We wanted to see more of Bordeaux than the grimy central city, so with our bus map and unlimited travel three-day passes ready we went to the railroad station to plan a day's excursion. We enjoyed pastries and coffee at the WW II German sub base station cafe (better for us than the big hotel buffet where we always overdo the cheeses and cold cuts!)
A glance at the train schedule showed nothing interesting for the next hour and a half, so we boarded the bus for the German submarine base northwest of the city. In a pleasant marina filled with ocean-ready sailboats we found the looming cement structure, like something out of James Bond. This with its sister bases nearby on the Atlantic coast, is supposed to be the largest military construction of World War II. Now it houses a modern art museum.
One major surprise is that the sub base is only six blocks from our hotel. So the scenery, which had seemed so constant on the walk from the hotel towards the centrum, changed radically if we walked in the other direction. What made the area around the sub base even more unusual was the McDonald's. This was not a typical European-city-style McDonald's, built into a downtown building, but instead was a suburban-style place, with the standard big parking lot and a drive-through lane. It was like culture shock in reverse. Lovely house in Bruges
Naturally we stopped for a snack, and were delighted with tiny coffees served French-style with chocolates, plus apple and raisin pastries. McDonald's has an earnest poster describing how extremely safe their hamburgers are.
We walked past some pleasant houses with lovingly maintained gardens, and near an exhibit and study center for wood constructions. Note the giant pencils, pointed up, in the photo. This was the first time we had seen wood suggested for building construction in France; stone, brick, and concrete seem to be almost universal. How would Europeans, accustomed to cathedrals and castles that last for thousands of years, accept short-lived wood structures and the need for frequent varnishing or painting the wood for preservation? (This study center needed a coat of varnish itself.)
Next we came to the Gare St. Louis. The little train station was indeed open for business; its trains travel through the Medoc vineyards to the coast. But a look at the schedule revealed we could get there pretty soon, but couldn't return to Bordeaux until evening. In summertime, with more tourists, there are Suburban home and garden more trains. So we elected to continue our tour by bus, following the transportation map.
We took the BR bus to Bruges. Our image of Bordeaux, colored by the Chartrons district surrounding our hotel, changed. Bruges is a charming and prosperous suburban town, with lots of lawns and gardens and stuccoed houses and a tidy town square. We stopped at La Poste to mail a package, and then began to look for the bus stop for the bus named Fil U. After quite a bit of useless wandering around, trying to make the streets match our transportation map, we took the 36 bus and then jump-transferred to the 35, which got to the same place as Fil U: the University. Only then did we realize that Fil U is simply French for "Line to the University."
By the way, we have asked a lot of people for information about the buses; and just as in the U.S., if they don't ride 'em, they don't know anything about 'em! Oh, yeah, there's a bus stop down the street somewhere.
Our bus route wound through more pleasant neighborhoods, through the suburbs of Eysines and Merignac and Pessac, carrying schoolkids home for lunch or the weekend. Bordeaux is really quite well off; it's just the downtown that is all messed up and from our reading maybe this is because they don't have good laws of eminent domain because it takes forever to condemn a place and only a Building constructed of wood little less long to get a building permit.
We rode on avenues Franklin D. Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, as well as those named for many, many French luminaries, through Eysines and Merignac and Pessac to Talence, now suburbs of Bordeaux, probably once separate towns or vineyards. The University of Bordeaux has a most impressive large campus with the typical university mix of architectures and mysterious laboratories.
On the university campus are two of the prestigious grande ecoles: ENSAM, the Ecole Nationale Superieure des Arts et Metiers, and ENSERB, the Ecole Nationale Superieure des Electroniques, Informations, et Radiocommunications de Bordeaux. It looks like that Informations got added to the name afterwards.
Getting off the bus at ENSERB was an English student who saw us following along on our map and offered help. We said, yes, we were seeing Bordeaux by bus, and he replied, that's the best way.
In Talence we had to change buses once again, and a larger and larger pulse of school kids of all sizes, shapes, and backgrounds kept coming. Just like school kids in the U.S., chattering happily.
Our last bus ride, still through very nice neighborhoods just outside the Closeup showing "pencils" center of Bordeaux, was from Talence to the railroad station. During this trip we had an unexpected experience. The driver wasn't too good about keeping the articulated bus all the way on the road, and of course it was a great challenge to drive such a big long bus down those narrow roads with cars parked every which way so we guess it wasn't all that surprising when he ran over a big metal stake with the right rear wheel of his second section. That was only one of his 16 tires so he really didn't need it that much, but the stake part got stuck next to the bus right where we were sitting and made a screech screech screech for a block or so until it fell off. The high school girls in the seat ahead twittered nervously cause they heard the screech screech screech too but nobody else appeared to notice and then when we got off the bus we looked and there was a big cut right through the sidewall of that outside tire which was totally flat and he was riding on one tire, did he know or care or would he report that flat?
Then we took our sandwiches and sodas and got on good old #7 for the ride back to the hotel. As we walked back from the bus stop, we looked at our hotel's surroundings with a more charitable eye, and found some nice touches we'd missed before: flower boxes in some windows, and stone masks (the signature Bordeaux architectural touch) on a nearby builing. These masks are special, each one unique and so real you think you could recognize its model on the street.
All in all, a pretty good bus riding day.