Exploring Bordeaux

This monday I had a presentation in Bordeaux. With the long weekend last week, I decided to take some days off before the presentation.

I wasn’t very eager to do the trip because (first) it was mainly for work (second) that I was informed super late, (third) so the train ticket was already super expensive, (fourth) and not to forget that it was a long weekend, and (fifth) because it’s a long 7h30 train trip.

Anxious as usual I awaked very early to catch the train at 6am. From Grenoble I had to change my train in Valence. I was completely dead on the first train. I got inside the train, closed my eyes, and when I opened my eyes I was in Valence.

Super hungry, I got me a cup of tea and a pain au chocolat. I hate the snack place in Valence train station. They are basically the only one so you don’t really have any other options. Thing is they rob you like an idiot. I had to pay almost 5€ for my breakfast, and it isn’t even a real boulangerie!

I waited for about 10mins before my second train arrived. Anndd… power plugs were nowhere to be seen. I don’t understand the train company’s logic. They put plugs on short distance train but not for this more than 6hours one. I had my laptop and my cellphone but I would need them when I arrived so I really really need to save them.

Fortunately, the train line from Valence to Bordeaux was really beautiful. Bordeaux is located in the south-west of France, in the region of Aquitaine. The train line passed through the southern line with view to the mediterannian sea and the Carcassone castle.

The ancient Aquitaine region has five departments: Dordogne, Landes, Lot-et-Garonne, Gironde, and Pyrénées-Atlantiques. With the new territory reformation, it was fused into The Aquitaine-Limousin-Poitou Charentes region that has twelve departments in total.  I arrived around 1:30pm in Bordeaux, the capital of Gironde. The train station was under renovation so there were lot of steel plateforms and construction stuffs. The city map was easily obtained from the tourism office that is located just outside the train station.

The quartiers and some history

First of all, Bordeaux is huge! And I mean huge! Its area is almost half of Paris but less less crowded than Paris (with density of about a quarter of Paris). The city of Bordeaux can be divided into eight quartiers (districts) with the Garonne river separating the left bank with the right bank. The historical city center and all things happen mostly in the left bank area. Unfortunately since I late booked my hotel, the cheapest one I could find was in the right bank.


Bastide is the only quartier located in the right bank. For me the southern part of the district had more rural vibe. It was definitely not developed for tourist activities and more to the industrial and residential. Just across the Saint John bridge I found the waste treatment plant of the city. A gypsy area was spotted around the parking of the abandoned building close the the bridge.

Walking on the right bank riverside from the Saint John bridge to the pont de pierre I found a beautiful but rather empty parc des angéliques. This was not a bad spot if you prefered a calmer area to enjoy the river.


Parc des angéliques

The northern part of the district was more crowded, especially in the Stalingrad area that is served by the tram line, as well as the botanical garden.

The train station was located in the Bordeaux sud quartier. I only walked around the area from the train station – Cours de la Marne – Cours Pasteur – Cours Victor Hugo, about a quarter of the whole district

Just below the pont de pierre, stood the flamboyant gothic Saint Michel basilique. The church was nice but the bell tower, known by « la flèche » or the arrow, was more interesting to visit. This 120m tall tower was built by Jean Lebas father and son in the 15th century and was restored by Paul Abadie in the beginning of 19th century. To get inside I paid 5€ to visit three parts of the tower. The crypt was located in the basement, used to dispose 60-ish mommys. I climbed the stairs to the first (23m) and the second level (47m) of the tower. For security reason the terasses were closed. During my visit, the six statues placed on the tower was covered by wooden board. Just in front of the basilique a secondhand market was held on sunday morning, selling mostly various random stuffs.

A concentration of settled migrant was found around here. The small streets around the Basilique Saint Michel had most of the arabic and north african shops and restaurants. On the Victor Hugo or Marne boulevard, some Asian shops and restaurants were found, those that are more traditional and family owned.

It was not until when I arrived at the Place de la Victoire – the beginning of the famous Saint Catherine street – that I felt the ambiance of a European old city. The Saint catherine street was the most crowded part of the city. You could find anything on this shopping street.

For me, the historical center of Bordeaux was rather particular. It had some bourgeois attitude: the rhytm of the city, how people live, behave, and interact. They were different with the busy Parisiens. Bordeaux people paid attention to what they wear. They went out for wine and tapas at 5pm in the afternoon. Some got themselves a nice afternoon tea with nice porcelains. My travel guide wrote that they are snob, but so what, they have the right to be.

The area of the Cathédrale Saint André and the Hôtel de ville was one of the hanging place of the city. Local market was held on sunday morning, selling the best local products.


Cathédrale St. André

If you were interested on the history of the region, you could visit the Aquitaine museum at the south west corner of the city center. Surprisingly there were not a lot of museum in Bordeaux. Their fine art museum had rather small collection and might not be the best you would expect.


The twelve apostles inside the Aquitaine museum

Talking about Bordeaux is talking about the 3M of Aquitaine: Montaigne (writer, philoshop, and moralist), Montesquieu (philoshop and wine-grower), and Mauriac (writer and journalist). They are the three big names of the region. You would find things or places named after these three all over the city.

