Bristol v. Bordeaux
First, a note to whoever’s in charge of Bordeaux: We can fly direct to Bordeaux by EasyJet from Bedminster International in season. Flying home again, we get to Bordeaux Mérignac airport, which looks wonderful until you realise that they put EasyJet passengers in a windowless tin shed where three tasteless sandwiches, two coffees and a cake cost about thirty of my hard-earned English quids. Is this revenge for Waterloo, or all those jokes about your personal hygiene or something? EasyJet is our only route from Bristol to Bordeaux, and you’re pissing off people from your English twin city. Why would you want to do that when the rest of the perfectly nice airport is completely empty? Sort it.
You can see why it made perfect sense for Bristol to be twinned with Bordeaux. They’re both in the South West of their respective countries, and both used to have important trading ports up a river. There were historic trading partners in the middle ages, back in the days of Eleanor/Aliénor of/d’ Aquitaine (aka Mrs Henry II, or Henri Plantagenet as the Bordelais insist on calling him). Both cities then became important industrial centres and both cities had a lot of run-down old industrial areas by the late 20th centuries. Bristol and Bordeaux have both seen their old waterfronts revived and reinvented in more recent years. Like Bristolians, the Bordelais have a reputation for being unfriendly and standoffish, but this isn’t fair. Bristolians and Bodeauxers alike are very welcoming, especially if you talk to them in their own language.
There the similarities end. While Bristol’s transformation over the last couple of decades – some of it good, some of it bad – was done by a mish-mash of private developers and public/private partnerships, Bordeaux was turned around with rather more public sector money, and interventionist politics. Much of this was down to the work of a powerful elected Mayor, Alain Juppé, who’s also been Prime Minister of France, and who also got done for corruption (using state funds to run his party machine). The voters of Bordeaux apparently didn’t mind this, and have re-elected him twice since his conviction.
The biggest apparent difference between Bordeaux and Bristol is that is has a superb integrated public transport system. Well, it looks superb to us tourists; a reliable bus network, bicycles for hire that people actually use, miles of pedestrianised streets and, best of all, a fantastically wonderful, clean, state of the art tram system. Hell, I’d vote for Al Capone for mayor of Bristol if it meant we got trams as good as they have in the city that’s been Bristol’s French twin since 1949.
Bordeaux is also clean, safe, has shedloads of fabulous 18th and 19th century architecture, and has a rather conservative, conformist feel to it. It’s beautiful, sans doute, but I’d rather live in Bristol. Bristol with trams, mind.
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