On the last Saturday of 2017, I once again met up with fellow blogger, Bordeaux 2066 ’s Vincent Bart, for another laid-back adventure. ...

On the last Saturday of 2017, I once again met up with fellow blogger, Bordeaux 2066’s Vincent Bart, for another laid-back adventure. You may remember Vincent from other joint road-trips such as our expedition to the point where the Greenwich meridian meets the 45th parallel north, following the Eau Bourde stream from its source to the river Garonne, and of course our successful attempt to visit Gironde’s northernmost, easternmost, southernmost and westernmost points over the course of a single day

This time, Vincent’s suggestion was that we follow the recently-inaugurated Ligne Grande Vitesse (LGV) railway line from Bordeaux to wherever we would be when we finally decided to turn back. We didn’t expect to see very much of note but decided to proceed nevertheless in case we were wrong. It actually turned out that, on the whole, we had been right, but we did gain a better understanding of the railway line’s course, and did make precisely one interesting discovery. What could it possibly have been? 

First though, a little background information: this new addition to France’s high-speed railway network has been operational since July 2017, a full 25 years on from the concept being initially green-lighted, and after five years of work on this stretch between Tours and Bordeaux (or, more precisely, between Chambray-les-Tours and Ambarès-et-Lagrave). The end-result of the mammoth 7.8-billion-euro engineering project led by contractors Vinci is a brand new line enabling non-stop high-speed rail travel between Bordeaux and Paris, cutting travel time between the two cities to just a little over two hours.
Saint-Jean station as viewed from the new multi-storey car park.
Symbolically enough, Vincent and I meet up at Saint-Jean railway station and, to enjoy a panoramic view of the city’s rail transport hub, head to the top of the brand new multi-storey car park. The car park has been built as part of the wider redevelopment scheme on the Belcier-facing southern flank of the station, in line with the creation of the new “Euratlantique” residential and business quarter. The station entrance has also been completely overhauled, with the addition of shops, takeaway outlets and a restaurant. At one of the outlets Vincent goes looking for a chocolatine (for Parisian readers, that’s a pain au chocolat) but gives up after an ugly queue-jumping incident. At another he is informed he will have to wait ten minutes. We decide to make a move instead. 

