Sunday, November 3, 2013

Bordeaux, France

Doug has spent a lot of time in Bordeaux over the years on business, but it was a place I'd never been. One of his colleagues there offered to show us around during our visit, and so the four nights we spent there were absolutely fantastic. On the first night we arrived, we were invited to dinner at the home of Yann (Doug's colleague) and his wife Sophie. Sophie is a fantastic cook and prepared some classic dishes from the region for us, including duck liver, some incredible local wild mushrooms, and some cheese made by a friend of a friend. We enjoyed many bottles of wine and great conversation, and Carter was even brave enough to try both duck (which he loved) and scallops (which he didn't - but at least he tried).  Their hospitality that evening was only the beginning of a wonderful time in southern France.   

The next morning, Yann picked us up for the first of several days of touring around Bordeaux. We are incredibly grateful to him for taking the time off work to spend with us and drive us around! On the first day, we headed to the small town of Montignac for lunch. This is basically exactly what you'd imagine a small town in France looks like, isn't it?

We had a lovely meal at a local brasserie, where everyone was drinking lots of wine and beer on their lunch hour. This is something that constantly amazes me about Europe. In the US, it would be almost unthinkable to drink wine or beer over lunch and then go back to work. (Well, these days, anyway -- it was much more common several decades ago, from what I understand.) 

Here is a menu from a restaurant we ate at during the week. Note that the daily lunch menu includes three glasses of wine. ;-)

After lunch, we headed to our destination: Lascaux cave! This is the famous cave where 17,000 year old paintings made by prehistoric people were discovered 80 years ago. This is something I've wanted to see my whole life, and I was incredibly excited to have the chance.

The real cave is closed to the public, but they've made an incredibly faithful reproduction of the cave and its paintings for tourists to see. The real cave is behind this fence and up the stairs. It's been closed to the public since the early 1960s.

The entire area is beautifully wooded and on top of a hill. It's actually quite amazing that the art survived as long as it did. Exposure to the air and pollution and human exhalations nearly destroyed the delicate paintings, which is why they closed the cave in the first place.

The facsimile was really amazing. I thought it might be kind of cheesy, but once we were inside, it felt so real that I forgot it was a copy. Apparently the cave surface and the paintings are correct to within a millimeter. The artist who created the reproduction used the same natural pigments and the same techniques (as far as we know, anyway) as did the original artists. Unfortunately, no photographs were allowed inside, but you can see more about the site (the facsimile is called Lascaux 2) here and more about the original cave of Lascaux here

Afterwards, Yann drove us in search of a site we would never have found on our own: the site where the first Cro-Magnon skeletons were discovered. It was tucked up on a hillside behind a hotel, and we had to walk up this dirt road to get to it.

And this is it: this is the spot where five skeletons of ancient human beings were first found in the 19th century. The remains were dated at 28,000 years old.

I have a degree in anthropology and have always been fascinated with ancient humans, so this was just amazing for me! I loved that the hotel right next to the site bore the name as well.

That night we went out for a fantastic dinner, as we did nearly every night while in Bordeaux. The next day we headed to a spot I didn't know existed: the largest naturally occurring sand dune in Europe.

It had rained the day before and so the sand was wet, which made the climb a little easier than it would have been otherwise. (Doug and I climbed sand dunes in Namibia about a decade ago, and that was hard. You lose a step for every two because you keep sliding back down.) Of course, we're not in the shape we were in ten years ago, and so even with wet sand we had to stop and take breaks on the way up!

The view from the top is really spectacular.

Carter loved being able to run around and play in the sand.

After climbing the dune (and getting all the sand off of Carter's feet), we drove over to a nearby town on the water for lunch.

The area is famous for oysters, and so we had to sample them, of course. 

Doug had a grilled fish.

I had to try the profiteroles. (Try being the operative term here -- I couldn't finish them!)

After lunch, Carter had a chance to run around on the beach. 

This fantastic old two-level carousel by the pier was just begging to be ridden, of course.

And that night, we had a fantastic dinner once again, this time at one of the most famous old restaurants in Bordeaux, La Tupina. We started with aperitifs of Lillet, a local liqueur made from wine, and then there were many courses and even more wine, and dessert, followed by cognacs from the years we were born.  

As proof of how much Carter is used to going to restaurants this year, he happily drew pictures and played with the iPad during the entire evening. He had some roast chicken for dinner and occasionally joined in the conversation, but for the most part he was happy to just hang out.

The next day we went to the beautiful village of St. Emilion, in the heart of the wine country. It was cloudy when we first arrived, but then it cleared off and was stunningly beautiful.

We wandered around the village for a while looking for a restaurant Doug and Yann had eaten at 20 years earlier, and I had the opportunity to take a lot of pictures.

Carter seemed to enjoy having a chance to explore the narrow streets and twisty alleyways. We ran across a few cats along the way, and he was able to work his magic on them.

We even happened upon a school, and Carter stopped to wave at the kids inside the schoolyard. They asked me why he wasn't in school, but my French is terrible, so I couldn't manage to reply!

There were beautiful old buildings around every corner. It reminded me very much of Tuscany.

We finally found the restaurant and had a lovely lunch. We lingered so long over more wine and digestives that we actually missed our appointment to tour the cathedral! (That was probably just as well, since it was a one-hour guided tour -- a bit beyond the limits of Carter's patience.)  

The wine decanter looked like a giant wine glass, which afforded the opportunity for a funny photo.

There were wine grape vines for sale at this small shop.

One of the many wine shops in St Emilion.

The views all around were simply breathtaking.

We stopped to do a little wine tasting, of course.

The amazing thing about Bordeaux is that there are so, so many wineries. As much experience as we have with wine, we didn't recognize any of the labels of the wines we tasted. Most of them aren't available outside of France.

Carter was very patient with us, once again. 

Oddly enough, I didn't take many photos of the city of Bordeaux itself. 

The city has transformed from what it was a couple of decades ago. When Doug first came here, the waterfront was full of dilapidated warehouses from the city's days as a port town. Those were all torn down 15-ish years ago and a beautiful waterfront park was installed in their place. As a result, the city's waterfront is completely picturesque now. 

Many of these 18th and 19th century buildings have been scrubbed to remove a century of coal residue. The result is a town that is really genuinely beautiful with its own unique character.

This parking garage definitely has a sense of humor.

We had dinner with another of Doug's colleagues on our last evening, and then headed to the train station the next morning to take the TGV to Paris. We were definitely full after four days of eating and drinking continuously! 

We have to thank Yann and Sophie once again for their incredible hospitality. We saw and did more in those few days in Bordeaux than we could possibly have done on our own. It was also really wonderful to be immersed in the culture of southern France for a few days -- something that is easy to miss out on when you travel on your own.

Next post: Paris.

1 comment:

  1. SO MUCH NOSTALGIA! You saw Lascaux! And St. Emilion - which has some of the most AMAZING wine, nom. Actually, that really goes for all of France!

    And the TGV from southern France to Paris is absolutely lovely. We had such a nice trip on it!