Europe Travel Log – Bordeaux


Sunday 25 September

Our hotel is fantastic! Limestone walls, wooden floors and our own balcony. Great location, near the vinotique (and also St Andre cathedral, the grand homme, and the river). It’s beside the Place Gambetta where numerous people were beheaded after the revolution. Now it’s mostly cafes gouging your pocket. It’s also near Cours de L’Intendance a wide pedestrian area with posh shops and beautiful old buildings.

It’s Sunday, so in some symbolic gesture we head to St Andre first. It’s facade is quite like that of Notre Dame, very gothic. It was built mostly in the thirteenth and fourteenth century. I am expecting a dark interior. Wow! Light is streaming in through the west windows onto the high, very high, vaulted ceilings, and shining on the most amazing organ that stretches across the entire width of the church. Some of the vaults have really complicated ribs, and some of the keystones are almost filigree, the most complicated I have seen. The rose windows and other stained glass are nice, what is remarkable is their age. There are no side chapels off the nave, but there are several off the high altar. The most rear chapel would originally have been the high altar where the priest said mass unseen. The choir stalls are beautiful. They are carved and each one sits in a stone arch. But it is the light that amazes me, and the light on the high vaults that I keep coming back to. They are magnificent. Some are made of a light colored stone, possibly limestone, some are of brown stone, and some are made of green and grey bricks.

Churches are supposed to be places of serenity and calm. But when I walk into this church I am excited. I love the structure and design. It may be a church, but it is also a very ancient building constructed by master craftsmen at a time when New Zealand was still unpopulated. Stirring stuff.

On the way down to the river we stop at a boulangerie. I spot a pastry basket with raspberries in it. It has my name on it – and Peter’s too, I can share! Delicious isn’t a strong enough word to describe this taste sensation of sweet and sharp. Yum.

The river is dirty, but even so, it is pleasant wheeling/walking along the wide boulevard next to it. We can see the Pont de Pierre, with its many arches, built in 1818 and still being used. There are gardens too. Everyone is out for a Sunday afternoon stroll. It’s hot. When we were in the taxi at 3.30pm the outside temperature was 31 degrees. At 6am it’s still hot, and kids are playing in some sort of water feature that extends alongside and above the boulevard. This is the Mirror D’eau.

We continue along the river until we arrive at the esplanade des quinconces and the monument aux Girondins. The top of this monument, a woman statue of gold, can be seen from all over the city. At the base on opposite sides are two bronze statues of women, horses and men from which water pours. These fountains represent Republic and Concordia. They are bizarre, but beautifully sculpted. On the third side is an elaborate white marble statue, and the fourth side has a white marble face. It seems to have something to do with freedom.

Back at the hotel we sit on our balcony in the sun eating dinner, Peter sipping a great Bordeaux merlot sauvignon (in Bordeaux). The sun is setting and everything glows. Our world is perfect!

Monday 26 September

We need another suitcase. Peter has already bought some wine and he plans buying more. There is a Gallerie Lafayette not far away so the first thing we do is buy something suitable. Done. Now we move quickly to the campanile at St Andre. We want to be there early. Yesterday the attendant told us to be there at 10am. He’s doubtful I can climb up … Huh!

Well, I knock that tower off! 231 steps. On the way up we see the large bell that is supposedly the largest in France. The sound must have been amazing because the conical spire soars above it. The first terrace is not far up, but the view is good, and I can see over the cathedral roof. The top terrace gives a fantastic view! I am leaning against the top spire, I can touch a gargoyle, and I am level with the minor spires. Bordeaux lies below, and I can see all the landmarks …

Ever since Amy told us about the vinotique, a wine shop with four floors, Peter has been looking forward to letting loose in it. There is one entire floor devoted to red Bordeaux wines! Rather than hold Peter back, I visit the tourism office, go sit by the Monument aux Girondins and look at what we might do in the afternoon. We’d already decided to visit the Musee Beaux Artes. It supposedly has works by Titian, Veronaze, Matisse and Picasso.

On the way we pass the Place de la Comedie, with its columns and on top the Romanesque statues standing in profile against the skyline.

At the musee Beaux Artes we almost immediately see the Titian and Veronaze, as well as a Caravagio, some Rubens and Delacroix. The Picasso isn’t there and the Matisse paintings are shown so you can’t really see them – they are lying flat on a table under glass, so you can’t get far enough away to see them properly. They are small and highly portable so this is probably the only secure way of showing them. It seems a shame though. I find an artist that is new to me, Redon, and I really like his impressionist painting. There’s always something magical about finding a new artist.

There are some nice paintings here, but after what we have seen in the last few weeks it’s hard to be impressed. The Titian and the Caravagio are fantastic though. The Titian is especially so given it’s recent history. The painting is “The Rape of Lucretia”. It’s not pleasant but it’s a brilliant painting. Until 1964, for thirty years, it hung in the Town Hall above where couples were married. Talk about inappropriate!

Peter needs something to read and we find a bookstore in the midle of Bordeaux that specializes in “livres Anglais”! Odd!

We walked/wheeled back to the river to see the Place de la Bourse. Originally it was Louis fifteenth’s royal palace. Three buildings in the seventeenth century classical French style face toward a fountain in the centre of the square. This style of building, with its sloping slate roof seems rare in Bordeaux. The buildings were not connected, the two outer ones curving away from the central triangular building. It’s quite attractive. (as you’d expect of a royal residence!)

