See the World, Free Your Mind

Traveling to the other side of the city or the world can be a transformational experience.

To Eric, my first editor

In third grade, a girl from my school died in a car accident.

I vividly remember hopping on the yellow bus with a few dozen other kids to go to her service without knowing what to expect. We probably were just vaguely excited about skipping class.

After seeing the face of a sleeping doll with pigtails in her open casket, the mood was decidedly different. On the way back, we were quiet and silent—profoundly changed by the funerary field trip.

Traveling to the other side of the city or the world on a sad or happy occasion can be a transformational experience: the physical commuting triggers an inner journey that continues unfolding for the rest of our lives.

In “The Philosophy of Travel, ” George Santayana wrote,” “Locomotion—the privilege of animals—is perhaps the key to intelligence.” Seeing the world with an open heart and mind, as kids usually do, is critical to transcend propaganda.

Visit the locations of our history books to learn what they don’t teach you in school. Being in “the room where it happened,” whether Charleston‘s Old Slave Mart Museum or Lisbon‘s Monument of the Discoveries, shatters stereotypes.

Like going to Mexico City and realizing its world-class museums and cosmopolitan rooftop bars have nothing to do with the dodgy picture delivered by American media, or traveling to Bourdeaux and finding the friendliest locals appreciative of your efforts to communicate in broken French.

“We travel to open our hearts and eyes and learn more about the world than our newspapers will accommodate,” wrote Pico Iyer in “Why We Travel.”

After visiting the Faroe Islands, online trolls scolded me. “Congratulations on supporting animal cruelty,” they said, referring to the ancient practice of whaling. But going beyond bloody YouTube videos and into the heart of the foggy Northern European archipelago was illuminating. It taught me their hunting is non-commercial, humane and environmentally sustainable. 

Touring Seville‘s Bullring Real Maestranza Museum was uneasy until we discovered the chapel where matadors pray before facing the magnificent beast with reverence. Learning more about the solemn ritual shifted my perception. And, though I probably still wouldn’t attend a bullfight, I found myself capable of respecting a different cultural practice. 

“The world never quits growing on us. It’s just as vast as ever, and it reinvents itself every day,” Bill Bryson aptly wrote in “The Best American Travel 2000.” And, though rewarding, the experience can be an unsettling one.

The images of the falling Wall from my teenage years colored my first visit to Berlin in 2007. I was delighted with a sense of optimism and possibility, different from my post-social media/COVID trip to the German city (photo featured), shaped by the historical and geographical proximity to the Russo-Ukrainian conflict.

The French election of a lifetime, between President Emmanuel Macron and rightwing hardliner Marine Le Pen, was also momentous. Fresh off the Trump years, an American in Paris was an ominous walking-and-talking warning. So much was a stake for France, the European Union and the world. We dodged a bullet, for now.

The most important lessons? Progress is not a straight line. And, as John Steinbeck wrote in “Travels with Charlie: In Search of America,” “we do not take a trip; a trip takes us.”

At a trying time for millions of Americans’ rights, including women and LGBTQ+ families, celebrating the old USA’s birthday in Provincetown, the birthplace of American freedom, still committed to liberty after more than four centuries, was reaffirming.

I wish cultural warriors had a peak at so much love between people from all walks of life. “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts,” wrote Mark Twain in “The Innocents Abroad.”

Perhaps, I’m overly optimistic and, as Maya Angelou said, “travel cannot prevent bigotry.” But even the legendary poet and civil-rights activist believed there could be hope. “[…] by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends,” she concluded.

Previewing the Heat Wave in Historical Bourdeaux and Cap Ferret

Sweltering temperatures started to punish France’s Nouvelle-Aquitaine region earlier this summer.

Bourdeaux and its beach town Cap Ferret, were hot.

The Southwestern wine capital, which, after Paris, has the most registered monuments in France, looked stunning with the cloudless bright blue summer sky as a backdrop.

