Bored In Bordeaux
It will probably come as no surprise to you when I say that Bordeaux is all about the wine. Oh, there’s good food, too. But mainly, it’s all about the wine. And the tourists. I was expecting something different: a gracious old waterfront city where one could drink well while enjoying the town and the waterfront. Mais non, that wasn’t exactly our experience.
The waterfront, such as it is, is way below the level of the city, pretty much invisible. Or it would have been had not this great honking cruise ship been ensconced there, probably the source of the seemingly endless number of Americans in the streets. It was very hot when we were there, and one of the best things was this huge ankle-deep wading pond, usually filled with teenagers and assorted other refreshment seekers.
Those kids not wading were lounging on the steps of the Opera House. There’s almost nowhere to sit in public in Bordeaux, unless you’re in a park, or paying to sit in a cafe. And when I say paying, I mean to the tune of $12 dollars for a coffee and a glass of wine. And that in a place where the waiter had to sneak us a glass of water because one was technically required to buy bottled water, the only place in France that I’ve even encountered that.
There were certainly beautiful old buildings to be seen
some of which had a special look that we haven’t seen elsewhere in France.
But a lot of central Bordeaux looked dingy, and as if it co-existed uneasily with the modern world. And we couldn’t find anything to do. There were wine tours galore, but they took 5 hours and the timing didn’t work out for our short visit. There was a city tour bus and a joint-cracking shock absorber-less little tourist train. And really, that was it. If you want to be in Bordeaux, you really have to plan to do a lot of wine touring, or else….ta da…a lot of shopping and eating.
I managed to find a pair of black boots that fit like a dream, thus ending my fruitless months-long search. By visiting two phone stores we found out how to end our frustration with our wireless service. Those things are very good, but they’re not at all why we thought we were going to Bordeaux.
However, I knew that we would be having three meals in restaurants, and I planned them rather brilliantly, if I do say so.
Every food lover who goes to Bordeaux visits La Tupina. It’s a shrine to traditional southwestern cooking, one that I’ve wanted to visit ever since I first read about it in Paula Wolfert’s Cooking of Southwest France.
When you walk in the front door you can see your lunch roasting on the spit.
We sat by a lovely window and savored that iconic roast chicken
with its disk of delicious stuffing and a juice-soaked crouton, and I thought about how that plate alone cost 24 Euros, which is $35. Although I didn’t have the fries cooked in duck fat that also come with it, and I don’t want to sell them short. But I thought a lot about how I could feed four people a roast chicken dinner for that price, and that it might not be quite as good, but it would be close. And then I thought that Paula had been here and eaten that and so, maybe, that made it worth it. And it was very good. In the end, I bought their cookbook, which is stuffed with great recipes, and now I can say I’ve been to La Tupina, and that maybe everyone should go there, once, and after that they can come to my house where I’ll be making a lot of those dishes over the coming months.
At the other end of the spectrum was La Brasserie Bordelaise.
It’s the kind of place where for 12.50 Euros you get a huge piece of cold roast chicken with homemade mayonnaise, a heap of fries, a giant salad
and cheese or dessert just like Mom used to serve you.
Unless, of course, your Mom actually brought you to the brasserie, set you up at the bar with something good to eat, and joined in the happy, noisy crowd of lunchers who know they are in the right spot. Incidentally, this was one place where we didn’t hear a word of English, always a good sign.
I’d love to go back there sometime with a big group and eat downstairs in this tantalizingly beautiful room.
And speaking of beautiful rooms, it’s hard to imagine dining anywhere more beautiful than La Belle Époque. The food is delicious and creative, but go there for the room, lined in every direction with gorgeous tile work
that was hidden from the Germans in WWII under false fronts, and rediscovered later after it had been long forgotten. They just don’t make ’em like that anymore.
I do have to say that everywhere I ordered wine by the glass, letting the server choose for me because I don’t know the wines of Bordeaux, something very good appeared in my glass. I learned that the white wines of Bordeaux are very nice, and I’m not much of a white wine person normally.
But honestly, it’s the first time ever in all of our travels that we’ve arrived in a major city and not been able to find anything we wanted to do. It was a weird experience, and not one I’m in a hurry to repeat. So I’d say go for the wine, go for the food, take lots of money with you in either case. But if you’re looking for any other sort of fun and adventure, you too may find Bordeaux boring.
Okay, you can call me a Philistine now.