Bordeaux 2018

Wednesday, December 26th 2018
To Bordeaux we go!
Because I (Emma) am going to do my internship at a campground not too far from Bordeaux (60km but not far), and because people might ask me what they can do there, I wanted to have first-hand knowledge so that I wouldn't have to bluff my way through that. And thus, you guessed it, a trip to Bordeaux was planned and Mariecke got dragged along once again.

For the first time ever (at least I think it's the first time ever), Mariecke and I went on our city trip not by plane but by train. From Luçon, its easy to go to Bordeaux with the Intercity train. It's the same one Mariecke and I both took to go to Nantes when we still studied there. Now we simply got to see the other half of the route.

It took us about three and a half hours to get there. The train isn't the fastest mode of transportation; my prof didn't mention why exactly it went out of fashion but I can guess. From the Gare Bordeaux St. Jean, it was a short walk to our hotel. We stayed at one of the four or five Ibis hotels near the train station because it was cheap and still close to the tram and train station. It was a nice looking hotel but the room was smaller than it seemed in the pictures.

Because we still had the afternoon free, we decided to head into the city center and pay the HEMA a visit (the first of many as it would turn out). Of course, we also needed something for dinner but that was temporarily forgotten. We probably spent way longer in the HEMA than we should have and came out with big bags. Pepernoten for Jacky and chocolate letters for everyone. And lots of other knick-knacks. Then we were about to ready to head back. Or were we?

Because it was sunny out, we decided to get off at the Hotel de Ville tram stop and have a look at the cathedral and the tower on the square. Of course, once I saw there was a queue in front of the tower, and then looked up to see people at the top of the tower, I had to go up there! Mariecke didn't want to go up so she took the bags and went to take a seat and wait for me. It's a thing we do; I climb the towers and Mariecke waits down on the ground. And every time I come back down I tell her she did well not to go up with me. This time was no different.


The Pey-Berland tower is 66m high and was built between 1440 and 1500. There were 184 steps to the first terrace and 232 to the second one. The queue took forever because people had to come out before others were allowed in. Luckily, it was free for me (EU citizen under 25) so that was worth the wait. The view was worth it as well. Naturally, I was totally out of breath by the time I got to the first terrace, not to mention the gymnastics required when people went down and I went up. The steps started out pretty wide at ground level but the further you went up, the narrower they became. The door to the second terrace wasn't even half a meter wide.


The view was pretty cool though. The tower is right next to the cathedral, which was hidden behind screens; however, as you go up, you can see what is happening behind those screens. They are cleaning the stones. It was a cool sight to see half the cathedral with clean sand-colored stones and the other half still blackened by the dirt of centuries. You can also see far around, all the way to across the Garonne.

Once I had made my way back down to the ground, I met up with Mariecke again and we went to get Subway for dinner. Then back to the hotel. Those few hours downtown had been enough to figure out how the tram works here and that Bordeaux seems to have been completely built in the 18th and 19th century. Also, the Pey-Berland tower sort of became our "locating point". Of course, with that ridiculously bright golden statue at the top, it's easily identifiable wherever you are.

Thursday, December 27th 2018
Bordeaux Essentials
For today, there was only a walk planned. It was called the Bordeaux Essentials walk, so at least we were sure that we could get to see all the must-sees on the first day. Unfortunately, the weather was cold and gray, which is never fun. We got off at the Quiconce tram station and, after some trouble with Mariecke's camera, we started our walk at the Monument aux Girondins.  It was built as a monument to the last members of parliament from the départment of Gironde (33) that got executed a few years after the French Revolution.



The monument itself consists of a tall column that kind of reminded me of Nelson's Column in London, and a fountain on either side with impressive statues. Because it's winter, there wasn't any water in the fountain but the statues were still impressive. On both sides, the central figure was an ocean queen who looked ready to go to war, with more people around her and hippocampi pulling her wave forward. And creepy fish with big-ass teeth you do not want to meet in a dark alley.



From there, our walk continued down streets under construction until we found the post office for Mariecke. It was too early for the Christmas market so we continued on. Via the Place des Grands Hommes where they had a pretty round shopping center, we went to the Cours de l'Independence, which is not really a square but rather a street. There, we went into the Palais des Thés to taste and buy some tea. We talked with the friendly assistant, which meant that, just like in Edinburgh, we actually bought tea. You know, sometimes, you just walk in but don't really intend to buy stuff. Well, talk to us and we will spend money!




