Taking it slow in Bordeaux

photo of a baguette,tarts, pears, and a flower on a table

Day One

Matt woke up with a cold this morning, making two sickies on vacation. We got up at 9:00 to go grocery shopping down the street. We tried a new bakery where we got our daily loaf of baguette with an apricot and pear tart. I passed a florist and picked up a small hyacinth – I thought it would look lovely in our ‘cottage’.

Back home, I fixed us up some lemon and honey tea while Matt worked on logistics. We started researching things to do in Bordeaux and were shocked at the prices. Renting a car was horrific and vineyard tours were even worse! I found two ‘budget’ tours online, but sadly they were only available during tourist season. Matt wanted to take a wine course too – but sadly, they all seemed to be in French! So, we decided to nap instead.

When I awoke, I still felt very discouraged. We decided to go to the Tourist Information Centre for help and do some sightseeing along the way:

photo of a fountain

Palais Gallien

We set our sails for our sunset stroll to Palais Gallien, a Roman amphitheatre built in the early 2nd century AD. It was nestled between houses in a quiet residential area. It was amazing to stand in front of something so old in a thriving city!

Perhaps the highlight of the walk for Matt was discovering that the public washrooms played jazz for you! He entered the washroom pod and it gave him audio instructions in French and English, paired with elevator music! He was very impressed – and the music served as an ear worm for the rest of the walk. Apparently it was really catchy!

We walked through a beautiful park with old trees and statues. Roses were growing along the wall and gave a soft scent to the air. Moss was growing on the wall and statues, adding colour to the stone.

photo of stone arches

Place des Quinconces

We headed to Place des Quinconces, which is apparently the biggest square in France! It featured a gorgeous fountain (no water flowing this time of year) of a bare breasted woman riding a shell lead by horses to trample some foes – it was extremely dramatic!

We stopped in the Bordeaux Opera to confirm that tours were only available in French. Then we went to the tourist office to inquire on wine courses in English and winery visits. Unfortunately, pickings are quite slim for Anglophones this time of year. So, we walked home, made pasta, savoured a bottle of white Bordeaux wine before heading off to bed.

Day Two in Bordeaux

We were greeted by blue skies and warm sun on our face when we left our flat to pick up our baguette for the day. We went to the third bakery on our street, this one being organic with the baguette being heavily floured. I got flour all over my coat and scarf!

As we passed a deli, I told Matt how I’d had a dream about the little birds in the window we’d seen on yesterday morning’s grocery expedition. Matt suggested we buy one to have with our baguette.

As the deli didn’t have them on display today, Matt struggled to describe in French something we didn’t know what it was exactly. The older woman at the counter said they didn’t have anything like what Matt was describing, but the young woman suddenly remembered what had been in the window the day before. Turned out it had been a quail stuffed with fois gras!

We excitedly took our new friend and baguette home. Our next adventure was to buy a day pass (4.50€) for the public transit system in Bordeaux. We found a kiosk at the nearest tram stop, but it was very confusing to navigate. This was furthered by our ticket saying it was good for 1 hour of travel. We figured they must print the day passed on the same roll used for individual tickets.

Our next mission was to find a wine tasting course. We went to the Wine Cellar, which offered workshops in English in a 18th century wine cellar. The sign outside the door said they were closed for the winter and directed us to their wine shop.

We made our way to the wine shop. The sales rep there was very nice and explained the sommelier was on vacation so they could not offer workshops. He offered to close the shop and give us a personal wine tasting, but we didn’t feel comfortable doing that. The shop was busy as it was and we weren’t about to spend the type of money that would making closing shop worthwhile.

photo of a statue in a dark church

Cathédrale Saint-André de Bordeaux

The Wine Cellar was near the Bordeaux Cathedral, so we decided to wander in. It was stunning! It was built in the 10th century and featured beautiful stain glass, vaulted ceilings, and painted columns. I was very impressed.

photo of chairs in the sunshine

Cite du Vin

It was free to visit the first floor and grounds of Cite du Vin. There was a library and a bistro on the first floor (and free wifi and washrooms!). If you purchase a 20€ ticket, you gain access to the museum of wine on the second floor and the bar on the top floor, which includes one wine tasting. We decided to check out the first floor and decide from there. I had read online that Cite du Vin offered 2€/glass wine tastings, but apparently you only got that with the ticket.

We checked out the international wine selection on the main floor. There were two wines from Quebec, one from BC, and two from Caves Spring Winery – the latter being from my hometown. Surprisingly, Niagara-on-the-Lake was not represented, only the Beamsville Bench!

We went to have a glass of wine in the bistro, but was found the service and menu lacking. So we chose to head home for lunch and have a glass of Bordeaux wine in our flat. As we left the building, we declared Cite du Vin was just like the city of Bordeaux: underwhelming and not a place we’d visit again.

photo of cheese and a quail

Tram and Lunch

We took the tram back to our flat. The tram in Bordeaux is very similar to the new TTC streetcars in Toronto – only with a smoother stop and and a bullet-like exterior. It had lovely big windows to admire the city from.

We had a huge lunch with baguette, cheese, vegetable soup, and the guest of honour: Felix. Felix was our quail stuffed with fois gras. Matt had been typing about the quail on his phone, but it autocorrected “It was delicious!” to “It was Felix!” – so we decided to name it Felix.

Felix was an unique bird. He had been deboned and stuffed with fois gras, then dipped in gelatin (or was that lard?). He was tasty and went very well with baguette.

After our epic meal, we needed a nap. When we awoke, it was dark outside! I consulted the list of “Must See Things in Bordeaux” and the only things we hadn’t checked off were the Blue Lion and Botanical Gardens across the bridge. So, we took the tram over to check them out.

The Lion was nothing to write home about, and the Botanical Gardens were not at their best in winter after dark. So, we turned homeward to walk across the bridge. The tide was going out, the sound of rushing water rising up from under the bridge. We watched the water in the lamplight, trying not to get run over by bike couriers (there are a lot in France!).

photo of a pint and martini glass cheersing

L’Excale Pirate Bar

Pirate bars seemed to be a thing here, so we decided to check one out. The first one we went to was crowded and loud, so we went to the second one, L’Excale. The tables were barrels and there were old-fashioned nicknacks lining the walls.

The bar was playing covers of old songs. We sat down at the bar and reviewed the menu. We decided to try the two local beers on tap. When the bartender came over, he seemed a bit disappointed when we asked if he spoke English, but warmed up as the evening progressed. He told us about the Happy Hour specials which included free peanuts! So, we had beer and peanuts for dinner.

We ended up having the best time of our trip to Bordeaux at L’Excale. The bartender came and chatted with us regularly, introducing us to a friend who spoke English. They had been to Paris recently and were eager to share suggestions of where to go in Paris! They recommended The Little Red Door and Caldelaria, a speakeasy in a Mexican restaurant! We even did shots with the bartender! They were awesome!

Fortunately we were a seven minute walk home. We had a fantastic night there. Highly recommend.

photo of a street lined with boutiques