Tag Archives: Bordeaux

Retour a Bordeaux

I first visited Bordeaux last summer to watch Wales playing football at the Euro 2016 tournament. You can read my blogs from that trip here and here. It’s fair to say that Dan and I had a fantastic time in this south west corner of France; but to be honest, I didn’t really get much of a chance to look around the city itself. When C. and I were thinking about places to go to help celebrate a significant birthday for C. therefore, a return to Bordeaux in September 2017 seemed an ideal choice (and not only because the flights from Bristol were astonishingly cheap!).

Having stayed in what was effectively a glorified youth hostel for the football trip, our first task was to find a hotel that was more typically French and accessible to the city centre. This is where we really fell on our feet. The Hotel Au Coeur de Bordeaux is so quintessentially French that its only a bike, beret and onions away from being a pastiche. From the moment you enter the downstairs reception/dining space, to the point where you ascend the spiral stone stairs to a room dominated by ceiling to floor French doors and a Juliet balcony, there is no doubt about the country that you are staying in.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe staff at the Hotel were excellent hosts, happy to help out with restaurant recommendations and hints and tips on places to visit and things to look out for. The breakfast that was included in the room rate was excellent – a choice of cereals, yoghurt and fresh fruit, cold meats and cheese, and (of course) croissant, pain au chocolat and baguette – all washed down with coffee or hot chocolate.

Bordeaux itself is at the heart of the great claret vineyards. Incidentally, ‘claret’ derives from a period in the 17th Century when wines exported from the region were much lighter (clearer) than those from other regions. Marking this heritage, La Cite du Vin is a modern, fully interactive and (frankly) enormous celebration of all things wine and wine-related, drawing inspiration from all four corners of the globe, and across the past 3,000 years of history. The building itself is unashamedly modern in appearance, and whilst the entrance area and ticket hall are perhaps a little austere, don’t let that put you off. This is a place that is well worth a visit, and devoting some proper time to. Included in the admission price is a complimentary glass of wine from a wide selection, served in the top floor viewing gallery of the building. Sommeliers will guide you through the choices on offer, helping you to select the perfect choice for you, before you wander around the building taking in the panoramic views of the city.

Bordeaux owes its city status to its strategically important location on the river Garonne, with excellent access to the sea. Historically, ties between the region and England and Scotland in particular have been strong, and even at times of ‘official’ war between France and England, claret was still available via the merchants in London and English provincial cities. This trade generated significant wealth for Aquitaine families, which was invested in impressive buildings around the city.

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Palais Rohan, reflected in the water mirror on the quayside opposite

One of the paradoxes of Bordeaux as a city (similar to both Cardiff and Bristol in many ways) is that it is small enough to easily walk around, but big enough to offer all manner of museums, galleries, shops, bars, theatres and places of interest. The problem with walking everywhere, though, is that you inevitably end up finding delightful places to stop for coffee or (after 11.30am of course) a glass of wine! Thus it was, that on several occasions we set off with the clear intent of visiting such and such a church or museum, and then ended up whiling away a very pleasant hour in a pavement café watching the world go by.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOne place we did make it to, however, was the roof-top spa at the Grand Hotel de Bordeaux. This was undoubtedly the most luxurious and relaxing part of the whole trip. There is nothing quite so satisfying as sitting in a hot tub on the roof of a 5* hotel overlooking the main square of a busy city on a working day. Especially as the sun was shining and the sky was a near cloudless, azure blue. It was very nearly heaven.

I could write many more words about the excellent food and wines that we enjoyed from an ecelectic mix of traditional and modern restaurants around the city; the wonderful range of shops (from outlets of Paris boutiques to local independents), and the beautiful gardens and squares that bring space, colour and nature right into the heart of the city. However, what I will say is simply this : if you get the chance to visit this wonderful place, don’t think twice. You won’t regret it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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If Carlsberg did Saturdays

“Saying is one thing and doing is another”. A quote from de Montaigne. The father of the Enlightenment and a resident of Bordeaux. I don’t know how much de Montaigne Chris Coleman has read (I don’t think it’s on the UEFA ‘A’ License curriculum), but his team executed the ‘doing’ in simply wonderful fashion.

There are defining moments in modern history : the declaration of war in 1939; the moon landings; the shooting of John F. Kennedy; the attack on the Twin Towers. People remember where they were at the exact moment that these things happened. To that list must now be added the moment when Hal Robson Kanu beautifully, exquisitely, agonisingly, scuffed a left footed shot into the corner of the Slovakian net 84 minutes into Wales’ opening game in the European Championships in France, 2016.

Hal Robson Kanu : as Welsh as a zebra, but he’ll f*****g do. My new favourite football song ever.

I can’t do justice here to the events of a day that started in a restaurant in the main square in Bordeaux with the kind of burger and chips that only happens in France (“How would you like the burger cooked, sir?”); and ended at 3am on Sunday morning outside a bar in the same square, singing with Slovakian fans as the local police stood, watched, smoked, and eventually went home bored.

