equipped with the yellow cube filled with hot pizza. It's particularly ironic that the French version of fast delivery pizza is named with english words...
  • Here's photo of a poster in a train station. Apparently, the new president of France eats human flesh (at least I think that's what this says).



  • Just ten meters from the Sarkozy poster, there's a little crepes place, with this nice sign out front.


    You have to admit... this little fellow does look fairly tasty... maybe that accounts for the hungry look in Sarkozy's eyes..

Sept. 20: Modern Rennes.
  • So far, I think all of the photos on this site have shown very old things (the crepes were new - but the crepe tradition is, of course, very old). So, today - two modern buildings. On the left is the Musee de Bretagne (it also contains a science museum). On the right is an apartment building (I think) that's just a block from my apartment. Click them to see larger versions.


  • My apartment is really just a hotel room in a fairly small building that serves multiple purposes. There's a kitchen one floor down (just like in my house) with a coffee maker, and for the last couple of weeks my day has begun with a trip to the kitchen to brew coffee. The kitchen is shared by all of the residents (I think there are six rooms here for visitors), but until Tuesday, I had been the only one to use the kitchen in the morning. Tuesday morning, I arrived in the kitchen to find two Germans. I did not make any jokes about Germans having taken over the French kitchen. In fact, they were quite nice, and shared the tasty pastries that they had gone out to find in the very early morning (those Germans are driven). Here's a photo of the residence. My room is right-most on the second floor (not counting the street level).


Sept. 18: A beautiful day, after a day of rain.
  • Yesterday was a miserable day of rain. It rained hard for hours, and hours. Sadly for me, the rain did not begin until I arrived at the lab, ill prepared for the change in weather. Happily, the rain let up at 6:30 or so, and my walk to the bus stop was not so bad. Today, the sun is back, with a few clouds. As I walked by City Hall (l'hotel de ville), I took this photo (click it to see the large version).



  • My dinner choice tonight was not particularly wise... crepe chocolat, boule de glace --- that's chocolate crepe with ice cream (even though you can't see the chocolate in this photos). And hey... what a nice bag in that chair!



    As usual, click it to see the large version (which will make you crave what you see).

Sept. 16: At the museum.
  • Saturday I managed to find time to visit Le Musee des Beaux Arts in Rennes. There, they have a famous masterpiece from George de La Tour: Le Nouveau-ne (the newborn). De La Tour (who painted in the 17th century in France) was a pioneer with lighting effects in painting. And, for the occasional Disney fan who may read this page, his painting "Penitent Magdalene" is mentioned in "The Little Mermaid" when Ariel sings "Part of Your World" ... at least, that's what wikipedia tells me (how could it not be true?).
    Here's a small photo:


    If you click on this photo, you'll see a better image (much bigger).

  • Of course the de La Tour painting isn't the only attraction for this museum. The have also a nice (and very large) Rubens: La Chasse au Tigre. Below is a small shot, but if you click it, you'll arrive to a nice little web page with thumbnail close-ups. Click any one to see a better image.



  • One day in the future, I'll link a page with the rest of my museum photos.

Sept. 15: Too much work.
  • If you're a roboticist reading this, then you well know that Friday night at midnight (Pacific time) was the submission deadline for ICRA '08. Because of this, I have spent many hours dealing with authors who would really like to have an extension (because they have such very, very good reasons for waiting until the absolute last minute to submit their papers). And in that time of hammering out e-mail messages from my apartment, I have pretty much been listening to the New York Dolls, over, and over, and over. If this doesn't make sense to you, it's because you don't know the song "Jet Boy" --- but today is your lucky day, because, thanks to YouTube, you can see a performance from the late seventies (I know, it is not french, but today it is integral to my life in France).

    I fell in love with this music after seeing a documentary on Arthur Killer Kane a few weeks ago. The web site alone should make you love the Dolls (don't hesitate to click on the link). Somehow, I didn't hear about the Dolls in Sellersburg in the early seventies...

