Thursday, October 20, 2016

Bordeaux et Saint Emilion

I had my plan to visit Bordeaux before I even knew I was coming to Paris. My Irish friend Dan, who I met on a plane from New Orleans to San Francisco and had subsequently visited me in San Diego, proposed we go to Bordeaux. I like wine and adventure, so I said yes.

We stayed in the cutest airbnb possibly ever. It had a fireplace and a record player, a giant collection of vintage vinyl and books in various languages, an indoor garden, and the bathroom was built like a head on a ship. I expected Bordeaux to be a sleepy, small town with cute old men selling baguettes and meandering streets. I was totally wrong. Bordeaux is an up and coming city that's thriving with young ex-Parisians and Brits who've come to open new and innovative restaurants, curated vintage shops, and more. It used to be a town with mostly sex shops and they've still got their edge with a plethora of tattoo parlors and piercing shops. I've been waiting for the perfect moment to present itself to get my second tattoo, and when Lea, the owner of the cutest airbnb of all time, told me about a woman who does tattoos the old fashioned way, without the use of anything electric, with precision and care in her underground shop, I was sold. Alas, I never found just where this secret shop was. So I guess it wasn't the perfect moment (my dad breathes a sigh of relief).

There was plenty to discover in Bordeaux, which is actually pretty big, it turns out. A few years back the mayor of Bordeaux* spent a ton of money refurbishing the town, essentially sand blasting the facades of the buildings to get the black soot off. You can still see it on some buildings, but you can feel life being breathed into the area, as if each person who moves there and opens up shop gives another pump to the Bordelaise chest. 

After a week of eating cheese and bread pretty much exclusively in Paris, I was really craving some vegetables, so I headed to Plume, a place with vegetarian and vegan options recommended to me by a Parisian. I got a lentil salad which tasted like nothing, despite it being beautiful, but I ate the whole thing, because health. (The lentils I make are much better) Luckily I also ordered this amazing egg concoction, which was basically a baked egg inside of baked cheese in a ramekin, and I ate that too. I also had a ginger and dark berry iced tea, which was choice.

I visited Utopia, an old church converted into a cafe and cinema, which kind of sounds cooler than it was in person. Then l'Intendant, with a spiraling staircase of wine, that was as cool as it sounded online. I asked the clerk to tell me about the white wine of the area, having already purchased enough red in Saint Emilion (enough? I could go on about what enough red wine this case, enough means as much as I could afford at the time). Bordeaux, a region known for it's red wines, does produce some white. Most of it is sweet, which is of little interest to me, but the very kind clerk told me about some dry wines as well, and he must have known what I was after, because he recommended to me the cheapest bottle they had - he said it was his favorite. It wasn't that good, it tasted to me like a cheap sauv blac, but I drank it outside at Darwin, and it was only 6 euros. 

Darwin, a former military barracks and hangar, is a self-proclaimed eco-system of over 100 companies coming together to promote a smaller eco footprint and a bigger cultural impact. This urban development is across the river from the "main" area of Bordeaux, but it's worth the walk. The space, to me, is an indoor/outdoor gallery of various street artists, who use an abandoned barracks in it's perfect state of decomposition, instead of tearing it down, letting the overgrown plants flourish. Walking through the buildings the pane-less windows frame the kids skateboarding, the friends sharing drinks and laughs, and with no boundaries, it seems to go on forever with hidden secrets to discover. They also have an amazing bio (aka organic) market where I bought some local artisan honey and vegan nutella. The skate and surf culture in Bordeaux was surprising and kind of a trip...walking into the skate coffee shop in the center of town I felt like I was in a warped Franco version of San Diego. Close to the sea on the west coast of France, the Bordelaise love to surf and skateboard. least from what I saw at Darwin, they have yet to master 8th grade self could kick flip better than the French guys I saw at the skate park. They looked great on their boards though. 

To go to some actual vineyards you've got to either rent a car or figure out the complicated public transport system, which is unfortunately not as efficient as the metro here in Paris. Not discouraged, I was there to drink some wine. So we took a train then a bus then a tuk tuk to get to Saint Emilion, the tiny and quaint village surrounded by vineyards. The town sits atop a hill, overlooking said vineyards, so small that cars don't fit down the cobblestone streets. Underneath the village lies over 200 kilometers of  caves. They have been used for centuries to make and keep wine at the perfect temperature, and they were used during WWII to hide people and keep them safe. We toured Chateau Villemaurine, privately with the owner himself (5th generation) which included 2 tastings, for only 11 euros. He was so sweet and full of knowledge and passion about wine and the area. We talked about terroir, the impending extinction of cork trees, the ancient versus new ways of wine making, and the history of St Emilion while we explored the dark and cool caves. This is an absolute must do for anyone visiting the area. We hitched back to the train station - this is not my first time hitching in France, and in my experience it is broadly accepted and perfectly safe. We were picked up by a sweet elderly couple who had moved to the area to retire. As I sat in the back of the car I watched magic hour pass before my eyes over the rows of plump plum colored grapes, ready for harvest. The setting sun turned the vineyards golden orange and I resisted the urge to record everything, instead taking a mental picture, picking up my hands and framing the perfect picture. Click. 

* I'm pretty sure he's not called the mayor, and Bordeaux isn't exactly a city, but I'm not going to look up what it's called, and what he actually is. You can do that if you're interested. 

All photos taken with my iphone. Follow my daily adventures on Instagram

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