Trip of a lifetime ends on sour note

Bordeaux has great wine, a well-supported soccer club and even the Globetrotters are here but, sorry, it's not the place for me

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 30 September, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 30 September, 2012, 5:11am

The road to Pauillac is paved with the history of wine and, with harvest but a week away, the bountiful grapes hang heavy from the vines. The scenery is breathtaking, the legacy incomparable driving north from Bordeaux on a brilliantly crisp autumn day. This trip has been over 50 years in the making and nothing is going to ruin it, not even the impudent moron driving a tractor six cars ahead at about 10 kilometres an hour. OK, I tell myself, calm down and enjoy the view. There's a line of about 15 cars so we're all in this together.

Suddenly, out of nowhere, a woman driving a little tin can called a Renault Twingo pulls out from behind into the other lane and almost hits two cars head on before swerving back right in front me. I am beyond livid at this absolute fool and lay heavy on the horn as we exchange pleasantries with our middle fingers.

My face is red and my head ready to explode but I can't help it. I will go to my grave raging madly against bad drivers and probably get there a lot quicker because of that. An hour and a half later my pulse is finally slowing slightly. I had come to see some of the heavyweight wineries, the Premiers Crus. But when I pitched up to Chateau Latour and the Rothschilds, both Lafite and Mouton, they were locked tight because it turns out you need an appointment and often only by invitation. Almost all the Chateaux were the same. Well, at least I did get some great deals in Pauillac on rare vintages and the scenery was crisp, but still.

I was more than a bit deflated and not hiding it particularly well when I returned to my hotel. As I entered, a young man at the front desk named David, who originally hails from Ivory Coast, greets me with a big smile. "Ah monsieur, the wineries were good, no?" he asked. I just nodded and grinned. "Too bad you are leaving for Paris," he said. "You're going to miss the football game tomorrow night."

I had asked him a few days earlier about Girondins de Bordeaux, one of the more storied clubs in French football. "Bordeaux are playing tomorrow night?" I ask. "Do I need an appointment or invitation to get in?" He looks puzzled before replying, "No, just a ticket."

I was going to salvage this trip to Bordeaux after all. My Sunday was set. I would watch Manchester United play Liverpool in the afternoon on TV and then Bordeaux play live in the evening. The only thing missing was a pair of tight white pants to put me in total Euro mode.

David was off duty on Sunday but he said to look for him at the match and somehow I had no doubt I would bump into him even though there would be over 35,000 fans in the stadium.

Stade Chaban Delmas is a rotting rock pile that is literally carved into the middle of the dense city. It began life in 1930 as a cycling track and was reconfigured to host World Cup matches in 1938 as well as a slight renovation in 1998 when France hosted the event for a second time. It reeks not only of character but of stale booze and I absolutely love it.

In this era of soulless and mammoth corporate facilities, stadiums like the one in Bordeaux are dying treasures. People even smoke in their seats.

A new, modern edifice will soon replace it in time for Euro 2016 so it's imperative I enjoy it now and in my enthusiasm I arrive a few hours early. It's exactly what I expected, a beautiful dump and this being France no one has shown up yet. I mean nobody. Finally, 30 minutes before game time, I pop my head into a nearby liquor store and ask the guy why the gates are still locked. He smiles and tells me they played the match at two in the afternoon - " Deux heures!"

The next morning I am checking out of my hotel when David spots me. He is beaming, talking about what an incredible match it was. "Four goals in the second half," he says. "You picked a great match to watch. Hey, there is a basketball match tonight. You know the Harlem Brothers, they are playing and staying here at our hotel."

"You mean the Harlem Globetrotters?" I ask. "Ah, oui," he says, "that one. You should stay." I pause and turn slowly. "David, I have no doubt it will be a great show. But even the Harlem Brothers, legendary as they are, can't keep me in Bordeaux any longer." I wave and he waves back.