Bordeaux (and environs)

It was 36ºC when I arrived at Bordeaux Airport. The sky was blue, the sun was shining, the airport terminal smelled like fish… In that respect, it wasn’t that different from Luton, where I started my journey, except for the fact that I could actually understand the people in Bordeaux. But there we go.

In all seriousness, I was in high spirits when I arrived at Luton (besides having to shell out £1 for one of those measly plastic Ziploc security bags – apparently mine wasn’t secure enough. It’s made of plastic, guys, it’s not exactly bomb-proof). It’s been a while since I came to France, and my French was getting very rusty as a result, so a month or so in the sun around the south of France seemed like a pretty good way to go. At the airport, I got chatting to a really friendly man at my gate (the usual stranger talk: weather, our travel plans, what we were doing) only to get chatting to a wonderfully lovely couple who were sitting next to me on the plane. They were heading to a château on the outskirts of the city for the Bastille Day weekend, so we talked about similarly mundane but perfectly pleasant things. Both encounters were of that lovely, very random, and very minor sort – interactions that put your mind in its most positive gear and make your day so much better. I’ll probably never see them again, but I enjoyed their company, for all its briefness. (One of them was reading the Daily Mail but I’ll let it slide for the purpose of this rose-tinted trip down memory lane.)

The Porte Cailhau

The Porte Cailhau – one of the last remnants of the Medieval city wall

I digress: I hopped onto the bus into the city centre to meet a couple of friends, thanks to whom I had a place to stay, and some wonderful company. We dropped our stuff off, washed, got changed, re-applied copious amounts of sun cream and went on the hunt for cocktails and food. France, for all its benefits, is not really the best country in which to be a vegetarian, so we perused a fair few places before we eventually gorged ourselves on antipasti, got pretty sloshed, and went to bed. Day One, over.

The main reason I wanted to come back to Bordeaux to start my trip (I’ve been once before, last year) was its proximity to the sea, so I spent my first full day here avoiding nudists and feeling inadequate about my physique on a beach in the little town of Arcachon, about an hour’s train ride from Bordeaux. Admittedly, having a large goat’s cheese and lardon pizza for lunch pre-beach wasn’t the best tactic if I was planning to look svelte and ~beach ready~, but I saw it on the menu and sort of jumped in head first, so, mea maxima culpa. Arcachon is famous for its mussels, which I’ve failed to try on both occasions I’ve been there, so that’s sort of a moot point. It also has the tallest sand dune in Europe, the Dune du Pilat, which I also didn’t see. but I’m told it’s very impressive so you’d probably best go and see it if you’re in the area. What I actually did see was the beautiful sea front, with all its millions of little restaurants, sand sculptures, ice cream stands, and people on mobility scooters zooming around. In that respect, it was a bit like Bournemouth, but hotter and actually nice.

Not bad.

Not bad.

Not a Mr. Whippy in sight!

Not a Mr. Whippy in sight!

We also rolled into town on the day of the annual Boat Race, so whilst burning on the beach we were treated to the view of hundreds of little sailboats roaming around in the bay. I sort of felt like I was in some kind of 19th Century English landscape painting, except there were a lot more French women with their breasts out. Maybe that’s what 19th Century English landscape was missing? Anyway, my French sailing vocabulary is now approximately 160% better, so that’s all that matters, really. After having a dip in the Atlantic (freezing) and getting sand in all the wrong places (godawful) we gorged on passion fruit ice cream (amazing) and fell asleep on the train back to Bordeaux.

The following day, we decided to indulge in a little bit of French culture, namely, ‘le brunch’. Friend 1 needed to return to Paris to get back to work, and Friend 2 was spending the long weekend in Montpellier with other Friends, so I was left in a state of post-prandial solitude, resorting to eating stale baguette and watching home deco programmes on French TV. This consisted of the host massacring beautiful French farmhouses by turning them into cheap B&Q-esque wannabe loft conversions. Clearly this was the best thing since sliced bread for these people, though presumably they were less pleased when they realised that New York Loft Living was not practical when you live in the Dordogne – i.e. no rack for their pitchforks, nowhere to brew moonshine, no butter-churning facilities. Still, at least they all had their own shower rooms, granite work surfaces and strategically placed neon lamps with English words like “LOFT” – “ROCK CHICK” – “WINNER”, etc. Très chic!

Archetypal French Street View

Archetypal French Street View 

Anyway. After I tore myself away from the TV (about 24 hours later) I went for a bit of a mosey around Bordeaux and realised another reason why I’d wanted to come back so badly. This is one photogenic city. A French friend of mine (with a certain level of disgust) had remarked that Bordeaux is the Paris of Southern France, and in terms of beautiful Haussmanian buildings with wrought-iron railings, spectacular squares with monumental fountains and windy little backstreets filled with little cafés and restaurants, she was certainly right. Particularly spectacular is the Monument aux Girondins on the Place des Quinconces which commemorates the persecution of the Girondin revolutionaries by infamous tyrant Robespierre; the Place de la Comédie is equally breathtaking. At night, however, Bordeaux reaches its peak beauty as the uplights do their thing and the Miroir d’Eau (literally ‘water mirror’) reflect the exquisite Place de la Bourse along the banks of the Garonne. If all I have to put up with for this is the snobbiness of the rudest people outside of Paris, then I can cope.

Place de la Comédie

Place de la Comédie

The Place de la Bourse at night

The Place de la Bourse at night

After 10 mosquito bites (four on one hand), approximately 1,000kg of heavy-weapon-calibre Bastille Day fireworks, and 4 beautifully sunny days, my time in B-Town was up. I battered my way onto the tram (NB: French people can’t queue, won’t queue) and headed to the also-beautiful Gare St. Jean, to wait for my train to Toulouse to the sounds of an old man playing La Vie en Rose on the piano. I can’t cope with all the stereotypes. Baguette Rating: 7,000. As for my movements in Toulouse, you’ll have to wait for a few more days to find out.

A toute !

Andrew

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