Category Archives: bordeaux

Blaye

Every time I’ve lived or studied abroad before, Bush has been president. I am overjoyed to finally have a president I can be proud of. I’ve had so many French people congratulate me on Barack Obama, it’s ridiculous. The other night, when me and another American were talking in the street, people behind us started saying “Yes we can!” What’s strange is that everyone who knows I’m from Oklahoma knew that McCain won there. Not only that, but what percentage voted for him. At least people are interested in me? The night of the election, I set my alarm in hour increments to check MSNBC and could finally sleep soundly at around 4 am. Too bad about Oklahoma’s senate race and prop. 8 in California. I guess everything won’t change over night, and I’ll take this victory for the next four years.

Here is day three of my Bordeaux trip. Me and Randall went to Blaye to see the Citadelle there. There is not much else in Blaye.

The Citadelle in Blaye.

The Citadelle in Blaye.

The bus ride to Blaye was beautiful and we passed many chateaux surrounded by vineyards. The grapes are all gone, but the leaves were changing colors and the rows of yellow and red were gorgeous. The Citadelle de Blaye is on the edge of the river and was as a defense and communication center. At least that’s what I gathered from the oddly placed and uninformative information signs. The Citadelle just became a UNESCO site this year, so I hope that they put some money into maps and information. Most of the placards were about information unrelated to the location in which they stood. However, there was no admission, and we were basically allowed to walk where ever we wanted. I imagine that that’s going to change now that it’s a UNESCO site and there will be guided tours led by 17th century soldiers.

Entrance to the Citadelle.

Entrance to the Citadelle.

I should also mention that before we went to the Citadelle we got sandwiches at this cafe that seriously had the craziest people inside. I thought I’d just stepped into the cantine of the mental institution. These two men were talking about something completely undecipherable and cackling about it. And this was the only option for food in Blaye as the bakeries closed between 11 am and 3 pm for some reason. That is a very long lunch break.

This may be the location of the tombs of Roland and Saint-Romain. Too bad no one knows or seems to care.

This may be the location of the tombs of Roland and Saint-Romain. Too bad no one knows or seems to care.

Anyone who has taken a French or world literature class has probably had to read Le Chanson de Roland (The Song of Roland), the oldest work of French literature. In it, the hero Roland, Charlemagne’s nephew, is referred to as the Comte de Blaye (the Count of Blaye). Now this is where fact and fiction get fuzzy. Apparently there aren’t a lot of historical mentions of Roland, but lots of legends. This is according to most English language research I did. But most of the French language information has him concretely as a real person. Anyway, as we were walking through Blaye we saw a sign that said the tombs of Roland, Saint-Romain, and some kings were in the Basilique Saint-Romain in a direction towards the Citadelle. Yet when we walked that way, there was only a parking lot and no more signs. Moreover, no on in the town even knew where this Basilique was. You would think that having the tomb of Roland, even if he wasn’t as great of a man as in the legends, would be a big tourism draw. After much wandering and confusion, we finally decided that the above ruins must be what’s left of the Basilique. I’m going to go ahead and make that my story and say I saw the tomb of Roland. It was just so weird to have such a clear sign and then absolutely no information. But so is France.

Monument aux Girondins in Bordeaux.

Monument aux Girondins in Bordeaux.

After catching the bus back to Bordeaux, we walked around the city at night. Above is a fountain that was right by where a carnival was set up. The carnival was an odd place indeed, with several scary looking people and lots of flashing lights. I especially liked the bumper cars with the flags of the European Union attached. When we walked by, I think France, Germany, and Italy were battling in a World War II fashion.

Carnival!

Carnival!

I paid a euro for a Pomme d’Amour, which was basically an apple covered in delicious sugar, and Randall got one of the ubiquitous churros. Their fair food wasn’t quite as decadent as the food in the state fairs back home. Probably for the best. There’s only so many fried oreos and twinkies the world can handle.

Place de la Bourse in Bordeaux.

Place de la Bourse in Bordeaux.

