Monday, November 9, 2015

Part 3. Changing world: Bordeaux

The city is well preserved architectural masterpiece, all of the buildings were built at the same time from white limestone. It is well funded by a 2000 year old global wine trade and is located in the gorgeous Garonne river valley. What can possibly go wrong?

Our hotel is located on rue Borie the center of the ancient Chartrons wine district and across wine museum.

It is a small boutique hotel in an old building that had been lovingly remodeled.

Our room was stunning. It had at least 12 foot high ceilings, huge windows and a reclaimed fireplace with strange aged mirror which looked like a piece of art. 

The bus from San Sebastian was late and the trip ended up taking more than 5 hours, instead of the 2 hours we had expected; we arrived tired and hungry. 

Across the street from our hotel was the restaurant ”Boucheron” which specialized in steaks. It is a cozy space with traditional décor, checkered tablecloth and real coal fired grill. 

That evening we were their first customers for dinner. The smell of a huge (1 kilo!) grilled steak covered with onion was divine!

OMG! The steak was not edible. It was a very tough cut of meat; I think it would only be used for ground beef in US. The only redeeming quality of this meal was that we didn’t overeat for the simple reason – we could not chew it.
The next morning we had a simple goal: to find good coffee and real French croissants. Within a few steps from our hotel we found a little charming café with outside tables on the sunny side of street. We were so ready to start a day of exploring the treasures of Bordeaux from the right foot. After a 15 minute wait with no service we decided to go to the shady side of the street in hope of better service. Because it was still a bit nippy in the morning we sat inside. This place did not serve croissants. We ate an OK baguette with frozen pack of butter accompanied by mediocre coffee. Well, since we could not immediately leave the city and shut the door behind us, we walked to downtown shopping area.

The weather is beautiful,
the grape vines are everywhere

and a lot of the buildings have these build-in metal bars near the entrances.

Patrick probably had the right idea what it was used for when horses where the main means of transportation. 

Buildings in Bordeaux don’t have real balconies like in Spain, which was very strange considering such a nice climate.

There are not many green spaces or parks. One of the parks was actually used for parking.

The traditional palaces are glorious and the addition of modern fountains works very well.

One of the main city attraction is a wine museum, with very interesting collection of wine trade artifacts.

The Russian tsar wine order:

A well-known wine bar is located next door to the wine museum. We appeared at the bar door at 6:15 pm and were the first customers. The place is charming with interesting food offering and extensive local wine tasting menu.

We proceeded to order recommended by a waiter creations of a local chef. The food was underwhelming. The little piece of hamburger on the rice roll with ketchup was supposed to be innovative sushi creation. 

We lost any hope for culinary experience and ordered a plate of cheese.
The cheese plate was wonderful and served as great accompaniment to rich and strong regional wines.

that was the best tasting

 After extensive and expensive tasting Patrick and I realized that we don’t care for Bordeaux wines. They are in style of CA cabernet sauvignons and very overwhelming and heavy.

The neighborhood we stayed in feels very artistic. Art galleries, old markets remade into modern performance spaces and many antique shops

Several old market around the city which remade into supermarkets, shopping malls and performance spaces

After serious research we found that there is one real functioning market left on the other end of the city. The market was worth the trip. The products, the crowd and the prices were a stark reminder that the old good times were really good

But overall Bordeaux really feels like a prime example and victim of globalized economy. It is a beautiful ancient city with traces of old crafts and culinary arts everywhere, and with restaurants which still have the same charming look and feel

But the traditional way of life is being destroyed and replaced by mass produced stuff and industrial food. The last morning in Bordeaux we finally found an OK breakfast food on the way to the train station. On the park bench - the coffee from the paper cups and croissants from Paul (the same global chain pastry shop, which I have on the first floor of my office building in DC)

How lucky we were...

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Part 2. Loving Bilbao

The choice to stay in San Sebastian was partially driven by the proximity to Bilbao. It is an old industrial city in Spain and the capital of the wealthy Basque Country. Sixteen years ago I read an article in the New York Times magazine about new Guggenheim museum built in Bilbao by Frank Gehry. The article said that this is the most amazing structure built in 20th century and Philip Johnson deemed it “the greatest building of our time”. I had to see it!

We arrived in Bilbao in cloudy morning and as soon we got out of the bus station the city immediately charmed me. The modern life was perfectly integrated in old city. The streets are full of life, the store windows are enticing and vistas are beautiful wherever you look.

The Guggenheim building was even more stunning than I imagine.


The analogy to modern cathedral comes to mind

Major modern artists are represented by huge exhibit by Jeff Koon and Jean-Michel Basquiat.

But the most impressive was a permanent installation “Matter of time” by Richard Serra. The installation consists of several shapes-sculptures made from huge steel plates curved and layered in round and elliptical labyrinths and paths where the viewer feel lost in time and space.

After museum we walked along Bilbao River to the old city. The integration of modern buildings and bridges with old historical structures is done with remarkable taste and sensibility.


We stopped in the random pintxos bar and had a fabulous snack.

By the time we’ve got to the old town our tired feet begging for sit-down meal. An Italian restaurant attracted us by the pretty corner location and tables outside.

We didn’t expect much for a 13 euro three course menu in such lovely setting, but were too tired to look for anything else. The meal was huge and delicious.

To our complete amazement the price included a bottle of wine. We were stunned!

Bilbao was such a surprise, an undiscovered by crowds pearl of the city, the best of old Europe with modern art and creative cuisine.

Love from the first sight!