With the tea in the bag, we went under one of the many, many arches scattered throughout the city and down a cute little street to the Hotel de Ville, which has impressive gates/walls. On the same square is the cathedral St. André we had already partly seen the day before and again the Pey-Berland tower that I had already gone up. We didn't go into the cathedral, neither of us felt like it. We did go into a café for a hot cup of coffee. Or a latte, more exactly. Remember, it was cold and gray outside so we needed to warm up a little before continuing our walk. In fact, it was so cold outside that when I went to the toilet, which didn't have a seat, the porcelain actually felt warm to my frozen derrière.




With a warm stomach, Mariecke and I headed out again. Our first stop was the sushi restaurant next door. Not to eat, because it was still too early for that but because we both love sushi and I had seen they have a student menu. More about this later *hint, hint*. Next, down a road where the tram passed us by a few times, to the Musée d'Aquitaine. Mariecke wasn't too excited to go in but I forced her. Though, when we looked at the fee, I thought it was more than I wanted to spend on a museum that I hadn't researched and could potentially be a waste of money. Of course, in hindsight, we probably could have gotten in for free with our student I.D., we just didn't think of that because it wasn't written. Kind of bummed out about it now...

We rounded the corner and had to go down a long street. I knew we had to turn left at some point but I didn't have the map. Mariecke kept telling me to go straight. That's how we saw the parking garage with the car half hanging out of it. At the time, I was just like "What! Cool city art." but considering the car was the object of several post cards at the tourist office, I think it might have been a big deal. We didn't even stop to admire it properly. Just a quick picture and on we went.

But I finally got to turn left!
There was the Porte St. Eloi and the Grosse Cloche (a big bell). As I previously stated, Bordeaux has a number of Portes (gates) scattered almost randomly throughout the city. No doubt there is a perfectly good historical explanation that, thinking about it now, might have been interesting to ask the tourist office about it. Anyway, it wasn't so much the gate that was impressive, though it looked pretty cool with its two castle towers. It also wasn't really the bell (spoiler alert; it's just an ordinary bell). But the clock was impressive. Mostly because it was big, with glittering gold and on time! And there were two of them! Once you go under the gate and turn around, there is another clock looking just as impressive as the first one.

We then found ourselves in a cute little street. So cute and photogenic apparently that my batteries died promptly. The street led us to a small square were Mariecke and I once again looked at the menus of all the sushi/Asian restaurants. It was lunch time by now, and we were in the mood for some Italian and Japanese fusion (it would appear that's a thing now). Except, of course, that restaurant was still closed. Lights on and tables set but the door was locked and no one in sight.



Onto the next Porte. Porte Cailhau, through which you can see the boulevard following the Garonne. Of course, we started our guided walk at the end and were making out way to the beginning. Meaning that what we were doing was historically incorrect; pilgrims used to arrive from the other side and go under the Porte Cailhau and into the city. It was a stout little tower with the same castle towers as the previous St. Eloi tower.


On the other side of the Porte Cailhau, we went to the boulevard, or is it a quai? It was cold and windy, not to mention gray. Still. (Pictures have been edited to look less gray and dark) However, that did mean there weren't too many strangers photobombing our pictures. Then we went to the Mirroir d'Eau and the Place de la Bourse. I was really looking forward to the Mirroir d'Eau; pictures I had seen online were so beautiful. But, apparently, in winter they pull the pull on it and let it drain away. Which was really disappointing. So, instead, we got to see a large, slightly sunken gray concrete area.

The Place de la Bourse was impressive. A pretty fountain without any water, but the buildings behind it framing the square are beautiful. The buildings are very symmetrical and typical of the 18th century architecture, which is also the style of most buildings in the center of Bordeaux. We left the Place de la Bourse and finally found a place where we could have a late lunch. A kebab place not far from the Rue Ste Catherine. Kebab in a wrap, mmm.




After our lunch, we finished our walk. First, we had a few meters to go through the Rue Ste Catherine, which is the big shopping street. During mid- and late-afternoon, it's impossible to walk through this street. So, we caught sight of a Galerie, a bit like the Passage Pommeraye in Nantes, so we decided to cut through there. Then, along the side of the Grand Théâtre, we ended up on the crowded square in front of the theater, where the Intercontinental Hotel is also located. Looking at the pictures now, it's clear that I must have seen the statues on the top. However, when we came back here the next day, I felt like I hadn't seen them before.




