Saturday, January 24, 2009

Bordeaux, Part I: Finest Food in Finest Town (?)

follow the wet cobblestones

In this, only our second francophone foray from Poitiers, we headed south to Bordeaux and Toulouse. Since both are fairly large and populous, and because we had never visited either place before, we did get guides (in French) for the two cities.

Really, a guidebook is just a starting point, something that you can use for the first day or so (maybe even just the first 4-6 hours). We feel the need to stress this point. The guidebook should be a handhold to use only until you get your hands on some local publications that will give you the lowdown on the currently hot restaurants, music venus, movies, art exhibits, and which may even warn you of an upcoming manif (slang for manifestation nf. 1. a protest, sometimes in conjunction with a strike or grève; 2. the national sport of France; 3. something you should know about before traveling).

Finding local reviews of what's going on is probably the most underrated travel-related activity. Guidebooks are ok for finding all the 1000+ year-old churches, but they aren't going to know about the organic Thai restaurant that just opened (or the little old theatre that just shut down). And if the locals aren't that into spicy organic food (a good bet around here), it may well be closed by the time the next edition of Lonely Planet comes out. This means that you, the traveler, have a responsibility to venture outside the safe confines of the published guidebook, which you should consider out-of-date and out-of-touch even before you spotted it on the bookshelf.

There is a reason the local publications review art, restaurants, movies, and fashion--locals want to know about this stuff too! In larger cities, local publications (for instance, Pariscope in Paris, The Reader in Chicago, Spirit in Bordeaux, or Let's Motiv if you're in Toulouse) give those out-of-the-way, non-corporate, and newly-opened, but still solid establishments a fighting chance against the overpriced robo-bistrots in the tourist district.

Enough of our hipster politics. 

So anyway, after our apartment almost burned down, we hopped on the TGV in Poitiers and were in Bordeaux in two hours, a short tram ride later, we were at our hotel. We'll never get over the ease of transferring from one form of transport to another here (TGV to bus/metro, airplane to TGV/bus/metro).  You know that feeling you get when you have to walk the five blocks from Chicago's Union Station to the nearest El stop dragging two suitcases in the snow? Well, not here!

In the middle of a vast network of streets for pedestrians and bikes only, we were surrounded by restaurants and boutiques. We found a great breakfast/lunch spot, Karl Restaurant, around the corner from our hotel.  

Karl--"Finest food in finest town"

Located in the Place du Parlement, the interior is very airy and the sun shines in the windows in the afternoon (well, theoretically.  If the sun ever shines in Bordeaux). 

It was also a fun people-watching venue.  For instance, we watched this mother (picture to the left) tying her baby to a chair with her designer scarf.  It's hard to imagine a mother doing this in the US.  It might even be illegal.   It was very chic, but it didn't last long (baby was relocated to dad's arms, scarf returned to mother's shoulders).

If you make it to Karl's, don't forget to visit Cousin et Compagnie, the caviste across the street (their motto is: The importance of a wine shop? That it stays open! --W.C. Fields), where we got this excellent and very wine/cheese/bread-appropriate wine...

Other good food finds were Bar-Cave de la Monnaie (classic-cosy french) and Occitane Cafe on the Place du Palais, classic french, but cheap, and more lunch-appropriate.

While in Bordeaux, don't forget to get a glass of Lillet in between meals, while shopping, or in between art exhibits.


Kristi said...

Great pictures, IMO. Your blog makes a handy (if brief) guidebook for others visiting these places! I heard about terrible weather in SOuthern France recently, so glad you were OK and enjoyed your trip.

Jim B said...

Thanks for the update. Wonderful wet bricks!

I agree with you analysis of guidebooks.. our few trips to Pasadena proove that it takes a bit of time to get the inside view of a locale.

jefe said...

More about the pros and cons of guidebooks coming.

Re: Weather
It rained everyday in Bordeaux and Toulouse and there was also a storm with winds over 100 mph in Toulouse that downed trees, causing damaged powerlines, houses, and cars and caused flooding. The trains leaving Toulouse were also severely delayed (and many cancelled) because they run on overhead wires.
Luckily, we left two days after the storm and they were still delayed a few hours!!!