It might surprise you, but I didn’t take any vacation last summer. Instead, I rediscovered Bordeaux, the city where I recently moved in. A pleasant holiday atmosphere in the city centre quickly revealed itself to me.
One night, after a hot afternoon, I went out for a bike ride to cool off.
Places from the 18th century reveal their beauty
I start my route on Gambetta square which represents to me the beginning of the city centre of Bordeaux. Probably because the density of restaurants and bars increases. Plus, several streets leading to the square are pedestrian zones
On a building forming an angle with the square, I notice a half-erased inscription on the light stone: “Place Dauphine“. I guess that the construction of the square took place before the French revolution because the adjective “Dauphine” refers to the king’s successor. When was it renamed? Probably at the beginning of the 20th century. I find this place magnificent because its facades are carefully decorated with beautiful large windows.
Right above the ones of the first floor, I see faces carved in stone. Each one is different; some of them are smiling, others look serious. However, most of them have a pensive or calm mood. I gaze at the dozens of stone figures surrounding the square. Their presence surprises me. I then remind, however, having heard about this architectural particularity, the mascarons.
The mascarons, watchers of Bordeaux squares
Most of the mascarons in Bordeaux date from the 17th and 18th centuries. They were carved in stone on the numerous facades built at that time. The mascarons are often faces of unknown people, Roman and Greek gods and animals. They decorate the building of the historic city centre of Bordeaux, thus adding a touch of fancy to the architecture
I arrive in the centre of the square which I cross by slaloming between the numerous people. It’s hard for me to imagine, when I see groups of young people talking to each other in a good mood, that this square hosted the guillotine during the French revolution. I say to myself that the aspect and the atmosphere of the place have changed a lot since that time.
Then, I reach the top of the cours de l’Intendance. I notice people sitting at the terraces of cafés and restaurants on both sides of the way. The place is noisy because the entry of the place Gambetta is busy, with cars driving past. However, I manage to hear the sound of the conversations coming from the terraces. There must be many tourists among them because the place looks like a post card of a French city. I see typically French faux balcons. Moreover, the waiters of the cafés wearing black trousers and a white shirt move quickly to serve the clients. Further down the cours de l’Intendance, I recognise luxury brands’ stores that could be located in any big city in the world. They are not typical for France.
I continue my tour on the cours de Verdun. On a facade, I read the inscription “Cours du Jardin Royal” hidden behind a store’s board. I assume that this was the original name of the Jardin Public which is located on my left. Thus, like Gambetta, or rather Dauphine, square, it was built during the reign of a French king. The fleur-de-lys on the elegant entrance gate confirms that the garden dates from the monarchy.
As soon as I enter the Jardin Public, I’m impressed by the greenery and the bucolic aspect. I enjoy being in this little park because it’s located in a neighbourhood where I like to take a walk. What I especially like in the district is the beauty of the edifices from the 18th century. The Jardin Public was built during the same period with the purpose of improving the inhabitants’ life. When I see the relaxed faces of the people laid down in the grass, I think that the garden reached its goal. I walk on the alleys and stumble upon a fish pond surrounded by high trees where ducks swim. This water calms me.
The golden age of Bordeaux
In the 18th century, Bordeaux was the top French harbour and an attractive provincial city. Its busy maritime activity, especially thanks to wine trading, made it prosperous. The harbour also played an important role in the slave trade. A black slave statue on the quays reminds this sad past. The economic growth of the city, which had until then a medieval look, translated into a transformation of its architecture. Many monuments, squares and streets that are nowadays appreciated by tourists and local people, like the Grand Théatre and the place de la Bourse, were built during this apogee.
The sound of the people talking and of the children playing in the alleys of the garden accompany me. I also hear here and then words in Spanish and in German which remind me the presence of many foreign tourists. I smile as I see the expression of curiosity on their face. I’d like to discover a new city during a trip abroad as well.
After enjoying the relaxed atmosphere and nature, I leave. To reach the quays, I drive in cours Xavier Arnozan. I appreciate the two lines of trees planted on the way. Then, I notice a group of friends playing pétanque. I watch with envy. Three of them, holding a beer, are standing behind the shooter aiming at a ball. According to me, it’s the ideal place because the alley lies within the shadow of the trees and is covered with white gravels. In short, it’s a pétanque field running over the total length of the street. On the beautiful facades, I notice balconies decorated with ornamental ironwork. They embellish the sight and make the cours even more elegant.
When I arrive at the end of the street, a particularly majestic building catches my attention. Two small observation towers adorn its roof. The marine blue door is surrounded by two pillars on both sides and is topped by a semi-circular design. This edifice, the hôtel Fenwick was built between 1796 and 1799 for the first US-American consul in the world. This fact says a lot about the importance of Bordeaux at that time. I imagine that the consul Fenwick enjoyed from his town house a magnificent view on the river.
Two distinct atmospheres on the two banks of the Garonne
I sit on a bench to appreciate the bustle of the quais and the beautiful view on its buildings. Whereas the inhabitants of Bordeaux could hardly access the quais during 40 years after the second world war, the place has been, since its redevelopment, appreciated and busy. I notice terraces of bars and restaurants. Some people are sipping a drink between friends or colleagues.
I can feel a warm breeze on my head and on my forearm. Suddenly, I perceive an unpleasant food smell. It must come from a restaurant nearby, or from the huge yacht that berthed on the quais a few days ago. I watch the sky. It has a homogenous aspect but several shades of blue. First a dark blue, almost grey, then a blue with pink reflections which is typical for sunsets in Bordeaux and, finally, a light blue, almost white.
Then, I cross the river to walk on the right bank. The ambience is quieter and the landscape greener than on the left bank. I reach the parc aux Angéliques, a park away from the bustle of the city centre that I recently discovered.
From a bench a few meters away from the waters of the river, I enjoy the view on the quais on the other side. I hear behind me the cars driving on the road bordering the park. If I ignored this continuous noise, I would think I’m in the countryside, further upstream on the shore of the Garonne. I imagine the noise of a tractor picking haystacks and the constant singing of the cicadas. I could step in the river without fearing the dirty waters of the Garonne in Bordeaux.
The trees in front of me hide the superb Quinconces square, on the left bank. The beautiful green foliage forms a perfect shading under the effect of the sunlight. Indeed, I see dark green, almost black, leaves on the branches that are close to me. On the other opposite end of the tree, the leaves illuminated by the sun are orange yellow. The increasing number of mosquitos force me to leave the peaceful place. Therefore, I get back on my bike to cross the river again, but this time on the pont de pierre (stone bridge).
From there, I contemplate the facades of the place de la Bourse. The boardwalk is full of people enjoying the latest sun rays of the day.
I arrive at home just before the night falls. Tomorrow, the start of the new school year will announce the end of the summer, but I hope that the good living will still stay for a few more months.