Since we’ve last talked, Andrew and I have traveled in France, survived daylight savings time, hosted visitors from the US and experienced a general workers’ strike. This is all in addition to our regularly scheduled programming of class in the morning and private lessons in the afternoon.
I can’t say enough about how much we’ve enjoyed the time we’ve gotten to spend in France. Customer service is par none, the food is delicious, the wine exquisite and English is widely (and happily) spoken. Not to mention the cities, towns and countryside we’ve visited are all spectacular. Add to all these positives balmy spring weather and you’ve got a wanderer’s paradise.
On our last venture to France, we left Laredo around 7:30am and drove directly to Bordeaux. The drive from Laredo lasts about 4 1/2 to 5 hours and unfortunately it is quite curvy, although scenic, in Spain, but becomes flat and boring in France. The route takes you through the largest pine forest in Europe, Les Landes. Built in the 1700’s to prevent erosion, the forest still produces timber for numerous projects and purposes today. Once out of the forest, one arrives almost immediately to the outskirts of Bordeaux. Although the ring road circling Bordeaux can be a little tricky at times, we, thankfully, arrived smack dab in the center.
Bordeaux is an ancient city of the bourgeoisie, drawing Paris’ elite for a getaway and thriving on wine trade. Today it still has a distinct posh feel in the historic center, but also is home to a bustling immigrant community. It is situated on La Garonne, a wide, muddy mess of a river.
Spending a day exploring in Bordeaux is highly recommended. The main plazas and landmarks have been painstakingly restored and buildings made of the characteristic blonde stone of the region are spotless. Some sights to take in are the medieval gates that create impressive entrances into the city, the hidden plazas, which are perfect for an afternoon coffee, the Place de la Bourse and the church of the Holy Cross. For me, the better part of 5 hours was enough to get a decent feel for the city, to peacefully have a coffee and see the major sites. It does boast some Roman ruins, but we decided to forgo those in lieu of a more relaxing experience.
Marveling at the grand rues and charming side streets in Bordeaux is reason enough to visit. Boutiques and eateries line the streets, pastisseries and bakeries are innumerable, and the store fronts are impeccable. Bordeaux has a unique bohemian feel that I really liked as well. It wasn’t a grunge feel, rather a sophisticated, original vibe that defines bars and shops.
I’ll never get bored watching effortlessly beautiful French men and women glide gracefully along the promenades, to work, to lunch, alone, with friends or lovers. They seemed so refined compared to the noisy, stroller filled sidewalks in Spain. One detail that really struck me about French life this last time was how quiet the people were. They spoke to one another, of course, but they spoke in low, respectful tones. Instead of being bothered by an intrusively loud conversation coming from the table next to you in a café, only a quiet murmur was emitted from our neighbors. This is in contrast to Spain, where folks will holler to one another while walking down the street, making sure the entire vicinity is privy to their conversation. We didn’t eat much here, just ham and cheese on a baguette (my favorite!). We’ll be back with more on France soon!
Next up: St. Emilion!