Vineyards & Chateaux of Bordeaux
A River Cruise in France
We had not made a wine oriented trip in a couple of years and several friends had told us of having fun on a European River Cruise. Based on this, the natural thing to do was to do a wine oriented river cruise. I did some research to find an appropriate cruise company and itinerary and this took a while because we have somewhat unusual requirements. Basically, we cannot sit still for long: we have to be active and doing things and the cruise I found included three days with bicycle tours along with other activities so I thought this would fit the bill. We choose a Uniworld river cruise titled “Vineyards and Chateaux of Bordeaux”. As in our previous cruises we made the arrangements through Vacations To Go and Randol Key, our Travel Counselor, provided prompt, efficient, and friendly service.
1 Although this shows a Delta codeshare flight, we were actually booked on the Air France flight.
Getting to the city of Bordeaux in southwest France requires a flight to Paris and a connecting flight to Bordeaux. The overnight flight to Paris seemed long and we got little sleep. I had paid extra for seats with more legroom, but they were close to the restrooms so there was a lot of foot traffic. Our flights on the way over allowed plenty of time in Paris for the connection and it was a good thing as the Charles de Gaulle airport was very busy, one might even say in a state of chaos, and getting through the long Customs line and to a different terminal took some time.
2 The departure lounge at CDG: we found a relatively calm area to wait.
As we were boarding the flight to Bordeaux we realized that it was cold and raining. So much for Spring in Paris!
3 Wet and raining in Paris as we depart.
As we flew toward Bordeaux the weather seemed to improve and by the time we were descending there were just scattered clouds and sunny skies. I took a couple of photos and one of them just happened to capture one of the more important or significant parts of the local geography: the confluence or joining of the Garonne and Dordogne rivers.
4 The Garonne (center) and Dordogne (right) join and flow toward the Atlantic Ocean.
The point of land where the river meet is called the “beak” as it resembles a bird’s beak. We were to see this point of land from ground level several times.
Arrival at the Bordeaux airport was straightforward and we were met by a Uniworld representative who escorted us to our bus which delivered us to our boat at the riverfront (Garonne river), in the city of Bordeaux.
On the return trip we had a tight connection in Paris. At the time the flight to Atlanta was to start boarding, we were still well back in the Customs line. When we got to the gate we joined the long line to board and, once settled in our seats, waited through two delays, finally taking off almost an hour late. The return flight was long and boring so it was good to get home that night.
Like most river cruise boats, the River Royale is long, narrow and low in order to get under the low bridges with narrow passages.
5 The River Royale: there is also a 3rd lower deck not shown here.
The forward section has a bar and lounge area on the upper deck and the restaurant on the lower deck. The staterooms, mechanical functions, and crew quarters are in the three decks in the rear section of the boat. The entire top is set up as a sundeck with shade canopies (that can be lowered for very low bridges) and a small spa (hottub) at the very stern.
6 Lobby with reception desk between the lounge and the staterooms.
I knew our stateroom would be small, but I was a little surprised at just how small. It was definitely smaller than our staterooms on either of our previous cruises and had very little storage space. The main storage drawer was under the foot of the bed and required moving the comforter to access the contents of the drawer. Speaking of the comforter, in a somewhat European fashion, it was the only covering on the bed, other than the lower sheet, of course. It meant that you were either hot (with the comforter over you) or cold with nothing over you. We turned the thermostat down some so we could sleep with the comforter. There was reasonable closet space to hang clothes. A jug of water was refreshed daily and there was a small dish with some candy which we didn’t eat but did bring home with us. We had large windows that provided a good view and there were drapes that did a very good job of keeping out the daylight in the mornings. Our stateroom was in a very good location: close enough to everything to be convenient, but not so close as to get too much noise.
7 A view of the River Royale tied up at Libourne, France.
“Housekeeping” was very good and efficient with normal daytime service and nighttime “turndown” service. We seldom saw our cabin steward and she was never in our room when we needed access. The entire ship was very clean and well kept: we would frequently see the crew cleaning the ship while we were at a dock.
The capacity of the River Royal is 130 passengers but we only had 82 on our cruise so there was never a crowd or wait for any service. At meals not all the tables were set but there was always plenty of room.
