Day Trips from Bordeaux – Bergerac

Bordeaux is a small, beautiful, French city that lies in the south-west region of France, you may have heard of the wine. Being that the city is not very big it is something to consider taking some day trips from the river city into the slow pulse of rural France. One such trip is to picturesque Bergerac.

Bergerac is quaint with gorgeous architecture everywhere (similar to Bordeaux). The town is accessible by car in an hour and 45  minute drive, or by public transportation by train. If you hire a car, then there are some fun châteaux a few miles from Bergerac that I highly recommend visiting, unfortunately, they are not possible to get to by public transport. A post on those châteaux to follow.

Bergerac

Those of you that studied French or French literature, may have heard of Bergerac in a French lit class, or at least may have heard of the famous character Cyrano de Bergerac. If the quaint architecture and cute shops don’t draw you to this little town, then maybe the statue of Cyrano will. It is situated in the cutest little European square surrounded by busy restaurants and an old church.

When you drive to Bergerac, park near the tourist office and begin your visit with a stop in the office to get a walking tour map of the town. They have them in French and English. The map displays more than 20 little stops to visit on a walking tour that lasts a little over an hour and takes you to old universities, statues, and the most scenic little nooks in the city. The architecture is historic half-timber, similar to a white Tudor house, but a lot more rustic. I read before visiting the area that in the past the space between the timber frames were filled with whatever materials could be found to save money and to use natural resources. They are postcard perfect.

 

Maison de Vin

IMG_20180904_123858.jpgWhile in the small town on the Dordogne, it’s worth a stop at the Maison de Vin. This little museum and gift shop has a some small displays and a video on the making of wine which plays in French and English, if you walk into the viewing room and it is in French, then check back for the English version. It describes the process of growing the grapes, harvesting (the vendage) and processing the grapes into wine. Once out in the beautiful courtyard, there is a wall of the history of wine from ancient days to the present, also in French and English. This is a great second best to those budget travelers who didn’t want to spend the €20 ticket price on the Cite du Vin while in Bordeaux. If you are looking for a spectacular wine learning experience, this will not be it, then you should go to the Cite du Vin, which looks great, but was beyond our budget and all of us agreed that we are not that into wine. Regardless how you feel about wine, I suggest stopping in to Maison de Vin. The entrance is on the waterfront near the river, there is an old entrance ona back street, walk around the building to find the glass fronted entrance way.

 

Chocolat Almondine

There is an old church in Bergerac that the walking map will guide you to. It is La Eglise Notre Dame de Bergerac. You can tour inside the church when the doors are open. Whenever there are open doors to a historic church or cathedral in a European city or town I go through those doors. There is always beauty within, with unfathomably high naves, intricate stone carvings depicting biblical scenes, and glorious stained glass. Of course, a self guided tour of a church is another tip for budget travelers, remember to respect any signage asking you to stay out of areas and remain silent.

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La Eglise Notre Dame de Bergerac is lovely, but there lies another gem near the church that is worthy of your visit, a pattiserie called La Mie Caline. I have to be upfront and tell you that this is a franchise. I prefer to support small, local businesses, but every time my husband and I go to Bergerac we visit this bakery and every time we have their chocolat almondine we grin from ear to ear, as much as is possible with a mouth full of flakey pastry and gooey chocolate-almond filling. Honestly, this was our first stop of our most recent tour of Bergerac with my visiting twin sister and her fiance, that has to say something for the franchise.

 

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Picnic on the Dordogne

End your day trip in Bergerac with a picnic along the Dordogne river, from which the region gets its name. Buying picnic supplies in France is simple, swing in any grocery store to get some cheese (€3-5) and fruit (€1-3) and while you’re at La Mie Caline, grab some baguettes, other options are saucisson (sausage) or pate. Of course wine is a welcome option and in this region you can’t really go wrong.

Take your picnic to the riverfront where picnic tables await. There is ample free parking, but the stairs down to the tables are very steep and fairly dilapidated, so use caution when descending and ascending. The view of the Dordogne is beyond charming.

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Long Layover, Lisbon

My husband and I recently took a cheap flight from Toronto to Bordeaux that had a long layover in Lisbon, Portugal. This was exciting for me because I had yet to visit Portugal or it’s capital. Here is how we spent our 20 hours in the port city for some takeaways for your next visit there.