The next morning I walked around the city a little before I caught the train back to Valence. It was a rather long train ride, which was okay because I think riding on trains and it allowed me to finish reading The Satanic Prophecies by Salman Rushide. That was definitely not a disappointing book, although it was kind of intimidating. Apparently, it’s not even his best book, but it’s so complex and detailed. I can’t imagine the amount of time and research he put into that. I should avoid reading books like that when I’m trying to write my own. Then again, it’s one of the best books I’ve read this year and it’s one of those books I’ve been meaning to read forever due to the controversy.

Next post will be about my day in Provence. Life is good here!

Bordeaux

This fountain was dyed pink in honor of breast cancer awareness. I think it was done a little too red.

This fountain was dyed pink in honor of breast cancer awareness. I think it was done a little too red.

My second day in Bordeaux was spent touring the city. Unfortunately, it was a rainy day with a few moments of torrential downpour. But it was nothing a cheaply purchased H&M umbrella wouldn’t fix. Also, apparently a lot of churches and museums are closed on Mondays or have odd hours. But at least with all this walking between monuments and looking for something that was open, we saw a lot of the city.

Entryway to one of the gardens in Bordeaux.

Entryway to one of the gardens in Bordeaux.

Above is the Jardin Botanique that we found after being turned away from the modern art museum. They were having some sort of virtual reality conference that the public was not welcome to. I should have said “Do you know how I am???” because I always want to, but I did not take that opportunity.

The cemeteries never close. Except at night, to keep potential zombies in.

The cemeteries never close. Except at night, to keep potential zombies in.

We also went to this cemetery after the church across the street was closed. Some guy was yelling angrily at the cemetery guard, about what, I couldn’t tell. But it was full of rage. The cemetery guard jumped into his golf cart and sped down the tree lined avenue while the angry man watched, waiting for something. I really wish I could have understood what he was angry about. Although that wasn’t the strangest thing we saw that day. There was also a street of antique stores, and one we went into had a snake preserved in a jar and all manner of creepy portraits of elderly women. However, all of that was topped the next night by the scary guy at the carnival who was wearing a trench coat, shoes made from plastic and rubber bands, and was leering and yelling at people.

Cleaning years of grime off the cathedral.

Cleaning years of grime off the cathedral.

La Cathédrale Saint-André was open, so we got to see its gothic splendor. As you can tell from the picture, it is currently being cleaned. This was true of almost every church in the city. But what was odd is it looked like they’d gone around to each church and cleaned one section of the inside and the outside as examples of the appearance after cleaning. This seems like a good idea, until you think about all the scaffolding and tools that had to be set up and moved around.

Bridge across the Gironde river.

Bridge across the Gironde river. Oh, I mean navigable estuary. Thanks, wikipedia.

Technically, I had been to Bordeaux before when I was 8 months old. As much as I appreciate this early travel opportunity, I remember nothing. But I have seen pictures and while walking around Bordeaux, some things looked oddly familiar. Like the above bridge, which I feel like I’ve seen in a slightly faded picture in a photo album.

La grosse cloche (big clock). Can you tell its been raining?

La grosse cloche (big bell). Can you tell it's been raining?

That night in Bordeaux me and Randall went to another assistant’s house where she is staying. This mostly entailed drinking wine and petting the assistant’s host’s cat. I noticed that the Bordeaux assistants are a lot more low key than the Grenoble assistants. I feel like everyone I’ve met in the Grenoble academy has a really strong personality and character and the Bordeaux assistants are more mellow. I’m not saying this is good or bad, just an observation.

One more day of Bordeaux to cover. It includes an exciting visit to an UNESCO heritage site, a carnival, and Bordeaux at night. And very tired feet. I will be surprised if all my shoes make it back alive to the states. Today, I took a trip to Orange and I noticed that the soles are detaching from my tennis shoes. Not already!

