When I think of French public toilets, a few words come to mind – smelly, dirty, rustic, coarse, unsanitary, wet toilet seats, unidentified fluids, gross, appalling, disgusting, abominable…sumptuous? I’d forgotten how bad the toilets here can be. Take the one on the TGV from Paris to Bordeaux. Leaking. Greenish blue liquid seeping into the corridor. The smell of urine. No hand washing because there is no tap water (of course I’d already squirted soap onto my hands and rubbed them vigorously).
Out and about there are very few public toilets. I think people just dash into the nearest bar. I do that too, unless a better idea presents itself. Standing in front of the Grand Theatre in Bordeaux, I suddenly needed “the facilities”. I looked around. Stepped inside the Grand Theatre, which was crammed with people about to see the ballet Romeo and Juliet, but couldn’t see a sign for the toilets. Back outside, getting desperate, I saw the Grand Hotel. “Follow me,” I said to P. I waltzed inside, wearing my best French attitude, and found les toilettes downstairs. Notice the individual towelettes and gleaming urinal. Yep, this was the Mens’ toilets!
And then today, in Beziers, we stopped in a Chinese restaurant for lunch. Cleanest toilet in a Chinese restaurant anywhere!
Took the tram out to the Aquitaine bridge, a suspension bridge over the Garonne river. Decided to walk across it, which might have been a mistake. We were nearly skittled by a scooter (we were on the bike path) and then one of us was a triffle unhappy about how much the bridge swayed as the big trucks rumbled by. The curious thing to me was that compared to other suspension bridges, the Aquitaine didn’t have much character. I expected fancy carvings and metalwork, but it was very functional – unusual for the French when you consider how elegant the Metro stations are in Paris. Good view of the port and the concrete wheat towers like in North Vancouver. Also interesting that the bridge is so high when the other bridges closer to downtown are so low.
The Bordeaux tram is awesome. We bought a weekly pass yesterday and spent the day riding the different lines. The pass was 10 Euros each and gives us unlimited travel on the trams and buses for 7 days.
First stop was the biggest Auchen in the city. Auchen is a giant supermarket, but with clothes and electronics and housewares as well. No decent kettles there, so after lunch at Flunch, we went across to Boulanger, which is the store where we bought our first digital camera 7 years ago. Ta da, found the perfect kettle. Travel-sized. Boils 500 mls. And features a voltage switch! Success!
Having no kettle, we decided that our first Bordeaux dinner should be in a warm restaurant. What better than a hearty bowl of Cassoulet? A look through the restaurants in our guidebook, and we found the perfect one. Reasonable prices, and the ability to mark on the placemat menu what we wanted. Having had Cassoulet once before we imagined choosing which ingredients would be added to our stew. Beans, some sort of meat, vegetables.
At the restaurant we found a table beside the window where we could see the square with the Christmas lights. It was a warm cheery place, and the staff were very helpful. We spent ten minutes with the dictionary trying to decide what to eat, confused because we couldn’t find the Cassoulet stew. Finally I waved the waiter over and asked if there was Cassoulet. He smiled and shook his head. Non! There is no Cassoulet. He wrote on my menu. This is what you want – Cassoulet. But we are the Cassolette restaurant – cassolette means plate. By now, it must have been 9pm (the afternoon nap lasted a bit longer than we intended but anyway, it is so French to eat this late), we were too hungry to think straight. So we got steak and chips, with salad, and shared apple crumble with French vanilla ice cream. Yum! I promise that next time we’ll be more adventurous.
We arrived in Paris yesterday afternoon. Despite the snowy conditions, we landed a mere two hours late, and had plenty of time to make our train for Bordeaux, due to my extraordinary good planning (blind luck and a good deal on the train tickets). The most memorable part of the trip was when we boarded the connecting flight in Salt Lake City. The flight attendant was welcoming each passenger aboard, in English, but when he got to P, he switched to French. This sort of thing has happened before, in France. People approach P in the street and ask him for directions. It’s happened so many times that he knows to give them a shrug, hands in the air, and if that doesn’t work, he says, with his best Kiwi accent “Je suis, désolé. Je ne parle pas le français.” Anyway, we found it très amusant.
This morning, in Bordeaux, we went out in search of coffee and croissants. We found the market and a crispy pain au chocolat, walked until we found a grocery store, and then hightailed it back to the hotel to warm up. The iPod told us the temperature was -3 but we suspect it was a bit colder even. Brrrrr.
We had a delicious lunch of baguette and cheese, ham, carrot salad, and tabouleh, and a large mug of instant coffee. Yay for P remembering to bring the kettle. Perfect, we thought. But when we tried to make a second cup the kettle expired, quietly, without a flash or bang. No more kettle – so that’s on our list of things to do tomorrow after we get tickets for the tram. Tip for next time. Voltage in France is different than in Canada – duh!