Sunday, June 28, 2015

Trip Story: Bordeaux

If I don't start writing the stories about my recent trip to France, I'm going to (1) forget a lot of details, and (2) feel pretty silly writing about a trip that happened months ago.

So, while my memories are still somewhat fresh and the trip is only one month in the past, I'm going to get started. I'll skip over LAX, the flight to Madrid, the transfer in Madrid, and the short flight to Bordeaux.

We stumbled out of the Bordeaux baggage claim area feeling rather tired and hoping for some useful information about how to get to the center of town. It was Sunday, so our hopes were dashed. The information desk was unstaffed, and there was no helpful information to be found. Therefore, Mr. Snarky had no choice but to go with my original plan, which was to go get a taxi to take us to our hotel.

My really quite bad French was good enough to communicate where we wanted to go, so we climbed in and headed to our hotel. The taxi driver and I tried to communicate a bit more, but we didn't manage to establish anything more meaningful than that we should have three days of nice weather in Bordeaux (he was right) and that we'd both been to Chicago and it is a very nice city.

Our driver left us at the corner of the street, and after just a little bit of time wandering around Bordeaux, we completely understood why- and were also very, very glad that we had decided not to get a rental car at the airport, but to wait and pick one up at the train station on the day we were leaving town. The center of Bordeaux is a veritable maze of one way streets.

But that first day, we didn't really understand. We didn't much mind, either- the driver carefully pointed to the hotel and we set off pulling our bags behind us.

I enjoyed many things in Bordeaux, but our hotel may have been my favorite thing. We stayed at La Maison du Lierre. I found it by picking the area I thought we should stay in, and having Google Maps show all the hotels. It was a great find- comfortable, quiet, friendly, with a delicious breakfast and stylish but not overbearing decor. The owners were delightful, even when we were confused about how the ordering of breakfast needed to be done, and then overslept by several hours on our last day and missed the breakfast- and the check out time.

By the time we got settled into our room and showered, it was dinner time. We walked to a pizza place near our hotel, had a decent meal with some fairly good wine (recommended by our waiter), and then strolled back to the hotel and fell asleep.

We got up reasonably early the next day. It was Sunday, so we knew we wouldn't be able to do a lot of serious touristing, but we were able to see some cool things and enjoy the day.

We started by walking down to the river.

The River Garonne, from the beginning of the Quai des Chartrons, looking
back toward the center of town

We were headed to the Quai des Chartrons, which our guidebook said had been done up with shops and restaurants, and which my research had also told me housed a Sunday market.

Strolling through the market was a wonderful way to start the day, even if I didn't have the confidence in my French to try to buy any of the food on display.

Bread at the Sunday market
The Quai itself had indeed been renovated and provided a nice place for a stroll (or, if you are a local, a jog- we saw so many runners that Mr. Snarky started joking that Sunday=runday in Bordeaux, undeterred by my observation that his pun would not work in French). There were several restaurants with large sunny patios, and a smattering of stores, which we were surprised to find open on Sunday. We mostly just strolled, though. At the end of the quay, we turned around and headed back a ways, before cutting in away from the river to wander the streets of Les Chartrons. This district would almost certainly have been more interesting on a weekday when the shops were open, but it was still a pleasant walk.

We found ourselves at the Jardin Publique, so we strolled through it, too. I convinced Mr. Snarky that we should return with sandwiches for a nice, low key lunch- so after a short rest at the hotel, we headed out and found a Carrefour market that was open, bought some sandwiches, yogurt, soda, and cookies, and then walked back the the garden to enjoy it.

After lunch, we walked back to a ruin we had seen, and discovered that it was the remains of a Roman amphitheater.

Beautiful ruins
What is now called the Palais Gallien (according to the plaque, it got that name in the 1300s) was already abandoned by the end of the 3rd century. It could seat 15,000 people when it was intact, but large parts of it were destroyed to make way for houses after the French Revolution.

We decided to walk around more of the town, too, and were also delighted to find the Tribunal de Grande Instance de Bordeaux- a modern judicial building designed by Richard Rogers (who also designed the Centre Pompidou in Paris) that abuts the remains of the fort du Ha, a fortress built in the 1400s that was later used as a prison.

Old and new
We also saw the main cathedral, but it was not open to the public, and I was getting tired, so we headed back to the hotel and enjoyed a bottle of wine and some cheese and charcuterie in the back garden/patio of our hotel.


The days are quite long in Bordeaux in May, so even after a decent rest, we still had some sunlight left. Once I'd gotten some energy back, we walked back to the central part of the city, and saw more sights. We even walked over to see the Porte de la Grosse-Cloche- a 15th century gate into the old walled town.

Old clock
By this time, it was dinner time- or at least it was dinner time for us tourists. Locals ate later, but I was hungry, so we found a restaurant with a nice looking terrace and had dinner. Then we walked over to La Bourse (the stock exchange) and waited for the sun to go down enough for us to enjoy the lights on La Bourse reflected in the shallow pool across the street.

La Bourse in the evening
By this time, we were getting quite tired, so we headed back to our hotel and went to sleep.

We spent a large part of the next day (Monday) shopping. It seemed our best bet to buy some gifts for our kids and other people, and one of Mr. Snarky's shoes fell apart on our first night in France, so he needed new shoes. Besides, I enjoy shopping when I travel, even if I'm not aiming to buy anything in particular. It is fun to see the different stores, and the slight differences in how even familiar stores operate. For instance, we were amused by this sign outside of Lush:

Teste sur les Anglais
Our lunch that day was perhaps my most successful conversation in French. We had lunch at a small creperie not far from the Rue St.-Catherine, where we did most of our shopping. The woman who was working there had the art of speaking French to English speakers with so-so French skills down: she spoke slowly and enunciated clearly, and stuck to basic vocabulary. I managed to order our lunch and dessert (which was a crepe with delicious chocolate sauce) and even chat a bit with her.

Once we finished our shopping, we took our bags back to our hotel and had a short rest before heading back out, this time to the art museum. The Musee des Beaux-Arts is small, but well curated and we enjoyed our visit. After leaving the museum, we found that the Cathedrale St-Andre was now open, so we went in. One thing I learned on this trip: Mr. Snarky is fond of old churches. I am sympathetic- I spent a huge amount of time visiting old churches on my first international trip, which was to Sweden. I don't mind visiting churches now, but I am not quite so enamored with them anymore. Still, since Mr. Snarky wanted to see them, we visited a lot of old churches on this trip.

My reward for patiently waiting for Mr. Snarky to finish in the cathedral was a couple of glasses of wine on a tree-shaded terrace at a bar/bistro. Then we found yet another terrace on which to eat dinner. My dinner was probably a tad too heavy for me, and my asthma was a bit aggravated by the smokers on the first terrace. These two things combined to make it difficult for me to sleep that night, and that plus the effects of jet lag combined to make me sleep until quite late the next morning. Mr Snarky overslept, too, and we thereby ruined our plans to visit St. Emilion on our  but I didn't know that at the time, and the wines and dinner were certainly quite enjoyable!

In fact, the entire stay in Bordeaux was quite enjoyable. It is a beautiful city, quite accessible for English-speaking tourists, and quite walkable for people (like me) who love to see a city on foot. It was a great way to start our trip.

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