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Published: April 30th 2018
Friday, 20 April – Bordeaux, France
We boarded a bus for the French border and again admired the green, mountainous region of norther Spain as we journeyed to San Sebastian and the border town of Irun, Spain. From there we caught the metro from one side of the river to the other, depositing us in Hendaya, France. We purchased our TGV tickets, having just missed a connection by 1 minute, so with the wait of 45 minutes I found a boulangerie (bakery), had my first real chocolate éclair and munched on our lunch until the train came. We were expecting a bullet train and whilst the train was, the ride was not. Disappointingly, we never got above 120kph on the standard rails.
3hrs later we arrived in Bordeaux and instantly loved it. Sandstone buildings, wrought iron balconies with pot plants and white accents around the window frames everywhere, overlooking the Garonne River. Our gorgeous little apartment is in the old town and we spent our Sabbath evening chatting to Mum and Dad, who are in Amsterdam. Sabbath, 21 April – Bordeaux
Slept in until 9am and started our walk at St Michel Cathedral, which had the weekly
markets in full swing. It was packed with stalls and packed with more people than we’ve seen since Lisbon. These are all locals though. There are definitely tourists because we’ve heard Germans and Americans but the foreigners are in the minority.
What really struck us was the large number of Africans, Middle Eastern and refugees here compared to Portugal. We thought Portugal had a lot of Africans but it’s nowhere near as large a population as here in Bordeaux. A number of Syrian refugee families were squatting at the church and in the parks, with a sign up asking for money. There are many Middle Eastern shops like Petit Dubai and other aptly names stores selling hajibs, burkas and the long dresses that Muslims wear. The Middle Eastern men all congregate in groups on the street and smoke, playing their loud Arabic music for all to hear. The Africans have their hip hop music up just as loudly in another area of the same park. And then there’s the local French people who just want a quiet afternoon, sitting at their café or park eating baguettes and drinking wine. It’s a clash of cultures and even as a tourist,
you can pick up on the awkward division that comes from not assimilating into the local culture. The immigrants certainly give the town a different vibe that isn’t always good.
We continued wandering through the old town with its cobble-stoned lanes, café strips, boulangeries on every street and small plazas around every corner. I really liked the Palais de la Bourse, which was built in 1730 for King Louis XV. It’s standout feature is the Miroir d’eau, which is the world’s largest reflection pool, covering 3450sqm and made of black granite. It’s only a couple of inches deep so the masses were walking through it while kids “swam” in it. When there is no one in it, it perfectly reflects the palace. We’ll go back for night shots.
From there we traced along the shaded waterfront to the Jardins Public (Public Gardens) and ate lunch on a bench overlooking the gardens. We walked back to the St Andre Cathedral, which is the main church that overlooks Bordeaux before coming home for a late Sabbath nap, had dinner and went out again for night shots.
It’s a mini Paris. Sunday, 22 April – Bordeaux
Museum has just recently re-opened after a renovation so we decided to spend the morning there, looking at the region’s history from Neanderthal days through to the early 1900’s. It included a large exhibit on slavery, which was actually abolished in France in the 1300’s, but reintroduced by Napolean in the 1800’s. Of course, it was happening illegally throughout those 500 years but I guess the governments turned a blind eye because it worked for them commercially. Interestingly enough, when the Europeans arrived in Africa they discovered that the Arabs and Africans were already trafficking their own people internally, so the Europeans added to the demand massively, but they did not create it. I didn’t know that. I always thought it was white man who forced slavery upon the countries they conquered.
Afterwards we had an egg and lettuce baguette, a lime and white chocolate mousse jelly and a raspberry chocolate tart. The tart was very disappointing as it was a hard biscuit base and a tart should always be pastry with a soft filling. I felt quite ripped off.
We contemplated going to an Irish pub with the 10,000 other Irish Rugby fans who had descended on
the city for the European Semi-Final with France, but we decided to come home and watch it on tv instead. Just as well, because the Irish lost. Monday, 23 April – Loire Valley
Yet another hassle today with rental car companies that wasted an hour of our time and cost an extra $200 of unnecessary charges. As much as I love the flexibility of driving, dealing with the car companies is horrible. This one wants to charge us a €22,000 excess if there is damage. We have travel insurance but it only covers up to $5000, as is the case with most travel insurances. So we had to buy even more insurance beyond the travel one we’ve bought, and even then, we’re still expected to pay the excess up front before claiming it back. Who has a $40,000 limit on their credit card?? We've never come across this disproportionate excess before.
Anyway, we stopped at a little town an hour out of Bordeaux called Saint Emilion, and it’s as cute as a button. It’s a very small stone town in the middle of vineyards. We struggled to find a boulangerie but there were wine shops every 5
metres. The morning light wasn’t great for photos but we took what we could, had a coffee and the local patisserie specialty and moved on.
The drive from Bordeaux to the Loire Valley was gorgeous with rolling green hills and quaint little villages. We love that there are picnic tables in the middle of nowhere and we pulled up at one of these for a simple baguette lunch. It never ceases to amaze me that in a country of 80 million people, it still fills very rural and spacious with constant patches of woods. No such thing as urban sprawl here.
11 years ago we had the best meal of our lives in a little restaurant in the Loire called Les Closeaux. It was three courses for €22. Tonight we returned to the same restaurant, except the menu is now four courses for €23 and is Michelin starred. The food was divinely French, although I didn’t like the flavours as much this time compared to the first time. The first time it was quite conventional but this time the chef is recognised enough that he used a lot of experimental flavours. For example, dessert was a rhubarb tart
with a semolina base, but he’d used herbs – sage or thyme perhaps - in the base so it was a mix of sweet and savoury. I don’t like that. If you’re going to make a savoury dish, make it savoury. If you’re going to do a dessert, do a dessert. Doing both just screams confused to me. Anyway, for $100 including drinks, it was pretty amazing value compared to what the same meal would cost in Australia. Tuesday, 24 April – The Somme
The last time we were in the Loire in 2007, we missed out on seeing Chateau de Chambord. This time, we arrived just after opening and toured the castle until midday. It was built in the 1500’s by King Francis I and it is an amazing piece of architecture. While Royal families are traditionally charged with spending lavish amounts on their own palaces while their subjects starved in poverty, many of the amazing gardens and buildings that exist do so because these areas were Royal property. Had there been no kings in France, it might be very well be farmland today with nothing to see.
We jumped in the car and paid through
the nose for the toll roads to Villers-Brettoneaux, where we met up with Mum, Dad and Dale at 6pm. We settled in, had dinner, popped over to the host's house for drinks with the other guests, and then went to bed at 10pm, for a 1am rise. Tomorrow was ANZAC Day.
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