We finished our first full day in Bordeaux by going to the tourist office, though they didn't have a lot of flyers and documents to browse, but we got a postcard and Mariecke chatted with Kevin, the guy behind the cash register, who spoke Portuguese. Then back to the hotel.

Friday, December 28th 2018
Spending money, art and the other side
We started out early again because the Rue Ste. Catherine was on the planning. But still, with no breakfast at the hotel and shops not opening that early, we didn't leave the hotel until nine-ish. We went to the Place de la Comédie in front of the Grand Théâtre, which was empty compared to the afternoon before. After a visit to a comic store and a breakfast at a corner bakery, we went down the Rue Ste. Cathérine. Like the Place, the street was pretty empty, with the exception of delivery vans.



We aren't much for shopping outside of Sales season and if we do go, it's at shops like C&A, which weren't in the shopping street. We did go into the HEMA (Yes, I know we were there on our first afternoon but this was a different store). We went further down the street but aside from the HEMA, we only went into an overpriced stationary shop and the Asian grocery store across the street. It's amazing what cool stuff they have at Asian groceries that they don't have in the big supermarkets. Too bad we don't have a proper Asian grocery in the Vendée.

(This is not a church, it's a synagogue. The star on the wall sort of gave it away.)


At the end of the Rue Ste. Cathérine is the Porte d'Aquitaine. Unlike the Portes we saw yesterday, this one had no castle towers. Instead, it looked more like a gate into an ancient Roman or Greek city. A gate with columns in the middle of a square, right next to a book market. Too bad all the books were in French, and although I'd love some old book pages for origami papers, I can't actually bring myself to rip the pages out of a book. It took us about two to two and a half hours to make it to the end of the street, with our stops. So, from Porte d'Aquitaine, we took a tram, past the Musée d'Aquitaine and back to the square with the Pey-Berland Tower. Or, more precisely, to the sushi restaurant we saw the day before.

We had an early lunch. In fact, we might have been a little too early because the chefs were having lunch themselves. But the sushi was delicious and cheap. At least, for sushi. After lunch, we went by the cathedral. This time, I wanted to go in. Well imagine my surprise to find the place on lunch break. What kind of Christian hospitality is that? In fact, why are so many churches not free accessible? I mean, I'm not one to go into a lot of churches, but if I want to see the inside of a cathedral, I would like for the doors to simply be open.


Instead, we went straight to the Musée des Beaux Arts. We had already walked past there and they had these big blowups of paintings printed on canvas. Not paintings from their museums; I'm pretty sure one of them hangs in the museum in Angers. Anyway, we went in, and again, did not get the discount we were expecting to get. But we are students so there is always a discount we can get.

The paintings are divided over two buildings. The first building housed the older stuff, everything before Impressionism it would seem. It was all very dark and a little too religious for my liking. In the second building is the slightly more recent stuff. The paintings with brighter colors. They had a statue that at first we thought was a woman sleeping in a chair. All of it made out of marble. As it turned out, it wasn't a lady at all. In fact, it was Mozart napping in his chair.


The museum was fairly small so there wasn't too much to linger on. Even Mariecke, who will usually take out her sketch book, didn't find any inspiration in the surrounding art.

After the museum, we went back to the hotel for a bit because it was cold and we wanted to drop off our purchases from that morning. A little later in the afternoon, we headed back out again. This time, we crossed the Garonne by tram and got off at the first stop. Stalingrad. And there, right next to the tram stop, is a huge blue lion. It looks like it's made out of stone, but it wasn't. It felt more like plastic. But it was a beautiful lion nonetheless.





From there, we went on a walk along the riverside. It was cold and a little gray at first, but as we kept going, the sun came out. We walked through a riverside park before we turned toward the Jardin Botanique. It's not very impressive in winter. In fact, the bit of the garden we walked through was completely empty with signs telling us that the plants living in the planter boxes were done with their blooming cycle. So, the boxes were empty all together. A bit boring to look at. And after that, we just went back to the train station to buy some dinner at McDonalds and that was the day for us.