There were two tour busses “attached” to the River Royale and they (and their drivers) followed us around to the various ports where we stopped, providing comfortable transportation. It was really amazing how the drivers could maneuver these large busses through some of the small city streets. In the printed schedules that we received each evening, “casual walkers” (meaning “slow walkers”) were asked to get in bus #1. While a reasonable idea, I’m not sure it this really made any difference.
8 One of the tour busses.
I’ll mention dining as we go through the cruise, but it deserves a few words up-front. All meals were in the same dining room.
9 The dining room set up for dinner.
Breakfast and lunch were buffet style but with some items available from the kitchen on “special order”. At breakfast an omelet station was manned and at lunches a carving station with various prepared meats available. The dinners were al a carte and we ordered from a short but reasonable menu. There were generally a couple of featured “local dishes” but if those did not appeal to you, there were always some “old standards” available (steak, chicken, etc.). The head guy in the restaurant, Walter, was very good. He seemed to be everywhere and usually kept things moving well but was not above serving meals or clearing used dishes when called for. Beer, wine, and other alcoholic drinks are included on all Uniworld cruises, but since this cruise was to focus on wine, we had a dedicated sommelier on board to make recommendations. Of course, since almost all the wines served were from Bordeaux, the recommended choices were a bit limited. The available wines were good and freely poured. The food was very good, but we agreed that they were not quite up to the quality we had experienced on our Windstar cruise. This may have been a matter of “style” as much as quality as these dishes seemed to have the spices toned down so there were few dishes with really distinctive tastes. The head chef was from Portugal so I would have expected a bit spicier food than we experienced.
Besides the main dining room there was a small room that could accommodate about 12 people at one large table. This room was lined with wine racks and other wine related decorations and was called the “Claret Room”.
10 Our evening in the Claret Room
Dining in this room was by reservation and they hosted dinners here four or five times during the week. The food was similar to the main dining room but with a bit higher grade of service and more attention by the sommelier. When each course was served, enough waiters were gathered so that all plates for every guest arrived at the same time. It was a nice touch, but when I realized just what they were doing, I did think it a bit silly.
After our arrival on the River Royale we completed a little paperwork (identification, electronic keys, etc.), unpacked and moved our stuff into our cabin, and then relaxed on the sun deck and in the lounge for a while. The riverfront in Bordeaux was obviously a popular local gathering place on nice days like this one and there were many people walking, jogging, and riding bikes. Very close to the ship was a “skateboard park” with sections appropriate for skateboards, bikes, inline skates and even scooters and it appeared to be well used. See the photo below and a short video here.
11 Just a part of the busy Bordeaux riverfront.
At about 6:00 we got our official welcome on-board by the cruise director, the captain, and the excursion coordinator, Florence.
12 Each evening in the lounge, Florence would describe the next day's activities.
This part of the welcome turned out to be a regular daily event: Florence would describe the planned activities for the next day and the sommelier would describe the primary menu items for the evening and the recommended wines to go with them. Most people would be enjoying a glass (or two) of wine and there were frequently hors d'oeuvres available.
After the welcome we headed for the dining room for dinner. The dining room has a combination of tables for 4 or 6. We adopted our “Club Med” mode of operation and almost always sat at one of the larger tables, either joining others already at the table or inviting others to join us. We got to know numerous interesting people this way. We found out, for example, that there were a lot of Australians on this cruise, probably 25 0r 30 and they had come independently, not as a large group. There was also one group from Brazil and a small group from Russia. After dinner we adjourned to the lounge where a piano player/singer, Mihai, provided entertainment most evenings and enjoyed a glass or two of wine. We hit the bed fairly early that night as neither of us had gotten much sleep on the flight over the night before. As expected, we did have some issues adjusting to the six time zone change over the next several nights.
Monday morning we looked out and saw that we were docked at the town of Cadillac. Yes, the US car company was somehow named after this town. It seemed a bit strange to see the name “Cadillac” attached to things not associated with the GM car brand.
13 I thought the name of this new car dealer in Cadillac was interesting.
The schedule today was to include a visit to a Chateau (winery) with a tasting, then a lunch at a “castle”. We loaded up into the busses and headed to our first stop, the Chateau Myrat, a well known producer of Sauterne wines. On the way, as we passed many vineyards, I noticed something that was to become a common sight on our trip: vines that were brown where they should have been all green.
14 The owner of Chateau Myrat and our tour guide who translated for him.
The chateau buildings and grounds were impressive and set a pattern we were to see very often: lots of colorful flowers and especially many roses. We got a nice tour of the chateau and part of the vineyard where we discovered the reason for the brown vines I had noticed.
