• Day9

    La Rochelle to Bordeaux

    September 18, 2018 in France ⋅ ⛅ 23 °C

    We really couldn’t wait to get out of the ‘Aire de Camping’ in La Rochelle, but we stopped to top up the water and dump the grey water tank before we left. The highway to Bordeaux was excellent and we found our way there no problem, but we had to investigate parking options for leaving Albi so spent a lot of time poking around the industrial areas around the Merignac airport before making our way ‘downtown’.

    Unfortunately, it was rush hour and our GPS took us straight through the town, so we ended up in endless lineups and lights, and our 430PM arrival time ended up being more like 7 PM. Luckily for us, the place we found on ‘Park4nite’ turned out to be really good - right next to a marina and a McDonald’s so we got WiFi, a view and a ready toilet open most hours of the day.

    We got ourselves set up and Gin cooked us a great meal that we enjoyed overlooking the marina. There were they very big fish, that looked like maybe catfish, swimming around below us and grabbing the bits of food we tossed in to them. The weather was again perfect and although our plans to get to the tourist information Centre to plan our stay fell through, we spent the evening plotting out the plan for the next day. The place was quite industrial but there were several other RV’s about - some looking like they’d been there for a very long time. One even had several ‘outbuildings’ set up where I think his pets slept at night. We crossed path with some of these people in the McDonald’s in the morning getting coffee and using the toilets.

    The next morning we were searching for a few bits and pieces for the RV so we popped into the local boat chandler. It looked like a good place to possible park long-term so we talked the them about paying something to leave the RV. After exploring several options nothing panned out unfortunately but we did find some of the electrical bits we needed and got some ideas for other things. Albi has been a bit neglected with preventative maintenance so there are a few electrical connections and metal brackets that have rusted out so I wanted to replace those and get the connections redone before anything failed. We also bought some covering for the salon seats because they are cream colored and are very quickly going to get dirty and worn badly.

    Having that sorted we jumped on our bikes and headed into town, which was about a 5KM ride. At the tourist information we picked up a walking tour/map and a bunch of information on the wine regions and the coastal area and the national park nearby. The whole Bordeaux wine area is set up for biking and there are many maps. There are also at least 100 different Terroir/Chateaux that permit RV’s to stay out the property - many for free, so we got the contact information for those in order to plan out our stay in the area.

    We locked up the bikes and began the longer version of the walking tour of the city. It proved to be a good tour of the main sites and gave us a good orientation of the city with some background history and architecture. Bordeaux is nicknamed the ‘Moon Port’ because of the curve in the Gordonne river that looks like a sliver of a moon. We walked through the crowded cobblestone pedestrian shopping areas, along the river and in and out of the many town gates that formerly protected the city’s center. Bordeaux has been described as one of France’s most beautiful cities and we certainly enjoyed the architecture and shopping along the way.

    With the walking tour complete we made our way back to our marina front camping spot for dinner and a nice glass of wine. We found Albi safe and sound but with two new ‘neighbours’ on each side of us. A very large bus RV with a family inside and a smaller one behind us with a couple from France and their scooter. The French couple was parked just a foot or two off our rear bumper which we were none too pleased about, but since we were leaving the following day we let it stand without a fuss. We did wonder with all the space available why they had to be so close - perhaps they felt it was more secure to be close to the other campers.

    The following day we decided to try and find some parking for the week of our absence and spent some time on our bikes around the area. Just over a small bridge I found another RV parked behind a locked gate and after driving around a bit I found the access point. Although it is posted as ‘Keep Out’ and ‘Defense d’entrer’ when we went in we discovered that is essentially an area of house boats built from barges and the RV parked there belonged to one of the owners of the barges (from a sign in the window). This gave us an idea. We decided to move Albi in there and make a sign of our own. We had overheard a couple talking about being in an Air BnB on the barges, so we made a sign for Albi that said (in French) ‘we are staying on the adjacent boats for a few days, if there are any problems please calll...’ and our number. The area is fenced in and secure, and we figured that the sign would at least defer any issues until our return. With the van secured we jumped on our bikes for ‘day 2’ in Bordeaux.

    The second day we returned to town and completed the ‘hidden sights’ walking tour, which somewhat overlapped our first day but took us slightly further afield. We found some hidden and quiet squares, cathedrals and markets and of course stopped for our daily gelato. ;) The tour told the story of a successful trading town that thrives today as the center of the wine industry and a bustling tourist hub. Back on our bikes and back to the RV so that Ginette could get the tram out to the airport for her flight to Canada in the afternoon.

    After sorting the bikes I walked back to the Bacalan district ‘Eataly’ area - a market area and restaurant warehouse at the termination of the tram where the locals and tourists congregated for drinks and dinner in the evening. On Wed and Thurs night they offer $1 oysters on the half shell so I had a great oyster meal and a couple ‘blanche’ beers. I met up with a US couple and their new baby having some problems finding accommodation so I helped them out with French booking into a BnB and we chatted about the town, the state of Canada/US affairs and each other’s lives. Soon enough they were off and I was back at the RV making sure all was ready for my own departure to Amsterdam the following day to visit some old cruising friends from our sailing days.

    The following day it was cold and raining and my plans to bike to town fell apart pretty quickly. Instead I walked the 15 minutes to the recently opened wine region museum and spent the day there. This was a really cool experience that explores the worldwide wine industry and gives some insight into the Bordeaux region’s suitability as a successful participant for so many years. There are many interactive displays including one dedicated to wine tasting which allows you to experience the many fragrances and tastes of wines. There are many historical dioramas and displays that discuss how wine evolved over the years, its history and place in human culture and the state of the industry today. I discovered that France is the largest producer of wine followed closely by Italy and Spain. The New Zealand wine industry has nearly quadrupled it’s output in the last 10 years! I also paid the extra to have a tour of the spectacular building which was completed in 2016 and cost nearly 300 million euros. It is designed to look like wine swirling in the glass and is very unique both inside and out. Too quickly it was time to go and after securing Albi and the bikes in the rain I boarded the tram. For 1.70 I was at the airport in 45 minutes as opposed to a 45 Euro quote from a taxi or 35 Euro Uber!

    I finally arrived in Amsterdam many hours later after flight delays and an overcrowded Schipol airport. It was strange to be in Schipol again as we had used it many times when we were in Germany for our travels. I even remembered where the Starbucks was! I am now hanging out in a small town north of Amsterdam on our friend Monique and Janbart’s boat ‘Cocoon’. Unfortunately we cannot sail because the boat is in maintenance but we are having a nice relaxing time exploring and catching up. I am hoping that Albi is OK back in Bordeaux, and am assuming since nobody has called me all is well. When I return we will leave the city and head for the wine regions and the coast around Bordeaux. We will have about 10 days after Ginette gets back to explore this before I leave for work again. Ginette will head west into Spain and take on a few legs of the Camino de Santiago, and we will meet up again in early November to work our way south for warmer weather. It is chilly in Holland, and the 30’s we’ve had in the last few weeks I’m afraid are gone until next summer. I’ve bought some warmer clothes here to prepare, and hopefully we can eke out a few more weeks of warmth before I need to pull them out.

    Until next time.

    Derek and Ginette
    Fast Albert
    Bordeaux, France
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