Today we are docked in Bordeaux, France. Bordeaux is the sixth largest metropolitan area in France. The riverfront in Bordeaux in along the Garonne river. “The Garonne merges…below the city with another river, the Dordogne River, to form the Gironde Estuary…the biggest estuary in France.” Normally an ocean cruise liner can not come into a river port such as Bordeaux, but with Azamara’s more compact ships we were able to go in river and dock right in town. The best of both worlds for us. Bordeaux is a popular river cruise destination. Remember when I mentioned this was billed a Wine and Romance Cruise? This is the port that has it all.
We have a walking tour scheduled this morning. There was a wait list and as the temperatures are supposed to be in the 90s F (32+ C) some people cancelled and we got their spot. This is not the tour I thought we were waitlisted for. I thought we were trying to go to two wineries in the Bordeaux region. Boris was pretty upset that I wasn’t excited when the tickets came; I was pretty upset I was missing the wine.
In my opinion the “walking” tour was a disaster. We did a lot more standing than walking (which actually is tougher) and we covered very little ground. It didn’t help that it just kept getting hotter. It was in the mid 90s F (35 C). After the tour was over and in a 1/3 of the time, Boris and I covered a lot more ground and made it back to the ship.
As we started out, we walked along the city’s waterfront, unnecessarily crossing back and forth over the tram tracks and a very busy street. We had headsets so we could hear the guide even while we were walking. You could even stop and take pictures and catch up while listening to the commentary. In spite of this, the guide would still stop for long periods of time.
I did enjoy the views. We could see the Pont de Pierre (Stone Bridge) ordered by Napoleon which connects the left bank of the Garonne River to the right bank. We had passed under the newer Pont Jacques Chaban-Delmas, a vertical lift bridge where the roadway rises up when larger ships pass beneath it on our arrival. The residents probably hate it. They put the bridge up 45 minutes before the scheduled arrival blocking traffic for a pretty long period of time. We will go back under on our way out.
The Esplanade des Quincones ends at the left bank waterfront. It is visible from our ship. There are currently dark circus tents set up for a horse show. The columns on the waterfront side denote the city’s main interests-commerce and maritime pursuits. Even the street lights feature seafaring vessels.
Farther down we came to one of the city’s newest installations, a shallow reflecting pool. We arrived just as the water started bubbling up for the day. It beautifully reflected the Place de la Bourse across the street. The installation has become very popular with the residents. Our guide said it is referred to as Bordeaux’s swimming pool. It wasn’t hard to see why. When we first arrived before the water had started, I thought the crowds were gathered for the view of the buildings on the water. Once the water came up, I found that it was the opportunity for the children, and anyone who was a child at heart, to enjoy the water that had drawn the crowds.
Just a little further is one of two remaining fragments of the city wall, the Porte Cailhau built in 1495. The gate “was constructed to celebrate King Charles VIII’s win against the League of Venice at the Battle of Fornovo…[I]t had the dual purpose of being a triumphal arch as well as a city defense.”
I sat here in the shade on a short concrete stump as the guide told us about the area. Later in the day I learned that these stumps were traffic control and could be raised and lowered remotely when access to an area needed to be restricted or granted. We had a good laugh with Patty and Tom from Wisconsin over the possibility that it might have happened while I was sitting on it. It would definitely been more thrilling than standing in the heat and might have been the highlight of that walking tour.
Leaving the waterfront behind us, we walked through the old city. Our guide pointed out the bronze shell markers on the ground that mark the path of the pilgrims. He also noted the homes set back from the street with the street-side gates that open into a courtyard. I spotted the many carved faces that appear on the façade of various buildings. While they are decorative, their original purpose was to ward off evil.
We made a leisure stop at the Opera Patiesserie, a lovely tea room. The exterior of the building looks very modern, but photographs inside show the condition before the renovation and how they tried to preserve some of the historic details. There were a few tables and long display cases with their wonderful pastries on the bottom floor. We headed upstairs where there was ample seating and they served your selections. We had a choice of many unique hot and cold beverages and a choice of one of four of their specialty pastries. My raspberry tart was beautiful and tasted even better than it looked. I highly recommend the tea room if you are in Bordeaux.
Afterwards, our guide took us over to Place de la Comédie where several tram line cross and the Grand Théâtre de Bordeaux built in 1790 dominates the landscape. All the buildings in this area are attractive and unique. There is also a lovely standing clock in the median and an inviting carousel opposite the theater. From here the guide was just walking everyone back to the ship.
Boris and I broke off and headed back into town. We walked part of Saint Catherine Street, Bordeaux’s major shopping street and by some accounts the longest pedestrian shopping street in Europe. You can walk from Place de la Comedie to Place de la Victoire via Rue Sainte-Catherine. We went through more of the old city and heading toward the city’s cathedral and the Hotel de Ville (city hall). In the distance we saw a shopping mall of a very unique design. We didn’t go that far, but some of fellow travelers-Noreen and Jeff from Vero Beach, Florida- did go inside and said it was pretty impressive.
The Bordeaux Cathedral dedicated to Saint Andrew was built between the 12th and 16th centuries on the site of an 11th century Romanesque Church. There has been a church on this site since the 9th century. The current structure is an example of Angevin Gothic architecture, aka Plantagenet style. It has been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1998.
Of course, I took photographs. The exterior featured fabulous arches while the inside had lovely chapels behind the altar and beautiful stained glass. The Cathedral is one of several churches in Bordeaux that have a detached tower that visitors can climb for wonderful views of the city. The Cathedral’s Pey-Berland bell-tower was built between 1440 and 1450; it takes 282 steps to reach the top.
While it did not appear you could go inside the Hotel de Ville, the exterior was worth a photograph. By now, Boris’ foot was beginning to bother him and it was really hot. We were also on the far end of the old city from the ship. A cool cabin on board and a nice lunch were beckoning, so we started back to the boat.
We finished touring at the opposite end of Esplanade de Quinconces (from the two columns we had seen in the morning) at the Monument aux Girondins. The monument is quite a beacon; you can see it from the ship, from most places along the waterfront, and from Place de la Comedie. As impressive as the monument was, the fountains on either side were even more impressive. What a surprise. We probably would have sat here for a while, but there was no shade to be found.
We walked back to the ship up a beautiful cobblestoned and tree lined street. The trees kept it cooler, but the cobblestones were pretty rough on our already tired feet. We crossed over to the paved side of the street. I liked the city of Bordeaux and it is certainly worth a visit. It is the probably the most popular city to relocate to in France right now. Not that long ago, the waterfront was all warehouses and factories; now the area has been cleared and you can enjoy the view of the river and of the newly cleaned buildings.
After a very late lunch, I had intended to enjoy the pool but it was just too hot. We are staying overnight in Bordeaux. Tonight was to be our White Night Party on the deck, but the captain and our hotel manager have decided to move it to our second night in Bordeaux to take advantage of expected cooler temperatures and a slight breeze. I am just hoping to get some Bordeaux wine.