I got off on the wrong foot with Bordeaux, and it was my fault entirely.
I’m usually such a planner; at least when it comes to accommodation and transport. When I’m solo traveling, I (almost) always know where I’m going to be sleeping and how I’m going to get there. But for some reason, I really didn’t have a plan when I arrived in Bordeaux at 2:00 in the morning after a fifteen hour bus ride from Porto.
I guess I figured I was being adventurous when I thought I would just save myself the sum of a night’s hostel stay and sleep in the bus terminal until I could check into my Airbnb at 9 AM. Only, when I stepped off the bus, shocker, there was no bus terminal. In fact, there was a parking lot, a street light, a bench, and a bunch of rowdy partiers peeing next to their cars in the lot. I mean, it was 2AM on a Saturday night after all.
I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t stay up all night on the side of the road in a country where I barely spoke the language guarding my stuff and myself for seven hours. My whimsical sense of adventure flew out the window and I started off down the most brightly lit street I could find searching for a hotel. Luckily, I found one very close to where I was and, unluckily, it hit my wallet to the tune of 70 euros.
Oh, and check out was at ten.
After this initial less-than-spectacular greeting to Bordeaux, I was really looking forward to a brightening up the rest of my stay. In the end, I wouldn’t exactly call the rest of my stay there ‘bright’, but I would call it dejectedly comical. Like, in the same way Charlie Chaplin movies are funny; he keeps falling over and walking into stuff but is still pretty damn happy considering.
But first, I want to dish what I loved about Bordeaux.
It really should go without saying, but I happily indulged on the red in this very vincentric city.
The Bordeaux Wine Region, which covers the southwest corner of France, is arguably the most famous wine region in the world. Bordeaux’s proximity to the ocean has historically allowed Bordeaux to become a key wine export city, no doubt adding to the widespread notoriety of the region.
Bordeaux produces red, whites, and sweet dessert wines, however is most renowned for their reds; Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, and Malbec. The first two being the most popular of the five; as well as being the most popular choices with yours truly.
In hindsight I’m kicking myself I didn’t take a wine tour, but I think I got a well-rounded taste regardless!
On the surface, Bordeaux looks very well put together. The buildings are all of similar height, color, and grandeur, its people nary have an aptly conditioned hair out of place, the culinary experience is a well-oiled machine, and the ground is void of free-roaming trash.
Frankly, I found these attributes kind of boring (except for the trash bit, littering sucks), but what I didn’t find boring was how they contrasted yet complimented the splashes of detail and personality that could be found upon closer inspection.
Door knockers looked like fierce lions with their tongues hanging out, eerie gargoyle-esque statues stared down at me from doorways, anti-fascism stickers shone like the sun on the backs of stop sign’s, and a young couple even smiled upon catching me take a selfie of my reflection in a shop window.
Yeah, not a lot of smiles given by strangers in Bordeaux.
Okay enough of that, now for the main event:
A series of unfortunate, yet comical, events in Bordeaux
Oh God, I Look Like A Heathen
My day-to-day uniform in cooler temperatures looks a little like this: Flowing blouse, bell-bottoms / black skinny jeans, chunky black combat boots, long and unkempt blonde (and when I was in France – Purple) hair, Joey Ramone approved leather Jacket or vest, and tons of costume rings and necklaces. That’s me in a nutshell, but that ain’t Bordeaux in a nutshell.
It was immediately apparent to me that on a very superficial level, I did not fit in with the masses. The masses with their well-manicured nails, brushed hair, cute knee-length dresses, suits, loafers, and delicate jewelry.
It wasn’t as if I cared that they were a little more clean-cut than I, but like, they stared.
This one man even took a long look at my boots, looked up into my eyes, then looked back down at my boots.
Just keep walkin’ buddy.
La Belle et la Bête
I went to go and see Beauty and the Beast in Bordeaux for three reasons: I freakin’ love Beauty and the Beast, I was in France dammit, and I really wanted a few-hours-long mental break from the aforementioned judging eyes of strangers.
I somehow navigated the self-service ticket machines for the right film at the right time, and went to go find a seat in the theatre. The movie was near starting and since there was nobody else there I decided to sit back row centre and put my feet up. Only, in the last few seconds before showtime a middle-aged man walked in. Alone. And sat three seats away from me. Same row.
Let me reiterate that there was a whole theatre of seats available. There’s nothing like watching a bunch of animated housewares talk to each other while not talking to the only other person in the room.
I’m So Glad I Can’t Understand You
Now let’s talk about yelling things at strangers on the street.
