We decided to walk to the railroad station in Nantes, about a mile from the hotel. It was not raining when we left the hotel, but it started a light sprinkle about five minutes later. So we could have guessed better. By the time we reached the station, we were tired and damp, but coffee and pastries at the station cafe restored us, partly because we could sit and work crossword puzzles with no one trying to hurry us away.

The train ride south reminded us of the coastal plain of the eastern U.S.; basically flat except for a big hill north of Bordeaux which we conquered by a tunnel. The land was relatively sparsely populated, with lots of farmland, some of which was flooded. The cab driver in Bordeaux said it had rained for three weeks; global warming, the papers said.

There was a tiny kitten riding the train along with us. At one point it scampered up the aisle until its owner, built like a basketball player, scooped it up. It was grey and white. Cuddles wanted to play with the kitten but we didn't agree.

It was a four-hour train ride, with six stops. The controleur never asked for tickets. We snacked on sandwiches we had bought in the Nantes station. About half way we noticed the houses now all bore Mediterranean red tile roofs. The countryside looked poor; lots of the buildings needed repair.

In Bordeaux we saw the same thing: lots of building restoration and maintenance wanted. Our hotel is in the area called Les Chartrons, formerly a suburb. Now it's filled with nineteenth century houses, occupied by working class French families, including a goodly number of what the French call immigres -- that is immigrants from the former French colonies.

The region around Bordeaux, called Aquitaine, was part of England under the Plantagenets. Every December hundreds of ships sailed north with local wine. That was before they knew about aging wine. In the eighteenth century, back in the Kingdom of France, Bordeaux grew richer than Paris through the slave trade. The slavers built huge wine-producing chateaux all through the surrounding regions: Graves, Medoc, St. Emilion. It was at this time that they learned to age the finest wines in the world.

Billions of francs have been spent restoring Paris' eighteenth century buildings, but only within the last thirty years has much money come to Bordeaux. Large military aircraft plants were put here, but they have had layoffs due to defense cuts. Fine wines are still produced, but by itself this cannot support the region's economy.

After reading our tourist guides, we realize that this will be a difficult area to appreciate without a car, because many of the old buildings and chateaux are far from the rail lines. But we have found some interesting things to do in the next few days.