In between, there was the journey to the stadium on the outskirts of Bordeaux in a bus designed for 60 but easily accommodating 200 Welsh fans and a French family on their way home who started off a little concerned, but ended up singing “Watch out Europe, the Welsh boys are back” by the time their stop came around. I still don’t think they quite knew what to make of the 18 stone Valleys lad who plucked their anxious six year old up into his arms and clear of the crush so that the boy was safe and out of harm’s way. But it was that sort of day.

The Slovakian anthem was observed with impeccable silence and polite applause. And then Mae hen wlad fy nhadau rang out around the stadium with an intensity, volume and passion that must have been heard in Paris. When Ben Davies cleared a goal-bound shot off the Welsh line in the opening 5 minutes, we began to think that maybe, just maybe, this was going to be our day. And then Gareth Bale did what only Gareth Bale can. We were stood right behind that free kick at the other end of the ground. I swear that new laws of physics were written as the flight of the ball changed direction three times in the 25 metres that it flew from foot to net.

The Slovakian equaliser after half time was inevitable. We are Wales, for gods’ sake – this was never going to be easy. And then came the moment. Robson Kanu introduced to the fray to replace the excellent Johnny Williams. Hal Robson, Hal Robson Kanu. The chant went up. We knew. Hal knew. 84 minutes. Ramsay rocks and rolls to the edge of the Slovakian area – never quite in control of himself or the ball. Toe ends it past the despairing challenge of Skrtel (good with his elbows – not so good with his feet here). Time stands still. There is a moment of stillness. Peace. And then Hal. Not the best strike ever. A scuff really. And the ball rolling in slow motion over the goal line and nestling gently in the back of the net. Pandemonium in the stadium. 30,000 Welsh fans looking at each other in disbelief – can this really be happening? Grown men in tears, hugging the bloke next to them. Cheering, singing, and – in at least one case – dislocating a shoulder in the sheer joy of the moment (it’s ok – it popped back in and no analgesia was required!).

Back in the fan zone later in the evening, watching Russia v England on the big screen. Drink in hand. England winning one nil and into the final minute of added time at the end of the ninety. The equaliser. At least five thousand Welsh fans devastated for our English neighbours…

If Carlsberg did Saturdays…

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Bordeaux or Bust!

So – it’s finally arrived. That moment that I thought I would never see in my lifetime. Wales playing in a major football tournament. A real one. Not the Home Internationals. Not even the Nations Cup (remember that one?!). This is the real thing. The European Championships, for heavens’ sake. And to make things even better, it’s in France. The best place in the world to host a major sports event. The most beautiful people, cuisine to die for, wine which is the very nectar of the gods – and you can drive there from Wales!

Oh! And Dan and me have got tickets for Wales’ opening game against Slovakia on Saturday night.

So it was that we set out from Cardiff at 7.30pm on Thursday to catch the midnight ferry from Portsmouth to Caen. Brittany Ferries MV Normandie had the honour of delivering more Welshmen to the French coast in a single crossing than at any time in the last 72 years! You knew that something special was happening when the strains of Calon Lan were intermingled with that bloody awful “Football’s coming home” (I refuse to include a link – you’ll have to search for it yourself!) as we waited to board the ferry. Yes – there were one or two English supporters making the same crossing on their way to Marseille for their opener against Russia.

One of the things that being a Welsh football supporter teaches you is resilience. Resilience in the face of decades of near misses and crushing disappointment (Joe Jordan’s ‘hand of god’ moment, anybody?). But that resilience also converts in limitless optimism. This was exemplified in Portsmouth by the 30 year old VW Camper Van packed with six burly, north Walian football supporters, five of whom were already well on their way to alcohol-fuelled unconsciousness by the time we rolled onto the ferry. I genuinely hope for their sakes that that van was only for transport purposes. I dread to think what it would be like if they were planning to sleep in it too!

Arriving in Caen on a cloudy Friday morning, we set out on the 500km drive to the south west of France and Bordeaux. It took a long time on very straight roads and we didn’t see anything very interesting on the way. That’s all that needs to be said about that.

Having checked-in to our hotel, we set off for a walk along the river bank in the general direction of Bordeaux’s European Championships Fan Zone. Stopping off for some food on the way, we arrived at the fan zone in plenty of time for the local pre-match warm up entertainment on a stage in front of the biggest, sharpest giant television screen that I have ever seen.

In truth, the opening match between France and Romania wasn’t a classic. It did however, provide further evidence of the truth that football is like modern jazz. Long periods of formless cacophany punctuated by moments of the most exquisite harmony. Last night, the harmony was provided by Dimitri Payet with a goal worthy of winning the Championship, never mind the opening group game. To say that the French fans in Bordeaux were pleased would be a severe understatement!

I hope that we Wales fans get to savour a similar moment against Slovakia later today.

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Pre-opening match dinner – the French recognise that beer drinkers can’t be trusted with glass!