So, in Bordeaux, it seems that the most popular (only?) place where people go to relax with friends, play some basketball, and throw around a frisbee is on this few-mile-long strip of land adjacent to the boardwalk near the river. In my experience, this place gets decently busy early in the day when the weather is nice.
That said, I got more than just a few snooty looks walking down said boardwalk. Dudes kept coming up to me trying to start conversations (while my headphones were in and I was obviously in la la land). I would see them gesture at me and say things – which of course I couldn’t understand but could only imagine given the context. And the one guy who actually spoke a bit of English gave me less than a stimulating conversation.
So like, I’m not one of those people who is completely put off by being approached on the street by strangers. Sometimes really interesting people do this, it’s not creepy, and it leaves me in a good mood. But this particular situation was creepy and it left me wondering if there was food stuck in my teeth or if my dress was tucked into my underwear. And for those of you thinking I should be flattered by all this, nah bro, this was less than flattering.
But in reality, it was a relief to not know the exact wording of the catcalls. I could pretend to ignore them so much easier.
I’m Getting Kicked Out of Where?
So Bordeaux kind of had me in a weird mood by this point, and I was looking for a place to just chill and collect my thoughts without ducking back into my digs. Obviously Bordeaux Cathedral fit the bill.
Mostly constructed during the 14th – 15th centuries, the Bordeaux Cathedral is a national monument of France and is a stunning example of Gothic architecture. The Cathedral is also home to the Marcade collection of paintings, sculptures, and other fancy objects, which I was looking forward to seeing.
I entered the building and took in the vast interior and decor. The place was beyond gorgeous with its numerous carvings and details. I spent a good 20 minutes just walking around taking it all in, and then, just as I was going to sit down in a pew and do some writing, the most obnoxious alarm in the world starting going off. And it was loud.
Everyone in the Cathedral simultaneously jumped from the noise, covered their ears and began to shuffle out of the building as quickly as possible.
Welp, so much for that!
So, unexpectedly finding myself back out in the late afternoon sun, I decided to look up a nice park where I could go and lounge in for the rest of the day.
Jardin Public was roughly a ten minute walk away from the Cathedral, and, as I had nowhere to be, I decided that would be a sound option. The park was wonderful, with lush greenery, well-kept paths, and people enjoying the day.
I found a quiet spot on a bench, and quickly got to writing in my journal. I quickly became very engrossed in what I was doing, because without even realizing it a couple of hours had passed and the reassuring sounds of other people in the park had died out entirely. I looked up and realized that I was all alone.
So, I packed up my stuff and started leisurely making my way to the exit. However, just as I was doing so, an impatient looking guard spotted me, started yelling things, and began marching in my direction.
I wasn’t sure what he was saying, but got the vibe it was time to get out of the park.
“Ferme?” I asked with my limited knowledge of the French language.
“Oui, ferme.” The guard replied.
He then escorted me to the gate, told me to look at closing times a little closer, and locked the gate behind me.
Because some public parks close in France.
Machine Guns Come Rolling In
Here’s a travel tip for you: stay on your toes if you decide to travel to a country during a particularly sensitive general election.
In France, there is a two-tiered election system. The people vote once to narrow down their preferred candidates, and then they vote again at a later date to officially choose their new President. I was there during the first.
I knew the election was happening as it was all over the news, my Airbnb host had his TV tuned in the entire time I was there, oh and the entire world seemed to be holding its collective breath. However, on the streets of Bordeaux you wouldn’t know anything was different about that day, until the army starting rolling in of course.
In case you didn’t catch the news, tensions were so high during these particular elections that riots were predicted. So when I found Bordeaux suddenly stocked with uniforms wielding machine guns, I decided it was probably time to head back to my flat for the night.
Oh, and in case you didn’t hear: In the end there were no riots in Bordeaux and Macron won the election. You’re welcome.
A 3 AM Stroll
When it was finally time for me to bounce for Paris, I, in true Taylor fashion, decided on the earliest bus possible. The bus was scheduled to depart at 5 AM, and it was a little over an hour walk from my flat to the middle-of-nowhere-parking-lot-pickup-spot. Yes, because apparently I only take cabs when I’m in dire straits and thought it advisable to walk through the near empty streets of Bordeaux in the wee hours.
So there I was, rubbing my eyes in the middle of the night while dragging my 50 pound suitcase behind me on the sidewalk, with nobody in my way except young rowdy partiers peeing in the street.
I’m nothing if not consistent.
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