Second last city of the trip was Bordeaux and before I even made it to my hotel I saw something really cool! They’ve got a tram system that takes electricity from a third rail on the ground rather than over head wires, and the cool thing is that it (of course) doesn’t electrocute you if you walk on it. Well I thought it was cool…
I went to bed early on Sunday night, but still ended up sleeping in on Monday. I spent what was left of Monday morning in the Tourist Information office, who also had a little exhibition of the history of the city which was a useful introduction.
When I left the Tourist Information office, I ran into four German girls. One of them did all the talking, and asked me if she could ask me to do something. Umm, well she could ask… Next question was what nationality I was. Before asking her third and final question, she explained that it was her birthday and that she has to complete a challenge before her friends would give her her present (at least it wasn’t a hen party!). Feeling a little uneasy now I said OK, what’s the challenge? Turns out she needed to have a photo taken with people of five different nationalities. *Phew* that’s no problem, photo taken and on my way again.
Unusually I didn’t visit any religious buildings today and as most museums are closed on Monday, I headed out of the centre of town to the Museum of Wine and Wine Merchants. It’s not really related to the growing of the vines as I would see if I had visited a château, but it concentrates on the history of wine in the Bordeaux region and the trades around the production of the wine, especially that of the wine merchants who buy wine from various châteaus to blend together.
The museum is quite small, mostly taking up the cellar where wine used to be matured in the basement of a building. That’s only two arches that are a total of 60m long, but I spent almost 2 hours reading about how the merchants work and how to identify where a wine has come from. There was also a short explanation of the different types of grapes grown around Bordeaux and the characteristics of each one.
There were a couple of other people visiting at the same time as me, but they appeared to be getting special treatment from the staff and I didn’t know why. I found out later that they were interns and it was their first day on the job, one of whom was English and studying French and German. She’d spent the last 6 months studying at a university in Germany, and was now going to work for 5 months in the museum which seemed pretty cool. She didn’t know an lot about wine yet, but I guess she’ll need to learn quickly.
After finishing the theoretical parts of the museum there was a wine tasting too. The white wine was quite nice, but the red wasn’t to my tastes and apparently it’s young and will improve with age. The main aim of the tasting was to reinforce the information that was presented to us in the museum about châteaus and merchants, and the people working there were pretty knowledgeable in my novice opinion and also very helpful.
One thing that’s very noticeable in all parts of the city is that there are squares everywhere. Some large and very grand and others are small and maybe only have a couple of benches to sit on, but you can’t walk for more than two minutes in any direction before finding another square. It was nice to people watch a little during the afternoon even though it’s not something that I’m very good at, and seeing the locals just hanging around.
Today I went on a guided tour of the city organised by the Tourist Information office. I picked up some useful facts that I wouldn’t otherwise have known, but I think that it’s better to go on it on the first day that you’re in the city as I’d already learned or seen a lot of the basic things that we covered. Also it was two hours long, but it felt like we’d only covered a small part of the city by the end of it.
Some of the interesting facts are:
- There’s a street in the centre called rue Maucoudinat, which in the Gascon language meant “street badly cooked” because there was an inn on the street that served terrible food
- Airbus wings sail down the Garonne river by boat until they’re south of Bordeaux, which would be an odd thing to see. They’re going to the Airbus factory near Toulouse
- Many buildings in Bordeaux are made using foreign stone, as ships sailed to the city with lots of ballast before being loaded in the port, and the ballast stones were used to make buildings and monuments.
I had lunch with a guy from London who was also on the tour and afterwards tried to find something to do. I eventually ended up at the Musée d’Aquitaine, which contains a history of the Aquitaine region from prehistory through to the present day. I didn’t spend too much time examining all of the exhibits, especially as in the earlier times there are lots of tools and arrow heads which are only so interesting.
The Roman era and the middle ages were also covered, then a large part of the museum was dedicated to the last 300 years as the 18th century was Bordeaux’s most prosperous period, when it was one of the largest ports in Europe and the biggest trading point for goods coming from the French colonies such as coffee and sugar. Slavery is also covered in the exhibits, and while they claim that the city wasn’t a large trading point for slaves they do admit to having made a lot of money from trading products produced by them.
By this point it was almost time to leave, but I had time again to stop for a cup of tea and chill out on one of the city’s squares. There were a few times when there was no one else in it and it felt almost abandoned, which wasn’t exactly eerie, but is strange in the middle of a city. The tea again had a name, but I think this time it probably had something to do with the variety of tea used as it was called Silver Dragon. It was OK, but the most impressive thing about it was that it was served in a really nice Villeroy & Boch mug which probably cost more than 15 pots of tea, so I’m surprised that I didn’t have to leave a deposit for it. Maybe that only happens in beer bars where people are more likely to steal the glasses.
I got to the train station early and bought dinner, then waited for the platform to be announced for my train. So for 30 minutes I was watching a mechanical departure board clicking and clacking as trains came and went, and it gave the place a little more character than the usual electronic boards. On the down side you have to wait until all the clacking has finished to find out if the platform has been announced or if they were just removing a train that departed from the top of the board.
So what did I think or Bordeaux? It was nice. A city that’s proud of it’s past as a port and of it’s region that brought money to the city. Now that I’m trying to think or something to sum it up I’m struggling, as it wasn’t outstandingly good and it certainly wasn’t bad. It was just a nice place to relax for a couple of days.