It had been a few years since I went on a solo trip, and this year, I decided to go to Bordeaux, late August. I knew nobody and nothing in this city before I arrived. I departed leaving a little bit of myself behind.
I arrived in the city on sunny Saturday morning. The first order of business was to check out the Marché des Capucins which was one of my main reasons for taking this trip. I love food markets, especially in the mornings, because of the atmosphere — it’s electric, vibrant — and all of the smells of the different sellers.
I’d heard a lot about the oyster game in Bordeaux and how much money I should expect to spend but your girl was trying to budget, so I took half a dozen at Chez Jean Mi (€6,50) instead. I can still remember their taste — fresh, of the sea, and sweet baby, so good. They open their stall at 7 AM and usually close before 2 PM. I remember reading reviews to get there AS SOON AS THEY GODDAMN OPEN and to expect HIDEOUSLY LONG LINES BEFORE LUNCH.
I got there just before 11 AM and managed to snag a seat between couples chit-chatting over coffee and solo diners on plateau de fruits de mar. I love oysters because not only are they delicious, they’re so easy to eat. Once, a friend was so unimpressed by my inability to peel a king prawn, he took it upon himself to physically take it from me and peeled it himself. I did not make eye contact with the other solo diners.
After oysters, I walked north through the weekend markets and ended up at Musée d’Aquitaine (€5,-), in a really beautiful and stately building. I’m a sucker for local museums, so going through the region’s chronology from prehistory to the the twentieth century was a nice way to pass the time before I could check-in to my accommodation. Part of the permanent exhibition is dedicated to the transatlantic slave trade and it was a pretty haunting and informative part of the collection that does not shy away from the gruesomeness and oppression.
The temporary exhibition while I was there was Jack London in the Southern Seas detailing the American novelist’s journeys through Hawaii to Fiji to the Solomon Islands (1907-1909). While there was not much treatment of his relationship with his Charmian Kittredge, his second wife, I found what there was so interesting in its depiction of her role in their travels together – like a real partnership rather than what is usually a focus on the Man and the Man’s Thirst for Travel with his Trusty Sidekick, the Wife. The exhibition was both visually stunning and strange – this search for “authenticity” and the Other that most Western travellers have when it comes to entering another’s space. That being said, I could understand London’s curiosity – and his diaries were a mine of snappy quotes that the exhibition could make sense of.
I would rather be a superb meteor, every atom of me in magnificent glow, than a sleepy and permanent planet. The proper function of man is to live, not to exist. I shall not waste my days in trying to prolong them. I shall use my time. – Jack London
One of the things that I was concerned about during this solo trip was eating alone. I’m perfectly fine at cafés and bistros, but I’ve never had to eat dinner at a restaurant by myself. This was an interesting discussion with a few friends. Some were horrified at the prospect of eating alone, and others told me it was, simply, no big deal. I was somewhere in between – I was curious. Would I really hate my own company that much? Would I love it? Either way, I’ve been pushing this “don’t wait for anyone to do something, otherwise you’ll never do it” mantra, so I was like all right, Bordeaux, let’s see.
I went to a popular restaurant and was seated between a couple of dates and some family groups. It was a little odd at first, but I had bought a notebook and was sifting through it while I waited on my food and a glass of wine. I had so many thoughts running through my head and dining alone, with the noises of the other patrons surrounding me, allowed me to really process them. I’d been walking around the city earlier, too, just thinking and not having to worry about making conversation. It was strange being able to have this kind of focus and I quickly took to it. Sitting down, I was able to write down some of my thoughts. You know when you’re in the shower or lying in bed at night and your mind is running through the day? It was like that except my mind was running at present. I liked this clarity.
In my future writings, I will call it: The Steak Restaurant Realisation.
After, I did the evening loop — I walked to the Girondins Monument, and then to the Le Miroir d’eau which is, frankly, pretty cool in the summer breeze. Water reflections and fountains are always good fun, especially with the backdrop of the Place de la Bourse. It was crowded but not unreasonably so. It makes for great photos, of course, and it was nice to see people also stay to enjoy the water and scene.
On the second day, I decided to visit Dune du Pilat. It is Europe’s tallest sand dune, between the Atlantic Ocean and a pine forest. It is beautiful. I took the train to Arcachon (€20,-) and then a bus to the dune (€1,70). After a short walk through the forest on gravel, the ground began to get crumbly until my feet started to sink and sand got into my shoes. I took them off and walked the rest of the way barefoot until I reached a literal wall of sand. Some people walked up it. I decided to take the stairs. It was very pretty up top. On one side, forest; on the other, the ocean. To a present lowlander: remarkable.
After oysters and steak, I headed up a nice little bistro for my last lunch in the city. I reserved a table at Le Glouton a few days before, and enjoyed a three-course summer menu of fresh and local ingredients (€24,-). After a day where my dinner was composed of crisps and an apple, it was important for me to sit down at a local establishment and enjoy French cuisine before I left back to the Netherlands (another country famed for its gastronomy). I loved the rustic vibe here, and the service was so attentive – there was real care and attention paid to the food.
I left the airport on a €1,70 standard fare bus trip. One of my favourite things about France is that this is common for the smaller cities. With time to spare, I mostly walked around the city, so I didn’t spend much on public transport.
I tallied up my solo weekend away and came out with the following: €231,02. The flights and accommodation were roughly half of that. I thought it was reasonable. Bordeaux was just so pleasurable to wander through and enjoy.