Sunday, April 10, 2011

a weekend for the ages.

first off, i would like to address a topic/question/concern that has been brought up to me several times since i started this blog. that question being, of course.. “why don’t you use capital letters?” there are several reasons, but in brief; 1) i type fast, and for a long time. hitting shift at the beginning of each sentence is inefficient, and i dislike inefficiency. 2) i punctuate. you obviously know when a new sentence has begun, because there was either a period, question mark, or exclamation mark to signify that break. i quite like punctuation for that very reason. 3) it’s a stylistic choice. i prefer the way my posts look this way... it seems more uniform and aesthetically pleasing to me. 4) i DO use capital letters... for emphasis. (see what i did there?) by withholding the capitalization of letters until i really need it, i feel like my literary voice is more audible in my writing. 5) as a follow-up to #4, when i read capital letters, the voice in my head SHOUTS. (did yours?) 6) does capitalizing the first letter of each sentence actually mean anything? it’s not like the words are different. :)
sorry that was kind of rant-y, but i figured i’d clear that issue up. :)
well anyways, back to business. settle in, because this post’s gonna be a long one.. this past weekend was probably one of the most singularly unique weekends i will ever have. in my life. here’s why;
friday, 1 april 2011
i was going to try to make a funny april fool’s joke here, but i’ve got nothing. april fool’s day in france is called ‘poisson d’avril’ (april fish) – and is a holiday during which school children run around slapping smelly fish stickers on their friends’ backs and giggling triumphantly. so we didn’t really celebrate it. instead, my friends jessie and claire came with me on a fabulous weekend getaway to bordeaux! i’ve been wanting to visit bordeaux for a while, and i was so happy to have friends come with me! we left angers around 9:30am and traveled southward via train. it was about a 4 hour journey, through some seriously beautiful countryside. we arrived in bordeaux around 1:30, greeted by blue skies and sunshine.. starting the weekend off right! we followed the directions that our host had texted to me earlier, and made our way to the apartment where we’d be staying friday and saturday night. as we’re walking down this small side street, looking for number 19, i kept getting distracted by the enormous and very old cathedral that was literally across the street. like... apartment on the right, cathedral on the left. not too shabby of a location, to say the least!!
we were only in the apartment for a few minutes, just to say hi to the girls who’d be hosting us and to drop our backpacks off. we set off around 2pm to find some food and explore. we ended up making it about 50 feet, before deciding to eat at a cafe about 4 doors down from the apartment. they had terrace seating, right on the plaza in front of the cathedral, so we sat down and had some lunch. it was even warm enough for bare arms, bless that sunshine! we enjoyed our meal and then checked out the inside of the cathedral.. there were new stained glass windows (from the 60’s) that really reminded me of the animation from the beginning of beauty and the beast. it was awesome. we left and kept wandering around town until we came across a tourism centre. they gave us some ideas of stuff to do in and around bordeaux, stocked us up with maps and brochures, and saw us off. since the weather was so beautiful, we walked down to the riverfront to relax on the grass for a while. it was here that my earlier-formed hypothesis was confirmed... bordeaux is a hipster city. there were so many young, hip, indie-looking people! at cafés, by the river, walking around.. it was nice to have a little connection back to the hipster-swarming campus of belmont. :) after our little pause, we walked back down the river to the apartment, stopping for a little ice cream snack at the place next door. when we arrived back at the apartment, we sat and talked with mathilde (our host) and her friend enoco for a while. they’re both from the pays basque, which is a region of france that borders spain and has a very distinct culture. they even have a different language (basque), which i heard mathilde’s friend marie speak later. we had been invited to go with mathilde and enoco to a concert later in the evening, so we all decided to eat together at the apartment. marie came over, and we had a vegetable salad, green beans / peas, bread / cheese, and waffles with nutella for dessert. deeeelicious!