We set off and aim for Pont Saint-Jean, Bordeaux’s great unloved bridge, crossing the Garonne river a few metres away from the railway bridge. We drive through the Bastide quarter and past the high-rise buildings of the Cité de la Benauge, which rarely make it onto postcards but are the first sight that railway travellers enjoy of Bordeaux. We proceed north and make a first stop in Lormont, which estate agents reportedly refer to as “the Montmartre of Bordeaux”. We spot a first TGV racing into the tunnel there and Vincent suddenly feels sorry for the people on board whose telephone conversations have been unexpectedly cut short. A security gate preventing access to the line is conspicuously unlocked, and over the warning message the words “From Paris with love” have been artfully graffitied. We take in the view of the Pont d’Aquitaine and move on towards Bassens. 
"From Paris with love" in Lormont.
In Bassens, we head towards the station in the vague hope that Vincent will finally get his hands on a chocolatine. Moving inland from the waterfront docks and industrial warehouses, it turns out the station is located in a residential district. We head onto the platforms to get a feel for the place but it is a quiet, lonely experience. We do however get to cross the railway lines on foot in search of a slightly dangerous photo opportunity. Once the photo has been taken, Vincent informs me that photos of the like are prohibited. Oh well, too late. We move on to Bassens town centre, perched up on high, and fail once again in our quest to find a chocolatine, although there are plenty of hairdressing options. 
Kids, don't try this at home.
Our next stop is the wonderfully-named La Gorp railway station in Ambarès-et-Lagrave which, you may remember, is where the new line technically starts. The roadbridge over the lines and station is pleasingly modern. On either side, big stainless steel panels are broken up by windows that have been designed with trainspotters in mind. As if on cue, another TGV steams past northwards; after holding back in the vicinity of Bordeaux, the train is about to hit full throttle and reach its cruising speed of 300 to 320 kilometres per hour. 
Windows on the railway lines.
Departing Ambarès, Vincent excitedly spots a roadside boulangerie and heads inside as part of his ongoing mission to get his hands on a chocolatine. They’re out of chocolatines though so he has to make do with a cookie. Who would have thought that such a simple request would be so challenging? Somewhere between Saint-Vincent-de-Paul and Saint-Loubès, we hit the Dordogne, admiring the bridge over the river which was built to accommodate the new line. We spot a house at its base which appears to have been abandoned. Were the owners forcibly moved on? 
1,319 metres long, 45,000 cubic metres of cement, 150,000 tons: it's the LGV bridge over the Dordogne.
We opt for the simplest means of crossing the Dordogne: a short stretch of the A10 motorway, exiting as soon as we can to continue following the railway line. From now on, this exercise becomes a complicated case of slaloming back and forth over the line; it’s virtually impossible to drive alongside in perfect linear fashion. We eventually reach a railway station which has been given the name of its two neighbouring villages: Aubie-Saint-Antoine. The station is only served by the longstanding Bordeaux-Nantes line, the LGV trains do not stop here. But its presence is tangible given the brand new car park and a modern red metallic footbridge over the lines; the station has clearly benefited from the arrival of the LGV. 
Vincent inspecting the modern footbridge at Aubie-Saint-Antoine station.
Looking over towards Saint-Antoine.
On the next stretch of our drive towards Marsas and the point where the Nantes line and the LGV split for good, beneath yet another new bridge we spot what used to be the entrance to a level crossing across the old railway tracks. A white cross has been erected there, a sad reminder of how deadly level crossings have so often proved to be (and as was once again the case recently in Millas, near Perpignan). There are no inscriptions on the cross, just some faded artificial flowers; we move on not knowing the full story of what once happened there. 
We carry on north to Laruscade, a small market town which is stuck in that limbo zone where it has neither the charm of a tiny village nor the amenities of a larger town. On its outskirts, where a surprisingly high number of properties are up for sale, many of the single-storey houses are of a Mediterranean-style yellow colour – this annoys Vincent profusely, who remains agitated and only really calms down when he spots the sign welcoming us to Charente-Maritime. Geographical landmarks of the like get him quite excited, so it’s quite a big deal when we alight to take a photo immortalizing our crossing the departmental border line. 
We then loop up towards Bedenac, a small town which is possibly best-known for its prison. One of the distinguishing features of the establishment, Google suggests, is that the inmates are given sessions of what is termed “médiation canine”. Further information is available here. Moving off the beaten track to the west of Clérac, we go in search of a sight of what is labelled on Googlemaps as “la Base de maintenance de Clérac”. Although the satellite view is impressive, from our vantage point on the other side of the tracks, there is really not much to be seen at all.

Looking over towards the Base de maintenance de Clérac. Wow.
We drive on to Clérac proper and treat ourselves to lunch in a small hotel-restaurant establishment, l’Auberge des Lacs Bleus. After our meal we take some time out to visit the town centre, which is all very neat and tidy and pretty; Clérac was one of the technical hubs of the LGV project and the economic benefits were substantial throughout the construction period. Much of this has no doubt been translated into embellishing the environment here. We nip into the church, walking beneath a sundial which is a good deal smaller than its associated information panel. Vincent spots an old “CITRAM” bus stop and we have visions of travellers getting on buses here to journey to far-off climes. 
The sundial and the CITRAM stop, Clérac.
Given the lack of excitement so far (with the possible exception of Vincent’s chocolatine quest), we decide our next stop, Montguyon, will be the northern tip of our journey. We admire the town and the ruins of its medieval castle from a distance and drive towards the impressive 135-metre-long structure bridging the gap between the hills either side of Montguyon for the LGV. When parking the car we bump into a genuine trainspotter – well, not a full-on trainspotter who is up on train types and numbers, but rather a local who knows that trains pass by regularly and who just gets a kick out of seeing them. There is much celebrating when a TGV ploughs past at top speed. 
Montguyon railway bridge.
We are now more or less 70 kilometres from our starting point and it’s not yet mid-afternoon, so Vincent and I decide to backtrack to an unusual sight we had spotted on our outbound journey: somewhere around Cavignac, just to the south of Laruscade, we had driven over a disused railway track. We return to the spot to find out more and to see whether the old line and the LGV intersect at some point. 