15 Many vines had been burnt by a late frost.
About two weeks before our visit, the area had experienced a very unusual late frost that burnt many of the vines. It not only burnt and killed the early leafs and vines, but also most of the grape clusters. Vines that had been burned like in the picture above will probably not produce any useable grapes this year. The owner said that in his vineyard he expected to have about a 80% loss of production this year. The amount of damage varied, depending on location and things like altitude, wind exposure, and how far the vines had “awakened” when the frost occurred. During the week we would frequently see vineyards where one section would look undamaged while right next to it, a lower elevation section, was mostly brown.
The owner hosted us at a very pleasant tasting of two of his Sauternes. They were nice, flavorful, and, well, sweet. We are not fans of sweet wine, and if I were to drink a sweet wine as a desert wine, I think I would prefer an “Ice Wine”, but it is always good to have your palette experience new and different things. The owner also took us on a tour of his facilities such as the crushing room and barrel rooms. The construction of some of the buildings was interesting.
16 Interesting ceiling beams used in the chateau
Some of the ceiling beams were obviously taken from trees that were not very straight!
We reloaded the busses and covered quite a bit of the countryside on the way to our next stop. Our tour guide would point out various large chateaus and name them, identifying some of the famous wine families of the area.
17 One of several very nice chateaus in the area.
A little after noon, the bus pulled up in front of what could truly be called a “castle”. This is where our lunch was to be today.
18 The moat was dry, but this was a true castle.
On the way to the castle our tour guide filled us in on some of the history of this castle, Chateau Royal de Cazeneuve, including the residency for a time of King Henry IV and Queen Renine Margot. The castle and its inhabitants had quite a colorful history and was now available for tours, dinners, weddings and such. The owner and his two small sons greeted us as we entered the castle and the dining room.
The tables were laid out with full settings of silverware, glassware and bottles of mineral water, both carbonated and “still”.
19 One of the 8 or 9 tables set in the dining room.
We were served a very nice three course meal, although Susan and I agreed that the chicken main course was a bit dry and lacked any distinct seasoning.
20 The three Sauternes we had with lunch.
Naturally, each course was accompanied by a different wine and, since this is the Sauterne appellation, they were all Sauternes. Having a sweet wine with desert is reasonable, but we were not impressed by having Sauternes with the salad and main courses.
After lunch was over we had a few minutes to tour the castle on our own. I kept getting the definite impression that this was like a smaller version of the Biltmore House in Asheville, NC, although this castle has a moat and fortified walls.
We loaded into the bus again and headed back to the River Royale to relax for the rest of the afternoon. We again made our way to the sun deck for a while, until time to clean up for the evening activities.
As usual, Florence described the next day’s activities and the sommelier provided information about the evening meal and accompanying wines.
We had quickly gotten in to the routine or schedule and enjoyed the dinner with several other couples. The waiters were very helpful; and also very friendly and always glad to engage in a bit of conversation.
This evening we had different entertainment with a duo (two guys) playing guitars and singing “classics” that people the age of most guests could remember.
21 The "George Smith Duo" in the Gascogne lounge.
I thought these guys provided the best entertainment of the week. The regular piano player/singer, Mihai, was fine for “background” music, but these guys played songs you could listen to and sing along with.
The River Royale had relocated to the Bordeaux dock early the previous evening and about 9 AM it left there and headed for Fort Medoc, about three hours away. Going north (downriver) from Bordeaux we soon passed under a very new (about 4 years old) and somewhat different bridge in Bordeaux.
22 Susan about to "walk under" the Le Pont Chaban Delmas lift bridge
This bridge is notable both for its unusual appearance and its unusual operation. The center section lifts straight up, supported by the vertical structures, thus the name “lift bridge”. The River Royale was low enough that the bridge did not have to be raised for us to pass under, but there was not a lot of room, as you can see if you watch this video.
To fill the time as we cruised up to For Medoc, the staff put on several “demonstrations”. One of these was a “Oyster tasting”. The head chef described the various kinds of oysters and some of the sauces and seasonings that can be used on them. Since these were oysters from the estuary where the river joins the ocean, they were obviously not our preferred Apalachicola oysters and we were not going to participate in the tasting.
23 The chef conducting an "Oyster tasting"
But when the chef mentioned that one of the accompaniments for the oysters was a mango salsa, we changed our minds and tried a couple. They were pretty good, but not as good as those from Apalachicola.
