Welcome to the first post of my travels throughout Europe during the February holidays (known as les vacances d’hiver, or “winter break” in the French school system. Not sure why it’s called that, since December was more “wintry,” but I digress…).
Let’s get straight to my first destination on this long, two-week break: Bordeaux, France!
Perhaps you know of this city, famous for its wine (particularly red) and countryside. That is true, but there’s also so much history in the region, especially pertaining to that of Aquitaine which dates back as early as the prehistoric times. It is a beautiful place, and I am glad to have spent two nights there.
It all started on Thursday evening, right after teaching my last class at the collège. I booked myself to Rouen (two buses, as usual) to stay the night with my friend before catching my BlaBlaCar ride the following morning from there. Left at 9h00 the next day, and spent the next 6 1/2 hours traveling south to Bordeaux. The driver was nice, and he dropped me off at Gare Saint-Jean (the main train station) at around 15h45. I wasn’t planning to meet my Couchsurfing host until 17h00, and so I decided to walk around the city to explore.
Even before arriving in the city center, I was already impressed with the beauty of the countryside. The weather was super nice that day, bright and sunny, which was a big change from the dark, cold Normandy weather that I had been experiencing since November. Saw plenty of vineyards along the highway, and found them absolutely lovely. ❤
The city center was also a delight to the eyes, as the architecture of its buildings were quite grand– embellished and golden in the sunlight– that reminded me of sixteenth, seventeenth century designs. In other words, they are very “palace-like.”
I started with the churches/cathedrals of the city; there are two which are quite notable, 1) the Bordeaux Cathedral and 2) the Church of the Holy Cross (l’Église Sainte-Croix). Both were nice to look at, especially the latter:
Bordeaux is also known for its towers, one including the Tour Pey Berland, which stretches higher than the eye can see. Quite majestic, if I do say so myself:
Afterwards, I walked along the quai of the Garonne river. Being that it was such a sunny (and warm!) day, there were a good amount of people out, either chilling by the water or skateboarding in front of Place de la Bourse (another fantastic site located in the heart of the city). The Pont de Pierre (“Stone Bridge”) was absolutely lovely, as the sun gave it a golden glow on the sparkling river. Fantastic. ❤
Wandered around some more in the city center, passing through the quaint (and clean!) streets. Wasn’t crazy busy with tourists at this time of the year, and so it was a pleasant stroll through the different quarters. Passed by the Grand Théâtre and the Monument aux Girondins before deciding to take the tram to my Couchsurfer’s flat, which was actually located outside of the city center. Wasn’t very far away, but took a decent twenty minutes to get there.
Met my host (let’s call him “Paul”), who is a student at the University of Bordeaux and is specializing in wine-making (how apropos!). Nice guy, friendly enough and likes to go out and have a good time. Dropped my bags off in his flat, which wasn’t very big (as it is a university dorm), and later headed out with him to the city center again for dinner and drinks.
Had some sort of tagine-like dish at a Turkish-Italian restaurant (very interesting combination…go figure), which was pretty good (I was starving, too). Had a glass of wine there and later around 21h30 went with Paul to an international student’s gathering, which he had planned to do beforehand. Met a lot of different people at the bar where it was taking place, from Germans to French to Chinese people. Got myself a *huge* cup of beer and chilled out with a few of them outside. Lots of discussion, lots of stories from different people everywhere.
However, our soirée was brought to a sudden close when around 23h00, we saw and heard glass being smashed barely ten feet away from us, from the patrons above the bar! Even more crazy was that there were Chinese girls (part of our gathering) who were literally right there when the glass was being thrown! Thankfully, no one was hurt, but in any case Paul and I decided to leave then to head back to his flat, even though it was technically considered “early” for a night out. I was tired, anyway, and heavy with beer, so I wanted some rest. We had passed by Place de la Bourse beforehand, which was lit up that night and absolutely stunning- definitely was the highlight of Bordeaux!
Took the tram back, and got back to his flat past midnight. He didn’t have an extra bed or sofa for me to sleep on, but made the most of what he could by providing me blankets and a pillow to sleep on the ground. Not the most comfortable, but I didn’t mind; at least I had a place to stay!