24hr Metro Tickets

This may sound unromantic, but let me explain. Upon landing at Lisbon Portela Airport, my husband and I waddled around like chickens with their, well you know the rest of the expression, because we could not find wifi to get detailed directions to our Airbnb and we do not speak Portuguese. In situations like these, I always head to the information desk at an airport and I have never been disappointed, friendly, English speaking attendants have always pulled out maps and circled routes and bus stops for me when I’m unsure of exactly where I’m. The nice man in Lisbon carried on the tradition.

My husband and I carried our 40 liter backpacks to the metro and got in line. While deciding which tickets to buy we opted for the 24 hour metro tickets that worked on multiple forms of transportation and would at least get us back to the airport for our 8:30 flight on to Bordeaux the next morning if nothing else.

The metro in Lisbon is relatively easy to figure out, it’s relatively small, clean, and runs from 6:30 am (just in time to get us there in the morning, phew!) until 1am. Now the reason why a metro ticket has made it on to the list is because it includes rides on the famous Tram #28. I knew nothing about this tram until I started seeing pictures of it on magnets and T-shirts at tourist stalls. It is canary yellow and looks as if it is straight out of the 1920’s, and it very well may be.

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Although Lisbon was a small city and our Airbnb was conveniently located a 30 minute walk from the sights that we wanted to see, we still hoped the tram a couple of times while there, it’s a must. Having the 24 hr ticket saved us money in the end because each tram ride paid in cash is €2.90 ($3.36) and we rode the tram on two separate occasions during our quick stay.

 

Word of warning – it’s a bumpy ride so not for those prone to motion sickness. Also, not comfortable to germaphobes or those with claustrophobia as the drivers do not seem to have a concept of “full trolley” and allow people on continuously even if the tram is bursting from the windows!

 

Get to Graça

We had a kind Airbnb host who recommended that we go to the next neighborhood, Graça for sightseeing due to a famous church, beautiful architecture, good restaurants, and a viewpoint of the city. We heeded her advice and were not disappointed.

The church is called Igreja da Graça and it is free to enter. Like most cathedrals in Europe it impressed this American traveler with its ornate carvings of biblical stories and height of the naval. Not a lot of time is needed to tour inside the church, which is perfect for a quick layover.The overlook is directly in front of the church, two birds one stone, even better for a short stay and battle with jet lag!

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There is a room connected to the church that consists of the famous Portuguese tiles that depict more biblical stories and Portuguese history. Unfortunately all of the descriptions of the work of art are in Portuguese. Magnificent tile art can be spotted all over the city.

 

Wander

Lisbon is touristy, granted we were there on a Saturday afternoon, but the city was buzzing with life and it seemed that the majority were travelers. As previously mentioned the city is small, so wandering around getting lost is not all that intimidating. The city is fairly hilly, so head down towards the water or back up into the higher neighborhoods until you stumble upon a good restaurant or cafe. Being that it is steep, wandering down is far more enjoyable than wandering up, so hopping on Tram 28 is a good idea when wandering up!

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Lisbon felt safe, historic, and slightly tropical. As my husband noted it has a Central American feel to it, more so than other European cities. Neither of us could say exactly why, it could just be the weather and tropical fauna, but it felt relaxed. Make your way down to the port, have a seat and dip your feet in on a hot day.

There are food stalls, restaurants, and a large market near the port that reminded me of a mall’s food court, it wasn’t the most atmospheric of European markets, so we skipped, but it likely would be a good place to get food to go (skipping the plastic bags of course) and heading down to the water to enjoy.


 

No doubt there was a lot that we missed in our short stay in Lisbon, but we enjoyed ourselves. We did check out the exterior of the famous Castelo de Sao Jorge, but to save money and time we did not pay the €8 entry fee. We had one meal in the Airbnb that we picked up from a supermarket, the prices were cheap for cheese, baguette, and sausage. We also made ourselves get up from our afternoon nap and head back into the center for a meal out at a restaurant because we though it a shame to leave the city without having seafood, but it turns out that restaurants, or at least this specific one, charge per item, meaning each pat of butter we used showed up on the bill and what we thought would be a €20 meal total for two turned out to be a €35 meal, it didn’t break us but did surprise us! Not sure if that is common for Portugal, Lisbon, or just restaurants in tourist infested neighborhoods.

Lisbon was the perfect place to have our layover on our way to visit my in-laws and a beautiful re-introduction to the romance of Europe.

