#TogetherStronger

Calon Lan
10th June 2016

Last night Beatrix had explained that she was only looking after the place for her cousin the owner, Claire and that she had to leave for work in the morning, so if we wanted breakfast any later than 08:30am she would leave it out for us. We knew we wouldn'tbe up that early! As it turned out we weren't much later, only an hour perhaps.

We had a croissant and a baguette each, jams, honey, fresh fruit, cereals all left on the table and there were yogurt in the fridge. We could help ourselves to the coffee and squeeze our own fresh orange juice.

Relaxing French music played over the radio as we ate.

We had the room to ourselves and we really felt at home. Especially as we also have a bright orange fridge in our kitchen at home and a large world map on our wall.

What we didn't have were the Bordeaux features such as a bicycle suspended from our ceiling or the empty wine barrel in the corner.

After breakfast we returned to our room and chilled out all morning. We had no urgency to rush out into the city, especially as it was quite a dull and grey day.

It was a real shame about the weather. La Maison Cachee had a salt water swimming pool at the back and we had even packed our costumes but the weather forecast was like this or worse for the remainder of our stay.

Around midday we left the hidden house and walked down to the tram stop. It seemed a lot nearer today than it did last night.

The tram was surprisingly busy and got even busier the nearer to the centre we got. Julie began to get a little anxious and a bit enochlophobic.

Her feeling of panic was partly fuelled by the security threats surrounding the whole football tournament. France, in particularly Paris had been the target of terrorist attacks and the advice given was to always be vigilant.

Sat on the train when everyone became a potential suicide bomber it became too much for Julie and we got off at the next stop, which was the Palais de Justice.

It was only one stop short of where we planned to get off so it was fine. We walked down towards the Hotel de Ville where the first thing we did was stop for a coffee.

We sat outside this small pavement cafe called O Marie Annie and had a café allongé or an americano to you and I. It was quite a weak cup of coffee just like the Americans like it, apparently.

It felt so relaxing sipping our weak coffee with a great view of the impressive Saint André's Cathedral and the Pey Berland bell tower.

It's easy to see why Bordeaux is often called the Pearl of the Aquitaine.

The whole historical centre is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The architecture, not only of the cathedral but also of the elegant town houses was beautiful.

It was also known as La Belle Endormie or the sleeping beauty because in the past it didn't look so attractive with most of the buildings covered in black grime and much of the riverfront filled with derelict warehouses but everyone knew that beneath it all lay this beautiful gem of a city.

After finishing our coffee we moved on, heading down towards the Garonne river.

Before reaching the water we took a side street into Place du Palais, a small pretty square made even more picturesque with the stunning Porte Cailhau at one end. It would have once been the main gateway into the medieval city.

We decided to have another sit down and spend some time admiring the 15th century marvel.

"It's like a small Disney castle" I said referring to its many cone-topped towers before realising that it was an incredibly a dumb thing to say. I wasn't proud of my inability to articulate.

We sat outside Chez Fred and had a drink. This time however instead of another coffee we had a bottle of beer and a glass of wine. We were sat beneath a large parasol which would usually have given shade from the sun but today gave us shelter from the rain.

It was only a light drizzle but it was still wet enough.

The Place du Palais was a great spot for people watching. The best of which was our first glimpse of our fellow Welsh supporters. A large group of them rolled in on segways. They were quite a sight and caused some amusement to the locals.

The rain began to dry up so we left the square walking through the arch of Porte Cailhau and onto the riverfront.

Not too far away we came to Bordeaux's finest example of its former grandeur, Place de la Bourse. It rivalled whatever Paris could offer. Well, apart for the Eiffel tower and the Sacre Coeur it rivalled whatever Paris could offer.

It came as no surprise to learn that Place de la Bourse was designed by the architect Ange-Jacques Gabriel who was also responsible for Versailles, the most spectacular palace in the world.

A statue of King Louis XV once stood in the centre of the square but following the French revolution it was torn down and replaced with a fountain, known as the Three Graces, which still stands there today.

A more modern water feature was the Miroir D'Eau, a large expanse of water only a few inches deep that reflected the entire Place de la Bourse.

We crossed the road to have a closer look but unfortunately there wasn't any water in the water feature, just a dark damp spongey surface.

"Here we go again" I thought to myself.

I was concerned that they had switched the water off because of the football tournament. Just as we were about to leave it began to squirt out a fine mist.

