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What No Mountains - Bordeaux

Posted on
October 18, 2023

Hi everyone and welcome to another post which this time has absolutely nothing to do with skiing, Méribel or mountains!?! Usually every year in the autumn Harriet and I have a short holiday, I particularly enjoy this because it is nice to relax before the start of a busy ski season. Last week we took a break in the south west of France, namely Bordeaux.

Miroir d'Eau (Mirror of water).

Neither of us had been to this side of the country before, so it was nice to go and discover somewhere new. We had heard from several friends and family members that it was well worth a visit, especially as it is currently listed as a UNESCO World Heritage city thanks to its outstanding architecture. One rather nice feature is the Miroir d'Eau in front of the old Place de la Bourse (stock exchange). It is the world's largest reflective pool. There are a number of holes pumping out water vapour, which looks like a thin layer of fog. After the fog, the pool fills with water up to two centimetres deep. This is really popular on hot days for kids, and adults of course, to cool down their feet. As the water slowly drains away, reflections appear on the black granite slabs. This process is repeated every 23 minutes, and is really cool.

The city of Bordeaux is pan flat, there's not a hill or mountain to be seen until further out into the countryside around the vineyards. However I noticed in a guide book that you could gain some elevation, by climbing up the 231 steps of the bell tower of the Cathédrale St-André. I liked the sound of this, so checked out the map of the tram system and plotted a route.

The bell tower of Cathédrale St-André.

I thought that negotiating the 231 steps would be relatively straight forward, and sure enough I had to stop a couple of times to let the heart rate settle down. Once up the top, there were amazing views of the city, especially looking towards the River Garonne where there was fog. I love viewpoints like these, it gives you a completely different outlook to normal. Looking down on the roof of the cathedral was particularly beautiful.

Looking down on the roof of Cathédrale St-Andre.

The bell tower was built to the side, ie separate, from the cathedral due to concerns over the weight of the bell. If the tower was attached to the main building, then it would be damaged if the bell fell through the roof!?! So far that hasn't happened!

Back at street level.

One thing I learnt amongst many things during this visit, was that in 1870, 1914 and 1940, Bordeaux was declared as the capital city of France. There's a pub quiz fact for you.

In 2016 the Cité du Vin (wine museum) opened to the public for the first time. It's designed to look like a huge decanter from the outside, and certainly stands out compared with the other city architecture from the 18th and 18th centuries. This museum was recommended to Harriet by one of her French colleagues at Jaguar Land Rover. One thing this museum didn't have was endless old black and white photos, or oldy worldy timber wine making artefacts.

La Cité du Vin.

Instead it is a very modern facility with interactive stations and exhibitions about wine and vineyards from all over the world, not only in Bordeaux. It was a brilliant learning experience, and has helped me understand a little more about what 'terroir' is, and why there is no direct translation to this word into English. Harriet's colleague also recommended taking a short degustation (tasting) session given by the museum. I of course was happy to go along with this suggestion.

We booked our tickets a couple of days in advance. We were met by a chap (Bernard) at the door who welcomed us into his wine tasting room. It was like entering into a modern day classroom, and I felt very nervous all of a sudden. What a silly boy! Bernard delivered a very interesting session which included looking at the colour of wine, smelling the different aromas, how best to swirl a glass (!), how to taste and then give descriptions. I'll be honest and say that identifying the correct flavours isn't a quality of mine, but I had fun anyway. And I don't remember school being as interesting as this, not to mention being encouraged to drink nice wine.

Back in a class room!
Our professeur serving refreshments.
Our three wines.

The three wines that we tasted included a lovely white from Valais in Switzerland, a white from Bordeaux, and an extremely nice hearty red wine from Hungary.

This next photo is of a rather nasty looking concrete structure in Bordeaux. Why on earth would I want to show you this eyesore. Well, it's called La Base Sous-Marine, and was built in the early stages of World War 2. It is one big bulky concrete bunker that protected German u-boats from aerial attack! This submarine base proved impossible to destroy by Allied forces. These days it is a seriously cool cultural centre, art gallery and concert venue. We visited this building to see the Bassins de Lumieres, a light show. There were two main features both from Spain, the artwork of Salvador Dali, and architect Gaudi.

La Base Sous-Marne, the U-boat enclosure!

We had no idea what to expect, so imagine our surprise when we walked through the entrance door and the area was pitch black. As dark as anything. The light show was incredible, with moving images projected onto the ugly concrete walls of the bunker, ceiling and sometimes the floor. Each dock, filled with water, gave reflections from the light show. It truly was beautiful, and my photos don't do it justice whatsoever. The first photo below I've over exposed so you get a bit more of an idea where we were. And the second photo shows the true (lack of) light level.

Actual lighting/light levels.

The light shows were incredible, with everyone around open-mouthed and totally transfixed. The show ran with quite moving music as well, Pink Floyd featured heavily, and I picked up a track from The Doors. The exhibition/show was set over four of these massive docks (that would've housed the u-boats don't forget).

It was a week full of surprises and highlights, and I'm so glad we went. Oh, I haven't even mentioned the wine tour to a Médoc Grand Cru vineyard and Chateau, plus we had a couple of days in the village of Saint Emilion. Perhaps I'll post about this in a weeks time? Right, here's one more final photo of the Miroir d'Eau, this time after sunset. As ever, don't forget to Live With Passion. Martin

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