Shutterspeed: Surprise trip to Bordeaux

As a surprise for my birthday, my sister took me to Bordeaux last week! She simply told me what to pack and to take the train to the airport at 5 a.m. – and it wasn’t until she gave me my boarding pass that I knew where we were going. It was one of the best gifts I’ve ever received.

Bordeaux is a beautiful city on the southwest coast of France. It underwent major reconstruction a couple of years ago to attract more tourists. Everything, from the stunning gothic churches and neo-classical arches to the gleaming streetlamps and the bustling food markets, breathes an old city charm that makes it seem like time has stood still, and life here has always been like this. It was quite warm and sunny when we were there, but we suffered one massive downpour on our first evening that lasted for twenty minutes. There is a thriving Muslim neighbourhood with tea houses and kebab shops and markets, which created a suitable laid-back atmosphere in this warm southern city. At night, around dinner time (8 p.m.), the swirling streets and cobblestone squares filled up with people sitting outside to eat, drink, make music and talk. It was so nice! There weren’t many tourists who weren’t French (unlike in Paris, for example), which really took a toll on our French speaking skills – but I think we managed quite well. We slept in an Airbnb owned by a teacher from Belarus, who rekindled our love for “petit beurres”, biscuits that we used to eat when we were on holiday in France when we were young. Besides the biscuits we drank wine – Bordeaux, obviously – and some great beers, and we tucked into cheese, baguettes, sausages, and delicious ripe apricots and plums from the market. The whole French experience, you might say!

Bordeaux has a few museums. Sadly the Natural History museum that we wanted to visit was closed, but we did go to the Musée des Beaux Arts, whose collection consisted of works from the Middle Ages to modern times. They even had a few paintings by Odilon Redon, one of my favourite artists. The coolest thing we saw was La Base Sous-Marine, a former submarine base built by the Germans in 1941, located on the edge of town. It housed German and Italian submarines during German occupation. It’s currently an exhibition space, and we weren’t sure if it was open on the day that we wanted to visit, but we went to have a look anyway and it was indeed closed. But we were absolutely awed by this gigantic concrete structure looming out of the landscape, an inescapable reminder of the power and the vision of the Reich. The Allies tried to bomb it and after the war the French tried to blow it up, but no dice; there is no visible damage to be seen, so it will likely be there for a very long time.

If you’re ever looking for a nice, relaxed, cultural city trip, I couldn’t recommend Bordeaux more. The climate is lovely, the food is good, and it’s a lot less tourist-infested than Paris.

Day 1

Day 2

Day 3

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