The sommelier, Aline, conducted a small wine tasting in the Claret room, focusing on the white wines of Bordeaux which are mainly Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon and blends of the two. Aline used the aroma wheel to help identify aromas and components of the taste and it was very educational. After the wine tasting it was time for lunch and by the time we finished lunch, we had docked at Fort Medoc.
This was to be our first bike tour of our cruise and the bike participants got on one of the busses so it could take us to the start of the tour in the town of Pauillac. While we were on the bike tour the River Royale would move once again, and dock in Pauillac prior to us returning there at the end of our bike tour. While we were on the bike tour, most of the guests would do a bus tour and wine tasting of their own.
24 Gearing up for the start of our tour in Pauillac.
We had about 14 participants and three guides to make sure no one got lost. It was mostly an easy ride with very gentle hills and a very relaxed pace. The guide would talk about the varieties of grapes, how they are grown in that area, and the various chateaux that we passed. After about 90 minutes of this we made our way to a large chateau with beautiful landscaping, Chateau Lagrange.
25 Some of the landscaped grounds of Chateau Lagrange
We went inside the chateau and a British born hostess met us and gave us a very nice tour that included some of the history of the chateau and a tour of the wine making facilities. After the tour we had the opportunity to taste three of the wines produced by the chateau and we enjoyed these much more than the sweet sauternes of the previous day.
26 The three wines we tasted at Chateau Lagrange
After we left the chateau we made our way back to Pauillac via back roads and sometimes back streets with a bit more gravel than I like to bike through. We stopped to look at several of the large and more famous chateaux as the guide described the sometimes rather complicated history of them.
27 This chateau and a similar one across the street had a rather complex family history.
After a stop in town to give anyone a chance to do a little shopping, we made our way to the dock where the River Royale had arrived during our tour. All in all it was a pleasant and easy ride through the countryside and a nice wine tasting, but not much real exercise. We got back on board in time to get ready for the preview of the next day’s activities and dinner.
So far all our stops had been on the “left bank” of the Garonne River (the south/west side). This morning the River Royale moved to the small town of Blaye, on the right side of the river where we boarded the busses for a short ride to an old fort alongside the river. It was obvious that the fortifications had been built in stages over a long period of time but this was definitely a major fort.
28 Blaye Fortress on the banks of the river
This fort was situated directly across the river from Fort Medoc where we were the previous day. Between the two forts and a small cannon emplacement on an island between them, they could easily defend the area upstream from any water-born attackers. After touring the fort, we walked through a local market, checking out all the fresh produce and other products.
At this point it was starting to rain fairly well and we had not brought an umbrella (left it on the bus, of course) so we headed to the place we were to meet the bus. Once all the other passengers had reboarded the bus, we started on a driving tour along the waterfront. It was interesting, with the fisherman’s huts, the houses built/carved back into the limestone cliffs, and the vineyards. We stopped a couple of times to stretch our legs and look around.
29 Another view of “the beak" or confluence of the rivers, as seen from land.
We returned in time for lunch and while we were eating, the River Royale departed Blaye and headed just a little up river to Bourg, another town on the right bank. Some of the passengers went on a tour of a Cognac facility but we stayed on board and then took a “self-directed walking tour” around the town of Bourg.
30 This steep walkway led from the river level up to the upper part of town.
We walked around for quite a while and it was an interesting town, with some kind of bathhouse, several parks, and a large outdoor swimming pool.
31 A pretty and well-kept park in Bourg
But the thing that was strange about this town was the apparent lack of people. For such a nice town with several parks and facilities, there were almost no people around. We saw more of our fellow cruise passengers around town than we did of the residents. In about an hour of walking around the town I don’t think we saw more than 10 local people.
32 Even the riverfront was deserted on a beautiful afternoon.
After getting a little exercise walking up and down the streets of Bourg, we headed back to the boat to relax on the sun deck for a while before time for our normal evening routine.
This morning we loaded up the bus and headed from Libourne, where we were docked, to St Emilion, a town known for both a saint who lived there and for being a center of a famous wine producing area.
33 On the way to St Emilion
St Emilion was obviously very much a tourist town, complete with bus parking areas, a tour train, and plenty of shops. We appeared to be one of the first tours of the day and it was not at all crowded when we arrived.
