Eleanor of Aquitaine married King Louis VII of France in Bordeaux in 1137. Fifteen years later, Eleanor of Aquitaine married King Henry II of England in Bordeaux. Isn’t history fun? Bordeaux is only about 100 miles north of Spain and 40 miles east of the Bay of Biscay. It has a long and storied past, and was important in French history.
As usual, we walked around and took some photos to give you a sense of the city today. We took a 45-minute tour on Le Petit Train, an electric train with four cars that took us past all the points of interest. You could choose one of eight languages for the audio narration, and the history of each site was most interesting. It even told the story of the Bordeaux mummies, discovered when digging up a graveyard, only to find the bodies preserved as mummies. They went on display in quite a gruesome “showmanship” fashion for many years. Finally, in the 1990s, the mummies were reburied in a local cemetery. On the train, it was a bumpy ride, as being in the last car, we felt the potholes and street bumps more than anyone. Jan got a bit nauseated, so we returned to the hotel after our tour.
The Basilique Saint Michel (St. Michael’s Basilica) was a curiosity to us. As you walk up to it, there is no identifying sign or name whatsoever. It’s “lawn” is surrounded by a black wrought-iron fence, and the weeds had taken over. It looked neglected, deserted, and forgotten, and as we walked around it, we decided it was a “former” church no longer in use, without even a name to identify it. But then we came upon a little plaza on the far side and saw the church doors open. The bell tower, opposite, had construction netting up near the top. We went inside, and it had a plaque with its name and the times of Sunday Mass, along with leaflets about its organ recitals. The plaque with its name noted that its construction was 13th century, but the stained glass windows were 20th century. Were they ever! There are a few examples in the photos below. It was a very puzzling church, looking deserted on the outside and yet very vibrant on the inside.
Food. Restaurants. Opening and closing and reopening times. All a mystery to us. Most restaurants close at 2-2:30 pm and reopen at 6:30 or 7 pm. So last night, we thought we would go to dinner once the restaurants across the street reopened at 7, as indicated on their website and Google Maps (updated last week, they said). Guess what? Not a single restaurant we were interested in was open, and two of them that said they were “open for business” had ladders and construction debris inside! We ended up at the only restaurant open, Vapiano, an Italian pasta/pizza place. So we ask for a table for two, and the hostess gave us each a card that looked like a credit card. We asked what it was for, and in a little English and mostly French, she took us up to the counter where one man was cooking. She put the card on what looked like a stovetop burner, and indicated that we do the same. We finally realized that this is how you order food, not from a human server. So we sat down, figured out what we wanted, and went back to the stovetop with our card. A woman behind the counter came and asked what we wanted. We pointed on the menu to a pasta with chicken and veggies, and she nodded and gave us a restaurant pager that would beep when it was ready. We then asked for a pepperoni pizza, and she shook her head and said no. NO? She motioned for us to walk around the counter to another stovetop, far on the other side, if we wanted to order pizza. Really? So we walked all the way around, with her walking inside, and then she stood near another stovetop and raised her eyebrows, like she didn’t know what we wanted! So we placed our card on the stovetop and asked for a pepperoni pizza, and she said yes. We asked if we needed another pager for the pizza, but she said no, both orders were on the same pager (since we were just about the only two in the place). We waited about 20 minutes for it all to cook. When we finished eating, we had to approach the register, where the same woman who took our order was now the checkout person, and she scanned our order card, which spat out the total for our food. The food was okay, fairly good, but the restaurant has a lower rating compared to others around. We think it might be due to the silliness of how you have to order. It makes everything tense and confusing just before dinner!
We found the city very welcoming otherwise, with lots to see. The weather was warm, and the Old Town had cobblestone streets and old buildings, repurposed as contemporary stores, of course. There were river cruises offered on the Garonne River, all sorts of walking tours, and comprehensive free tour guide booklets explaining all the tourist sites. The city does a great job of promoting itself. Now, if it could only straighten out its restaurants, it would be awesome!