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Bordeaux reconnaissance

33 degrees centigrade, perfect tiny cups of coffee, outrageous amounts of cheese and world-class architecture- oui, I'm back from another trip to my soon-to-be home city of Bordeaux!

One of many very good coffees, this one in a cafe on Rue de Fondaudege.

This is the last trip before I leave for good in June, and we went with a dual goal, which was to introduce my husband to the city, and check out our shortlist of areas to live in. It was an all-round success, as he liked Bordeaux as much as I do, and we both settled on living outside the main city-centre, in an area called Pessac. Although the inner quartiers are very beautiful, with pretty streets and old French buildings, as outdoorsy people, we found the terraced architecture in areas of St Michel, Nansouty, Jardin Publique, and even Talence too built-up and enclosed.

Very pretty, but quite enclosed city centre streets. 

Although I've lived in several cities over the years doing my degrees (and grew up in London), I've been happiest at my homes in Shropshire and the Peak District, where the skies are a bit more open. Pessac is a cross between a suburb of Bordeaux and it's own little town, with a square, church, and mairie (town hall), as well as good restaurants and a couple of great cafes. The houses are mostly on their own little plots with gardens, something that's important to us (and our cats). The whole area feels greener, and in the few days we stayed in Pessac, there was a surprising amount of wildlife, bats in the park, a little wood mouse on the pavement, and lots of birds: an owl one night, two sightings of kites over the garden, and even a redstart.

Pessac town square, with refreshing fountains. The old facade of the mairie building has been cleverly incorporated into the glass renovations.

Pessac residential streets

Chilling before dinner at one of the Pessac centre restaurants. 

The other great thing about Pessac is the it's right on one of the tram lines that run out from the city centre- I can be at my department on the Universite 1 campus in 10 minutes, and right in the heart of the old city another 10 minutes later. So for us, this represents the best of both worlds, enjoying the urban delights that Bordeaux centre has to offer, with only a short ride back to a quiet relaxing area.

Along with a lot of walking up and down streets in different quartiers, I also had my first proper experiences of dealing with estate agents, which didn't go so well. Not only is my French not fluent, leading to some stilted moments where my brain was trying to translate while simultaneously starting to reply, but many agents wouldn't deal with us at all because I don't yet have my employment contract to prove my income (which must be 3X the rent!). Essentially, there are so many people looking to rent, that agents can be a bit choosy about who they spend time with, and they weren't keen on showing us places when we can't yet submit a full 'dossier' (file with personal information like job contract, salary, rent guarantee). I'm hoping to get my employment contract sorted while I'm still in the UK so we're ready to blitz the agents as soon as we arrive in June.

Francois Bordes tram stop!

Aside from the housing difficulties, we had a superb time, and managed to get some serious sight-seeing in when we needed a break from walking into estate agents and looking up addresses on Google maps. I really enjoyed using the trams: they're quite swish, apparently mostly on time and much more frequent than those in Manchester and Sheffield that I'm used to. Also, how can you not love a city that has a tram stop called "Francois Bordes"- right outside my prehistory department building! If you aren't already smiling fondly, here's the explainer: F. Bordes was a veritable Titan of French prehistoric archaeology, most famous globally for his creation of a classification system of French Palaeolithic stone tools, the "Typologie du Paléolithique ancien et moyen". The 'Bordian system' was incredibly influential, and although the interpretation of the different artefact groupings Bordes identified has changed substantially, his system is still widely used heuristically as a tool for describing and analysing Palaeolithic assemblages. Now I just need to get a photo of myself outside the 'Levallois' metro stop in Paris... (an even more nerdy lithic reference!).

So, to finish here are some of our impressions of Bordeaux and the Bordelais, plus some nice photos!
First, the cafe culture is everywhere and very nice it is too. We found a fantastic place called Cafe Utopia which is inside a converted church, and is also an independent cinema. It had lovely views across the square Place Camille Jullian, which has an interesting history, only being created in 1935 when buildings were demolished, revealing settlement back to Roman times. The  square is named after Camille Jullian, a scholar of Roman Gaul, and has replicas of Roman relics dug up in Bordeaux in the centre.

Cafe Utopia, Place Camille Jullian.

View from the Cafe Utopia of Place Camille Jullian. 
Some of the cliches one might expect from France were present, including huge amounts of people smoking cigarettes- it's interesting how quickly this has diminished in the UK, yet not elsewhere. The city was also full of very stylish women and men, including lots of guys with scarves swept dashingly around their necks, and natty old-fashioned glasses- I found one source of the latter.

The amount of chocolate everywhere was really striking (and very welcome!). There are many artisan chocolate shops (even Pessac has one), and one had a particularly fine Spring display of chocolate shoes, wine bottles and lily of the valley flowerpots. Also, I found out the French reality of what we call 'pain au chocolat' in the UK (which are actually called chocolatines in France)- is in fact a loaf of bread with lumps of delicious rich chocolate in it. I suspect that if I saw this in the UK or America my reaction would be negative and bring obesity to mind; somehow because it's French, it's simply a charming urban chocolate obsession!

Spring window display of artisan chocolates. 

We did so much exploring of the city that we kept finding wonderful new places, a huge church just off the Place des Grandes Hommes that I must have walked just behind last time, the famous fountain in Place des Quinconces which was taken down during WWII, later found and reassembled, and also the ruins of the Roman amphitheatre. This was really impressive, especially as I'd been wanting to check it out, and in the end we just stumbled upon it.

Notre Dame church, near Place des Grandes Hommes

Part of the bronze fountain at Places des Quinconces

The Roman amphitheatre ruins, called "Palais Gallien".

The Palais Gallien from the side.

We also spent some time having picnics in some of the parks, and especially liked the Jardin Publique, where I also heard my first chiffchaff of the spring!

Jardin Publique
Bizarrely we saw a Spar, which I had no idea were in France. We didn't go in however, so not sure if they sell the same kind of cornershop/ newsagent stuff.

Bordeauxc Spar!

I've got a thing about French doors and knockers, and we saw lots of the small hand-types, as well as this fine much larger example, with scarily realistic veins on the back the hand. Now I'm wondering if there is a typology of these?

Nice knocker in the city centre

In Cafe Utopia came across this flier for the 1982 anime-style film "The Last Unicorn", and for those that know me well, this was clearly a sign from the Fates that I'm meant to move to Bordeaux!

The Last Unicorn, shame I missed the showing!

Finally, here is the place with outlandish decor that Rachel Bynoe and  came across when we were in the city for the ESHE conference last September. We only saw it during the day when it was shut, and wondered what kind of place it was, a shop or cafe? Turns out that in the evenings it opens up as a very cool bar, La Comtesse, so we went and had a drink. Even the toilets have crazy decor, including stuffed animals and more dolls in bell jars on the ceiling! They also got bonus points for playing Shaggy's "Mr Boombastic" as the first song of the evening.

La Comtesse open!

The ceiling of the toilet at La Comtesse, including stuffed member of mustelid family.

So all in all we had a great, if very tiring trip. It's a big relief to have decided on the area we want to live, and seen that there are lots of places within our budget too. We're looking forward to the move, as right now with one hundred different tasks all in motion it feels pretty overwhelming. I'm dreaming of the day in June when we can return to the Miroir d'Eau (Water Mirror fountain), take off our shoes and enjoy the sun having all the stress of moving behind us!

At the lovely mirror fountain, Place de la Bourse.

Bordeaux evening light.


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