16 March 1990, 1708, Hotel Majestic
Yes, a day has been skipped. Yesterday wore us out so much we went straight to bed. Petit dejeuner downstairs was very nice: hot chocolate, orange juice, croissant & bread with jam, sweetened yogurt. Leisurely ate, and we were ready to see some of Bordeaux. The Jardin Publique is a series of shaded lawns, flower beds, a pond for swans and an island playground. We strolled around & saw a ruin (portion of a Roman amphitheater), cathedral with varying styles, a large clock in an arch crossing a narrow street. All of this is surrounded by or embedded in streets of shops, every kind. There are many things exactly as at home; some nearly the same but with French labels; some plainly French. Many fruit & vegetable vendors at sidewalk tables. Parking of cars on sidewalks of narrow streets. We returned to the pedestrian mall for lunch. I bought a sandwich & salad for S & me while S & C went on to McD for C’s Chicken McNuggets & drinks. I neglected to check the prices & offered 20F to girl for ~42,50F worth of food; register did not display total to me. After brief panic 50F made all OK.
After lunch we got car out of garage & headed to Le Teich for Parc Ornithologique. This is 150 ha preserve in wetlands. Most of the wetlands were drained in 1800s. Many species migrate through or remain for winter. They have a few pens & aviaries for captive birds & nice trails with observation blinds for viewing migratory birds. C bought bag of grain, but few birds pestered us for it (goats did, though). It appears to be important site for European birds. There were a few visitors & a group of ~10-15. One of the observation decks had been burned by vandals in 1988. C left her name/address in registration book at end of trail.
From Le Teich we drove to Pyla to see dune. Driving was very easy the entire way. The dune was impressive, but I wondered about its past & likely future. It has grown into a canyon & is surrounded by evergreen trees. Is it going to overgrow them or shrink? We were there ~1800 and got drinks & postcards.
We returned to Bordeaux after dark. Traffic was quite heavy & we were unsure of the streets, so this trip was harder. Eventually with C reading street signs and S reading map we found our way to hotel. We changed into better clothes & went out at ~2000 to find restaurant. In vicinity of ped. mall, we ‘read’ menus until we found restaurant: Le 4 Saisons which offered a 104F meal: drink, salad, bread, mixed-grill on skewer, veg., ice cream. C had ‘chips’ (waiter spoke enough E) instead of veg & ate a lot of meat. A large meal, much more than we needed. Instead of wine, C & I asked for water. After a while, S pointed out that it was probably tap water; so much for precautions. We all had some. So far no ill effects. Our table was adjacent to the grill. The meat was cooked over charcoal; potatoes baked in a large iron bowl on tripod adjacent. Chef controlled heat (and flames) by spraying water from plastic bottle. We returned to hotel ~2230.
Forgot to note: late the 14th while we were walking from shops to hotel, C asked “Is every day going to be like this?”
16 March 1990, 1753, Hotel
Got up late, 845 or 900, went down for petit dejeuner & went to AmEx. Letter confirmed gite at FONTENAY MAUVOISIN. C exchanged $15 of her own & S changed some TC. We returned to hotel & asked fem clerk to assist us in contacting proprietor of gite at Cenac for tomorrow. No one could attend then (~1130), we were to try again at 1230. We went to find Bradley’s English books, bought some for C, & went to Jardin Publique again. At 1230 she called again & confirmed we are OK, but did not get directions once we reach Cenac; oh well, that will be another adventure. Also verified we do not need to bring blankets.
16 March 1990;, 2117, Hotel
Went to mall between airport & Bordeaux, near Merignac. Bought stuff likely to be needed to set up initial housekeeping at gite. Also bought portable radio. Filled car’s tank, this time with ‘Super’. Started back to Bordeaux ~1630, well before dark. Traffic seemed to be getting heavier, but fairly easy trip.
Walked (thru fairly seedy looking section near waterfront) to Eglise St Michel & walked around it.
After returning to Rue St Catherine, went to local spring fair. Very much like local carnival: rides (bumper cars very popular), games (luck & ‘skill’) & entertainment (the ‘American Show’ seemed to be a girl show that would probably be called the ‘French Show’ at home). Sampled a food stand: hot dog is inserted into hollow bun; had pork brochette on bun. Really just like carnival at home, except language. I successfully navigated the food stand with the willing cooperation of a helpful native who clearly had no E.
Forgot to note: at Le Teich, they had a ‘pique-nique’ table!