We park by a house next to what remains of a level crossing, and get chatting to the person who lives there – he had purchased the house, where he was born in 1957, from his grandmother who had been in charge of the level crossing on the railway line when it was still in operation. Although the information he provided was sketchy at best (and the clarity of the data he delivered was possibly affected by that day’s early aperitif), we later established the line had connected Cavignac with Coutras. It had operated passenger services from 1874 until 1938 and freight trains continued to run here until the mid-1960s. The line closed for good in 1976 although a tourist steam train now runs on a section further east between Marcenais and Guitres
The old level crossing and house.
Vincent making his way along the disused railway line.
Checking his phone, Vincent estimates the distance between the old level crossing and the new LGV line to be around 600 metres, so we set out on foot along the moss-covered tracks towards the inevitable dead end. We soon arrive at our destination and view a couple of high-speed trains whizzing past this point where a previous-generation railway line has come to an abrupt end. It all feels suitably symbolic – we are left wondering whether at some stage in the future the LGV tracks will meet a similar fate.
The end of the line, where old meets new.
We turn round and head back towards the car, wondering what we’ve learnt from our day tracking the LGV tracks. We agree that we now have a clearer idea of how the project has made an indelible stamp on the landscape and the impact it has had, for better or for worse, on the towns and villages that lay alongside the line. And, above all, we now realise that north of Bordeaux it is easier to get a haircut than a fresh chocolatine

We head onto the southbound Nationale 10 road, soon joining up with the heavy motorway traffic heading, like us, into Bordeaux. The loneliness of the deserted abandoned railway line in Cavignac suddenly feels a long, long way away. But to Vincent and myself it now feels strangely comforting to know it is there, silently observing LGV trains en route to and from Bordeaux and Paris. With love.

This adventure is also available as a major motion picture!

> Find the old Cavignac-Coutras railway line on the Invisible Bordeaux map: disused section of Cavignac-Coutras railway line, Cavignac.

I came across an interesting article that was published by the local tourist guide Marie Hallier (Teleprotour Private tours) on her Fa...


I came across an interesting article that was published by the local tourist guide Marie Hallier (Teleprotour Private tours) on her Facebook page. Marie kindly agreed to let Invisible Bordeaux reuse the article, which explains why the waters of the river Garonne are brown in response to one of the recurring questions Marie gets asked: why does the Garonne look so dirty?

Marie says: “To begin with, it is wrong to say the water is dirty, the exact term is “turbid” (cloudy or opaque). OK, it’s not easy to slip that word into conversations but it could prove useful the next time you play Scrabble! Other ways of describing the colour in French include “limoneuse” (loamy), “blonde” or even “café au lait” (milky coffee)…

And don’t listen to what your fellow passenger on the tram is saying. No, the Garonne has not suddenly turned brown because it rained in the Pyrenees last Saturday! The river is actually brown more or less 365 days per year!

The colour is the end-result of a natural phenomenon. To keep things simple, the fresh water (that flows in the Garonne from its source) is laden with sediment (mainly clay from the river bed). With the effect of the oceanic tides, the river comes up against an incoming current made of salty seawater.


In chemical terms, the salty water is heavier than the fresh water, resulting in a kind of undercurrent amplified by the riverbanks and which brings the sediment to the surface. This is referred to poetically in French as “les floculats” (microscopic flakes that form when particles coagulate) and this reaction is what gives the Garonne its lovely brown colour.

Further upstream, at the point where the tidal effect subsides (more or less around Castets-en-Dorthe), the water becomes distinctly clearer. The presence of salty water stops much further downstream, around Bec d’Ambès.