Across the road is the Mirror D’eau that we had briefly seen yesterday. We take a closer look. What fun! It’s a long stretch of seemingly flat concrete slabs. The edges are only about one centimetre higher than what is a huge dish. First the dish seems just wet, then super fine sprays of water shoot out of discs all over it. The spray stops, then water bubbles up from cracks between the slabs, filling the dish. Then it drains away, to start all over again. When the water is still, it looks like a mirror. But mostly people, adults and kids are walking, running splashing and even aquaplaning on it. Peter takes off his shoes and stands in the fine spray. I take my shoes off and walk through the centimetre puddle, watching the ripples I make. Magic!

We continue walking along the river then turn toward the Jardin Public. It’s lovely. There’s a small lake in the middle with an island that has a merry go round in the middle. I wonder if this is where Amy had her photo taken when she was in Bordeaux! The trees are beautiful, especially as some are changing into their autumn colours. It’s peaceful and quiet, even the sound of children squealing us soaked up by the trees. There’s an archway through to an English garden. It’s so quiet, it’s hard to believe that this is a city of 750,000.

It’s still warm at 6.30pm and it would be easy to stay in the gardens longer but we head back to the hotel via Place de Tourny where there is a statue of Monsieur Tourny, a former Intendance, or governor (I finally know the meaning of Intendance) in front of a curved building in the style of French Classical.

Then its on to Marche des Grandes Hommes. This was originally a food market a century or more ago, but has been reborn, with the same name and shape, but all in glass. It is now a shopping centre but still has a food area in the basement. Fromage, tomatoes, grapes, poulet, jambon for dinner tonight. Oh, and Peter buys some more wine (for 4 euro). A stop at a boulangerie and dinner is complete – fresh, warm bread, and citrus tarts …

Tuesday 27 September

Breakfast on the hotel balcony! As the sun rises! I really like this hotel. In the evening we see the sunset, in the morning, the sunrise.

To get to the Notre Dame cathedral we walk again down the Cours L’Intendance, then pass through the Passage Sargent, a nineteenth century shopping arcade. It has a nice ambience with a carved cornices and a marble carving above the archway at the end of the arcade of expensive and specialist stores.

Notre Dame is far more interesting than I had expected. It is a small cathedral (as cathedrals go) but it has some beautiful features. To me it seems ironic that it is often the churches that offer the most interesting artistic, historic and design elements of the time. In France the chateaux were ransacked after the revolution so I suppose it is fortunate that the churches have been preserved and we have an opportunity to admire them. Also, the state and church have been intertwined, so the churches in Europe have not only been a means of worship, but have also demonstrated the power and wealth of the church, the state, or the patron. Advances in architecture and technology have occurred because of the need to solve design problems eg the duomo in Florence, and the Notre Dame in Paris.

Notre Dame in Bordeaux was built around 1700 and is renaissance style rather than gothic so no soaring spires. Instead the vaults are rounded. The church is made of white stone and the morning light streams in through the stained glass windows. The organ is the most ornate I have seen. It seems to be built within dark wood and has amazing wooden carvings on each layer of pipes, the edges, the centre and everywhere possible. It sounds tacky but I think it is wonderful. Looking down the nave I can see the arches, the vaults and the high altar. It is spectacular. There are side chapels off the nave and it is interesting to note that all the paintings were done by a Dominican ‘freer’ in the early 1700s. They may not be masters, but he obviously had talent. I think it is a nice touch to have been able to use the talent of a minor clergy.

We have an hour or so before we must leave for the airport to Barcelona so we take a tram to Place de Victoire, an area we have not explored. I see the sign “speed rabbit pizza” under which Amy had her photo taken. I think this is funny, because if I stand in the same place I can take a photo of the arch that frames the memorial to Victor Hugo!

Next we use the tram to get to Temple Ha. We had seen this from the top of the campanile and it looked interesting. It is one of the oldest structures in Bordeaux. We can’t get into the church but we can see the facade and the auxiliary buildings. The surrounding area is old and run down. There are ethic restaurants including Ethiopean and Lebanese. Yet only a block away is the back of Notre Dame, which is in a very upmarket area of posh shops.

We sit for a while in Place Gambetta where there is a pond surrounded by trees, shrubs and flowers. It’s lovely

There isn’t a lot to central Bordeaux. There’s plenty of opportunities to shop. There are many arcades, malls, galleries and street shops. There are also lots of statues, squares and parks to visit and relax in. St Andre and Notre Dame are gems. The mirror D’eau is brilliant. The best of Bordeaux is tasting the wine and perhaps seeing the chateaux where it is made.

I’m sure the highlights for Peter were being let loose in the vinotique, tasting great red wine, and finding good bordeaux wine in supermarkets for a fraction of the price he would pay in NZ! If we were to return to France, we would certainly tour the chateaux and their vineyards. It might be a toss up between a tour of the Loire Valley and the Bordeaux wine country. Bordeaux might just win.

Notes on Accessibilty

The trams are totally accessible by wheelchair, although there is no specific place to park when you’re on board.

Bordeaux is flat so it’s easy to wheel around. Most roads have kerb crossings that are easy to roll up or down, although sometimes they are too steep – just stay on the road it until you find a suitable crossing, it doesn’t seem to be a problem!

There are many pedestrian only malls that are easy to negotiate. Department stores have toilets for the disabled.

I noticed more people here in wheelchairs in one day than I have seen in the last five weeks.

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