Bordeaux, The Pearl of Aquitaine
The wind rustled through my hair as we began to cross the famous Pont de Pierre of Bordeaux. My head was throbbing, whirling through a world of its own, thrilled! Two hours earlier we had crossed the border from Spain to France, rumbling across the bumpy tar road in our rental car into the apple green countryside. Mum and Dad had visited a few whimsical French villages 20 years ago, but now we would be spending 3 whole weeks in this alluring country, allowing us to explore it in all its depth. First stop: The Pearl of Aquitaine, Bordeaux.
Reaching the other side of the Garrone River, we crossed through the magical La Porte des Salinières and here I was transported back in time. The year, 1137 when Eleanor of Aquitaine, (one of my favourite historical characters) arrived in this very city. Soon afterwards her father Duke William X died on Good Friday while walking to the Shrine of St James of Compostela (The very same Camino we just completed). Eleanor became the most eligible heiress in all of Europe, a Duchess in her own right, her influence stretching across the entire continent. She became a Queen of two countries, first the wife of King Louis VII of France, and then King Henry II of England. She was the mother of the infamous Richard Lionheart and she survived 16 years of imprisonment to re-enter society in a glorious display. She died at the age of 82, which was a positively ancient length of time to live in those days. She is a unique figure in history, standing apart from other women of those ages due to her independence from the patriarchal society, holding her wealth, titles and lands in her own right.
Breaking me out of my trance was the magnificent architectural structure of Beffroi de la Grosse Cloche (The Grosse Cloche) rising above all the other decorative apartments. Its Magic Kingdom-like turrets and golden ticking clock announced our entry into the shopping district of the city. It was here that out of the corner of my eye I spotted the scarlet red, fern green and cloud white colours of the Hungarian flag. My native heritage was on display in the form of sweet cinnamon Chimney Cakes (Kürtös Kalács). Not being able to resist, we purchased one of the sticky sweet towers, which was placed for us into the crackling white paper bag and we munched on our treat as we opted to turn left and weave our way through the swarming crowds.
Waiting for us at the western end of the street was The Porte d’Aquitaine with its towering, 18th century, coral pink Victory Arch and an imposing triangular pediment bearing the royal arms of Bordeaux. We debated for a while if we wanted to take the tram down to the other end of the city but in the end opted to walk and I was so glad we did.
The ancient streets that intertwined the city like fine lacework, charmed us instantly, drawing us down their medieval amber aisles. We passed quaint little coffee shops dripping in honeysuckle vines, endearing main squares with entrancing architecture and adorable patisseries with rainbow macaroons overflowing the window displays. Arriving at the eastern end of the city we found ourselves in the Place de la Bourse, face to face with “The Face”.
A bewitching bronze statue, “The Face” is seemingly a circular 3D object but instead is only a game perspective and is extremely flat. It is situated right next to the stunning Grand Theatre with all its carnation pink infused pillars.
Whirling around the main clock-pole, we launched ourselves in the direction of The Place des Quinconces, which holds the proud title of one of the largest city squares in all of Europe. A tremendous fountain adorned with metallic copper coloured horses and troops graces the centre, with a large cream pillar and olive green statue atop it, it represents The Statue of Liberty. The main monument was erected in memory of the Girondists who fell victim to the Reign of Terror during the French Revolution.
Passing through long aisles of light tan oak trees we came back out to the churning river to find a humungous Cruise Ship tooting its loud horn to signal embarkation. The sun began to set in the formation of a massive lemon tart as we strolled down the promenade coming into the vicinity of the majestic square of the Place de la Bourse, which was built by father-son architects: Jacques Jules and Jacques-Ange Gabriel. La Bourse means Stock Exchange in English and you can easily see where the name is derived from, for to the Northern side of the square is the stock exchange itself. The regal Three Graces Fountain stands in the heart of the plaza, gushing cool streams of water on this hot late summer’s day.
Three more blocks down the road we arrived at what at a glance could easily be mistaken as Walt’s Disneyland. The breathtaking Porte Cailhau was completed in 1495 and is dedicated to Charles VIII, who won the Battle of Fornovo against the Italians in the same year. Staring up at the fortified sky blue turrets, I crossed through the golden arches to lean against the red gate door and soak up the languid atmosphere, the sun streaming across my face.
With the remarkable gothic style basilica of St Michael twinkling in the distance, we walked once again across The Pont de Pierre, the wind now a vicious turbine of air whose goal seemed to be to tear every strand of hair out of our heads. We stopped only once more to purchase a brown paper bag filled with sushi at a Japanese restaurant. We returned to the grey outskirts of town to a public carpark. A concrete jungle, its only colours came from the asparagus green trees that lined the landscape around it. Parking cost only came to a total of 1 euro! It is amazing how much the price of parking drops when you park a simple 800 meters away from the centre of town. Dusk began to envelop us as we drove off down the highway, entering the stunning core countryside of the South of France, our adventures just beginning!