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Bordeaux, France

Multi-arched bridge spanning a wide river lit up at night

Bordeaux. A colour. A wine. A French city. A city that wasn’t on my radar as I’m not a massive fan of red wine. We had a choice of flying to Bordeaux or Toulouse to meet up with friends to barge on the Canal de Garonne and as there was a direct flight from Budapest to Bordeaux, that’s what we opted for.

We had a tight window to catch the last train to Marmande. We were scheduled to land at 8 pm and the last train was at 9.35. Our flight was an hour late. Before we began our sprint, himself was all for finding a hotel and heading down on the first train in the morning. But we were going to meet  MN who is famous for cutting it fine. Finer than fine. I felt we at least had to try.

We ran through the airport in the wake of others also hoofing it to make a train. The bus wasn’t an option. Our taxi driver didn’t seem too hopeful. We had 15 minutes to do a 20-minute trip. He said he’d try. The meter rose as fast as the car was going and pretty soon, I began to think that a hotel might have been the cheaper option. €70. Ye gads!

We raced into the station. I saw Agen on the screen and ran to Platform 11. But that was the arriving training. More haste, less speed. Indeed. We’d passed the departing train at Platform 2. Back we went. Prayers had been heard. Technical difficulties had delayed departure by 11 minutes. We’d needed 10.

It took me 45 minutes to get my breath back. I’d been running with my mouth open and my throat was raw. I couldn’t stop coughing. And in these post-Covid days, coughing doesn’t win popularity contests. I was getting dagger looks.

Thankfully, the train journey on the way back to Bordeaux was more leisurely.

Usually, we stay in the old part of a city, if there is an old town. We like to be within walking distance of all there is to see. But as most of our disposable income these days is going to tradesmen, I was using the last of my Marriott points. I booked the newly opened Moxy on Quai du Maroc in the Bacalan near the Bassins à flot.

In the 19th century, this area was the port of all the sailors of the world. Far from Bordeaux, it welcomed the biggest ships, packed with hefty loads of fruits and cereals. As a significant industrial hub, home to both “bassins à flot” (wet docks) and “radoubs” (dry docks), this historic site has kept its old cockiness that makes up its unique identity […] Carrying the memories of past trade union struggles, and scarred by the German occupation, it was later abandoned to the waters of the Garonne. The revival is currently underway!

Sun setting over water at a dock with tall buildings and a large crane in the distance
Bassins à flot

Statue of a glenched fist on the left and a large industrial crane on the right set against a blue sky on wasteland

Three buildings showing the progress of development on a city street 1. two story with ornate facade. 2. 3 storey with shops/office on ground floor 3 .6-storey grey building. A red hose falls from the roof of the two-storey older building to the path beside a small red compact car.

It’s close to the Musée Mer Marine (closed Mondays) and La Cité du Vin  – the famous wine museum (book your ticket in advance), and the Halles de Bacalan, the much-touted food market (closed Mondays). The Musée had what looked like a great exhibition – Planet or Plastic – and I made a note to come back and check the programme in advance.

Stainless steel sculpture of shark. Its tail is caught in a steel rope haning from a red metal frame. Sculpture is on front of a multi-storey glass building
Musée Mer Marine

La Cité du Vin is supposed to resemble a decanter but try as I might, I couldn’t see it.

Steel building designed to look like a wine decanter set against a blue sky with leafy gree trees in the mid ground and water in the foreground
La Cité du Vin

Short on time, we took a boat rather than a tram to get to where we were going. It was a great way to see the vastness of the old hangers that had been converted into restaurants and offices and such. And the bridges.

Tall lift bridge with four columns spanning the Garonne River in Bordeaux
Jacques Chaban-Delmas bridge

The wake of a passenger ferry in the Garonne River with converted hangars over an stone arches on the left

I was glad we had an evening in the city as it’s the best time of day to get the full effect of the reflecting pool.

The Miroir d’eau in Bordeaux is the world’s largest reflecting pool, covering 3,450 square metres. Located on the quay of the Garonne in front of the Place de la Bourse, it was built in 2006. In the context of the quays embellishment operation, it was designed by landscape artist Michel Corajoud.

It was quite spectacular. As is Place de la Bourse. And there too is a wonderful city garden, part of a city-wide initiative to make it more livable. What a creative use of city space.

Magnificent 18th century french artchitecture reflected in a reflecting pool at dusk

Night show of four-story French architectuarl 18th century building with a large fountain lit up in the centre and some people enjoying an evening stroll

Couple walking in front of a large city garden by the bank of a river with an multi-arched bridge in the background to the left and a church spire to the right

We had one meal – dinner. We were in France. So it had to be mussels. We hit on Les Moules du Cabanon – and had a choice of nine different sauces:

marinières, Roquefort, with cream, market gardening (leek fondue), with curry, with Ardennes (mushrooms, shallots, bacon bits and cream), with Provençal (black olives , zucchini, peppers, onions, tomatoes), Basque style (Espelette pepper, onion, chorizo, peppers, tomatoes) or au gratin.

The food was excellent. There was a healthy mix of locals and tourists. But the staff didn’t seem to be enjoying themselves at all. Or maybe it was my French.