Woke up the next day, and went out with Paul for a bit to the farmer’s market near Saint-Michel for groceries. Bought myself some traditional Bordelais treats: caneles (a kind of cinnamon rice pudding pastry- wasn’t my favorite) and merveilles (similar to beignets- quite good!). We split off for the morning, since Paul decided to head back to his flat to run errands while I continued to explore Bordeaux. Went to the Musée d’Aquitaine, and surprisingly spent a good one-and-a-half hours looking through the museum’s expansive collection of artifacts that showcases the history of the region, from prehistoric times to the High Middle Ages (especially with Eleanor of Aquitaine) to the present day. I would have to say that it was worth the 2 euros to visit!
Afterwards, I went out, planning to check out the Bastide Botanical Gardens, which I had heard were lovely. Crossed the *quite lenghty* Pont de Pierre over and spent a good amount of time trying to find the gardens! Wasn’t sure what Google Maps was thinking, but I couldn’t find them! In the end, I gave up, ate my Bordelais desserts, and headed back to the city center to meet with Paul again at a Studio Ghibli convention, which he had planned to attend for a friend. And considering that I enjoy Studio Ghibli films (e.g. Castle in the Sky, Spirited Away), I was interested in going, anyway.
Arrived around 15h00, met up with Paul and his friend (who was quite cute, by the way) and spent the next two, three hours checking out what the convention had. Lots of games and activities, including a Just Dance dance-off, arts and crafts related to Studio Ghibli characters (especially Totoro and Ponyo), and so forth. Even served some Japanese/Ghibli-related food, including onigiri (rice balls, which I love and hadn’t eaten in a long time!) and Totoro-designed cream tarts- very cute!
After a test-run of the Oculus Rift console that was at the convention (quite an experience!), the three of us decided to bounce and leave the place. It was 18h00 by then, and so we took the tram to Grand Théâtre, where we attempted to get a spot at a wine-tasting bar, which I wanted to do since I was in Bordeaux, the wine-making capital of France. Unfortunately, it was packed, and so we gave up and went to a bar for some beers before heading over to a “Dutch Pancake” event at another venue, hosted by a Couchsurfer. By the time we arrived, it was packed. The place was small, and it was miracle that it could fit that many people; seriously, I was squished!
Had some Dutch pancakes and other random hors d’oeuvres along with wine. Lots and lots of wine. You can say that I, erm, got a bit too intoxicated that night. But thankfully, I didn’t end up a mess- at least, in front of a crowd. 😛
The party got a bit too much, and at a certain point we were told to leave the bar. Naturally, we migrated to another part of town to continue it, but I guess Paul noticed that I was looking quite tired (I was quite drunk by then) and said that if I wanted to go back to his flat, he would give me his keys and I could ring him up when he returned. I took his keys and went back. I was surprised that I even made it all the way back: taking the tram, opening the entrance door, and so forth.
Made it back to his dorm, and basically just crashed on my blanket-floor bed, super drunk. To the point that I didn’t even hear Paul calling me to let him in (and he had called four times!). It wasn’t until he rang the buzzer that I woke up and opened the door for him and his friend, who stayed the night as well.
Woke up the following morning around 8h00, with a slight hungover headache, but otherwise all right. I needed to leave at 9h15 to catch my BlaBlaCar to my next destination, and so I freshened up, bid goodbye to Paul and his friend (as well as thanking them for the crazy, but fun stay in Bordeaux), and left.
In retrospect, Bordeaux was probably one of the more…lively experiences that I have had so far during my travels. I don’t tend to go out and party, and so those two nights in the city were quite new for me. It was fun, but also exhausting- thankfully, I didn’t do any of that in the destinations afterwards!
This has been quite a long post, since so much had happened in Bordeaux for only two nights. More *long* posts to come soon, though, so stay tuned for tomorrow! Cheers (figuratively, of course!). 😉
— The Finicky Cynic
Check me out on Facebook! https://www.facebook.com/thefinickycynic