Departing on the early morning train from Paris, we were whisked from the tossed salad of city tourists to a land of rolling farmer’s fields and ancient stone chateaus with terra cotta tiled roofs, blanketed in morning mist. The sun rose on the horizon as we rode along, a blazing orb of red burning through the gauzy fog: a new horizon promising a different type of European experience. Sure enough, we were deposited on the doorstep of Bordeaux, a city that we quickly discovered takes their cuisine very seriously. On the short walk from the metro stop to our hotel, we passed countless shops specializing in chocolate, cheese, and wine. It was an instant attraction: Bordeaux and I were going to get along just fine.
We also discovered that a city that takes their food and wine so seriously has rules about consuming said cuisine. To be fair, we were warned about the European standard of eating after 8pm, however our experience up to this point had been one of eat whatever, wherever, whenever. Paris catered to tourists – so it hadn’t been a problem when we sat down at a café and asked for a menu at 5pm. Not so in Bordeaux. Skipping lunch in favour of basking in the sun at a local park, it was around the North American supper hour when we discovered we were famished. So, we behaved as we had in Paris – sitting down at the nearest café. The server handed us a wine menu and we quickly picked – what else – a bottle of Bordeaux. She came back with the wine and when asked for food menus responded “No cuisine. Not until later”, in a clipped French accent.
Two empty stomachs, one bottle of wine, and an hour later we paid the bill and were even more starving than before: frog’s legs were starting to sound like a feasible option. Ravenously roaming the streets in search of food, we rounded the corner of a narrow side street and looked up. There, rising up out of the cobblestones, like a holy halo of heavenly light, two golden arches basked us in their glow, warming us like the open arms of a familiar friend that we hadn’t seen in ages. The angels hallelujah’d, rays of sunshine shone down, and as we approached, the doors slid open like the pearly gates themselves. Okay, so maybe a little much. But remember that at this point, we had polished off a bottle of wine on empty stomachs. So there we sat in all our glory, in a country and region famed for its rich food and culinary innovations, for their Michelin stars, artfully inspired pastries, beautifully prepared artisanal breads. There we were with a Big Mac, french fries, and bellies full of Bordeaux, as happy as two clams in sand.
To make up for the McDonald’s faux pas, we planned to collect some of Bordeaux’s finest cuisine to picnic in the park beginning with a wine tour of the Medoc region. We toured an underground cellar built by monks in the 16th century, tasted young wine straight from the barrel, and then picked out a 2005 vintage that was promised to be perfectly ready to drink. I’ve said it before: life is tough.
With the most important item of our picnic taken care of (the winery), it became a goal to find all the rest of the city’s “eries” to build the perfect meal: fromagerie, boulangerie, chocolaterie. We strode with determination out the front doors of our hotel at 11am on Sunday morning, with high hopes of finding a compilation of culinary delights even Julia Child would be envious of. The cobblestone streets that were, just yesterday lively with honking car horns and chattering locals, were dead. An eerie quiet prevailed as we tiptoed through the veritable ghost town. As our stomach’s rumbled and we walked by the darkened front doors of numerous cafes and storefronts, we were disheartened…and starting to get hungry. But even as that familiar feeling of starvation set in, our spirits lifted when we rounded the corner of a narrow side street and looked up. Those golden arches glowed warmly once again and we were drawn in a second time – this time opting for chicken nuggets. You know, to mix it up a bit.
Thankfully around noon, stores began to open up. Though most of the specialty shops remained closed for the day, we were still determined to assemble the makings of a perfect picnic. We walked, and walked, and walked. Then we walked some more. It rained all day, but for all our searching we were going to enjoy the fruits of our labour. Shaking off the water from soaked rain jackets, we settled onto the double bed of our hotel room, opened the bottle of fine Bordeaux and laid out a spread of the best what could be found on a Sunday in Bordeaux. We both agreed: it was certainly better than McDonald’s.
Here are some shots of our first week in France. Now onto Spain!