Thirty years ago, I’d have soldiered through my exhaustion and got up at the crack of dawn as there was a city to be seen. But Bordeaux isn’t going anywhere. And anyway, everything on my half-baked list was either closed on Monday or didn’t open till the afternoon when we’d be heading to the airport.

We rarely, if ever, go for a hotel breakfast, preferring to scope out what’s in the locality. This time didn’t disappoint. Himself does the recon. He needs coffee sooner than I do. After walking the neighbourhood and marvelling at how nicely it has all been developed, we stopped for eggs at the curiously named Shake Eat Oeuf which does the most amazing crispy poached egg. For a minute I thought I was back in Zagreb at Otto & Frank.

a wooder serving platter with a plate containing two crispy poached eggs with pasta and a salad

We backtracked into the city to get the airport bus. We had time, so we stopped at the Cathedral – but it didn’t open till 2 pm.

We sat for a while on Place de la Victoire by the Porte d’Aquitaine watching the fashion parade that was med students from the University of Bordeaux.

One corner of an old square with a three-storey building marked with the words Universite Bordeaux to the right. Rend and green umbrellas market the outdoor cafés
Place de la Victoire
Bronze statue of a giant tortoise with a baby one to the right on a square in front of an old city gate - the walls of the city are long gone. Porte d'Aquitaine (Aquitaine Gate) with its symbolic arch on Place de la Victoire Square in Bordeaux, France. It is one of the landmarks of the old Bordeaux, and a former entrance to the city. Picture of Aquitaine Gate (Porte d'Aquitaine) on Place de la Victoire Square in the French city of Bordeaux under a blue sky. The gate and its typical column, built in the 18th century, are a symbol of the medieval part of Bordeaux, and one of the former entries to the city.
Porte d’Aquitaine

Leaving himself on bag watch, happily enjoying the sun with a cold beer, I went inside in search of the library that was supposed to be like the one in  Hogwarts but it, too, was closed. Still, the courtyard was worth a look.

Collage of six photos of the University of Bordeaux medical faculty. 1. Inner courtyard with a statue of two WWII soldiers carrying a wounder compatriot - in the background are three sides of the two-storye building with columns walkways underneath. Large blue ceramic potted plants sit in the middle. 2. A lecture theater. 3. a view of the courtyard from upstairs. 4. A standing chandelier with eight lit globes at the base of a winding stairway with ornate wooden bannister. 5. The domed roof of the interior with marble floor. Doors are open out onto the courtyard. 6. A painting of three nurses (two in navy and white uniforms with headdresses) tending a patient.

I went for a wander and came across the Great Synagogue. I thought it was closed but learned later that you don’t enter through the main entrance but from Rue St Catherine – and it needs to be booked. Used to imprison Jewish families during WWII, it was completely renovated after the war. There’s a Jewish cemetery there, too… somewhere. I also found a boulangerie to pick up some sandwiches for the airport. And was I ever glad I did.

If you’re flying with RyanAir or other budget airlines from Bordeaux, you could well be in a separate terminal. It’s small. Very small. With very little on offer by way of food or drink and the duty-free is tiny.

For next time
  • If nothing else, visit Darwin to see the graffiti – 87 Quai des Queyries. Tram A to Stalingrad and then walk for about 10 minutes along the quayside
  • The Bassins de Lumières (Ponds of Light) – the world’s largest digital art museum. It’s located in the Base Sous-Marine, a WWII U-boat base
  • Marché des Capucins (another market)
  • The Cathedral
  • Musée Mer Marine
  • Château Les Carmes Haut-Brion
  • Moon Harbour Distillery (another former U-boat bunker)
  • Galerie Bordelaise on Rue St Catherine
  • Place des Quinconces – in daylight – to see the statues
  • Port Cailhau
  • Visit the synagogue

 

The list of what I’ve to do next time is only a fraction of what’s to be seen. But next time, I’m going mid-week. Just in case.

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3 Responses

  1. France was my first big tourism and culture international stop travelling alone (a long time ago). I explored Paris and went to Versailles, and saw all of the sights I’d studied in my French classes (and was surprised to learn that my French was still serviceable). Your details and descriptions have put France back on my travel list, to see the country, instead of just the city. Thanks for your insights. My favourite photo is of the tortoises though! Note: I always read and appreciate the alt-text* descriptions on your photos.

    *Alt-text is a text description of a visual element that is read aloud by a screen reader, usually used by those with visual impairments. At the moment, I read them by right-clicking my mouse on the photo, and selecting ‘inspect’. If you can ignore the HTML code, you can read Mary’s lovely descriptions of the photos.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

3 Responses

  1. France was my first big tourism and culture international stop travelling alone (a long time ago). I explored Paris and went to Versailles, and saw all of the sights I’d studied in my French classes (and was surprised to learn that my French was still serviceable). Your details and descriptions have put France back on my travel list, to see the country, instead of just the city. Thanks for your insights. My favourite photo is of the tortoises though! Note: I always read and appreciate the alt-text* descriptions on your photos.

    *Alt-text is a text description of a visual element that is read aloud by a screen reader, usually used by those with visual impairments. At the moment, I read them by right-clicking my mouse on the photo, and selecting ‘inspect’. If you can ignore the HTML code, you can read Mary’s lovely descriptions of the photos.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

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