34 A famous descending street in St Emilion
St Emilion is named for a monk who lived there and, for 17 years, stayed in a small room underground to meditate. Local people brought him food and prayed with him in the little room. After his death he was sainted and town became somewhat famous because of him.
A large church was literally carved out of the limestone that made up the area where the town was located. We toured the church and it was amazing that the church was not built in a traditional manner, but actually carved out of the lime stone in the 13th century. As our guide pointed out, it was actually a good decision as it “only” took them 12 years to carve out the church, whereas similar churches built in a traditional manner at that time, took 50 years or more to build.
In the 19th century a heavy cast iron piece was placed on top of the church, effectively overloading the support structure so a few years ago some reinforcing had to be added inside the church to stabilize the structure.
35 The front of the church doesn't look like much, but the inside is impressive.
36 The cast iron steeple of the church
After the tour of the church we gathered at an open square in the upper part of town. From here some of us would go via bus to a “Grand premier cru” chateau for a tour and tasting and others (including Susan and I) would stay in town where there was a sparkling wine producer to visit.
37 A view from the upper level of St Emilion
The sparkling wine facility was interesting for several reasons (besides just the wine). The grounds of the facility included the ruins of a cloister that had also been used for several other purposes over the years. Only the walls are left now, no roof at all, but it was interesting to look around. Also on the grounds is an entrance to the caves that wind all over under St Emilion. The lime rock of St Emilion was prized for construction of buildings all over the area, including Bordeaux, so tunnels were cut into the lime rock and large building blocks removed. This left three kilometers of large caves under the town. What better to do with caves than to use them for storing and aging wine?
38 Sparkling wine aging in the caves of St Emilion
And that is exactly what the caves are used for today, aging wine. Our guide demonstrated the classical way to make sparkling wine, as well as the newer, more efficient methods used today. After the tour we had a very nice tasting of several of their sparkling wines, topping off a very nice visit.
39 Sparkling wine ready for tasting with the ruins in the background.
We got on the bus and headed back to the River Royale for lunch. Some people went back to St Emilion after lunch to look around more, but we decided to stay at the boat and take a walk around Libourne, where the boat was docked.
It turned out that Libourne is very walkable, with many streets that had been intentionally made pedestrian friendly. There were wide sidewalks, little or no curbs, and little auto traffic to worry about. After a short walk we came across a very nice open square that was almost empty.
40 An empty square in Libourne: remember how this looks now.
It was lined with shops and a couple of vendors in the open air under the building overhangs. We continued our walk and found more open spaces and small parks. Although the bus had encountered heavy traffic going to/from St Emilion, there did not seem to be much in the center of town.
41 A small plaza with water jets at one end of a long tree lined parkway.
We had a nice walk and returned to the River Royale in time for a somewhat unusual special event. Today about 6:00, there would be a Mascaret or “tidal bore” coming up the river past Libourne. Although this would be a relatively mild one with a rapid rise of only 2 – 3 feet, the captain did not want the boat to be tied up at the dock when the mascaret came through. So, about 5:30 we left the dock and pulled out into the middle of an open section of the river and waited. When the mascaret approached we could identify it by the choppy water and waves, unlike the rest of the smooth river. There was no one big wave as in some videos I’ve seen, but there was a series of waves, almost like the wake of a large boat, and after they went by, the water level was about 2 feet higher. The rising water is a little more evident in this video.
42 The waves you see were the result of the mascaret, of “tidal bore”.
After the mascaret had passed, we went back up the river to the docks but had to tie up next to another river tour boat on the other side of the river. Turns out that while we were away from the dock, it was inspected by local engineers and they found that it had been damaged the previous day when a Viking cruise boat had remained tied up at the dock during yesterday’s mascaret.
Once tied up next to the other boat, sort of like cars “double parking”, the evening proceeded as usual with the only change being that this was the evening we had reservations for dinner in the Claret Room for a little change of pace.
Our primary activity Friday was to be a bike ride through part of Libourne and out into the surrounding countryside. We rode the bikes a couple of hundred yards and then parked them so our guide could take us on a short walking tour of Libourne, and especially the market that happens twice a week. We ended up walking to the same square as Susan and I had visited the previous day, but it looked a little different now.
