Travel is like a giant blank canvas, and the painting on the canvas is only limited by one’s imagination.Ross Morley
May 20-22 2017
After a short flight from Nice and the French Riviera we arrived in Bordeaux. It wasn’t originally on our itinerary, but it worked out that it was cheaper to fly within France as we were making our way to San Sebastian and the Spanish Basque Country, just a short train ride from Bordeaux. It would be my first visit, and Maggie’s second having traveled through the area years ago. We stayed for a just a few days, but were able make the most of it, being the weekend it meant Maggie didn’t have to work.
The evening that we arrived it happened to be the annual Night of the Museums, an event that takes place across France on the Saturday closest to National Museum Day. Like the Night of the Museums that we experienced while in Buenos Aires at the start of our trip, museums and cultural spaces are free to visit with extended hours well into the night. We decided to take advantage and visit the Museum of Fine Arts and the Contemporary Art Museum.
The Museum of Fine Arts is one of the largest art galleries in France outside of Paris, housing many sculptures, paintings, and drawings by primarily French and Dutch artists. Many of the works were looted by the French during the French revolution and never returned to their lawful owners.
The Contemporary Art Museum is housed in a very large warehouse, once holding colonial goods such as sugar, coffee, cocoa, cotton, spices and oils. The highlight being a grand nave that is reminiscent of a medieval church. Featuring many artists who work in the Bordeaux region, it was an exhibition of music, architecture, cinema, literature and design.
After soaking up some culture, we spent the entire next day exploring the city. The city has many interesting sites, including the gothic Saint Andrew Cathedral, wonderful public gardens which line the cities large curving river, the grand Place de Bourse which is centered on the Three Graces fountain, and nearby the Miroir d’Eau reflecting pool.
The city is one of great juxtaposition, seeming to be going through a rebirth with a lot of construction activity and full of a younger generation taking interest and transforming the city. The old central city is one of the largest examples of 18th century architecture in the world, having the highest number of preserved historical buildings in the country outside of Paris. Surrounding the historical core are new modern buildings and developments on the site of what were once shipping ports, factories and warehouses.
One of the best examples of the cities young vibe and revival is an area called Darwin. We strolled across the wide river away from the center of town and towards abandoned buildings and railroad tracks to find an enclave transformed by creative types. Here we found organic markets, large interactive sculptures, and walls covered in street art. There were multiple skate parks, a roller hockey rink, vegetable and herb gardens, playgrounds made of old double decker buses and beer gardens. What was most interesting was that the area was being enjoyed by not only teens and twenty-somethings, but also young kids and old folks alike.
We continued our walk and strolled through more vibrant parks along the river, set beside old boathouses and silos, full of people enjoying the sun and getting some fresh air. We crossed over a modern bridge and came across the interestingly designed Wine City, highlighting of course what the Bordeaux region is best known for. We also passed by an old and intimidating concrete ‘submarine pen’, surrounded by newly built apartments and condos going up all around the cities old port.
Back in the central city, we strolled the old streets some more, stopping occasionally to relax in the many plazas to do some people watching while drinking Bordeaux wine. Quite a bit different then what we had experienced in southeast France throughout Provence, from the flat topography and predominantly stone buildings, to the much younger population and far fewer tourists. It was a great example of the diversity of France and we were happy to have had the chance for the quick visit.
The following day we would leave Bordeaux, but not before some coffee and croissants before the quick 3-hour train journey south. We would be spending the next two months on the Iberian Peninsula traveling throughout Spain and Portugal, starting first with 10 days of exploring San Sebastian-Donostia and the surrounding Basque Country.