Lessons From Traveling Alone to Bordeaux

by Sarah Nicoli
It takes courage to travel on your own. Stepping into a foreign city where the language, culture and people are unfamiliar can be intimidating but it has been said our greatest moments and most revolutionary experiences happen just outside the horizon of our familiarity. Playing it safe, one misses out on the process of exploration and the joy that discovery brings. Read on for wine and solo travel lessons from Bordeaux.
Traveling alone in Bordeaux, France, I realised how akin this concept is to drinking wine. Availing yourself to new wines can open up a whole world of joy for you. Have you ever considered experimenting with a fresh new Verdicchio when you prefer Chardonnay or perhaps a luscious cherry and spice Cabernet Sauvignon when you typically cuddle up with your dependable friend, Beaujolais? Does the thought of your backpack as your only travel companion scare you or does it excite you? What does ordering a new wine have in common with traveling alone? According to my solo adventure to Bordeaux, a lot! Let me explain.

Try Something New

Before I even find my hotel, it is clear that I am in a new land full of opportunities waiting to be discovered. My sneakers, lime green backpack and the skip in my step scream “tourist!” while everything around me is new. I feel like an outsider those first hours I disembark upon the city center, eager to unify with my new surroundings. Every street I see has a chair, beckoning me to have a seat and experience the long history and esteemed reputation of French wines. This sense of adventure follows me into my first café where the language, terminology, and classification of wines catapult me straight out of my ring of knowledge. So many new choices are before me and I realise that like discovering new places and people, discovering a new wine can also be part of the wonderful journey! When you open yourself to new experiences you may be moved by new connections, enriched with new understandings, wrapped in new senses and discover an adoration for something that was moments ago utterly unknown. The next time you’re holding a menu of unfamiliar wines, know that you may discover a new pleasure. Don’t be afraid to meet someone new or taste a wine you’ve never tried. Say hello, point to a wine you can’t pronounce. You just might fall in love.

Talk To Strangers And Make New Friends

When I first arrived in Bordeaux and wandered the rainy streets with my curiosity and camera ready for new discoveries, I was immediately aware of the connection between people, the appreciation for pleasure, and the fullness of life that they all so effortlessly exuded. Laughing over glasses of wine, while smoke curled between them,  I sensed a circle of comfort and inclusivity as I watched from the curb across the street. The introvert in me wanted to hide but the inquisitive explorer wanted to join them. The twinkle of something wonderful lured me and I crossed the street. Where I come from names like Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Grigio and Chardonnay are like old friends. I know them and they know me. But I soon found myself in a world where I knew no one. If it wasn’t for an appetite for adventure and meeting new friends and wine, I would have had to stick to coffee! I would have missed out on making new friends had I not stumbled over a friendly “Bonjour!” in bistros and boulangeries across this city. As a result, my life has been enriched with new acquaintances. Be brave! Step off the curb, cross the street, and say Bonjour! You never know who you’ll meet or the friendships waiting to be discovered there.

Ask For Help

It wasn’t until I walked around for two days, standing in the rain reading menu after menu that was lit up under fancy glass or taped to a front window that I realised how much I was holding back from a basic need such as eating in order to avoid embarrassment or error. As my hunger grew, so did my courage to walk in, order and eat. Sounds simple, right? Not when you’re trying something unfamiliar. It’s not likely that I would get kicked out of France for not knowing what confit de’chalot is. Nor would I for trying a new wine I couldn’t pronounce and knew nothing about. What I discovered was that people are eager (well, mostly. I am in France!) to help you. My wine tour to the Chateau Tour Baladoz in St Emilion was the perfect open arms example I’m talking about. Accessible and happy to answer questions about everything from production and history to characteristics and best pairings of the wine, I felt welcomed. I gladly nibbled on dark chocolate and biscuits between my tastings as I peppered them with questions. Proud to answer and eager to share, they filled me with knowledge and an addition to my repertoire of reds! Don’t worry what others may think. Everyone wants to feel useful, especially when they are passionate about their craft and eager to invite you into their world.

Discover More About Yourself

Stepping outside your comfort zone helps you discover what you like and don’t like. Drinking wine and traveling alone creates an opportunity for great variety and trying different things.  Taste this, feel that, breathe in the scents, get cozy. Slow down. Embrace opportunities to go places you have never been.  Had I missed this solo adventure in Bordeaux, I would have missed discovering that I love a little nudity in opera, black olives and sparkling wine, and that I don’t like almond flavouring or sitting in the very back seat of a wine tour van. If we’re learning, we’re living! It’s ok to feel unsure and vulnerable. There were times when I was walking alone in the streets of this beautiful city where I felt directionally challenged and unsure. But instead of fighting the urge to turn back, I embraced the unfamiliar. That choice has introduced to me a new city that I now love and so many incredible new wines that will draw me back to a remarkable place and time whenever I open a new bottle to share with friends.

Through Adversity We Shall Grow

Lastly, I learned something during the wine tour that leapt out and clutched me by the heart. As the tour guide spoke, I imagined every grapevine I saw as a budding, triumphant victory bursting through the soil, opening its face to the sun, anchoring itself deep into the earth for its crucial source of food, water and life.  I learned that the grapevines in Bordeaux are not allowed to be artificially irrigated. Not only is it illegal to do so but it is also imperative to the quality of their grape production and the longevity of the vine itself. It was said that they “want the vines to suffer” so that they’ll grow deep roots. Their suffering and lack of water demand that they grow deeper to reach the essential nutrients and water needed to grow strong vines that will positively affect how the grapes grow, hence the wine the vineyards produce. It’s through the agonising tribulations of lack and searching in the dark that grant them the resilience to carry on and find what they need to thrive. Like the life of a grapevine, our unique path encourages us to venture forth into the unknown, grow stronger not in spite of but due to our adversities, as we discover what best serves us and provides us with the ingredients needed for a full and fruitful life. Traveling alone to Bordeaux taught me so much about wine and life. The world is vast and diverse yet filled with small and intimate communities. We can remain married to the familiar or choose vulnerability and discovery. Choosing your next wine is a perfect opportunity to try something new, step outside your comfort zone, and ask for help with a selection. There’s a world to discover beyond the routine. It is the curious who enter the unknown and dig deep for nourishment despite the challenges for they will drink in the extraordinary zest of life.

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