43 Market day on the square
The square and some of the nearby streets were now covered with tables, tents, and lots of vendors selling almost anything that you could carry. Our guide bought some strawberries to taste, and also some cherries and chocolate and even some goat cheese to go with the cherries. The fruits and fresh vegetables looked very good and tempting but the several “fresh” fish markets smelled too much like fish to be appealing. There were vendors selling clothing, jewelry, shoes, and many other things. Our guide said that, unfortunately, most of the “manufactured” goods, like the clothing, actually came from China.
We left the market, got back to the bikes, and headed off on a side road that went somewhat along the river. We’d stop every once in a while for a history lesson and to look at the grape vines, many of which had been burnt by the frost.
44 Look closely: the nearby vines are green; the ones further away are brown.
We headed back toward Libourne and just a little outside of town stopped to look at a little chapel just a little off the road. I was expecting it to be “just another little church”, but then we stepped inside the Chappell de Condat and I was amazed.
45 The inside of the “Chappelle de Condat” was almost unbelievable.
The photo above really does not do it justice: the stained glass windows were in great condition, the wall coverings were fresh and colorful, the woodwork was spotless and perfect. A thorough restoration had taken three years and had been completed less than a year before our visit. I’m sure it looked better for our visit than it had ever looked in all the years since it was initially built in the 11th century.
We mounted our bikes for the rest of our ride back into town and to the River Royale. It was a pleasant ride with many flowers blooming along the road and a nice day for riding. We had about 8 people on this ride, down from the 14 on our first bike tour. We said good-by to the tour guide who we would see again the next day in Bordeaux. That afternoon we left Libourne and went downriver on the Dordogne to the confluence of it and the Garonne where we made a sharp left turn and headed upriver toward Bordeaux, arriving there about 8 PM.
This evening after dinner, there was a special tour planned: a “Bordeaux by night Panoramic bus tour” using open topped busses. We were on a London style double decker bus with no roof over us so we had excellent views.
46 On the "convertible" bus
47 Going over the bridge we had gone under.
One of the first sights we saw was the new bridge we had gone under a few days prior on the River Royale. Looking up at the vertical supports of the bridge from the moving bus had somewhat of a dizzying effect so I was glad I was sitting down.
We continued down the other side of the river for a distance, and at one point had to stop at a light next to a popular pizza restaurant with street-side seating: I almost got hungry again! Further down we crossed over the bridge of 17 arches that was said to have taken 17 years to build ( it did not really take that long) and headed into some of the older parts of town.
48 One of the city "gates"
Our guide pointed out a number of tower-like structures throughout the city which she said were actually parts of the old fortified wall that surrounded the city at one time.
When the city expanded beyond the wall, the towers were incorporated into the buildings as gateways to the central part of the city.
49 The "Grand Theatre de Bordeaux" is beautiful at night.
The Grand Theatre de Bordeaux is also known as the Bordeaux National Opera and was especially pretty at night. We’ll see it again tomorrow.
50 Some of the government buildings in Bordeaux
All of the government buildings in Bordeaux had a similar architectural style and were well lighted in the evening. The ones just above faced the waterfront and made an imposing sight from the river.
51 Monument de Girondins
The Monument de Girondins was erected to honor some of the participants in the French Revolution and is one of Bordeaux’s more famous sights.
We returned to the River Royale in time to have a glass of cognac in the lounge before calling it a night.
Friday morning we were once again tied up along the riverfront of Bordeaux. This morning we were to do another bike tour, this time around “the back streets of Bordeaux”. I assumed that we were to keep to the “back streets” to avoid problems with traffic, but it did not work out that way. We had the same tour guide as the previous day but this time there were only 4 “tourists”: Susan and I and another couple. Our guide explained that French laws about biking were a little different than in most places. Basically, we did not have to obey most traffic laws: we could go the wrong way down a one-way street, we could go through an intersection on a red light (assuming no crossing traffic) and things like that. The streets were a bit wet and that make them slippery, causing some problems when going up/down the low but rounded curbs. It was an interesting tour though, and we covered quite a few of those back streets.
52 Some rather old Roman ruins
We viewed everything from the ruins of an old Roman coliseum to some rather modern judicial buildings where the courtrooms looked more like a large beehive. We went by one old church where there was a funeral in progress and another where there was a wedding.
53 The group in front of this church was from a funeral.
We saw some of the same sights and buildings as we had seen the night before on the bus tour, but they looked somewhat different in the daytime.