Sometimes, deposits of sediment have been known to latch on to bits of vegetation; this phenomenon is what gave birth to the islands in the Gironde Estuary!


And, it is interesting to note that the Garonne is ranked as one of the cleanest rivers in Europe! So now you know!”

> If you want to know more about the inner workings of the Garonne and the Gironde Estuary, Marie Hallier provides guided tours all year round. Further information available on her website: www.bordeauxcognactourguide.com or via her Facebook page
> All photos and illustrations © Marie Hallier/www.bordeauxcognactourguide.com
> Original version of this article available here
> Ce dossier est également disponible en français !
 

If you happen to be flying with easyJet during the month of January 2018, do make sure you flick through the complimentary in-flight mag...


If you happen to be flying with easyJet during the month of January 2018, do make sure you flick through the complimentary in-flight magazine, easyJet Traveller, and check out the page listing "five cracking views in Bordeaux" as submitted by a "City Insider" who may seem familiar to loyal readers of the blog.

As the title suggests, the "listicle" (part list, part article!) compiles five spots or suggestions to be able to take in the best views of the city. Some are predictable essentials (Pey-Berland Tower and the Cité du Vin), but others are possibly more unorthodox suggestions (catching a Batcub river boat or cycling across the Pont d'Aquitaine). And, possibly for the first and last time ever, the Peugue and Devèze streams (which have been diverted underground in the city centre) get name-checked in an in-flight publication!

Oh, and one more thing: this January issue of easyJet Traveller features not just one Invisible City blogger but two! The magazine also lists "signs of old village life in Paris" as spotted by my Invisible Paris friend and counterpart Adam Roberts. His oddball suggestions include the Cité des Fleurs, Saint-Germain-de-Charonne church and Butte-aux-Cailles.

We hope you enjoy our City Insider tips!

> The full easyJet Traveller magazine can be viewed online; you'll find the Paris and Bordeaux listicles in the "Orange pages" section from page 129 onwards: http://traveller.easyjet.com/emagazine/2915/january-2018/
> Invisible Paris's Adam Roberts has recently penned a fine Cityscopes guide to France's capital city. Full information over on the website of publishers Reaktion Books here, or on Amazon here!  

As 2017 draws to a close, the time has come to look back over the year on the blog. Usually this involves simply highlighting the most-r...


As 2017 draws to a close, the time has come to look back over the year on the blog. Usually this involves simply highlighting the most-read items or personal favourites, but this time around Invisible Bordeaux has decided to organize its own awards ceremony, so congratulations to all the winning subjects who will be delighted to be enjoying some more exposure!

The “Best-Kept Secret” Award: Jardin des Remparts
It’s small and not exactly spectacular, but the Jardin des Remparts is a charming haven of tranquillity in one of Bordeaux’s busiest quarters, located just a few metres away from Capucins Market. And, with a curious shrine, a ghostly sentry post and remains of the 14th-century city walls, there is also a definite sense of history about the place.


The “Most Opaque” Award: the bricked-up windows of Bordeaux
Is there anything more opaque than a window that has been bricked up? And it just so happens that there are hundreds, if not thousands of these bricked-up windows in Bordeaux! Why should that be and what are the various distinguishing features of these architectural oddities? Invisible Bordeaux investigated!


The “Most Travelled” Award: cycling along the Canal de Garonne
Instead of a road-trip, this tale was one of a towpath trip along the banks of the Canal de Garonne from Castets-en-Dorthe to Agen. Starring locks, barges, trees, bridges, aqueducts, various types of vegetables and fruit and, bizarrely, models of French landmarks built out of matchsticks, the scenic bike ride also included a memorable non-encounter with a painting by the Dutch master Rembrandt. Get pedalling! 


The “Bizarre Public Artwork” Award: la Maison aux Personnages
One of Bordeaux’s most unusual permanent art installations is a custom-built house located on a traffic island, comprising a number of rooms, each of which has been designed and filled with scenery and accessories to look like it is inhabited by an imaginary character. The piece is the work of Russian artists Ilya and Emilia Kabakov. It’s all very strange, and is just a little bit controversial too...


