|Bordeaux on foot
||[Oct. 30th, 2015|08:53 pm]
I had thought of Bordeaux as a chilly, elegant city: the wide river lined with gems of classical architecture, the houses - and chais - of affluent wine merchants. For all I know, parts of it are like that, but not the parts we saw. With the help of karinmollberg we booked ourselves into the Victoria Garden, which presents itself as a very flash, business-oriented set-up, but - and this may not be true of the rest of the chain - is actually a very comfortable hotel with friendly and helpful staff. It's possible that the rooms which front onto the Cours de la Somme are newer and smarter, but we were at the far end of the courtyard: affordable parking in central Bordeaux, a tree outside our window, no street noise. This placed us in the Quartier Saint Michel, and we didn't stray far from it for the duration of our stay.
First thing on Sunday morning, karinmollberg swept us off to the café for breakfast. She led us through side streets - like everyone else we walked in the roadway, how could we not? The pavements were narrow, cobbled, intermittently patched and uneven, blocked by café seating and clusters of wheelie bins, so we took our chances with the cyclists - who were numerous, and fast moving. "Head for the flèche," she told us, "the flèche is your landmark."
The flèche is the spire of Saint Michel - detached from the body of the church, as seems to be the style. Since these were the Journées européennes du Patrimoine (Heritage Open Days, yet again) we could have joined the queue to climb to the top of it, but we didn't. We breakfasted, and watched the stallholders setting up the market (this being Sunday, it was a flea market) and after breakfast we shopped: so many absurd things we could have bought, and I was oddly drawn to a large vegetable dish, but it was a completely absurd price. Paperbacks were cheap, though. We toured the covered market, too, and admired the stalls heaped high with vegetables, with fish, with spices... If we'd been staying even a little longer, I'd have made many purchasa, and tested our tiny cooking corner to its utmost...
Even not shopping is thirsty work, though, and just round the corner was the renovated market hall of the Marché aux Douves, a piece of heritage that was not only open but offered a very welcome café break. I suspect it's a rescued building that is looking for a purpose, but it would make a great venue, and iy's iron skeleton is admirable. I liked this glimpse out to the city wall, under which it huddles. Behind and above the wall is a tiny park, but since once inside you can no longer see the wall, what's the point?
I knew, of course, that Bordeaux was an important city in the middle ages - an important English city, give or take, but that's another story - but I'd just assumed that the medieval city was eclipsed by the later city of quais and chais. Not so: it has not only walls but gates, and our tour visited several of them. This one is the Porte Cailhau, at the dar end of the Place du Palais:
We lunched at the pavement café, and though I can't remember anything about the meal, it was pleasant to sit in the shade and admire the view, until a strolling slackrope walker set up across the square (this seems to be a Thing: later we saw a number of young people practicing the skill under the trees by the river). We resented being co-opted into his audience, so we set off to look elsewhere for our coffee - without great success. But first, a closer look at the Porte Cailhau:
The picture shows the corner of a sculpture by François Didier, one of three in different locations in the city, showing the local landmarks and clearly designed to be explored by touch as well as by sight (street names were given in Braille as well as in letters). I liked the twisted spire of the bronze gateway, a distorted reflection of the orginal, bent and polished by the impact of many hands - but what was that in front of it, just within the aquare? It looked like a severed head, but why? It wasn't until some time during the night that I realised, half asleep: of course! It means 'you are here'!
An architecture-loving friend had advised durham_rambler not to miss the Place de la Bourse, so, in our one concession to that 'other' Bordeaux, we headed out through the gate, towards the river.
And yes, it's very splendid. all imposing classicism - but the fun thing is the Miroir, a broad shallow water feature. All those beautiful photos of the city at night, floodlit buildings reflected in the still waters? I'd assumed that was the Gironde, but no, it's the Miroir d'Eau. On a sunny Sunday afternoon it isn't so peaceful, though.
We were slowing down by now, but there was always more to see, more squares, more statues (including a very nineteenth century Montaigne), more fountains, another market (closed fortunately, so no temptation), the synagogue (open, because of the heritage open days), a long street of shops, and I was too tired even to demand a detour into FNAC to look at books, and finally ahead of us the Place de la Victoire: we were nearly there...:
Straight through that archway there, as my mother once instructed my father, driving down the Champs Elysées. Time for a rest before we headed out to meet karinmollberg and eat large chunks of meat at a restaurant called the Cochon Volant. I had a veal chop, and felt very Victorian, and since my companions put me on the spot and made me choose the wine, we had a bottle of Graves, a Château Chantegrives, and were well pleased with it.
And that was our first day in Bordeaux.
ETA 14.08.16: The Guardian travel supplement suggests the Puces Saint Michel as one of the places you might break your journey across France. They are not like us, the people in the travel supplement: I share their desire to break a long motorway journey, but I don't want to break it so thoroughly I can't put it back together again. However: it seems that when you have thoroughly enjoyed the street market, the place to lunch would be Le Passage Saint Michel, and I note this for future reference.