Close to the riverside, the Saint Pierre area was a great place to hang around, drink some wine or even to watch a movie at Utopia cinema. The most stunning part of the city for me was the place de la bourse and the mirroir d’eau, the world’s largest reflecting pool.


Place de la Bourse and Mirroir d’eau

The left bank riverside was the best part to have an afternoon walk. Spanning from the Saint John bridge, the city provides differents sports fields for its population: basketball, volleyball, soccer, squash, fitness, etc. From the pont de pierre, a view to the Garonne river with street artists playing music and singing were not to be missed.

Just a bit more to the north, laid the esplanade des Quinconces. This is one of the biggest city squares in Europe. I was lucky to be in the time for the foire aux quinconces (http://www.bordeauxquinconces.com/). This two per years event was a second hand market that was more organised. I would compared it to the second hand market in Saint Ouen, Paris. Just the perfect place to find antiquities.

At the end of the square stand the monument aux Girondins with liberty symbol at the top of the tower. The four horses symbolize the republic with the three men on the water symbolize the lie (with mask), the debauchery and luxury (with pig ears), and the ignorance (the ashamed).


Monument aux Girondins

The influence of the right political party was very strong in this city. The economic development was definitely one of its priority. this could be seen by the development spread towards the northern side, the Bacalan area, taking advantage of the long riverside of the Garonne. The new quai des marques collects branded shops along with modern eating place. It was marked with modern touch, for example observed on the Chaban-Delmas bridge and la cité du vin.


Quai des marques with view to Chaban-Delmas bridge

Moving inside Bordeaux

The public transportation company of the city was called TCB, covering tram, bus, bike, boat and even electric car inside the city. CUB abbreviation was added on all of them, signifying Urban Community of Bordeaux, e.g. Vcub for bike. For long distance travels, tram or bus were the best option. But for another experience I would suggest taking the bike. With only 1.5€, you could rent a bike for 24hours. The system was similar with velib in Paris where you don’t need to pay extra money if you moved from one station to another station within one hour time frame. The bike path was also integrated inside the city.

Whatand where to eat

Three words: wine, oyster, and tapas. Producing the proclamed best wine in the world, the gastronomy of the city or the region was definitely centered on the wine. Adding the advantage their location that is close to the water, the freshest oysters were harvested in the region. Moreover, with the geographic closenes to Spain, the Spanish influences were very strong in this city, especially for the tapas bars that could be find everywhere in the city.

The only dessert I could taste was the cannelé. But never buy it in big or chained store. I compared two cannelés, one from the chained store and the other from the local market; definitely go for the local market one, caramelized outside and soft inside.

Strawberries were also produced in the region. Time to try different varieties of them. For 500gr of strawberries I paid about 3 to 6€. If it was local, the price was higher.

During my stay I tried several restaurant in the city. The tourist restaurant, small brasseries and asian place.

If you were close to the Acquitaine museum, try the cambodian all you can eat place called Dragon doré. Not like the other all you can eat, there were not a lot of food options, hence I tasted everything. It was run by a native cambodian couple and the food were authentic.

For the entrée, they offered typical south-east asian fresh spring roll, fresh rice vermicilli salad, and differents fried spring roll. For the main, they had stir fried home made noodle (Yes, they showed every customer the video and they were really proud about it). The one that got me was the chicken in tuk trey sauce (sweet and sour peanut dipping sauce), amazing. For the dessert, I went straight to the frozen banana in coconut milk. This was typical south-east asian and brought me straight home.

I tried two restaurants close to the train station. One was the typical toursit menu, not in Café du Levant but the one beside it (I didnt’ really remember the name). I took the menu with an entrée of smoke salmon salad, main of duck confit, and dessert of gateau basque (with marzipan). How do I start. The salmon was blended into some sort of mousse. I’m pretty sure that they it was mixed with other kind of fish. The confit was overcooked and dry, served with no sauce. The gateau basque was okay. Nevertheles, for a tourist menu this was not bad – I had worst experience.

The other one was a bit further and was a bar-brasserie called Cap Vers. I took the dish of the day and a glass of wine. It was pork medallion with pollenta. The food was nice, the owener was nice, the place was nice, the wine was bad.

In the city center I tried two restaurants. One was Edouarde, in the big place of parlement. I would class it as another tourist restaurant. I got me a roasted chicken and a chocolate fondant for dessert. The chicken was limit dry and the fondant was not fondant at all. Another restaurant was le vieux chaudron where I thought the best during my stay. I took a menu with entrée of gésier salad (the muscled part of duck stomach, usually covered with its fat), main of entrecôte with shallot sauce and the dessert was a gateau basque. The salad I was expected greens with two or three pieces of meat, but it was the versa. The entrecôte was nice and paired well with the sauce. And the dessert was better than the one I tasted the other day.


Gésiers salad

Source: Some informations were taken from the Guide Routard of Aquitaine


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