Just in case you weren’t already aware Bastille Day is the French national holiday when the storming of the Bastille in Paris in 1789, which resulted in the French Revolution and the birth of the Republic, is celebrated across France and in French communities across the world. For The Ban Chéile* and I, it has become a bit of a tradition to try to get to Bordeaux on Bastille Day (July 14th). The reason for the effort on our part is because of the reaction we had to discovering, quite by accident, the terrific atmosphere generated by the events in Bordeaux on Bastille Day when we first visited the city a number of years ago. At this stage I have to admit I have an ongoing love affair with Bordeaux and so this post will without a doubt be biased – you have been warned.
This year we decided to get to the city in the early evening to check out the military parade on the Place Des Quinconces, grab some food and then stroll down to the quayside to soak up the atmosphere before the fireworks over the river Garonne at 23:00.
The last time we were here (2011) the weather was very changeable and there was a lot of rain, but this year the temperature was a balmy 32°C (only dropping to 29°C by midnight) and that contributed to the carnival atmosphere. I’ve alluded to atmosphere twice so far so I suppose I should explain for anyone who hasn’t spent time in France (outside Paris particularly) that there is a very very laid back atmosphere generally and ‘rush’ is not a word that would easily come to mind – supermarket checkouts are great training grounds for adjusting to this pace of life believe me! When you add some excitement to the mix you get a very relaxed, genteel, but still charged atmosphere. That’s what Bordeaux is like on Bastille Day – helped no doubt by the fact it’s a university city and there is a very mixed, young population.
We arrived way too early and got to watch the various branches of the military and police forces practice before the event was even close to starting. The pace was painstakingly slow to watch and I have to admit I got carried away ‘crowd watching’ instead. Eventually the proceedings got underway and we had medal award ceremonies and marching bands, but if I’m to be honest I was quite a bit bored by then.
We walked back up through the city to the Central Pub for our dinner – two BIG salads – and rounded the meal off with a Gourmet Coffee and profiteroles for dessert. The Central Pub is a bit of a tradition for us too. We’ve managed at least one meal there every time we’ve been in Bordeaux.
Finally, we strolled back down to the quayside and sat on a bench amidst a few thousand others eagerly anticipating the upcoming fireworks display. You have to experience the quiet expectation of a huge crowd where every piece of wall or grass is taken up by people, alone, in couples, and whole families, complete with picnics and playing cards, calmly passing the hour or so before the display. At 23:00 on the dot the fireworks begin literally with a bang! They’re launched from military vessels on the river and go on for just 30 minutes, but they are spectacular and the appreciation of the crowd is evident in the many ‘oohs’, ‘ahhs’ and gasps of delight, mixed with deafening rounds of applause. When the last firework is spent the crowd en masse simply pick up their belongings and head off in every direction back to where they came from.
Definitely an experience worth repeating and who knows maybe we will again, someday.
Do you have an annual event that keeps drawing you back each year because it feels special?
More pics in my France 2013 album HERE
* Ban-Cheile means Wife/Spouse/Life Partner in the Irish Language. A literal translation would be “woman I’m together with” or thereabouts. SWMBO = She Who Must Be Obeyed 🙂