Bordeaux began as all good trips should, as a decision made at two in the morning the night before. Blame train travel for enabling my dangerously spontaneous ways: the luxury (or gamble) of the young and single.
Bordeaux was another city I knew nothing about, but for its association with red wine. It was closer to Montluçon, though, and I wanted to avoid another six-hour train ride, if possible.
I’d like to write about epic dinners enjoyed in grand chateaus, but the truth is Mary and I spent both nights in Bordeaux running around the carnival. There was something deliciously wrong about this, a feeling akin to skipping school and eating pancakes in bed.
Bordeaux’s Place des Quinconces is one of the largest public squares in Europe, and every foot of it was covered in roller coasters and kebab stands, ferris wheels and trampolines.
Dressed for dinner in silk, ankle boots, lipstick, and after a dinner of seafood pasta and wine, at the fair I felt like an elegant Charlie let loose in the chocolate factory. It was kitsch and bright lights and the smell of sugar, just like anywhere, but with a more insouciant (and much skinnier) crowd. We dodged groups of French teenagers, the straight hair, skinny jeans, and cell phones, to climb aboard dizzying rides like the inexplicably-named “Sexy Dance.” The magic ended at midnight, so we had to act fast. It helped that there were no lines. Maybe the French aren’t as accustomed to putting their lives in the rusty metal hands of carnival machinery.
We rode a Halloween train, in which you sit in a monster’s claw and visit a cave containing all sorts of melted-wax-looking monsters, and tried the flying carpet ride, a breathtaking view of Bordeaux that required trying to keep your balance in a metal cage as a pair of mechanical arms lifts you over the city.
We ate fair food–overly-sweet crêpes–and rode the French “Octopus,” La Pieuvre, a spinning ride that played Olé Olé Olé and released clouds of noxious strawberry smoke that smelled like a trip to the dentist. The only ones on the ride, the controller gave us the choice to keep spinning longer than was probably healthy. Continue?! He yelled.
On the Mouse Coaster we had the front seat next to a grinning six-year-old and her big brother. C’est bien? I asked them. With several teeth missing, the little girl breathlessly recounted how great the ride was. We’ve been on it trois fois!
So the fair was expensive and gave me whiplash, but a French city isn’t all cathedrals and art galleries and stained glass. My best travel memories don’t come from completing checklists of must-see attractions, following in the footsteps of every tourist before, but rather from those things I’ve done naturally and spontaneously. Chasing the incongruities. I’d recommend it, the view of Bordeaux under neon lights, drunk on laughter and music (not to mention half a bottle of red wine).