The “Inconvenient Truth” Award: the 1942 Juif et la France exhibition
Bordeaux’s wartime history remains a sore subject and, in hindsight, one the most painful chapters from that period was this, the hosting of an anti-Semitic propaganda exhibition. Wartime events of the like now seem to be the unbelievable end-product of some unrecognisable parallel universe. And yet it is all so recent and the setting so familiar that the account makes for chilling reading.


The “Live Event” Award: Domaine Catros Heritage Days tours
Of course, most blog-related public appearances in 2017 came in the shape of more performances of the Shuman Show, the words-and-music live show based on the life and career of Mort Shuman, in front of audiences in Bordeaux, Mérignac, Talence, Saint-Aubin-de-Médoc and even Paris! But this year's award goes to an event that was put on with the support of my daytime employer Thales: I was given the keys to the Domaine Catros arboretum on the premises of our former facility in Le Haillan and held guided tours as part of this year’s European Heritage Days weekend. A splendid time was had by all! 


Thank you for following the Invisible Bordeaux story so far, and see you again in 2018!


A few weeks ago, I picked up a pamphlet that was produced around 1960 and which provided a full overview of the ambitious project to bui...


A few weeks ago, I picked up a pamphlet that was produced around 1960 and which provided a full overview of the ambitious project to build a suspension bridge over the Garonne between the Bacalan quarter of Bordeaux and Lormont. The bridge, referred to at the time as the “Nouveau Pont de Bordeaux”, went on to be inaugurated in 1967 and is now a familiar local landmark: the Pont d’Aquitaine. 

Of course, the bridge was already the subject of a full Invisible Bordeaux report a few years ago, along with a video clip taking in the view from the cycle paths! But what more would I learn from this unusual fold-out pamphlet, credited to Ponts et Chaussées de la Gironde and comprising an impressive amount of originally handwritten data and information, along with a series of pre-computer age technical illustrations and cartography? And how did the technical drawings and maps compare with the finished product, 50 years on from completion? 

For a start, the financial structure of the project is detailed. The bridge itself and the left-bank viaduct were set to cost 97 million “nouveaux francs” (France had just switched systems) which, when accounting for inflation (using calculation methods developed by national statistics institute Insee), represents around 154 million euros in today’s money. The French State was delivering on two-thirds of the budget, while the Gironde département and the city of Bordeaux split the remainder in two. Throw in the right-bank connecting road and the bridge amounted to a 100-million-franc project.

The document also lists the quantities of the main raw materials that would be needed to build the bridge. To highlight but a few, these included 132,000 cubic metres of ordinary and reinforced concrete, 8,500 tons of steel for the reinforced concrete, 1,900 tons of cables for the support and suspension system and 4,350 tons of rolled steel for the bridge's main framework. In its initial configuration, the surface area of the bridge and viaduct amounted to 25,000 square metres.

This is one of the things which may have changed over time: as specified in the pamphlet, the bridge originally comprised 2x2 lanes for road traffic (equating to a width of 14 metres), with 40-centimetre-wide reservations separating them from 1.50-metre-wide cycle paths on either side, in turn coupled with additional 1.10-metre-wide footpaths. When the suspension structure was overhauled between 2000 and 2005, the deck was extended to 2x3 lanes; as a result automobile traffic took up all the available space between the pylons. The cycle path was now aligned with the pylons; when reaching the pylons, the path was diverted, snaking around the pillars on newly-added platforms. The footpaths had already disappeared in 1980 (freeing up space for a "fifth" central lane of traffic) and today the bridge very much remains a non-pedestrian zone.

Cross-section of the original deck, showing the cycle paths and footpaths on either side.

This is how it translated into reality: note the pedestrians over to the right! Picture taken soon after the bridge opened by blog reader Jean-Claude Déranlot. Thanks Jean-Claude!
The cycle path (which lies just behind the red barriers) now loops around the exterior of the pylons.

