We only have a day in Bordeaux and probably motivated by this knowledge we manage to spend what in hindsight appears to be an incredibly busy day in the city on the Garonne.
Bordeaux was a bit of a revelation for me. I had no expectations of the city as I hardly knew anything of it before we came to visit, but what I found was wonderful. I am not sure if it wasn't partially an exhilaration of simply being a CITY – especially a studenty one with a bit of an edge to it – any city, really, after spending almost four weeks in the Breton countryside. But I still think that Bordeaux specifically has a lot going for it.
We managed to somehow drive into the city (easy) and find a centrally located car park (harder, and involving driving into a restricted area as well as what appeared to be wrong way up a one way street). We should have taken the bus, probably.
But now the car is parked and we are ready to start our tour of Bordeaux. The first glimpses are encouraging, of a handsome city of golden stone, old and yet full of young people, lively and energetic. Apparently, Bordeaux underwent a major rejuvenation in the last ten years or so, with large areas of the centre pedestrianised and renovated and now Bordeaux's core forms the largest UNESCO World Heritage listed urban site in the world. It used to be called a Sleeping Beauty, but it appears to be a very much awake one now.
We walk from the car park on Cours Victor Hugo to one of the city gates, the Grosse Cloche (the gate of the Great Bell). Originally the belfry of the old town hall constructed in the 15th century over a 13th century building and the bell was rung in times of danger or celebration as well as signalling the beginning of the grape harvest. It stands now, beautifully restored, over a handsomely paved and partially pedestrianised pointed arch, its two 40m-tall side-towers topped with conical helmets, and a golden leopard leaping over the central lantern, the gate of the Grosse Cloche is a beautiful doorway to the old Bordeaux.
Beyond the gate, a maze of streets extends towards the heart of the city with its magnificent Gothic cathedral (Cathedral Saint-Andre) and towards the riverside boulevards.
Although the Grosse Cloche and the Cathedral are medieval, most of the Bordeaux's urban fabric dates to the Classical and Neo-Classical period, presenting an exceptional unity of the whole architectural ensemble, a place of material and cultural exchange; a living, breathing city with Enlightenment flowing in its veins,