Arcachon/Dune du Pyla

I can’t say I’m too impressed with France’s Halloween celebration. The only trick or treating the kids can do is in the mall, and I even saw them get rejected from mall stores that didn’t have candy! They also seem to have the choice of witch or skeleton for their costumes. And there was not one Halloween decoration to be found. Since Halloween is my favorite holiday, this made me sad. It’s one of the few times of year you can celebrate and cause fear, become the things you fear, examine the fear of death from a safe vantage point. According to a French person I talked to, the French don’t like to bring any humor to death. Anyway, I was determined to do something for Halloween! All of the other assistants were still on vacation, so I decided  to go see Rear Window at the little art movie theater here. It was definitely worth it, as I’d never seen a Hitchcock film projected in an actual movie theater. I’d also forgotten how good of a movie it is, although maybe getting older and learning more about films has made me appreciate camera angles and suspense in a way I didn’t in middle school. Anyway, going to a movie alone is one thing, but going alone to a bar is another. I knew that the Irish bar in town was actually celebrating Halloween, so I worked through tinges of social anxiety and made myself go. And I actually ran into some people I had already met here and had a great time. However, there were very few costumes, no jack o lanterns, only a pumpkin on the bar. But, they were showing Nightmare on Elm Street behind the band that was playing, which would have been the exact movie I’d be watching on my computer if I’d decided to stay at my apartment. I’m taking that as a good omen, however convoluted.

Beach at Arcachon

Beach at Arcachon

Enough about Halloween. I’m now going to post about my visit to Bordeaux, where I visited my friend Randall who is also an assistant and studied in Clermont-Ferrand with me. I got there late on Saturday due to SNCF train delays and we went to another assistant’s super creepy apartment for wine with several Bordeaux assistants. I guess she’s living on a floor of this older woman’s home, and the furniture and ambiance were straight out of The Shining. (I hope they had a Halloween party there!) Anyway, that was about it for the first day and I was tired from the 7 hour train journey. The next day, we met two assistants at the train station and planned to go to Biarritz. Unfortunately, due to it being a holiday, all the trains were full. We then spent about half an hour staring at a map of France on the wall until we finally decided to go to Arcachon. This was decided about 2 minutes before the train was supposed to leave, necessitating a mad sprint to the train. Of course, this being the France, the train never left the station because of some mechanical problem and we had to get on another train anyway. Arcachon is a little beach town in the same region as Bordeaux. It was a little cold for swimming, not that I didn’t find a way to get my shoes and socks covered in freezing water when the tide came quickly in.

The largest sand dune in Europe!

La Dune du Pyla: The largest sand dune in Europe!

There was also another Bordeaux assistant there with her mom that joined our group of four. The thing to see in Arcachon is La Dune dy Pyla, which is actually in a smaller nearby town. It’s the largest sand dune in Europe and, according to Wikipedia, contains 60 million cubic meters of sand. Incroyable! Our group of six rented bicycles in Arcachon and started towards the dune. The ride was mostly flat, but had some extended hills that were painful. The bikes were also a little hard to control and tended to swerve whenever we took our hands of one side of the handle bars. I was most impressed that the assistant from Spain in our group, who hadn’t ridden a bicycle for 10 years, made it all the way. Even more so when I realized halfway there that she had her bike set on 7th gear! According to google maps, Arcachon and the dune are about 6 miles apart, but I don’t know if that’s exactly how far we biked. We did stop for paninis by the beach, which was lovely. Mine had eggplant.

Dune du Pyla. Photograph taken while collapsed on side of sand dune.

Dune du Pyla. Photograph taken while collapsed on side of sand dune.

The bike trip, despite getting lost a couple of times, was totally worth it. It was beautiful. It was also more difficult than I expected to climb up a steady slope of sand. There’s something really surreal about seeing so much sand after leaving metropolitan Bordeaux in the morning.

Someone paragliding on the dune.

Someone paragliding on the dune.

Before we biked back, sand had worked its way into everything I brought. My wallet, my phone, my clothes, my socks. I even found more sand in my purse today. After the bike ride back to Arcachon I rewarded myself with an apple crumble-flavored ice cream cone. It was delicious.

That was the first day of adventure in my Bordeaux trip. More to come!

Oh, I forgot to mention that I was interviewed by a French radio station here about the presidential election. It’s rather difficult to talk about the electoral college in French, but I think it worked out. They want me to give another interview after the president is elected. Hope November 4 is free of voting controversy and confusion!