There is a lot of American popular song in the background music here, and English words/phrases in store names & ads, including plays on words: ‘Lord Gym’.
16 March 1990, 1708, Hotel Majestic
We went downstairs in the hotel for our first breakfast in France. The ground floor lobby was roughly like this:
When we ate, we were the only ones in the dining area.
The incident when I tried to buy sandwiches was unusual. The shop’s register had a digital display (as most shops we saw had), but the display was turned so that only the girl behind it could see. She spoke the total due to me, but of course I couldn’t understand her. When I handed her an obviously (to her) too small amount, I could see her start to panic, like she was about to ask her manager for help; I forestalled this by offering the larger amount. The register displays throughout the trip made it very easy to buy things, and the currency was easy to work with (except that there were two kinds of 10F coins).
The dune at Pyla was interesting, but since we were out of season, the climb up and down was without benefit of wooden steps shown in postcards. This made it more fun.
The trip back brought us into Bordeaux during rush hour. This was a big mistake. Traffic was very heavy, and the roads are not well marked as to number and location of lanes. There were a lot of buses, which have right of way. No one seemed to get angry at us, but I know we were not as efficient as the native drivers.
The first restaurant trip was also interesting. The custom of posting menus outside all restaurants, and of single price meals with just a few choices (prix fixe) is very good. It made it much easier for us to choose a place where Chrissy had a chance of getting something she would eat. One of our hopes for the trip was that Chrissy would broaden her tastes a bit, but she never did. She settled on a few things (notably steak hache), and stuck with them. I felt silly when we realized that we were drinking tap water, despite our plans, but we never had any ill effects from the water in France.
16 March 1990, 1753, Hotel
The letter we got from AmEx was for the last gite on our itinerary.
The call to the proprietor of the Cenac gite was important. We guessed that we needed to bring our own sheets, pillow cases, towels, washcloths, and soap. We also guessed that each gite would have dishes, pots and pans, and blankets. But we wanted to be sure, so the call was reassuring. The clerk who made the call for us was very helpful, but apparently was not familiar with gites, or the procedures. The gite book had warned us that the proprietors didn’t speak English, so every bit of help was needed. The problem of actually finding the building once we found the town was one we didn’t really worry about. We felt we had a couple of hours leeway in making contact with the proprietor, and that that would be sufficient. (Little did we know.)
16 March 1990, 2117, Hotel
The trip to the mall was mostly to Carrefour, which was a name we would become accustomed to throughout our trip, since it was one of the largest hypermarket chains. We bought the cheapest radio we could find, just so we would have some contact with the outside world (no radio in car). It had AM/FM/SW (though with different names).
After our last trip after dark, we didn’t want to do that again, so got in before ‘rush’ hour. The Bordeaux streets are too narrow, and turns too irregular to support the very heavy traffic at rush hour.
Our walk to Eglise St Michel was through the kind of area we would avoid at home: lots of noisy bars, pawn shops, boarded-up windows, narrow or no sidewalks and pretty dirty. Still we didn’t really feel threatened. Somewhere on this walk we passed an amazing shop, unfortunately closed. The window display was of 2-3 busts of children and adults, in different finishes (terra cotta, white), and the sign over the door said something like ‘Studio de Visuel Sculpture et Haute Technology’. A sign in the window seemed to say that they made sculptures based on one 30-second sitting. I really wish I had had a chance to talk to them and find out what they did and how they did it! (1991-04-10)
We got up the next morning, but we must have gotten up late because there was noone else in the breakfast room. Breakfast was nice: a croissant, slice of bread, hot chocolate, orange juice, jam, butter (or should I say burre?), sweetened yogurt, and some sugar Mom took pleasure in collecting. We went to some public gardens where there were some beautiful swans. Then we went to see the cathedrale. It had lots of buttresses and flying buttresses. We went back to Rue de Ste. Catherines and ate lunch. We then went to a place that had birds, goats, sheep * * *. I liked it. There was a giant sand dune so we went to that. In a postcard it showed _steps_ going up but there were no steps when we went up!!! On the third day we found the English (Britain) bookstore and bought some (3) books. We went to a supermarket then. We went back to the hotel and asked the girl who spoke English to make a phone call to our first gite (jeet). We went to the carnival across the street then. It had those machines that you move the pinchers around and hope. I did a lot of hoping. In fact, I did 12 francs worth! We went back to hotel and wasted time.