By Stephen Bugno
Blog of a Modern Nomad
The next day I rode the slow, winding topo train to the French border town, Hendaye, where I caught a short ride out to the on-ramp of the divided highway. After about 25 minutes standing with my thumb up, I was picked up by a guy heading nearly all the way to Bordeaux. Quite well-traveled and speaking excellent English, Sebastian and I chatted nearly the whole three hours as we ripped through the great Landes forest, the largest maritime pine forest in Europe (10,000 km2). “This is the lung of Europe,” he pointed out.
He lived in a small beach town and dropped me off at a rural crossroads. Waiting in the warm afternoon sun, my next ride really caught me off-guard. A young woman with her elderly mom and her baby in the back seat pulled over on their way home from spending the afternoon on the beach. At first I didn’t even look back, figuring they couldn’t possibly be stopping for me. But they got out, glanced at me and started repacking to make room in the back seat for me. I threw my backpack in the trunk, brushed some sand off the back seat and we pulled off. They dropped me on the outskirts of Bordeaux and as the rain began, I took shelter under a bus stop and got on the next bus going into the center.
Bordeaux, while lacking traditional tourist sites, is certainly a necessary stop if you’re into wine. It is the wine-producing region of the wine-producing country.
On Sunday afternoon my brother and his coworkers and I checked out the World Heritage site of Saint-Emilion. The village was over-run with day-trippers (like ourselves), souvenir shops, and wine shops, but an easy five-minute stroll in one direction landed me in a quiet street with no signs of tourism and great views of the beautiful town and surrounding vineyards.
We toured and tasted at one of the many wineries surrounding the town and took a walking tour through the historic sites, most notably the hermitage of the 8th century monk for whom the village is named. We also visited a huge church carved into the limestone cliff which was reminiscent of the churches of Cappadocia.
Back in Bordeaux I sat down with a young Bordelais one afternoon before he briefly showed me around Europe’s biggest 18th century architectural urban areas. After much complaining about the current politics and President Zarko (complaining is a national pastime in France, I would learn later that week) my new left-wing friend suggested I check out an area of town in which he noted was “a good example of an immigrant community integrated into French society”. The next day I enjoyed a stroll through the colorful, mostly North African shops, restaurants and flea market around the Basilica of Saint-Michel.
Stephen Bugno June, 2008