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A Short Stay in Bordeaux, September 18 - 21, 2023

After our Best of Portugal tour this fall, we had a free week. We spent a few extra days in Porto, then moved on to Bordeaux. We had planned to get to Bordeaux on the 17th, but our lodging wouldn’t be available until the 18th. That was not a problem, giving us an extra day in lovely Porto, but we did wish we had had more time in Bordeaux.

We took an early EasyJet flight out of Porto, arriving in Bordeaux at 10:00 or so. Our B&B host had sent us instructions on getting from the airport to Les Chambres d’Art, taking either the bus or the tram. We decided the tram was less confusing, even though it took longer and we had to change lines along the way. We enjoyed the tram ride, and saw that Bordeaux was a lot bigger than we had thought. Again following host Bruno Cittone’s notes, we took the very short walk from the tram stop at Sainte-Croix to the B&B.

I have posted a review of Les Chambres d’Art, so I won’t elaborate here, except to reiterate that we loved it.

By the time we arrived and unpacked, it was time for lunch. There’s a lovely little tree-shaded square just a couple of minutes from the B&B, Place Pierre Renaudel, where we found a tiny sandwich shop frequented by many of the area students. We shared a chicken sandwich and a sparkling water, then headed out to explore the neighborhood.

Bordeaux is on the Garonne River, just about 2 or 3 minutes walk from Place Penaudel. Part of the walking path along the river was blocked because of rugby activities (Bordeaux was one of the cities hosting the World Rugby Cup this year,) but there was a walkway that paralleled it. We saw the Pont de Pierre, a bridge built by Napoleon’s engineers, then headed back west to explore what would be our home neighborhood the next few days.

There were many ethnic shops and eateries, mostly middle Eastern and African. On the way home, we slipped into the St-Michel Basilica, a beautiful flamboyant Gothic structure. The bell tower is swathed in scaffolding, as it is being refurbished, but the church is lovely. We headed back to the room to rest a bit; our early flight meant we had had to leave for the airport well before dawn.

Back to Place Renaudel we went, our host having recommended a restaurant there, where we discovered something that would dog us much of our time in France, especially in Bordeaux and Lyon: none of the restaurants that we tried were serving dinner yet. One would open at 19:30, another at 20:00, a third at 20:30! We were tired from the long day, and really did not want to eat that late, so we headed back to the river area, where there were tram and bus lines. We assumed it would be easier to find something to eat. Several more places turned us away, but then we saw the Beirut Kitchen. 8 Quai de la Grave. There were people outside, eating! We checked with a server, who laughed at my timid question, and pointed to an empty table. We had a lovely dinner, sharing an enormous mixed mezze platter, and an equally enormous chicken shwarma. The Lebanese white wine was dirt cheap, and complemented the food very well.

We returned to our room ready for some quiet time, and an early bedtime.

Tuesday, 19 September. After a lovely night’s sleep, we enjoyed a great breakfast prepared by our host. We were the only guests that first morning, so Bruno joined us and gave us lots of good advice on how to best spend our limited time in Bordeaux.

Our first goal was to see the Saint-André Cathedral, a stunning building that has been rebuilt, modified, and added on to ever since its beginnings as a Romaesque church in the 11th century. And there are records suggesting an even earlier structure, dating to the 9th century. It is now a glorious ode to adapting to the times, with Romanesque, Gothic, and Renaissance aspects. It is well worth a visit; highly recommended.

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Tuesday, 19 September, continued. After a lunch at a nearby bistro (sorry, I didn’t write the name down) where we enjoyed a mixed charcuterie and cheese platter with wine, we went to the Musée d’Aquitaine. My notes here are short: “Wonderful!” We spent the entire afternoon there.

The prehistoric collection was first rate, and there were some wonderful artifacts from the Roman period, as well. There are also collections of art from Africa and Oceania, relics of France’s colonial past. One of the most striking exhibits was a horrifyingly evocative section dedicated to the slave trade. This was masterfully done; no sugar-coating here.

We had walked to the Cathedral that morning, and then walked back to our neighborhood ready for dinner. At our host Bruno’s suggestion, we ate at Opus 34, on Place Renaudel, and had a lovely dinner. Stan had tuna tataki, and I had pluma de porco iberico, both new to us. Tuna tataki was cold slices of lightly seared tuna, served with a vegetable and fries. Pluma de porco is a very tender and tasty cut of meat from the back of the pig’s neck. It was delicious. Plenty of wine and water rounded out the meal. I do believe Stan had a decadent dessert, but I didn’t note what it was. A great end to a lovely day.

Wednesday, 20 September. After breakfast, we returned to our room, taking some time to catch up on emails and verify our plans for leaving for Bayonne the next day. After a sandwich lunch, we were off to the Musée des Beaux Arts, one of the finest and largest fine arts museums in France, outside of Paris. The art collection is excellent, but what really impressed me was the recent law passed in France to actively work to restore art looted by the Nazis to the rightful owners. A number of the plaques by works mentioned that these particular pieces are looted, and investigations are under way to find the owners. France is evidently only one of a handful of countries that are actively pursuing restitution. The vote in the legislature was unanimous.

Back to Place Renaudel, where we enjoyed some Belgian beers at Le Café Sainte-Croix, and chatted with some Americans whose cruise ship excursions had been derailed (so to speak) by strikes. Plan B was a walking tour of Bordeaux, ending up at the Café. After a short walk, we went back to Opus 34, where I enjoyed truffle ravioli, and Stan had the pluma de porco and some cheesecake. Back to our room; we’re moving on tomorrow.

Thursday, 21 September. Another excellent breakfast, then upstairs to pack. We had some time to kill, but it was pouring rain. Bruno lent us an umbrella, and suggested we explore the Marché des Capucins. We had seen this covered market on our rambles, but hadn’t gone in. What a loss! It is huge, and was filled with locals shopping for meats, fish, cheeses, vegetables… A surprising number of people were frequenting the oyster and wine bars as well. We did stop for coffee, but passed on the oysters and wine.

We did go back to the corner sandwich shop, though, for lunch, then back to the B&B to pick up our bags, return the umbrella, and say goodbye to our host. The train station was only a 15 minute walk away, but since it was still raining hard we opted to take the tram to the station, not wanting our backpacks to get soaked. We reached the train station with no problems, and had plenty of time to catch our train to Bayonne, where we would join the Basque Country tour the next day.

Our final assessment? We must return to Bordeaux, and spend at least a week.

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I'm SO happy you enjoyed Bordeaux! I loved the Museum of the Aquitaine and did not spend enough time there (on a Road Scholar tour and no tour spends enough time in a museum or cathedral for me, lol). As I was reading your report I was thinking, why couldn't I do this for a day trip from Paris? Train tickets bought well in advance would be reasonably priced and I could go and just concentrate on the Museum, lol. I also felt the museum handled the slave trade history very well.

This sounds like a wonderful interlude between your back to back tours!

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Pam, we did, but there's never enough time!

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Thanks for the report Jane. We may be meeting some friends in Lisbon for a week next year, but after that we really want to go to the Dordogne. There are flights to Toulouse and Bordeaux from Lisbon so we've started researching which of those cities to fly into and spend a few days.

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Allan, you're in for a treat. We spent time in Lisbon this year, on the Portugal tour, and loved it. And as you can see, we definitely enjoyed Bordeaux. We haven't been to Toulouse (yet,) so I can't weigh in on that one.

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I appreciate your report on Bordeaux, since it is not in the RS guidebooks but is a major city in France and a logical gateway to the Dordogne.