Some of the kids who were earlier moon walking on the slippery surface squealed with delight as they were caught in the middle of it.

They soon acclimatised and spent the next five minutes running through the mist. Oh to be young.

It was quite an eerie sight to see the city disappearing into the mist. We didn't stay around, we were getting wet.

We crossed the road again over to Place des Quinconces where the Euro2016 fanzone had been set up for all those fans who travelled without tickets.

It was all hidden behind some security fencing, all we could see from the pavement was the back of the massive screen.

Just as we reached this point the heavens opened and the rain came belting it down. Not only were we caught in the middle of a torrential downpour without an umbrella we didn't have a coat either. We were totally unprepared for rain dressed in our shorts and t-shirts.

We were beginning to get wet, very wet.

There was a wooded park alongside the Place des Quinconces so we headed there quickly for some shelter but the tree tops were no barrier, the rain was just too heavy.

Thankfully somewhere in the middle there was an information booth where we found our shelter. We huddled together as the skies rumbled with thunder.

The deluge lasted a good ten minutes but then it began to lighten up and we continued on our way.

Instead of walking further away from the centre we returned back towards it.

Opposite the entrance to the Fanzone we came across the Monument aux Girondins. It was a tall white marble column topped with the angel of liberty breaking the chains of suppression. It commemorated the Girondists, a group of political activists who supported the French Revolution but who then began to criticise the movement when it became too radical. In 1793 twenty two of them were executed.

At its base was a spectacular fountain.

In a dramatic scene four bronze horses were rearing up, trying to clamber out of the melee. There were contorted bodies everywhere and behind them stood a bare-chested heroine brandishing an olive branch.

The act is known as the Triumph of the Concorde. A similar scene is played out on the other side and called the Triumph of the Republic.

During the Second World War these bronze statues were removed by the Nazis presumably with the intention to melt them down as scrap metal. By some miracle they were later discovered after the war in Angers, in the Loire Valley, and safely returned.

From Place des Quincoicnes we walked towards the next square passing along the way the main Tourist Information Centre.

We had a wine tour booked for Monday from here, so I just popped in to confirm that everything was in order.

When we reached the Place de la Comedie the rain had stopped but the smooth wet paving stones of the square were so slippery, they were like a skating rink.

The steps of the National Opera House offered better traction so we traversed the square along it.

However curiosity got the better of me. On the opposite side was the Grand Hotel with Gordon Ramsey's newest restaurant Le Bordeaux.

So I shuffled across the treacherous square. I almost lost my footing on three separate occassions. Other people seemed to be managing fine. It must of been my footwear's fault. They were almost like ballet shoes. I literally had no grip on them.

The restaurant looked great although the Red carpet and images of himself draped on the walls were perhaps a little pretentious. We felt a bit under dressed to grace its tables.

He notoriously hates vegetarians but I still checked out the menu, just in case and to be fair there was a side dish of mac 'n cheese that I could have had.

We were getting a little peckish so we gravitated towards Café de la Comedie where a posse of other Welsh fans had gathered.

We shared a cheese baguette and a bowl of salad which of course were my only options from the menu but when they are really tasty you only need one choice.

There was no rush to leave so we stayed for a few rounds of drink and people watched as half of Wales walked by.

There were so many red shirted Welsh men and women walking around the city that it felt as if we were in Cardiff!

I even saw someone from my office walk past! I didn’t know him that well, I didn’t even know his name but I recognised him as “the guy from the helpdesk”. I scared the hell out of him as I bounded towards him because I'm sure he didn't recognise me at first .

There was a great atmosphere around the city with excited Welsh people enjoying the local hospitality. We were surprised that there weren’t many Slovakians about. I think we only saw about six all afternoon.

Just before we left there was a bit of a commotion when this well-tanned short guy turned up. Everyone buzzed around him, taking photos with him. I guess he was a famous Welshman but we didn’t have a clue who he was!

Anyway, we finished our drinks and left the square down Rue Sainte-Catherine the city's main shopping drag, a 2km long pedestrianised street of shops and more shops stretching all the way down to Place de la Victoire.

Not only was this High Street incredibly soulless as most shopping streets are but walking against an incessant tide of shoppers was hard work.

So instead we nipped into the narrow side streets of the St. Pierre district, the real heart of Bordeaux, the place where the medieval city was born. Not only was it less crowded but it was so full of character.

