When visiting a city in winter, its important to remember that it is looking its worst. I came to Belgium last year in the dead of winter and dead is what Brussels looked like. The trees were grey sticks looking frigid against the grey skies and buildings.
Going to Bordeaux after coming back from my hometown in Canada (which was a winter wonderland), I was a little jet lagged so this also might have influenced my perception of Bordeaux. With approximately 250, 000 inhabitants, Bordeaux is quite small. Arriving in the city at dark is definitely not advisable. If you do happen to arrive at dark, make sure to not look out the windows with a close eye.
In the daylight, the first impression you get is an uneasy feeling. The first two levels of each building have all the windows boarded up and there is black residue on all the buildings. Even during the day, people didn’t open the thick wooden shutters to let some daylight in. I got the feeling that nobody was living in the town or that people were hiding in their cave-like apartments. Hiding from what, I wasn’t sure but I had the feeling that maybe it was a high-crime city. I later learned from a French colleague that in the southern region of France everyone boards up their windows to “keep the sun/heat out in summer and the cold out in winter”. I have to say that in January, during my visit, it was +10 degrees and in my hometown it was -23. There are no boards or bars on the windows in my city, only in the high-crime areas.
Besides the living quarters, I thought I would enter the cafes, restaurants and shops with an open mind. The interior was not as sad and intimidating as it looked on the outside. I had a cafe and a raspberry tart for breakfast. The tart was delicious, but the coffee in general in Bordeaux is something to be avoided (for Canadian coffee drinkers at least). In more than three places I had coffee, each cup was equally acidic and burnt tasting. The only way to enable the consumption of this coffee is to order a cappuccino and add copious amounts of sugar to it.
On the brighter side of the city is the river. The Garonne River is quite wide and french inhabitants built a lovely promenade along its length. I saw many people riding bicycles, walking their dogs and jogging along side it. It was picturesque especially in the morning with the light fog. There is a bridge which is reminiscent of some the bridges seen in Amsterdam although, without the historic beauty. Along the river you can also find a beach volleyball court, a basketball court and a small area with astroturf for soccer (aka “football”). The lampposts that line the promenade are encased in a white shell. They look much better at nighttime.
After exploring the city, the reward was going to be French cheese, a fresh-made baguette, grapes and some Bordeaux wine. The cheese was stinky, but fantastic and the baguette was unbeatable. The Bordeaux wine was exactly how I was expecting it to be, which was strong and acidic. The french in this region definitely have an acquired taste. When I think of French wine, for some reason I always think of the Bordeaux variety. There are many other wines from different regions of France, which are much more pleasing to the palette.
So if someone asks if I would care for some Bordeaux, I will have to say no thanks.