around 9:30, we all walked over to the concert venue, which was about 5 minutes away on foot. the show was actually a benefit rally for a local feminist group, raising money and awareness for victims of domestic abuse. suffice it to say, this evening was probably one of the most unique, if not THE most unique, evening ever. we wound our way through tiny alleyways, finally arriving at the venue, which was the size of a small apartment, but had a “stage”, bar, and lounge outside. it was called the athénée libertine, and had all kinds of murals and posters and propaganda on the walls, all supporting various activist groups. my favourite part was the wall behind the stage, which was covered in over 30 hand-painted portraits of the most influential feminists in history; simone de beauvoir, judith butler, etc. we arrived during the second set out of three, initally questioning our decision to come at all. the “band” was just three girls in ‘zorro’ costumes, banging away on instruments and yelling into the microphones. that, combined with the overwhelming smell of smoke and sweat, made for a rather unpleasant first impression. but luckily, they were finished within a few minutes of our arrival, and we had a chance to talk to some girls working the “merch” table – they had t-shirts and pamphlets and patches, all for sale for however much you wanted to give. i bought a patch and a pamphlet that details all of the portraits on the wall. after a few minutes, the third set began. all i heard at first was an electronica-pop beat coming from the speakers.. and then i saw the group. it was comprised of two girls, both of whom were wearing baggy jeans and graphic tees. each girl was rocking a boy haircut and some black-framed glasses, and one had a flat-billed hat that said “whooo!” on it. honestly, they were two of the most androgynous humans i have ever encountered. they could have easily been pretty effeminate boys. anyway. they started their set, which was a series of conversationalist rap songs, discussing oppression in the workplace, harassment, and female empowerment.. from what i could tell. it’s hard to keep up with french rap!!!  the second to last song was actually an air-band lip sync perfomance of some 90’s punk song from the tony hawk pro-skater 2 soundtrack. seriously, one girl played air guitar while the other girl mouthed words that i suspect she didn’t even know the meaning of. the singer even crowdsurfed! just launched herself into the 40 person crowd. i was amazed she didn’t hit her head on the ceiling. the whole time, jessie, claire, and i were just laughing and signing along and cheering with the rest of the crowd.. it was so hilariously fun. but the grand finale came when the girls did their a capella encore (in english?) and started in on the final song. apparently it was pretty inspiring, because one of the girls took her top off, which started a chain reaction... suffice to say, they were definitely girls, and i am fairly positive i will never again in my life witness a french feminist naked rap battle. probably.
so, that was pretty hysterical. we left around 11pm, still slightly in shock, and feeling very empowered as women! bedtime couldn’t come early enough, though.. it had been a long day. we got back to the apartment, made up our futon bed (and claire’s little mattress bed on the floor) and got ready to go to sleep. the apartment was awesome, except the location (right next to the cathedral/plaza) stayed pretty lively on a friday night.. so it was noisy allllll night long. i think there might have been a marching band outside at 4am, but i’m not positive. claire went for a run at 7:30, and there were people just leaving the bar next door.. yikes. note to self: next couchsurfing trip, bring ear plugs!
saturday, 2 april 2011
jessie and i woke up around 8:30 when claire came back from her run along the river. we all got ready and then left the apartment to go sign up for our afternoon tour of wine country! we walked back over to the tourism centre and tried to get places on the tour.. but it was full. :( i felt really bad, because claire was super excited about it and i had told her that i didn’t think the places would fill up.. otherwise, we would have gotten our places on friday. the saturday tour went to the médoc region, but i had read so much about this town called st. emilion and how it was the jewel of bordeaux wine country.. so, in a moment of spontaneous planning, i asked the lady about just buying train tickets to st. emilion and doing our own tour. she said it was super easy, and it ended up being cheaper than the other tour. sweet! she even helped us pick out a wine chateau to go visit and called them to make the reservation for us. so we got our information and then went to find some breakfast. this super nice café had a buy one, get one brioche sale, so we got two loaves of brioche and went to eat them next to the river, sitting in between two flowerbeds. it’s a hard life. after our little brunch, we walked back to the apartment and decided to go to the market just outside the door for a while. we walked around this HUGE saturday market – fruits, vegetables, meats, cheeses, sea food, sweets, bread, homemade pastries, olives... and that was just the food section. the other two-thirds of the market was filled with stalls selling clothing, fabric, jewelry, shoes, random knick-knacks... you name it. we had a great time exploring. i bought a really cute dress for 5 euro (score), jessie bought some food for later, and claire got this precious little antique jewelry box.
