Thursday, June 5, 2014

First days in Bordeaux

A reason to come to Bordeaux......

"Wine is constant proof that God loves us and loves to see us happy." A direct quote from Benjamin Franklin.

Arrived in Bordeaux late Saturday afternoon, May 31st and we were met by the owners of the apartment, Claude and Benadette, what a delightful couple. They are in their mid 70's and he is a retired University professor and a native of Bordeaux. They welcomed us to the apartment which is a typical French apartment in an old building. Fifteen foot ceilings with beautiful plaster work and mouldings. They were both very informative and had lots of tourist information. They left us with a baguette, fresh jam, fruit, a cake and a bottle of wine as a welcome gift.

The apartment has three sets of French doors and a tiny balcony that overlook the Jardin Public. We are about a 10 minute walk into the centre of town and from the Garoone river. A rental bike station is just a few yards from our front door and the tram is a short walk across the Jardin Public.

First things first, we headed out to buy a few groceries and wine, of course. We also found a wonderful butcher who had lots of prepared foods, so stocked up for our first dinner. Then off to find our way into the center of the City. Lots of pedestrian only areas and an abundance of small squares with cafés and bistros once you get off the main areas. Sat down in a small bistro looking onto La Place de la Comedie to enjoy our first glass of wine in Bordeaux.

In this square there is also a huge statue of a bronze head, a sculpture by the Spanish artist Jaume Plensa, who also did the wire head in front of The Bow building is Calgary.
The city of Bordeaux, capital of the Aquitaine region, is a port city lying on the Garonne River. Due to the moonshape bending of the River, it is also called 'Port of the Moon'. Founded as a Gallic settlement, it became an important market town during Roman times. In the 18th and 19th centuries the city underwent a major renovation in order to become a modern city. This historic city, an outstanding urban and architectural ensemble, created in the age of the Enlightenment, has more protected buildings than any other French city except Paris and the historical centre is a Unesco World Heritage site. The population of the greater Bordeaux area is 1.1 million people.
Sunday morning arrives and I read about the market which takes place along the river every Sunday morning. Off we go, through the Jardin to find a glorious market. Prepared foods of all sorts, fresh meat, fish, chicken, duck, rabbit, baked goods, bread and all sorts of new foods to sample. The region of Bordeaux, as in all areas, are known for certain gastronomic goodies. We tried farcou, a fried wheat pancake which is green in colour due to the green chard they add to it. This local chef also made various kinds adding ingredients such s goat cheese, lardon (bacon), gizzards, prunes, etc. ....very tasty. They also make a type of apple pie that they call croustade, looks like it is made with puff pastry. Bordeaux is also known for its caneles cakes, however have yet to try.
Sunday was also a day of celebrating the Velo(bicycle) and there were hundreds of people out riding their bikes along the river paths, great to see. The cyclist here do not wear helmets, there are bike lanes all around the city and drivers respect the cyclists. Like Amsterdam, you see cyclists in suits and dresses on their way to work. Took out some bikes today (Monday) for the first time. The Bordeaux bike system is called VCub and after a few rides, we can say that they are definitely in better shape than those in Nice. As we are within walking distance to the centre, we will rent bikes on a daily basis as we see the need at a cost of €5 for a 24 hour period, pretty reasonable if you ask me.

Must say that in both Nice and here in Bordeaux we have noticed so many people rollerblading in addition to cycling. Not sure why, as I think very few people seem to rollerblade in Calgary anymore.

Today in addition to renting bicycles, we caught the tram to go to "The Bastide" across the river, a neighbourhood in the midst of revitalization. When we sat down on the tram, a young man leaned over to Robin and asked him in French, what he had on his leg, Robin had his small knee brace on. I replied to him, in French that it was a knee brace to help take some of the strain off his knee as he had injured it. Two young ladies sitting across the aisle from him are listening. Well, this young man, probably about thirty went on and on in French..."do you know that when I wake in the morning, my knee and leg hurts, I take pain medication, but that only last an hour, then I take more medication. Where can I get a brace like that? Look here is a picture of my son and I, isn't he precious? Don't you find that girls nowadays wear their skirts too short? Did I tell you that I take lots of medication during the day. Look, here is a picture of my daughter, but she lives with my ex-wife." Yikes, that went on for 15 minutes, then he finally got off the train. The young girls that were sitting across the aisle from us simply started laughing. As this guy went on and on, they were trying not to look at him, but he kept asking them questions....even asked one of them "Why have you pierced your lip?"

Got off the tram and started our walk back towards the main city. Along the way we saw the signs for the Jardin Botanique, so took that in. Nice setting, but not too much to see. The garden is along the right bank, so we hopped on a couple of bikes and rode along the river, across the Pont Jaques, back along the left bank all the way to the Gare (train station), then headed back to the apartment.