Sept. 13: Qu'est-ce qu'on mange en Bretagne?
  • Here in Bretagne, crepes are the traditional food. Not your I-Hop crepes. These crepes are for men from the north country, with healthy appetites. In fact, the word "crepe" is typically used to describe what one eats for dessert. The word "galette" describes the kind of crepe one eats as a main course. Tonight, I had Galette complete (egg, ham, and cheese)... and it looked like this:



  • There are many, many creperies in Rennes, and this one has quickly become my favorite, primarily because (a) it was one of the first that I visited, and I'm easy to please, and (b) my first time there the cook prepared just what I wanted, even though it wasn't on the menu, and then came out to chat with me. They're a friendly bunch, and curious about what one eats in Chicago, what the weather is like there now, etc. Here's the restaurant, and its nice little sign, and... hey... is that seth's nice new bag on the corner of the table at the right...


    And for the curious, that special crepe wasn't really all that special: egg, potato, cheese, ham (and I failed to take a photo).

Sept. 11: Les beaux arts.
  • Many of the local businesses in Rennes sport fancy signs on their shop fronts, depicting their trades. Once in a while, a local tradesman goes a bit overboard. Here's my favorite example - from a cobbler's shop (it's not a real guy...):



  • The rugby World Cup is in full swing now, and even though things aren't looking good for the French team, it's a perfect occasion for painting store windows.


    That's right... it's a Spanish waiter, delivering a nice beverage tray in spite of his Rugby opponents' efforts to stop him.

Sept. 9: Saturday in the park.
  • The day began with a morning of shopping. The purchases included a fine new bag, which can be seen on the corner of the left-most table in the middle photo below --- you'll need to view the full-sized image, and probably zoom in, to see it... but it's a very nice bag... well worth the effort... but then again, such a nice bag is almost certain to make future appearances on this page... so maybe you should just wait for the larger version.
  • After shopping (and a nap), there was time to hang out at the cafe in the park, and to then do some reading in the garden, by one of the fountains. These three photos reconstruct a bit of the ambience (which is a french word).


  • In this fine cafe, I paused before ordering, contemplating what would be the best late-afternoon beverage. When I settled for espresso, the fellow behind the counter remarked (in french of course), "It's a big reflection for a small coffee." ( C'est une grande reflexion pour un petit cafe ... I give the translation, because maybe it will come in handy for people who read this. You know, in case one of your french pals hesitates one day before ordering his coffee.)
    I did not have a clever comeback.

Sept. 8: Last night (a Friday night), I had a chance to stroll the streets of Rennes, to see just what constitutes the Rennes night life.
  • It was an atypical Friday --- the world cup of rugby is hosted by France this year, and last night was the opening match: France vs. Argentina. Every bar was packed with french people, watching TVs and cheering. These two photos were taken later, around 11:00pm, after the match had ended, and legions of sad french people had found their way into the streets, looking for food and solace (no... it is not likely that the french rugby team will repeat the World Cup magic of 1998's Les Bleus of soccer).


  • Walking back to my apartment, I passed this store. I have seen no other store whose name so aptly characterizes the Republique de la France.


Sept. 6: Yesterday afternoon, I had a chance to take a long walk through Le Thabor.
  • You can see way more photos than you could possibly want to see here.
    You should not click this link if you are a gardener... it will only depress you.
    The church in the photos is St. Melaine --- which I suppose was home to the bishop who once owned Le Thabor.
  • Here are three typical views:


Sept 5: I haven't taken any photos yet, but thanks to google, you can see a bit of what life is like in Rennes.
  • An aerial view of my place in Rennes.
    In fact, google is just slightly off the mark. My apartment is in the building just to the west of google's marker; it's the building with the small parking lot to its south.
  • Le Thabor   is a beautiful park, directly to the south of my apartment (the link is in french, but you can see some photos). The park once belonged to the bishop, but is now a municipal park. Not surprisingly, at the western end of the park is a fairly large church (St. Melaine).
  • The southwest corner of Le Thabor borders a pedestrian street with plenty of restaurants. This area is on the eastern edge of a nice part of the downtown of Rennes, which has quite a few pedestrian streets, and is quite pleasant for walking.
  • Place Sainte Anne   is one of the nicer squares in Rennes. If you zoom in on this, you'll see the tables of outdoor cafes and restaurants, and the carousel. This square is just a few blocks to the west of Le Thabor.