One building in particular was very interesting. Its golden limestone wall was engraved with names or phrases and was splashed with red from an ancient looking rose bush. Some dark patches on the walls reminded us of how dirty and black this place once was before the major clean-up.

We ended up in Place du Parlement, a pretty little square with a lovely fountain in its centre. It was filled with cafes and it had a great atmosphere but it was far too soon for us to sit down at another cafe so we just parked ourselves on the rim of the fountain and admired the architecture.

What caught our eye were the faces carved above all the windows. Each one seemed different to the other. I don't know who they represented.

Some looked quite eerie as if they were the death masks of beheaded aristocrats from the French Revolution but it was just my morbid imagination getting carried away with itself. The square was complete in 1760 long before the guillotine was introduced as the people's preferred tool of execution.

From the Parliament square we continued to wander the narrow alleyways the St. Pierre district and stumbled across the church which gave the area its name. Eglise St. Pierre was a simple 15th century gothic church. It stood in an equally straightforward square, or at least that was our immediate impression. It began to rain so we didn't hang around for long admiring its subtleties.

We decided it was probably a good time to return to our hotel for a siesta. It didn't take us long to reach the tramlines near Place du Palais.

The information board said a tram would arrive in 4 minutes, and that's exactly when it did. It transported us up the hill towards Stad Chaban Delmas where we had to get off and trudge up the last bit on foot and in the rain.

It was 4pm when we got back to our room. We closed the shutters, battened down the hatches and got into bed.

After a three hour sleep we returned back into the city, catching the tram down the hill to Hotel de Ville. Here we swapped lines from A to B. We had a table reserved at Bordeaux's finest vegetarian restaurant some distance up the quayside.

Two stops along the B-line we came to a stop at Place des Quinconces. Then a member of staff boarded saying "Termine." and ushered us off the tram.

"What's going on?" I moaned before realising they were the ending their service at 20:00 as part of their industrial action. I moaned a bit more when I realised it was only 19:40.

Despite being almost 3km away we had no choice but to start walking. At least it wasn't raining. We got quite a quick march going, striding across the riverfront with purpose in our step.

When we came to an Irish bar called Molly Malone's there was a crowd of jovial Welsh fans being encouraged to be boisterous by a TV crew from the channel S4C.  The presenter for the 'Heno' programme, Llinos Lee was broadcasting live into living rooms across Wales.

For the briefest of moments I thought about bursting into song and photo-bombing them.

Then I realised that in all probability my mother would have been watching at home and wouldn't have been impressed by that kind of loutish behaviour.

So instead we discreetly walked past when they weren't filming. We kept on walking at a quick march and to our surprise we arrived at 16 Quai de Bacalan at 20:15 precisely when had our reservation.

There was no one else inside. The place was empty. I knew that Rest'O had only just opened its doors so we weren't concerned that the empty restaurant was an indication of it being unpopular. Far from it. All the online reviews rave about it and say that reservations were essential as it gets fully booked weeks in advanced.

From out of the kitchen came the chef and owner. He greeted me with a fist bump. He was quite the dude. He had a really peculiar hairstyle, a mostly shaved head but for a tuft of hair at the front.

We sat at a table in the corner unaware of what to expect. Chef came over to explain what was written up on the chalkboard in French. He struggled slightly to describe some of the dishes in English but his passion for the food needed no translation.

We nodded politely, still not sure what to expect, although we had worked out that there was only one choice, a tasting platter of six or seven dishes for €21.50.

Chef asked if we were vegan or not because one of the dishes contained cream and it could be substituted with a vegan alternative.

When the food arrived we were blown away by it. The exceptional artistry on display was astonishing. I literally spent five minutes admiring the plate. Each dish was a stunning culinary creation. The large square plate wasn't overcrowded. Each individual element was given its own space to shine.

The most eye-catching of which was this slice of apple crusted with black poppy seeds, topped by a mound of finely diced vegetables and a sprig of dill. Not only did it look incredible but it tasted sensational. Even the colourful teaspoons of puree which I thought were mostly decorative were incredibly flavoursome.

There was however one negative criticism and that was the combination of hot and cold dishes.

In itself it wasn't such a bad thing but having first focused on the more alluring dishes when we turned our attention to the bowl in the middle it contents had cooled considerably. Julie struggled to hold back the gag reflex when the cold gelatinous mushroom soup slid down her throat. It tasted delicious but that would have been a far more pleasant experience if eaten when warm.