Early evening before dinner we walked to a small square, Place du Marche de Chartrons near our apartment. Decide to stop and have an aperitif. I had read about "Lillet" which is a French aperitif wine specific to this region. It is a blend of 85% Bordeaux wines and 15% macerated liqueurs, mostly citrus liqueurs from the peels of sweet oranges from Spain and Morocco and the peels of bitter green oranges from Haiti. They make a white (dry) and red (sweet) variety. We had the white and quite enjoyed it. Had to try it while in this part of the country.

Tuesday morning we head out early, jump on a couple of bikes and scope out where our son Rich and our daughter in law, Lisa, have rented an apartment for a week starting this Saturday. We are looking forward to spending time with them while they are here. They are closer to the downtown area on a quiet street and close to all amenities, think they made a wise choice and only about a 10-15 minute walk from where we are. We are certainly looking forward to seeing them. When they arrive on Saturday, we will go out for dinner to celebrate their wedding anniversary. Walked to the Musee d'Art Contemporaire. The inside of the building has recently been refurbished and the sandstone walls are beautiful. We were told that the entry was free as there were only two temporary exhibits, not sure where the permanent collections is stored.

Showers on Wednesday morning, so we set out with jackets and an umbrella. Although cloudy all day, we never had rain during our outing. We decided that we want to take the boat today (part of the public transport) along the Garonne, it hs about four different stops along the river. On our way, we walk along Rue Notre Dame in an area near our apartment. The shops along the street and around the square, Halle des Chartrons, are all local and this is definitely not a tourist area. We get to the river and hop on the boat. Free for one of us as I had picked up a free pass on the weekend and we use a bus pass for our other fare. A bus pass here works for bus, tram and the boat. For the last four days they have been trying to promote the boat service with the locals, so it's free if up you have the special pass. Apparently over the last year since it's inception they have had a lot of mechanical problems. We rode the boat to the right bank, then walked across Pont de Pierre and walked towards the Basilica of St. Michel, one of the many churches in Bordeaux. Unfortunately we couldn't get in due to all the construction in the square and when I asked a young gentleman if we could enter, he indicated that exams were taking place inside the church and that is why all the doors were closed.

Our landlords told us not to venture close to the Gare in the evening, can understand why as we wind our way through the streets in this much older somewhat seedier part of the city. But....we come across the Marche Des Capucins, their local market. What a treasure. It's similar to the St.Lawrence street market in Toronto or Granville Island in Vancouver, just a lot older. The market is open air and people riding their bikes right through the market. It's around 1 p.m. when we arrive, so a lot of the merchants are already closing down. We are hungry and find a little bistro inside the market called Poulette. It's specialty is moules, served in any different ways. I had Moules Campagnard (bacon/ham in the cream sauce) and Robin had Moules au Curry. Both very we are in this little hole in the wall and the young owner brings us finger bowls with lemon to clean up. Haven't even had this amenity in higher end restaurants!

Enjoying our first few days in Bordeaux, certainly a different vibe than Nice, not necessarily better or worse, just different. Nice to experience a different part of France.

Thursday, June 5th we decide to go to Biaritz which is 200 km. south of Bordeaux, and takes two hours by train. Located on the Atlantic Ocean, it is only 35 km. from the Spanish border and is in the midst of Basque Country. Took the tram from just the other side of the Jardin Public directly to the Gare. Had a croissant and tea/coffee at the train station as we had an early train. I could hear someone playing the piano and found a young teenager playing beautiful classical music on a piano that just sits on the inside of the Gare for people to play. Nice way to start the morning.

Chose a great day to go, 26 degrees and sunny. We took the local bus from the train station, stopped at the tourist office to get our bearings and headed towards The Grand Beach. Originally a whaling settlement, doctors started recommending Biaritz for its medicinal qualities back in the 18th century. In the late 1800's, Napoleon's wife built a castle on the beach, today it is a high end hotel, the Hotel du Palais. The architecture in Biaritz is a potpourri of styles from Art Deco, some Tudor influence, Belle Époque era and even an Orthodox Church. Walked along the walkway enjoying the weather and watching the surfers. Biaritz is said to be a prime destination for surfers and needless to say they are all wearing wetsuits. A lighthouse in the distance, but we did not venture in that direction. Continued walking around the bay and headed for "Le Rocher de la Vierge". This is an immense rock outcropping that juts out into the ocean and has a statue of the Virgin Mary on the top. It is connected to the mainland by a metal bridge. This area is undergoing quite a bit of shoring up, but we were able to cross over. Great views of the ocean and the surrounding vistas.

Around the bend to a little bay "Le Port des Pecheurs" which services fishermen and pleasure boats. Tiny old fisherman cottages have been turned into bars and restaurants. Stopped for lunch here and enjoyed fresh calamari and prawns cooked over an open fire. Continued onto "Le Vieux Port" ( old port) were the water is much calmer as this bay is well sheltered. Many people picknicking and sunbathing. Bus, train and tram and back to our apartment about 5 p.m. A very enjoyable day.












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