around 12:30, we dropped our stuff off at the apartment and made our way to the train station. it was about a 20 minute walk, down the riverside in the bright sunshine. we got there, bought our tickets (8 euro return trip, thank you very much!), and headed out to the platform. the train was this cute little local car, not one of the big, fancy TGV or TER trains. it was kind of like a flashback, retro train. anyway, we were on the train for around 40 minutes, watching as the view from our window went from urban to suburban to vineyard. when we finally got off in st. emilion, it was kind of like a scene in a movie when the bad guy kicks the main character out of the car in the middle of the wildernes.. other than the station and a few random buildings, it was just vineyards for as far as the eye could see. no sign of a city, really, just one house per property. we took some pictures, met a couple from portugal, and then walked up the hill to our chateau destination. luckily everything in st. emilion is accessible by foot, because walking was by far the prettiest part of the day.. as we walked up the hill towards the chateau fonplégade, i couldn’t help but think about how surreal the experience was. but i had that feeling a lot on saturday. we got to the top of the hill, only to realize that we were pretty much the only people there. at all. the girl who was working opened the door and welcomed us inside. i can’t describe how beautiful this property was – the land, the buildings, the décor.. it was gorgeous. we set our bags down and followed our guide outside. the tour we took was just 15 euro – and it was private (just the three of us), given in french, and lasted about an hour. she walked us around outside, telling us about the history ownership of the vineyard. as it turns out, the property was purchased in 2004 by an american couple from california.. they already have another vineyard in napa valley, so they spend six months of the year in each place. i can’t imagine their life except for i bet it’s AWESOME. we then went inside the distillery and saw all the barrels of the 2009 and 2010 wine fermenting, plus the giant production room with the huge barrels that smelled so good. we even got to peek at the owners’ private wine cellar – it reminded me so much of the movie ‘the parent trap’. actually, this whole day reminded me of that movie. anyway, after the tour, we got to have a little ‘degustation’ – tasting. we tried four of the vineyards most popular wines, including the most prestigious and expensive one. even though i don’t really like wine, i felt so fancy! the guide walked us through the process of properly tasting wine, and then did the whole ‘it has a very brown, floral aftertaste, etc etc’ bit. i’m not sure how something can taste brown, but these people knew how to make wine. claire was so inspired that she even bought a bottle to take home and save! after we said goodbye to our guide, we walked up the hill to the little fountain at the top of the vineyard to sit and have our snacks (and a dance party). that was another one of those “i can’t believe i’m doing this” moments.. we were having so much fun. once the strawberries and olives were gone, we scrambled over the back wall of the vineyard (a huge shortcut) and made our way to the teeny, tiny village of st. emilion. (click that link and read the history - amazing!) it was about a mile and a half away, walking down this dusty, gravelly road that wound its way through endless rows of vines. we finally rounded the corner on the tiny village (approximately 2,000 inhabitants) that makes i’d say 98% of its money from tourists visiting the vineyards. every other shop was a wine ‘cave’. we looked out over the rooftops for a while and then made our way down a STEEP road to the main plaza, where we sat in the sunshine at a cafe and had a mid-afternoon snack. our waiter was a total jerk, but everything else was wonderful so i can’t complain! after lunch, we wandered around a little and then made the slow journey back down the hill to the train station. all in all, the trip to st. emilion was about 7 hours of blissful, surreal, time-machine-to-the-past wonderment. DEFINITELY better than a 53-person tour bus to a completely different, medieval-village-less area for 31 euro. sometimes, things just work out better than you could have hoped for.
after a FULL day of walking and sunshine, a short train ride back to bordeaux, and the 20 minute walk from the train station to the apartment, we got back and pretty much crashed from exhaustion. mathilde had left a note saying she and enoco were out for the night, and for us to feel free to eat anything in the house (they’d stocked up at the market). sweet. we made omelettes and had baguettes with cheese and homemade jam (peach and apple – YUM). after dinner, i took a hot bath (gotta take advantage of a bathtub when i can!) and then the three of us just hung out for a little while before getting ready for bed. there was no way we could have topped friday night’s experience, and we were just way too tired to go out again. mathilde called and said they were coming back with friends, so we could sleep in marion’s room (since she was gone for the weekend). we transferred all of our stuff, and just barely heard them come in before we were all out like lights for the entire night. what a day!
sunday, 3 april 2011
the last day of our weekend excursion in bordeaux proved to be not as sunny and warm as the first two days had been.. which was alright, considering we left around noon. we got up early to go to the market again and replenish the fridge after saturday night’s omelette-fest. except unfortunately the sunday market didn’t have the food section.. lame. so we walked around for a while, saw another gigantic cathedral, found a café for our breakfast, and then stopped in a bakery to buy breakfast for mathilde and her friends instead (croissants, brioche, etc). when we got back to the apartment around 11am, they were all still asleep. so we wrote a note, left the bag of goodies and the keys, and made our way to the train station. the journey home was uneventful, except for when we had to actually get up and find our real seats, because we had just chosen three seats together. the train got more and more crowded with each stop, since that train was going to paris. but we only had to wander around for a little while before we found three more seats near to each other. and then a few train transfers later, we were back in angers. it’s nice, having a place that feels like “home” to come back to after a weekend getaway. and it’s even better to have such great friends to “get away” with. :)
for pictures of this trip, check my facebook album ‘barefoot in bordeaux’, coming soon!
alright, i’ve decided that i’m going to double post today – just so this entry doesn’t get any more obnoxiously long than it already is! so stay tuned for another entry, quickly forthcoming!

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