Travel Articles




Walking and Cycling Bordeaux

It's not really fair to a city like Bordeaux--to approach it with such dogged ignorance. But this is the way I travel: without preconceptions, without study. I just go. I must be off, so they say. The short answer to why I don't do (much) research before I travel is that I have no time for lengthy preparation; the long answer is that once I know a lot about something, I lose interest. God forbid I see pictures of the place.

So that's why when I get back from a weekend trip to Bordeaux I find out that the square where we sat enjoying the sun--eating nothing at a McDonald's table--is supposedly the largest square in Europe. Then a student tells me the mayor of Bordeaux will probably be the next President of France. Did you go to this or that unpronouncable place? Say, Chrandeauxlisémontéschwée pronounced Chuh? OK, I made that last one up, but you get the idea. There was some local must-try speciality, but it turns out it was liver and fried (so I wouldn't have eaten it anyway).

The advantage of visiting a city without the strictures of a guidebook is that you're less likely to see the city as a connect-the-dots tour of typical sights you've already seen and read about. I can't tell you what joy and trepidation turning a corner brings to me, not knowing what will be there. I'm lucky to be alive.

Hank the Cellphone Repairman's Assistant had the great idea of downloading a walking tour on his Android. We're modern guys. And we're walkers. Sometimes I walk 10 kilometers a day, so I'm all over the walking tour idea. Hank the Cellphone Repairman's Assistant is famous for his sense of orientation, so I'm also confident that he will be a great walking tour guide. After all, he has the tour on his Android. What could go wrong?

We set off walking toward the tour starting point, which I consider to be an excellent first move. Hank the Cellphone Repairman's Assistant, however, sees a Ferris wheel in the distance in the opposite direction. He needs to check this out before we start the walking tour.

"It's a Ferris wheel," I say in my bored voice. "And there's no one on it." Because no one rides Ferris wheels anymore.

"It's a Ferris wheel!" He goes skipping off like a puppy.

Oh god. It turns out that the Ferris wheel is only the tip of a carnival iceberg complete with real rides and a haunted house--and of course games! Shooting games, that game where you're never in a million years going to knock over all six tin cans, the one where parents watch their children catching ducks with a fishing pole (a most illogical game), and my favorite: the horse race where you advance your horse by rolling balls into the colored holes to win a giant stuffed pony. I'm pretty good at games and would love a stuffed pony, but Hank the Cellphone Repairman's Assistant, Ferris wheel lover, won't play.


























The end of the GPS walking tour is actually near the carnival, so we decide to do the walking tour backwards--which is coincidentally the story of my life. And so the walking tour begins (where it ends). To Hank the Cellphone Repairman's Assistant's credit, he's a brilliant tour guide for the first two stops. I place myself before the famous what-not and stare as Hank reads the text. It's some 16th-century building. Apparently, somebody used it for something pronounced wrong by Hank sometime around a million years ago. And onward. The next stop is very similar to the first stop. Somebody (pronounced wrong by Hank) did something a long long time ago, and then time moved forward, unlike us who are moving backwards. Hank has trouble finding the third stop, we make a wrong turn, wander from rue to câlé to carrent, end up at a Starbucks. The coffee is good. But the walking tour is over.

"You're a sucky tour guide," I say.

"I found a Starbucks."

"I actually found the Starbucks."

"Touché," Hank the Cellphone Repairman's Assistant does not say.

(French. Do you really need to speak French these days in France? Of course you need to try. You need to practice common phrases, be able to order your vin and your viande. These days, however, lots of younger people in France have no trouble communicating in English and are really very happy to do so. It's ridiculous to think that you need to learn every language of every place you visit. It's just not possible. Learning some basics can be fun, though. I've found a nice app for that called Duolingo.)

Since the walking tour was a bust, I decide we're going to do a biking tour of Bordeaux and beyond the next day. I won't bore you with the details, but if you read the above walking tour train wreck and simply replace "walking" with "biking", you'll get the picture.

"You're a sucky biking tour guide," I say.

"I found the--"

"Don't even try."

Seriously, a biking tour in principle (without Hank as the guide) is a great way to see Bordeaux. We cover a lot of ground--motorways, the busy promenade on the Garonne river, derelict trails, dangerous neighborhoods, the dump--so I guess I should be grateful for having had the opportunity of seeing "the other side of" Bordeaux. Again: lucky to be alive. More about biking in Bordeaux next time.

While you're waiting to hear about our cycling snafus, why not check out a couple of stories of mine that have been recently published? Checking out my stories has been proven to increase one's adorableness by a whopping 84%.

The Air Between Us

My Little Cuckoos

Target Practice

I must be off,


Christopher Allen is the author of Conversations with S. Teri O'Type (a Satire), an episodic adult cartoon about a man struggling with expectations. Allen's writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Juked, Eclectica Magazine's 20th-Anniversary Speculative anthology, Indiana Review, FRiGG, The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, and over a hundred other great places. Read his book reviews in [PANK], Necessary Fiction, Word Riot, The Lit Pub, and others. His creative non-fiction has appeared in Chicken Soup for the Soul, Bootsnall Travel, and lots of other fine places. A finalist at Glimmer Train in 2011, Allen has been nominated for Best of the Net, the storySouth Million Writers Award, and the Pushcart Prize. He is the 2015 recipient of Ginosko Literary Journal's award for flash fiction and in 2016 took third place in the K. Margaret Grossman fiction award given by Literal Latté. Allen is the managing editor of SmokeLong Quarterly.

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