"This is more like cold mushroom custard!" she said, actually stepping out of the restuarant in the pretence of having to make a phone call!

Throughout the evening the restaurant filled up. Chef was busy in the kitchen bursting into song every so often. Popping out of the kitchen to do the meet and greet was his charming Japanese wife.

There was only the two of them running the restaurant and they were doing an incredible job. Service was quick, polite and above all they were calm under the pressure of serving over 20 plus covers.

We had two glasses each of a Bordeaux white wine which we were told was suitable for vegans. As we finished our food the chef came out of the kitchen with more wine.

"The whole bottle is cheaper than just four glasses" he said as he poured out the remainder of the wine.

That was a nice touch.

Dessert was an optional extra. One that I could not resist. They were all the wife's hard work and was served with the same artistic flair as the main. Chef also explained that everything on the plate was vegan, including the "chocolate ice cream" made with coconut milk and cocao powder. Even the piped squirt of Chantilly cream was a non-dairy alternative.

All the flavours were exquisite.

When I went up to pay I had a good chat with the chef, mostly because he hadn't mastered the cash register.

His wife was busy in the kitchen plating up dessert for a table of four. Whilst we waited we talked about Wales, Bordeaux, beer, wine and tattoos. He had a few on his arm.

He told me of a good friend of his who was Japanese now living in Canada and fast becoming a famous tattoo artists. His tag was Black Fred and he had apparently tattooed none other than Johnny Depp.

He even popped into a back room to fetch a Japanese tattoo magazine which had a feature on his mate and also a photo of himself bare chested, showing off his rather home-made tattoos and looking a lot younger but with the similar quirky hairstyle.

We walked back towards the centre reaching Place des Quinconces in a bit more than half an hour this time as we were ambling rather slowly back. There was no need for a quick march.

The fanzone was all lit up and full of people still watching the end of the opening game of the Euro 2016 tournament. Hosts France were playing Romania, in a game they ended up winning 2-1 by the skin of their teeth with a late goal in the 89th minute. A rather unconvincing start to their campaign.

We thought about joining our French comrades in supporting their team but continued walking along the riverfront instead.

Before we reached the Place de la Bourse we came across a large crowd of Welsh supporters filling the pavement outside The Dog & Duck.

The party was in full swing. If you didn't know any better you would have thought that they were celebrating Wales beating Romania with a last minute goal such was their unbridled joy.

They were singing and dancing in the streets and all of this the night before the game. Lord only knows how crazy this city would be if Wales actually won tomorrow.

Julie and I sat outside Ernest, the cafe bar next door.

We reckoned the service would be quicker and the wine much nicer whilst at the same time we could still soak in the brilliant atmosphere. Every now and then I would get up to join in with singing the Welsh National Anthem or to get a closer look at them burst into a lager fuelled hokey-cokey when singing the Hal Robson-Kanu song.

It was quite exhilarating to be right in the middle of them all.

A few drinks later we moved on, crossing the road to admire the breathtaking view of the illuminated Place de la Bourse reflected in le Miroir d'Eau, which was now filled to perfection with water. It was absolutely majestic. Whoever thought of this installation was a genius.

I had seen images on the internet but none had prepared me for the impact of looking across the water at it. We stood there in eachothers arms.

It was such a glorious sight and a beautiful moment.

Back onto the strip we came across another English themed pub called the Charles Dickens. Of course tonight it was a Welsh themed pub as another crowd of raucous fans filled the pavement outside. Flags were being hoisted up, whilst the entire back catalogue of songs and chants were being belted out with the passion of champions.

We stayed for a few more drinks before realising that it was well past midnight and with no trams running we had a very long walk back to our hotel. So we reluctantly left the party early and began our hike up the hill.

There wasn't any chance of us getting lost, all we had to do was follow the tramlines all the way. However I had an even better plan. Despite my slightly inebriated state I knew there was a more direct route.

Aided by Google maps on my phone we turned away from the tramlines after passing the cathedral. Then, when we found the Place de la Republique we followed Rue Mouneyra all the way in a straight line.

It took almost an hour from when we left the Charles Dickens to when we reached the junction with the Xaintrailles restaurant where we ate on our first night. We were in surprisingly good spirits despite the long walk. We had laughed and joked all the way.

By the time we fell into bed it was 02:00. We weren't going to make breakfast in the morning.

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