A Trip to Pittsburgh – What to Do

A few weeks ago I had the incredible opportunity to see my all time favorite band in Pittsburgh – Radiohead. I won’t go on much about this, understanding that not everyone melts at Thom Yorke’s drones, but I must express that it was an amazing experience that my twin sister gifted me ten years after our first experience seeing the band. Not only did we get to see an amazing show (2 hours and 8 minutes of crooning Thom) but we also got to explore a pretty fun city. If you find yourself in the Pitts in the summer, then here are some things that you should check out.

 

The Frick’s Summer Friday’s

Pittsburgh is an old steel town and remnants of that history scatter throughout the city of three rivers. One historic reminder of the city’s past is a complex known as the Frick. The Fricks were a prominent family during the Gilded Ages of the late 1800’s that lived in a magnificently elegant mansion that is now open for tours as are an art museum and a car museum. If you are a history nerd yourself and would like to do some research into this time of American history before you visit the Frick, then check out this interesting PBS documentary on the time period which goes into the history of Pittsburgh specifically; at one hour in you can learn about a deadly gun fight between union steelworkers on strike and those hired do the job that they were refusing which was orchestrated by Mr. Frick because the bosses (Frick & Carnegie) were denying an increase in wages and in fact were dropping their wages as well as trying and succeeding to erase the unions. They didn’t tell us about that on the tour.

As a self-proclaimed history nerd I very much enjoyed walking around the old Frick mansion and listening to the experts’ knowledge of the home room by room. And although I assumed that the car museum would offer little to interest me, I was wrong. There was an exhibit on how the automobile paved the way for the suffragette movement the US and the old coaches and cars were beautiful in their own right.

 

Friday night is the night to go to the Frick in the summer months. The grounds are open, take a blanket or lawn chair and enjoy a live band. Ground floor tours of the Frick mansion run until 8pm, but no pictures inside. Don’t eat before you go because food trucks line the way up to the entrance of the grounds, do be sure to take your utensils with you though, food trucks create an awful lot of plastic waste. Fridays at the Frick run through August 31st.

 

Walk the Strip

The Strip is the downtown area of Pittsburgh buzzing with expensive tourist stalls to buy Steelers’ gear until your money runs out and bars and restaurants that lure you in with their industrial themed interior design. Parking was easy for us on a Saturday evening and no payment necessary during the weekend on the street where we parked, from the car we walked, and walked, and walked, about 20 blocks until we reached our destination of an amazing taco joint (yes, it was industrial inside.)

Our hungry bellies did not allow us many stops on the walk down to browse shops, but my nose did perk up funnily enough right in front of a Korean market where an ajuma was grilling kimchi-jeon, or something close to it – Korean savory pancakes with kimchi inside. My husband and I ordered one, each took a bite, and promptly ordered another, the greasy, spicy pancake transported me back to street food in Korea – I was in heaven. If you like Korean food and markets, then keep your eye out for the McDonald’s on the Strip, the kimichi pancakes can be found not far from there at Sambok Korean Groceries at 1735 Penn Ave.

Most types of food and drink can be found on the Strip. We passed seafood, Irish pubs, a Polish diner, etc. At the bottom of the Strip district there are many theaters, check out their websites ahead of time to find concerts, ballets, operas, etc. to entertain you during your stay. In my search for things to do in the city I was surprised to see how much comedy was happening. Lots of improv and sets, find out when and where by searching Facebook for events in Pittsburgh for the time that you’re there.

 

Bicycle Heaven & Randyland

These two sites to see are very near to each other and are by donation. Bicycle Heaven was two stories and hundreds (thousands?) of bikes. Bikes everywhere. Old bikes and parade bikes, facts about bikes, bikes in trees, Pee Wee Herman’s bike, the list goes on. It may seem like going to a museum of bikes would be for the avid cyclist only, but I recommend visiting Bicycle Heaven for everyone, from kids to adults. There is no cost, but donations welcome.

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Randyland is a colorful background for countless Instagram pictures so be sure to drag your #instagramhusband along! Bicycle Heaven are conveniently near each other, although were not aware of that and visited them on separate days. I suggest visiting both at the same time. What is Randyland? Well, it’s a building that has been painted in vibrant colors and is adorned with positive messages for visitors. Some of the art reminded me of Buddhist temples in Korea and as a whole Randyland could be described as a little brother to Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens.

 

These are just a few things to see and do in Pittsburgh, and bonus, they’re all free! Perfect for a budget traveler. I’m sure that there is also great yoga in Pittsburgh, next time I’ll check out some studios and do reviews. Until then, history and art are pretty good ways to spend time when not doing yoga.