Growing up, the only things I really associated with the word Bordeaux were the word France and the word wine. Sadly, after having lived in Europe for almost 4 years I 1) had not been to this famed wine region nor 2) could associate many more words with it. In my head, Bordeaux was a massive vineyard where people just ate cheese and drank wine all day.
When a past couchsurfer, Geraldine, who lives in the gorgeous city invited Joseba and I up for National Music Day, we couldn't pass up her offer - I mean, wine, cheese AND live music!? How could you say no?
We headed off and arrived at her family's home in a suburb of Bordeaux and were happily welcomed not just by her mother, but also by her grandparents who were visiting for a week! The grandma and mom had prepared and already eaten lunch and had left the kitchen table set for us! As it turns out, French people eat other things besides cheese and drink wine! They had made a scrumptous cous cous with a apricot sauce with chicken that was delectible! To top it off, Geraldine offered us some caneles, a Bordeaux pastry speciality that we had tried when she and her friend visited us in San Sebasitan.
We set our bags down and were off to get a whirlwind tour of the city which we soon learned deserved its name Little Paris. With no map, no guidebook and no pre-planning, we were elated to tag along as Geraldine wound us down little narrow streets (we seemed to always walk in the middle of the road until a car came and we would casually get on the sidewalk).
We whizzed past the Saint Andre Cathedral set in a massive plaza with its sandstone looming over us. In the process of getting cleaned, the gargoyley dirty half didn't even look like it could be part of the same heavenly building as the wiped clean white sandstone. With a wall that is over a thousand years old, this place has become a national monument in France and created a great first impression on my blank state of a mind of the city.
As we crept more and more into the city center we stopped off at little shops that you just don't see here in San Sebastian - a vintage shop where Joseba bought a little plaid hat to protect his shiny head from the surprise guest, the sun; a shop with random art and knick knacks and a whole basement full of deck furniture welded and sculpted out of steel; a bookshop that could rival Powell's Books in Portland, OR for stock numbers!
Walking towards the river we paused in the middle of the Bourse Plaza. Designed by the same architect who imagined part of the Chateau in Versailles, it was built in the mid 1700s. Bordeaux until that point had been a wall port city, and as the exterior wall went away, the people of the city wanted to present something grand to shipmen arriving for trading (wine, sugar and sadly slaves). This palace, with its massive and grandiouse stature and symetry to match was the ticket. Said to be a perfect example of Bordeaux architecture of the 18th century, it is not only beautiful while looking straight at it, but supposedly its charm is magnified when you see it through the Miroir des Quais. This massive (possibly the biggest in the world) reflecting pool that sits across the street from the buildling, when still, creates a perfect mirror image. Since wind was whirling the water didn't sit still long enough for us to catch a glimpse of it, but we managed to use the pool to cool off our feet and dance among the sprinklers as many residents of Bordeaux do in the summer.
With stages being set up and sound checks going on, we carried on to make sure we saw as much of the city before live concerts took up the streets and nighttime fell. We next headed past the Grand Theater, towards the Esplanade des Quinconces, the biggest square in town (over 30 acres, so practically the biggest in Europe) laid out in 1820 with a fountain and statue that was dedicated to the Girondists who fell victim to the Reign of Terror during the French Revolution. Sadly, during WWII the statue was melted down by the Germans for its 52 tons of bronze and just in the past 2 decades has been rebuilt again.
After such quick walking and active sightseeing, Geraldine awarded us with a little break in her favorite Square - St. Micheal's Plaza. Actually it is properly named something else, but since the church in its center is named after St. Micheal, she said everyone just calls it that. Look at us - calling things by thier local names! We sat down for a light drink - tea for Geraldine and Joseba and a juice for me to go with our Morrocan pastry, in the heart of the Arab neighborhood of the city.
We headed back towards the river to check out a sporty area and grooved to some James Brown music before eventually meandering back to our starting point - the Cathedral. With a stage set and ready to go we rocked out to a band called, I swear I am not lying - Fuck N' Stein. Quite soul/funky, our sidewalk seats were good for our smooth moves and great people watching.
After a lot of 'ohhh baby' and 'ohhh yea' sorts of songs we headed to meet up with the other girl who visited us in San Sebastian, Geraldine's friend, Fanny! Walking towards the restaurant we didn't pass anything substantially important, but I just couldn't get over how much I loved the little plazas and streets. They seemed so quaint, with each restaurant having a little bit of outside terrace seating, each decorated to the nines, perfectly designed little signs hanging over small clothing shops and people enjoying and strolling the day away.
Wine More Time was the name of the bar and is exactly what I imagined Bordeaux to be. After a few hours of seeing gorgeous uniform sandstone buildings, elegant balconies, flowers blooming everywhere you looked and curious little shops left and right, this wine bar served the French essentials - wine and cheese (and some meat with our mixed cheese and meat plate). If you wanted a beer, you couldn't order if from your table, you literally had to GET UP and go to the bar. That made me chuckle. Wine all the way! Joseba and I, feeling quite obliged, each ordered a different Bordeaux wine. Between the four of us we order 2 mixed cheese and meat plates that had cheeses I had 1) never tried before and 2) sorry never found out their names but that were superb. Looking at the trays, I was sure we wouldn't fill up and treat that as a meal, but sure enough after two wines and two plates, we had full enough bellies to start the rocking at the street party bursting with music.
As we stepped out onto the street, it was as if we were in the middle of so many concerts simultaneously. In front of so many bars there were live bands just jamming with crowds gathered around dancing or clapping to the beat. For everyone 20 steps you took, you had a new beat! It was great! In one block you could sample some samba, then some jazz then some indie music...and then move onto the next block for more. We boogied our way through the city, rocking our socks off til about 1am when we caught one of the last buses back to Geraldine's house. The atmosphere in the town at night was so alive and contagious it was sad to leave it but as soon as our heads hit the pillow we were out!
The next morning we had some French bread (but just regular bread I supposed - a baguette) with some local jams and jellies and then were off to our next adventure - Carcassone! In the end, it is really amazing to me to think that, a couple of months ago this Geraldine girl contacted us via internet to ask to stay at our place and learn about our lives and there was such a connection between us all that here we had just visited her, met her family and seen her city! What a rewarding adventure.