The Grand Théâtre de Bordeaux

The Grand Théâtre, which stands at Place de la Comédie, is an excellent place to start admiring Old Bourdeaux.

The Girondins Monument, Bourdeaux

A 5-minute walk toward the waterfront, The Place des Quinconces, Europe’s largest square, serves as the city’s most important public transport hub.

At the center, the Monument aux Girondins commemorates the Girondists, a political group that initially supported the French Revolution but ended up being one of the first casualties of the Reign of Terror.

Place de la Bourse, Bourdeaux

Keep walking towards the water and make a right along the promenade. In 8 minutes, you’ll find Place de la Bourse, where the people destroyed King Louis XV’s statue.

Across the street, the 2006 Water Mirror (photo featured) is the world’s largest reflecting pool, a much-needed oasis to relieve the 100+ F temperature. 

Calihau Gate

The Port Calihau or Calihau Gate will take your breath away just five minutes back into the town.

Functioning as the main entrance into medieval Bordeaux, it was built in 1495 to celebrate King Charles VII’s victory at the Battle of Fornovo. 

Port de Bourgogne

The 1750 Roman-style Port de Bourgogne is another jewel. It was created by the legendary architect Ange-Jacques Gabriel, famous for redesigning the Petit Trianon at Versailles and Place de la Concorde in Paris.

The Grosse Cloche

Venture westward towards the medieval town through the Cr Victor Hugo, and you’ll come upon the 15th-century Grosse Cloche at rue Saint-James. 

The old Hôtel de Ville bell tower used to announce the harvest season, and it’s the city’s symbol, as seen on the coat of arms.

Place de la Victoire

The culmination of several of the city’s main streets, Place de la Victoire, is one of the main squares.

It features the Porte d’Aquitaine—a 17th-century stone arch—and a 2005 bronze and marble obelisk to commemorate wine production.

Bourdeaux Cathedral

Finally, it was time to quench my thirst with a well-deserved glass of local vin, which I fittingly drank across from the Bourdeaux Cathedral, where Eleanor of Aquitaine married Louis VII in 1137. Cheers to them!

Palais Rohan

Nearby, admire the Palais Rohan (City Hall). Constructed in the 1770s as the Archbishop’s Palace of Bordeaux, it also served as the Gironde department prefecture after the French Revolution.

It was almost 8 PM, despite what a bright sun and a 95-degree temperature might’ve suggested. Time to go back to my digs, figure out dinner and pack for tomorrow’s check out. 

Maison Fernand, Bourdeaux

Shoutout to Cleo and Ahmed from Maison Fernand, who made sure I enjoyed my stay in and out of their charming B&B, accompanying me via WhatsApp with recommendations and securing a table at the coveted Restaurant LouLou.

Restaurant LouLou, Bourdeaux

As per Ahmed’s advice, I checked out the Chartrons District, located northeast of the capital’s historical center, the following day.

Temple des Chartrons, Bourdeaux

Strolling through this mix of bourgeois and bohemian, built in the 14th century and lined with lovely wine bars and antique shops, was a delight.


Highlights include the Church of Saint-Louis-des-Chartrons, the ancient protestant Temple des Chartrons and the CAPC Contemporary Art Museum of Bordeaux.

The CAPC Contemporary Art Museum of Bourdeaux

It was time for Le Ferret, 45 miles west of Bourdeaux and accessible via coach from Place des Quinconces.

The region is famous for outstanding oyster farming, the magnificent Dune of Pilat and its iconic lighthouse.

Cap Ferret Lighthouse

Most impressive to this WW2 nerd were the ammunition bunkers or “Pill Boxes” built by the Germans to protect the entrance to Arcachon Bay against Allied invasion.

WW2 “Pill Box”

Some graffiti-covered structures are still visible, albeit in different spots from where they were constructed due to erosion.

A group of locals have set up an association to research, understand and preserve these relics, which still give the peaceful beach unmistakable “Dunkirk” vibes.

%d bloggers like this: