27. Bordeaux barge and bike adventure (Part II)

This post continues with our stay in Bordeaux and return to the Canal Latéral à le Garonne on GEM.

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Saturday 18thAugust.  Dave was up early, keen to cycle over a bridge he had seen from the terrace at MÉCA yesterday.  Meanwhile, I was spoilt by Gloria with a cup of tea in bed.  I hadn’t been too worried about our credit card being declined last night, as that seems to happen with some machines in France, but thought I should just check on the Kiwibank website to make sure everything was okay.  Luckily I did, because for whatever reason the payment I made the other day had not gone through.  At least the money was still in the other account.  The only thing I can think of is that the internet is a bit dodgy at times and I should have waited to get a ‘payment confirmed’ message before carrying on with whatever I did next.

Dave got back just as breakfast was being served up. He was rapt with his ride over the Pont d’Aquitaine and keen for us all to go and see it.  The Pont d’Aquitaine is a large suspension bridge that crosses the Garonne, north-east of the city. Completed in 1967, it forms part of the ring-road of Bordeaux.  It is 58 metres high and 1.767 metres long with a main span measuring 394 metres long.  The eastern and western aspects of the bridge are very different.  To the east there is a ridge of land which allows the roadway to enter the bridge with little or no slope. By contrast, to the west there is an area of flat land, forming part of the Medoc, which means the roadway across the bridge slopes dramatically upwards in order to gain sufficient height to enter the bridge.

Dave said it provided a spectacular view of Bordeaux and its surroundings.

Late morning we all went out on our bikes.  Before leaving the Quay we stopped to watch an open air ballet class in session.


Our first stop was the École du Vin where Gloria had heard trainee sommeliers provide expert guidance, and it is possible to sample 20 year old wine for as little as €6 a glass.  The wine bar is located in an 18th century Flatiron building.


As it turned out – this was more of a wine bar and the two sommeliers on duty were too busy to share their knowledge about the wine.  All the wines on offer were also reasonably ‘young’.


Nevertheless, it was fun and the wine and assiettes (plates) of cheese and chacuterie were a perfect accompaniment. The interior of the building was also very interesting – a mix of Neo-Classical columns, dividers made up of empty wine bottles, contemporary furniture and interesting works of art.


Before we set off on our bikes again, we went and had a look at the Sanne de Plensa sculpture.  This seven-metre high cast iron female face is the work of Jaume Plensa.  It was installed in 2013 as part of the sculptor’s works and was subsequently bought by an anonymous sponsor.  It is to remain in its current position at the Place de la Comédie until 2021.

We also had a quick look at the Grand ThéatreThis majestic building was built during the reign of Louis XVI (i.e. late 17th century).  Apparently its grand stairwell served as inspiration for the architect of the Opéra Garnier in Paris.  With 12 stone statues that sit atop a magnificent entrance (nine muses in the company of Minerva, Venus and Janol) it claims to be one of the 18th century’s most stunning buildings.  Nowadays it is the home of the home of the Opéra National de Bordeaux’s.

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It was possible to go on a tour of the building but at €8 a head we satisfied ourselves with just looking at the front part of the interior.


I bought some canelé (a little caramelised cake, soft on the inside and flavoured with rum and vanilla) for Gloria, and some Bordeaux sampler wine glasses, that we can take home as a souvenir of the wonderful times we have spent in this beautiful city.

We had also discovered that the place that sold the choux boules was nearby so we called in there and bought some – which we ate ‘on the go’.


Mike and Gloria wanted to get some things from a supermarket, and on the way to where we knew there was one, we stopped for them to have a look at the magnificent Saint-André Cathedral (I posted lots of photos and information on this in a recent blog).

After the supermarket and then went back to the boat.  The boys had a beer, the girls a cup of tea.  I was feeling a bit ‘jaded’ and Mike wanted time to play his ukulele, so Gloria and Dave went out on their bikes (Dave was keen to show her the suspension bridge he had been over earlier in the day – now always calling it the ‘San Francisco bridge’).  I helped Mike put up some ‘fairy’ lights on the deck and then spent the rest of the afternoon catching up on the blog.  Mike strummed away on his ukulele – competing with a rock band that was booming out from the other side of the river.

Three hours (and just under 30 kilometres) later, Gloria and Dave returned – having experienced a bike ride with Dave and his many ‘deviations’ Gloria came back very tired, but she seemed to have enjoyed the sights.  Among these was the Église Saint-Marie de la Bastide. To accompany the rapid development of the Bastide neighbourhood, after the opening of the Pont de Pierre, the church was built in 1884.  Its slender dome, crowned by a columned turret, echoes the Basilique Sacré Coeur in Montmartre (designed by the same architect, Paul Abadie). It is equally impressive inside with an unusual wooden ceiling.

They cycled through the botanic gardens.  They were underwhelmed by this (suggesting it didn’t look as if it was maintained very well) but they were impressed by the water lily garden.

They then went over Pont d’Aquitaine (after a minor deviation that resulted in needing to go up a very steep hill to get onto the bridge – as mentioned above). Gloria agreed the view was spectacular.


They then cycled back to the boat along the Bastide waterfront and over the Pont de Pierre.  Dave is keen to go over the bridge a third time (i.e. to take me to see it tomorrow).

From about mid-afternoon I had been quite colicky pains in my stomach and started to feel nauseous.  I wasn’t at all hungry so I passed on pre-dinner cocktails and watched the others eat their dinner.


I went to bed early a – suffice to say it was good timing when I went down into our cabin and that we have an ensuite including a toilet – I clearly had picked up a nasty tummy bug.

Sunday 19th August.  Everyone slept in this morning.  I was still feeling very unwell so I stayed in bed and spent most of the day sleeping.  My tummy seemed to settle down a bit but I still felt very dizzy when I got up and still had no appetite.  I don’t know how I could have picked up the bug as everyone else had eaten the same food. However, Mike had been sick last week with a similar tummy upset – it would be strange that he would still be infectious.  I did wonder if it was related to the big mosquito bites I had a week or so ago – they can pass on bugs that take up to two weeks to manifest in symptoms – I reflected back and it was about the same time period between being bitten before and being sick … who knows.

Meanwhile, Mike cooked a big brunch for the others, and early afternoon they went out to walk around Bordeaux’s UNESCO heritage path (marked with a yellow line in the map below.  We are moored where it says Tram C in pink just below of the label ‘Quai de la Douane).


However, before they left they talked to the owner (Peter) of a boat that Dave had just helped moor up in front of us.  Dave had spotted the silver fern flag and Peter recognised Dave’s Kiwi accent.  He comes from Raumati South but has been living in France for 24 years.  He teaches English at a University in La Rochelle. One of his sons lives and works in Bordeaux and the other two live and work in Sydney.  He has only recently brought his boat (a motor sailor type yacht) from Perpignan, passaged through the Mediterranean, along the Canal des Deux Mers and the Garonne. He is now experiencing over heating problems with his engine.


I was woken late in the afternoon by Lyndsay and Mike, the previous owners of La Caunette, phoning me to say they were moored behind La Caunette at Buzet.  They are only staying for one night and are heading for Meilhan – we hope to catch up with them then.  It was great having a brief chat with them  and I look forward to having a proper catch up with them next week.

By early evening I was starting to feel a bit better so I got up and had a shower.  Dave, Mike and Gloria came back in due course.  Apart from many of the sights I have already mentioned in previous blogs and to summarise their excursion …….

Their first stop was to the Bordeaux Patrimoine Mondial (Bordeaux World’s heritage centre).  It recounts the history of Bordeaux’s development along with ideas for the city’s future.  Dave was especially impressed by the coloured lithographic print Vue cavalière de Bordeaux– a bird’s eye view of the city, drawn 1890 based on maps, charts and other information the artist (F. Hugo d’Alesi) had on the ground.


There was also a painting which he said reminded him of my very talented daughter-in-law’s (Kate Woods) art.


They walked on to the Église Saint-Pierre (which I mentioned in my last blog).


Then on past the ‘perched car’.  In 1993, to break up the potentially monotonous façade of a large car park that was being renovated, a green Jaguar MK2 was positioned so it protruded from the side of the building, appearing to crash to the ground. The car has no motor to make it lighter and to enhance this work-of-art. (Dave believes it is actually a Daimler because two exhaust systems can be seen indicating that it had a V8 motor not a straight six). I leave you to decide!!!


Dave was thrilled to see a Burger King, but he couldn’t convince Mike or Gloria to partake in a burger.  They were however happy to take his photo.


Feeling like it was time to stop for a drink they started looking for a café or bar.  However, they couldn’t find much that was open, but did eventually find an Irish Pub – and stopped to have a Guinness just as the Irish Hurling final between Kilkenny and Tipperary was about to start on the pub tele.


They then walked on – through interesting streets lined with attractive buildings.

The next building to attract their attention was the École Nationale de la Magistrature (National School for the Judiciary).  In 1972, the ‘school’ was decentralised and set up in Bordeaux. It was established on the site of the former Fort du Hâ, a fortress built by Charles VII of France following his victory against the English – only two towers remain today.  

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Next to it, in the extension to the courthouse, you can see the wooden cones of seven courtrooms of the Tribunal de Grand Instance (High Court), opened in the late 20th century.


They moved on to the Musée des Beaux-Arts (Museum of Fine Arts – the first picture in this blog).  They did not go inside (the museum houses works-of-art by European artists such as Matisse, Picasso, Renoir, Reubens, Véronèse etc as well as famous Bordeaux painters).  However, they were impressed by the exhibitions outside.

They went into the Musée d’Aquitaine to look at the exhibition Surf Tribe, by Belgian photographer Stephan Vanfleteren.


The catalogue claims the exhibition “exposes a culture which focuses mainly on a deep respect for the ocean.  Vanfleteren looks beyond the traditional surf spots of California and Hawaii and goes around the world looking for people who live in places where oceans touch the land.  He records an almost fluid community, with nature as its master.  More than seventy black-and-white portraits show the persons behind the surfers, in all their strength and vulnerability.  What connects them is the love for the water and the addiction to the waves.  The sense of nothingness against the forces of nature, the win and lost battles – with others, but especially with themselves.”  Of key interest to Dave were the photographs of two Mãori men.

They stopped to admire the Église Notre-DameConstructed by the Jacobins, the church is typical of the baroque edifices of the Counter-Reformation period.  Its parvis (the enclosed area in front of the church, typically surrounded with colonnades or porticoes) has been the set of numerous period-drama films.

They detoured to show Mike the Place des Quinconces. Work on this esplanade was carried out in the early 19th century, where Château Trompette once stood. It takes its name from the ‘quinconce’ arrangement of the trees on either side.  At the ‘top’ stands the Monument aux Girondes.  This giant column is a tribute to the late men and women of Gironde who were killed during the French Revolution.  It is composed of gushing bronze fountains with its raised column on which stands the statue of  l’Ange de la Liberté (Liberty breaking her chains). 


As I’ve mentioned in earlier blogs, further down the square there are two colossal statues of the Bordeaux philosophers Montaigne and Montesquieu.  At the end large rostral columns stand opposite the river, topped with statues that celebrate commerce and seafaring.

I joined them all for dinner.  I was still not very hungry but had a bread roll and a couple of crackers without any adverse effects.  I had an early night but Dave stayed up late talking to Mike about this and that, including expounding the virtues of Marko Rodin theory of Vortex Based Mathematics.  Mike is a mathematician, so I am not sure how convinced he was.  Nevertheless, Dave and Mike seem to enjoy chatting to each other.

Monday 20th August.  I had a good night’s sleep and was feeling much better this morning.  I was in no hurry to get up but Dave was keen to explore a bit more of the city by bike – so off he went towards the south of the city. This took him past the southern end of the 1.2 kilometre pedestrianised Rue Sainte-Catherine.


He cycled on through the Public gardens – there’s that bike again


He headed north west, ending up at the Quartier du Lac (lake district) which is a blend of different architectural styles. Major trade fairs and exhibitions are held here, and there are many different types of outdoor leisure activities all year round.  Built on a former marshlands in 1965, everything is centred around a lake – there is a huge exhibition centre, a casino, hotel, four-star international camp site, upmarket housing, a sailing and rowing club, a fitness trail, a golf course, and a sport stadium as well as numerous gardens, small parks and wooded areas.

There is also a plage (beach) – no doubt it would have been packed later in the day.


He came back with croissants and baguettes for breakfast.  I was starting to feel hungry again, and we all lingered over, and enjoyed our typically French breakfast.

Meanwhile, an official from the Port Authority came by to register GEM and collect the mooring fees (€45 per night for a boat this size – but still cheaper than a hotel).  Mike speaks French but Peter (the Kiwi from the boat in front) came and assisted with the translation.  The harbourmaster advised that 7 am would be a good time to leave tomorrow (It is recommended that going upstream to Castets, we should leave Bordeaux four to five hours before local high water and carry the tide upstream for an approximately four hour journey).

While I was feeling much better, I didn’t really feel like going out.  Mike and Gloria went off to visit the Cité du Vin, but as we had been to it already, Dave decided to give that a miss. Instead he was keen to go to the Musée Mer Marine – checking its opening hours I saw that it is closed on a Monday, so he looked at a possible bike ride.

Before he left Peter came to see if he could borrow a saw for cutting wood.  He stopped and chatted for a while, before Dave headed off on his bike ride and I worked on this blog.

Surprisingly, Dave was back in a couple of hours.  This time he ‘roughly’ followed a tram line that took him across the Pont de Pierre, through the southern edges of La Bastide, back over the Pont d’Aquitane again (yes again – but he did take some interesting new shots).

Ditto with regard to his revisiting the submarine bases in the Bassins à flot.

We had a bite to eat for lunch, I carried on with my blog and Dave went out to buy a bottle of wine for Gloria that he had seen the other night from the – it is from Château Gloria.  He came back disappointed as the only bottle of Château Gloria the shop had was the one on display in the window – they wouldn’t sell it to him as it had been in the sun too long.

Late afternoon the hotel barge Bordeaux moored behind us.  They still didn’t seem to have many passengers on board.


Gloria and Mike came back suggesting they had been a bit disappointed/underwhelmed by the Cité du Vin (which is a shame as we had really enjoyed it and recommended it to them.  It seems it was very crowded and they had to queue endlessly to see some exhibitions, whereas when we had gone it had been relatively quiet). Nevertheless, they had enjoyed the stroll to and from the museum along the quays.

After a quick drink we set off on our bikes to an Italian restaurant (Pizzeria Peppone) that had been highly recommended to Gloria.  We encountered a bit of difficulty getting through some road works but soon found it.  It’s not possible to book and even though it was a Monday evening and just before 7 pm, there was already a queue starting to form.


When they let people in, we immediately made our way to get a table in the glassed off area but were told off and had to go through the other door and through the restaurant – Gloria stayed put and we were lucky enough to secure one of the tables in the outside glassed off area

We ordered pre-dinner drinks – the boys complained their beers were warm but the Prosciutto, that Gloria and I had, was suitably cold.  I sipped mine as I was still not feeling 100%.  Our meals were delicious (pizzas for Dave and Mike, spaghetti bolognaise for me and pasta with anchovies for Gloria).

We indulged in dessert.  Dave said he was too full for dessert but I ordered a café gourmand (espresso with small samples of different deserts – mine came with a small tiramisu, scoop of sorbet on a small meringue and a small waffle with whipped cream and caramel sauce on it) with the expectation I would have a taste and Dave would finish it off – I was correct, plus he helped Gloria with her ice-cream.

When we left there was still a queue, despite the four stories of the restaurant being fully occupied – it is indeed very popular.

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We cycled back to the boat and Peter was just leaving with his son and his partner to have dinner at a closer branch of the restaurant we had been too.  Peter invited us to stay with him at La Rochelle if we want to.  We look forward to meeting up with him again in the future.

My digestive system coped well with the meal.  I had a cup of tea and both Gloria and I had an early night, while Dave stayed up and talked to Mike for a couple of hours.

Tuesday 21st August.  It was very important that we left just after low tide in ‘slack water’ which meant we needed to be up and ready to go by 7am at the latest.  We were all up before sunrise and were all set to leave when we saw a cruise ship sitting in the river opposite us – it looked like it was about to turn (which would have caused difficulties for us) but after a few minutes it started to head up river through the Pont de Pierre.

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Peter came along to wave us au revoir, Mike moved GEM out of her mooring and we followed the cruise ship’s path under the bridge.

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It was cloudy and still a bit dark, but as it was after the official sunrise all the street lights, including the lights on the Pont de Pierre were turned off.

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As we went under the SCNF railway bridge a train went by, and we couldn’t help but see the massive system of overhead wires.


MÉCA, which we had visited on Friday, was all lit up.

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We carried on through the gap in the ‘half’ bridge.  I found out yesterday that this is the support structure to help construct the Pont Jean-Jacques Bosc, Bordeaux’s sixth bridge across the Garonne.  It has been designed as a large slab, 549 metres long and 44 metres wide.  It will be supported by a nine-span metal box structure.  There will be a 15 metre wide lane for pedestrians and cyclists.  At both banks, the bridge will connect directly to the banks on large public spaces.  The total cost of the bridge, including connections, is estimated at 110,000,000€, with an additional 11,000,000€ needed to cover project management costs and remuneration of the selected team.  The photos below is a model of what the completed bridge is expected to look like.  It is scheduled to be completed late next year – by the looks of it they have a lot of work to do.


We had only gone a few kilometres, but we had already lost sight of cruise ship.  We went past more carrelets, which I hadn’t noticed on our approach to Bordeaux. (Gloria told me that at the exhibition at the Bordeaux Patrimoine Mondiale there was a display that proposed a scheme whereby these carrelets would be co-owned and made into ‘eco learning centres’).

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There was a lot of traffic, including numerous big trucks, on the next bridge (Pont François Mitterand) that we passed under – the trucks were only 100 metres apart on average.

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It looked like at least one small boat hadn’t fared very well in the river.

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It was quite cold outside but I enjoyed sitting on the front deck.  Dave drove for a lot of the way.  He is expert at reading water and steered us on a very smooth path, avoiding sand banks and other potentially troublesome areas.  We made great progress (we got up to 17.1 kilometres per hour at one stage) and even when we were well into our journey, the mud banks indicated clearly, that there was still some time to go before it would be high tide.

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The river was quite smooth and there was no sign of the tidal bore.  However, while it looked calm, it was easy to get a sense of the strength of the currents as the river raced around pylons or other posts set in the water, and this is going upstream!

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We passed by the cruise ship (that had left Bordeaux just before us) moored up on the pontoon at Cérons – presumably to allow her passengers to go ashore and visit one of the many château in the area.  She had churned up the water quite a bit and it looked and smelt like the black water tanks had been emptied into the river, which wasn’t very pleasant.

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By mid morning, the clouds began to clear and it got a bit warmer.  As we passed by Langon we could see the areas walled off by a low stone wall designed to trap fish (which Dave had seen from the shore on one of his bike jaunts, when we were moored at Castets-en-Dorthe and which I discussed in an earlier blog)

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Just over four hours after leaving Bordeaux we caught sight of the castle and bridge by Castets-en-Dorthe.  Mike had been told to moor up here and wait until 1pm for the lock to open.  However, there was a bit of confusion about where exactly we should head for as the fluvial guide indicated two different mooring pontoons – we could only see one so that is where we headed to.  Once close to the pontoon, Dave jumped off and caught the ropes Gloria and Mike threw him.

We had about two hours to wait but the time went quickly.  The tide continued to rise quite quickly and we saw the steps by the pontoon disappear. Just before 1pm I spotted the light at the lock turn green and the lock doors opened.  Mike drove us into the lock and the éclusier (lock keeper) on duty helped take ropes and ensure GEM was properly in place.  All went well with the locking through process.

When the lock had filled, and we were level with the lock keeper’s house I could see the markers that indicated flood levels.


It’s hard to imagine the river getting so high – especially when I looked back the other way at the Garonne meandering along on its way from Toulouse.


We moved on through the ‘pond’ to the next lock.  A group of young children were fishing at the water’s edge.


All went smoothly with locking through at the next lock.

However, there was no sign of Pierre at the lock to tell us where to moor (Mike had phoned yesterday and had been told there would be a mooring spot available).  We therefore made our way slowly through the port.  Valerie waved out from a boat she seemed to be having lunch on.  We passed by a duck with three ducklings – the first I have seen this year.


We couldn’t see any available space so Mike phoned Pierre at the Capitainerie – his call went to voicemail.  Over the next 10 minutes he called another couple of times, but still no answer.  While he was able to hold the boat easily in the canal, we decided to go through the next lock and moor up at the waiting pontoon on the other side.  Dave needed to be ‘landed’ so he could go up and catch the ropes but Mike was driving too fast for him to be able to jump off at the landing just before the lock.  He therefore stayed on the boat until we were in the lock and clambered up the ladder. (GEM has a propeller that is too big for the vessel so even at engine idle the boat races to about five kilometres per hour).

All went well with locking through – a good thing because, as is often the case, we had quite an audience.


We then moved on a short distance and moored up on the pontoon.


Mike and Gloria went to talk to Capitainerie to find out if it was okay to stay where we were, or to identify where we should moor in the port.  About half way to the Capitainerie they met up with Pierre (on his barge that he lives on).  Although he was officially on holiday he made a phone call and got things sorted out – we could stay where we were (rather than come back). Meanwhile a barge and another boat passed us and went down the lock into the port – we were unsure about where they would moor, but that wasn’t really our problem.

Once the boat was securely tied up we all moved to the front deck where we enjoyed beer and a few snacks.  Mike then cooked us a sumptuous late lunch/early tea of chips, scrambled eggs, black pudding, tomatoes and bacon.


The cycleway next to the canal was busy with cyclists and people out walking so we received many well wishes of bon apéttit.   Pierre also went past with his wife on a small runabout.

Together we compiled a shopping list for Dave (as he was itching to go out on his bike).  He went off and the rest of us retired to our cabins for a nap.  Dave was back quite soon and lay down for a nap himself – he was very soon snoring which put paid to my nap.

Once everyone was up, Mike mixed us a variation of a marguerita. Gloria’s daughter’s partner had concocted the recipe (he’s a ‘mixologist) using grapefruit juice and liqueur instead of orange liqueur (it was nice but I prefer my mix of equal parts Cointreau, Tequila, lime juice and sugar).  I only had a few sips as I was still not feeling like drinking alcohol – Dave was happy to finish it off.


We then went down into the salon/lounge where Gloria put together assiettes of cheese, charcuterie and some fresh fruit, which we ate while we watched the first few episodes of Rick Stein’s French Food Odyssey.  I had seen it when it first came out in 2007, but Dave hadn’t seen it (I had been thinking about getting it for him for Christmas).  It was great watching it again and recognising the places (and many of the dishes Rick Stein cooked).  We can borrow the DVD set and watch the rest once we are back on La Caunette.



I’ll end this post here as it concludes our wonderful and truly unforgettable time in Bordeaux and cover our return to La Caunette and onward travels in my next posting.

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