By Anna Canny
Bordeaux, France is the timeless, coastal European city of your dreams. It surrounds you in majesty, with castle-like buildings, the towering Cathédrale Saint-André, and the broad columns at the facade of the Grande Theatre. But look closely to find the clandestine key to the city, in the form of two thin metal tracks snaking over cobblestone, through grassy medians, and around the tight corners of narrow neighborhoods. Imagine sitting on the patio of a local cafe, enjoying the classic pastry pain du Chocolat along with un cafe au lait. The sleek, bullet-shaped tram glides by, drawing your eye out towards the expanses of the city you’ve yet to see.
I arrived in Bordeaux last April on a college student’s budget, with some birthday money and a small collection of paychecks racked up from work-study shifts. My first glimpse of the rolling vineyards full of warm, golden grapes was framed by the windows of a compact European car. My Uber driver, taking pity on me and my graceless French, offered a silence which I filled with deep sighs of awe.
My dear friend, a pseudo-local after her months studying abroad, greeted me with joy as I pulled up on the curb of the narrow street of her student apartment. Shortly after my arrival, she escorted me to what would become the most important spot in the city: the nearest metro station.
The TBM, or “Transport Bordeaux Metropole,” offered Bordeaux for 14 Euros, and with one swipe of my debit card at the kiosk, I made the deal of a lifetime. The machine spit out a small plastic card, white with vibrant circles of blue, green, and pink. The green pixels on the front of the tram spelled out numerous, ever-changing destinations: La Gardette, Cite du Vin, or Stade on the A, B, and C lines.
The tram carried us across the city. It brought us to the public gardens, where I sat, smiling among the wisteria and shamelessly posing for iPhone portraits. At the fine arts museum, I came up face to face with a plethora of lovely paintings, breathing on the deep blue brushstrokes of Henri Matisse. We spent hours at the Museum of Wine, climbing our way to the top, learning about the history, creation, and varieties of wine. We sat for an hour sipping sauvignon blanc and surveying the Garonne river flowing below us.
There was an advertising campaign for tram safety at the time of my visit in April. It stood out in bright yellow: “Attention Rhino.” Apparently, the tram weighed the same amount as a rhinoceros, and therefore, being hit by it should be avoided. It was accompanied by a TV advertisement, which featured the innocent citizens of Bordeaux fleeing a herd of rhinos on skateboards, wreaking havoc on the city. My friend swore this rhino had a name, but when she couldn’t remember, it became our task to christen it again each time we boarded.
This little train wove its way not only through the city of Bordeaux, but also through my memories of the place. I couldn’t have made it anywhere if it wasn’t for this simple mode of transport. I can still remember the way the floors themselves swiveled to carry us around corners, the way a cloud of lively French bounced off the windows around us in the daylight. A warm, shared silence settled onto the folding seats when the sun went down. The throngs of people pushed through the sliding glass doors, relegating my friend and me to opposite sides of the car. All I could do was make hand signals to communicate with her across the crowd, praying to get off at the correct stop.
My favorite day in Bordeaux was just with the TBM and me, as my usual travel companion went off to class. I boarded at our original stop by la Pharmacie, without a clear destination in mind, and rode it out to the end of the A-line. Down by the harbor, I watched the massive cruise ships come in. I visited the newly opened Musée de Mer marine and looked at the colorful photos of sea slugs to my heart’s content. I walked back along the A-line and stumbled across a sculpture garden tucked away, with massive, rusted chairs in dappled sunlight. I sat for a while as windchimes swayed in a weeping tree. I then strolled by two older men bickering in French over the repair of a vintage, bright teal-colored coop that looked to be straight from a movie.
There’s nothing like Bordeaux sans itinerary. Just let the tram choose your way. I hopped back on the TBM that day with the familiar bliss of a warm belly full of wine. I followed the A-line through the heart of the city, down the tree-lined streets, tunnels of sycamores, and straight onto all the corners I longed to see.
About the author: Anna Canny is a junior studying ESS from Marcellus, New York. She loves coastal and mountain views, scouring museums, and trying all types of new food. Her favorite city is Bariloche, Argentina because of its snow-capped peaks evoke awe and its world-famous chocolate is delicious.