I have to admit that I’m not one of those people who plans my weekends or travels around blogging . . . which is why I sometimes realize that I spent a wonderful weekend somewhere and took no photos. Often, this happens when somebody is with me and I’m simply enjoying the place and their company; however, that was not the case on 17 September. L’américaine left me in early July to return to the US, Alexis had the 3 week kick off to his new year of school/interning and I hadn’t yet ventured out and met my new English friends (a story for another time).
I had forgotten about “Journées du Patrimoine” (Heritage Days) until a week before the event, when I happened upon a list of some of the places that would be open (it runs a full weekend each September). While free entrance to sites and museums is intriguing, what really caught my attention was the opportunity to go INSIDE the Bordeaux Grand Theater. I’d visited Bordeaux for the first time in early 2016 and was disappointed to learn that I couldn’t enter without a special tour or seeing a show. (Read about my first visit to Bordeaux here). With my weekend pass and the new speed train, I could pick up a round-trip first class ticket for ~30 Euro and 36 minutes each way! Be aware that the price on tickets can vary widely and they are generally cheaper when you buy the PREM tickets 3 months in advance.
The photos above and below are from the self-guided tour. First you walk through the outer areas, then you’re allowed to see the area where costumes are made and stored, make-up is done, etc. At the end, you enter the theater and can take a seat to look around.
The tour took less time than I’d expected, but the staff had been helpfully handing out a guide to all of the other sites. I’d also really liked the Porte Cailhau during my first visit, so when I saw a tour of it was possible (and near my lunch reservations), I went in. There is a small museum inside, but I was headed for the top! Unfortunately, the views weren’t as spectacular as I’d hoped they would be. It was still fun to see the inside though!
It was time for lunch at that point and I was in the mood for something different. I’d made reservations (always a good idea) via The Fork at a Tibetan restaurant. I wasn’t super impressed with my veggie and cheese dumplings, but the pork ribs main dish was outstanding! I have to admit that I’ve had good luck using The Fork or La Fourchette (some restaurants are not listed on both) and picking restaurants based on high ratings. All ratings on these sites are from diners who made, and kept, a reservation, so unlike sister site, TripAdvisor, you know the person actually ate there. The restaurant was La Shambhala and is worth trying if you want a break from French cuisine.
After eating, I decided it was time to come up with a plan to see the other sites that interested me most in the guide. Did you know that some Catholic churches were built on top of existing cemeteries? Saint Peter’s Basilica sits on top of one (you can get advance permission from the Vatican to tour it) and so does the Basilica of Saint-Seurin in Bordeaux. The excavation crypt pre-dates the original 6th century church, but also includes ancient Christian tombs.
The current building only dates back, in part, to the 11th century. The site is technically a UNESCO World Heritage site, although I didn’t know that when I decided to visit. The basilica was once part of the “pilgrimage of Saint-Jacques de Compostela.” The crypts under the church are interesting to see, but I also found a flight of stairs INSIDE the church, which led to another old crypt (newer than the excavated one though). You can’t take photos inside the church, so I’m not able to show the differences.
Next on the list was an ancient Roman Amphitheater built in the 200s AD. I don’t know why ancient Roman ruins interest me so much, but I tend to seek them out, even after having seen the ones actually *in* Rome and the very complete ones in Nîmes. I think it is just the idea of this large empire that built things ~2,000 years ago and left their stamp all over Europe. No matter what country you’re in, Roman ruins are distinctly “Roman.” The amphitheater in Bordeaux is in pretty sad shape, but the fenced-off area was open for the weekend and you could wander in and out of what was left. It appeared that a tour was being given in French also, but I’d just missed the start and decided I could learn more later on my own. Ironically, the site is called “Palais Gallien” and historians aren’t sure if that was bestowed because later inhabitants assumed it was once a palace or because the amphitheater was built on the site of a former palace.
I thought it was odd that a public garden was listed in the “Journées du Patrimoine” guide, but it was along the path that I was following, so I decided to take a look. When you’re in the garden, you feel like you’ve exited the city! Well worth stopping in and taking a short rest! For the weekend, they were also hosting family-friendly events. For example, various items throughout the garden had informative signs on them that appeared to be part of a game that the children were playing.
With the lovely old buildings, I had wondered if it was once a royal park, but it appears that it was founded as a public garden in 1746 and the buildings were part of the park design.
I think one of the best things about just grabbing a guide and wandering from place to place is all of the things that you see along the way. I knew that I was headed in the general direction of the train station and decided to continue walking rather than take a tram, so I came across this beautiful fountain! I had actually been in the same general area earlier when I got off the tram from the train station, but on the other side of the large square, so I hadn’t noticed it.
Another outcome of my long walk through the city was my observation of a bizarre art display throughout the city. These metal men, fully nude and “anatomically correct,” were placed randomly about! I found the placement of the third one particularly ironic since it was directly in front of the church doors. Many people were just arriving for a special musical event, which was also part of the “Journées du Patrimoine” schedule. The weekend actually covers a wide variety of options, including public entry into typically non-public places, free entry to cultural sites, special shows, music and other events.
My trek back to the train station also took me past the other basilica in town. It was about this time that I acknowledged that I’d worn shoes suitable for a short tour through the Grand Theater and a little relaxing, not for a 30+ minute walk across town, then back. Fortunately, there were benches located just next to this basilica with a view of it’s separate tour, which I mistakenly thought was the Tour Pey-Berland at first. This basilica is also part of the same UNESCO pilgrimage route.
While I had intentionally planned my route to pass by the second basilica because I was curious how it compare to Saint-Seurin, I happened upon the last church by accident. It can feel like there is a church every 100 feet in France sometimes, but this one immediately caught my eye and I had to look at it for a moment before I realized why – it’s asymmetrical! The door isn’t in the center and the two sides framing it are not the same. There is also a large knight adorning one side of the Church of the Holy Cross.
I’ll definitely be making a weekend of it during the next “Journées du Patrimoine,” although I’m debating where to go – tour of the local options in Poitiers? a weekend in Paris to see what’s opened up there? another random region in France that’s on my (long) list of potential weekend options?
I’m open to suggestions! If you’ve visited any of the sites, which were your favorites?