Saturday, December 29th 2018
Cold and short
Saturday has been a little notorious these past two months. Everyone in France will know what I mean when I say "gilets jaunes". At least until it all blows over they stop ruining everyone's Saturdays, then everyone will forget again. Well, I had thought they wouldn't be active from Christmas until 2019. Guess, I was wrong.

Yesterday, there was already an announcement at tram stations that there would be no trams in the city center from 1PM onwards. And we were like, okay, whatever, we don't need to be in the city center after 1PM. We had a boat trip planned for the afternoon and protesters aren't going to protest on the river. That would be stupid. They wouldn't bother anyone that way.

Anyway, we did have another walk planned in the morning and so we headed out once more. It was the coldest day yet, with temperatures of barely 1°C. Yeah, I know, it's almost like we were in the tropics. Even Mariecke wore her coat. We took the tram and went back to the Monument aux Girondins that we saw on our first full day in Bordeaux. There was a bakery there, where we got a croissant each (which had to be shared with the pigeons). We braved the cold and went on our way beyond the Monument. It was a lot busier today (from the looks of it, there was a guided tour or something about to begin). Anyway, we were glad that we already had our pictures of the place.

Mariecke had the map and led the way. It was really cold so I was glad I wasn't holding the map. Instead, my hands were in my pockets. The part of Bordeaux we were weaving our way through wasn't as photogenic and so we didn't take any pictures. We went through different streets until we found ourselves in front of the Bourse Maritime. It was a nice building, I had already spotted it the day before from across the river.


Then, we crossed the street to the boulevard along the Garonne. Here we were supposed to find the Slave Plate. We thought this would be some big ceremonial plate, maybe with a statue. But nope, it was a small shiny plate, inserted into the low wall that separates the boulevard from a playground. It could have easily been missed. The boulevard was unprotected from the cold winds, forcing us to hurry along. To our next stop; the "Dutch Houses".  Neither of the houses struck me as Dutch but okay, sure, whatever.

We went down a narrow little street that would have been adorable if it weren't for all the cars. Eventually we came to a church with two towers on its front side. One was squeaky clean, the other was covered in scaffolds. Clearly the city of Bordeaux is making a great effort into cleaning its religious edifices.

From there, we walked through the streets in search of lady Liberty. It took a bit to find her, I mean, it wasn't like she was this tall statue towering over everything and everyone as she welcomes immigrants to the New World. In fact, she was quite small; if it wasn't for her pedestal, I think she might be my height. Maybe a little taller.  But how crazy is it that you don't even need to fly across the Atlantic to see her.


After a short photoshoot with the Statue of Liberty, a very short photoshoot because it was too cold for my hands to  be out of my pockets for too long, we had to go down a really long street to the Jardin Public. On the way there, a young lady with a cat in a basket needed our help finding the vet.  Haha, what are the odds? Anyway, Mom had already told me the yesterday that some public places might have been closed because of the gilets jaunes. Well, the Jardin Public was indeed closed. A big fat chain and a padlock around the gates.


Well, that was the last drop. I told Mariecke the tram station wasn't far, so that's where we went. Then we took the tram, got Subway for lunch and back to the hotel. We stayed there the rest of the morning. Early afternoon, we headed to go out again because we had that boat trip on the Garonne. Because of the gilets jaunes, the tramline had been cut off to where we needed to go. No one could get to the boulevard on our side of the river. We, instead, took a bus to the other side where we had seen our boat company's docks. Except, once we got there, we could clearly see the boat on the other side of the river, the side where we could not get. So, no boat trip for us.

We went to the HEMA at the train station one final time. We loaded up on Fristi and Chocomel, which they do not sell ANYWHERE in France. Then, back to the hotel and the train took us home the next day.


It was a short trip to Bordeaux, one that I remember with some disappointment. It was probably because of the weather (I remember Vancouver the same way because I had nothing but rain there, while most people love it.) No place is nice when it's cold and gray, or when protestors take away your boat trip, or when a water mirror doesn't have any water in it.

However, if we were to meet at Lanacau next summer (2019), and you were to ask me where to do and see on a trip to Bordeaux, I would give you the essentials and insist that it's a beautiful city and that I loved it. Obviously, it was a beautiful city, that part isn't a lie. But don't always trust the tourist office advisor who gives you there personal opinion. Or the writer keeping a travel journal; you have to go visit Bordeaux for yourself if you want to know whether I was right or wrong.