Day 1,567 of Traveling the World | Bordeaux, France | May 18, 2022

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!

La Grosse Cloche is a hallmark of the City, and was built in the 15th Century. It is the old belfry of the Town Hall, built on the remnants of one of the old city gates from the 13th century. It has a clock, and it has a bell dating to 1775 that weighs 7,750 TONS!
The sculpture is titled “Sanna;” the building is the magnificent Grand Theatre de Bordeaux, built in 1780. It hosts the city’s opera company and is the city’s primary performing arts venue.
The Monument aux Girondins, in the Esplanade des Quincones. The fountain is topped with a statue of liberty and features rampaging bronze horses at the base.
Place de la Bourse, across from the Garonne River. Front and center is the Fountain of the Three Graces…
…while across the street, adjacent to the river, is the Water Mirror, a large pool with a thin film of water. It reflects the Place de la Bourse and is a delight to walk through for both children and adults. Behind the pool, traversing the River Garonne, is the Pont de Pierre bridge, commissioned by Napoleon and consisting of 17 beautiful arches.
A pretty corner store with silk wisteria.
A little bar on the river with a large sign.
We liked the old-fashioned facade of this store.
A glance down a little rue.
Cable Car snack bar – they had a little of everything you could want on a hot day.
A charming herb store.
A florist shop, bursting out onto the sidewalk.
“Feeling” tattoo and piercing shop, one of many tattoo places in the city. You probably do “feel” it when you get a tattoo here.
A decorative bistro…the Lilac Lion.
This can mean several things, we think.
Le Serviteur Muet – The Mute Servant – is a nut store! We liked their angelic mascots.
This pretty store is Gloss Up Coffee and Beauty – you get one, while having the other done!
We seem to be saying (or thinking) this on a daily basis. Every native French speaker has been very kind to us, though – even when we slip into Spanish or Italian phrases!
More tattoos and piercings…or is it Tatouage?
This pretty corner shop means “flea market.”
The bell tower of Basilique Saint Michel. The top, with the red netting, is being reinforced. This tower was constructed as a separate building from the church, as it was too heavy for the church walls!
The organ pipes and casing are just magnificent.
Saint Michel was built between 1472 and 1492. While we found the ceiling and other parts fairly unremarkable, the original floor of large stone slabs was interesting. But the windows! Oh, the windows!
Most all of the windows are 20th century, with bold colors.
Running along the top of the nave are a set of these abstract fractal windows.
…and this one has lots of purple and blue, which gives it a very modern feeling.
We tried this Bordeaux specialty! Caneles are a dense cake that is moist, chewy, and flavored with a caramel rum sauce. We liked them a lot. They are a favorite to buy as a gift, as they last a long time and travel well. But they are fairly pricey – a single one is just 3 euros, but the gift box shown at the top of the photo was 52 euros!
Beautiful, fresh strawberries for sale.
We loved this woman’s braided and coiled blue hair. It is just a coincidence that we snapped this photo as she walked in front of a bright, matching blue door.
Does that look heavenly, or what? (The “what” being very, very sweet.)
This mom was entering her house when we caught her son staring at us through his adorable sunglasses. She was confused when we asked if we could take a photo of him, but she consented, and we are glad she did.