54 The "Grand Theatre de Bordeaux" looked different in daylight.
When we stopped in front of the "Grand Theatre de Bordeaux" our guide took the time to explain the name and significance of each of the figures across the top of the building. In keeping with the local bike laws, we went through several red lights and the wrong way down several streets. Our guide would get out into a street and stop traffic while we pulled into or across the lane of traffic. I guess French drivers must be used to this behavior as I did not hear any horns honked at us and didn’t see any fists (or fingers) being shaken at us.
One other thing we did have to watch out for was the mass transit system of very modern trolley cars. They went right down the middle of the regular streets and were quiet enough to “sneak” up on you if not paying attention.
We ended up along the river front where our guide explained that the city of Bordeaux had really reinvented itself in the past 8 or 10 years under the leadership of a new mayor. Ten years ago the riverfront was to be avoided with old warehouses and marginal businesses. Now there was a beautiful open and inviting area along several miles of the riverfront and we could see even more development in progress. They had repaved many of the streets to make them pedestrian friendly and there were indeed, many people walking all over the parts of town that we toured. Several things had been built into the riverfront, such as the skateboard park mentioned earlier.
55 The Bordeaux "Water Mirror" with no water
Another example is the “Water Mirror”, shown above with no water. It is a large, perfectly flat, area that can be flooded with water about 1/8 inch deep. You can walk across it and it looks like you are walking on water. At night the effect is especially deceiving with special lighting so you have no indication of the depth of the water. It is directly in front of some of those well lighted government buildings so at night, if you get on the river side of the mirror, the buildings and lights are reflected in the water.
After almost three hours, we completed the tour and returned to the River Royale for lunch.
After lunch we had yet another adventure. The new La Cite du Vin, or the “Wine Museum”. This unusual shaped building was completed only a year or two ago and is just north of that new lift bridge, and only about a mile from where our boat was docked.
56 Some say the Cite du Vin is supposed to resemble a wine decanter.
In her nightly briefing, Florence had mentioned that tickets for admission to the wine museum were available for the asking at the reception desk, so we asked for a couple. We walked up to the rather strange building and entered and looked around. The organization or layout of the building was a bit confusing, but we eventually found our way around.
57 Some of the high-tech wizardry inside.
Everyone was given a listening device and headphones. The device was programmed for your language and you could activate it by “reading” a logo next to the exhibits. There were many exhibits and things to try using relatively advanced technology but the ones that fascinated me the most were the full three dimensional moving display used in some exhibits. The effect was truly amazing.
Included in the price of admission was access to the top floor and a glass of wine… if you could figure out how to get there! We eventually did find the elevator and made our way to the tasting room and observation platform.
58 The tasting room on the eight floor.
They had wines from something like 20 different countries as the museum is meant to cover wine all over the world, both the history and current information. Of course, since we were in Bordeaux, we both had wines from the local area (but not Sauterne)
59 Looking south, upriver, from the wine museum
Around the outside of part of the tasting room is an observation deck, so we had to go “observe” and take a couple of pictures. Looking south, upriver, the new lift bridge was close by and we could barely see our boat docked at the river front. If you know exactly where to look you might be able to find it in the photo above.
As we were leaving the museum, the rain started to come down: not heavy rain, but enough to get us wet. We made use of the canopies of some stores along the riverfront and managed to stay mostly dry, but there would be no sundeck relaxing today.
This being the last evening on the cruise, there was a special dinner that evening. There was a limited selection and the local entrée course did not sound appetizing to me, so I resorted to a good old hunk of beef for a change.
60 I almost got lost among the silverware.
61 My "hunk of beef": it was very good.
62 Somewhere in there is some Foie gras.
63 I'm not sure what all of these were.
I’ll save the desert for the end of this report….
We also had a different local entertainer in the lounge after dinner. The young woman was certainly very talented, but she sang mostly French songs (in French) and we did not recognize most of the songs she sang in English. But, have a glass of cognac on top of the wine at dinner and even French songs start to sound good. When we returned to our cabin we did some packing in preparation for an early departure in the morning.
Our luggage was supposed to be out at 6:45 AM and we had them out by 6:30 and went to an early final breakfast on River Royale. We left the boat at 7:30 to take the tour bus to the airport for a 10:05 flight. Check-in at Bordeaux was simple and quick so we had a couple of hours to kill before flight time. I’ve already mentioned the close connection in Paris, the crowd there, and the long flight home so I will close this report by showing the desert from the final dinner on River Royale.
64 The Baked Alaska was very good!