Leafing through the technical drawings, it does look as if the design of the top of the pylons must have been revised ahead of construction, with slightly slimmer horizontal sections connecting the vertical pillars on the finished product.


Reassuringly, the engineers’ calculations regarding the viaduct’s 4.66% gradient and the curvature of the suspension system translated seamlessly into reality.




The deck now spills over the edge of the structure (where the cycle path passes) when it must have been perfectly aligned in the bridge's original configuration.
Some of the diagrams, such as this one of the left-bank foundation block, almost offer an x-ray view of the real thing, although it looks like the system towards the top may have been modified during the renovation period a few years back, or possibly even during urgent maintenance and repair work carried out in the 1980s.


The pamphlet also provides a cross-section view of the bridge's original suspension cables, each of which was made up of 37 individual cables that were 78.5 millimetres in diameter. Elsewhere in the document, it is explained that those individual cables comprised 208 4.7-millimetre steel wires. In all, each 48cm x 55cm suspension cable weighed in at 1.15 ton per metre. During the 21st-century renovation, all that changed was the diameter of the individual cables (72.6mm) and associated steel wires (127 4.1 mm wires), along with the overall size of the suspension cables (45cm x 51cm).


A close-up view of one of the sealed suspension cables, at one of the points where it is clamped to the bridge, and the point where it enters the foundation block pictured further up the page.
Finally, while the bridge itself is still, at the time of writing in 2017, a highly recognisable result of those early-1960s designs, one thing which has changed considerably is the surrounding road infrastructure. Take, for instance, the lowly roundabout which would have provided an initial means of connecting traffic to and from Bordeaux and the bridge with the “futurs boulevards extérieurs” (now lovingly referred to as the Bordeaux Rocade) which has, over time, become a complex spaghetti junction notably fed by traffic from the busy Bordeaux Lac business, exhibition, hotel and retail park.

The way it was planned in the 1960s and the way it is now (via Googlemaps): the humble roundabout has become a spaghetti junction.
All of which brings us back to the present-day Pont d’Aquitaine, the Bordeaux suspension bridge which isn’t doing so badly for a 50-year-old! Despite the arrival of leaner, more fashionable counterparts spanning the Garonne, and even though it will never quite have the picture-postcard cachet of the Pont de Pierre, the Pont d’Aquitaine still stands tall and proud, enjoying its prominent status as the main gateway between the city and the Gironde Estuary which lies beyond (a little further downstream), and providing the final physical means of crossing the river ahead of the Atlantic ocean.

 
> Locate it on the Invisible Bordeaux map: Pont d'Aquitaine, Bordeaux/Lormont
> Ce dossier est également disponible en français !
> Big thanks to Frédéric Llorens for the additional information about when the pedestrian footpaths were removed. 
> And check out the exclusive Invisible Bordeaux guide to the view from the bridge!

I was recently approached for an interview by the Bordeaux tourist office ahead of the launch of their new webzine, Un Air de Bordeau...


I was recently approached for an interview by the Bordeaux tourist office ahead of the launch of their new webzine, Un Air de Bordeaux. The webzine has now gone live, and it is a fine resource that is set to be a valuable addition to the local online ecosystem! 

Un Air de Bordeaux is primarily aimed at locals, to encourage them to get out and about, to see, visit and explore the surrounding metropole, but it is also bound to be of interest to international readers! It covers everything from parks to museums, tries out various oddball offerings, pinpoints child-friendly activities and lists upcoming events (exhibitions, sport, concerts, festivals, etc.).

The interview I gave features among a collection of “Super week-end” suggestions in the lifestyle section of the webzine. In it I reveal five unusual places to head to in order to enjoy an unusual take on the city, such as the scenic Parc Floral and the wide open spaces of Eysines, the “vegetable garden of Bordeaux”. One of my top tips is the national social security museum in Lormont, but do note that this most unusual of museums is only open on weekdays!

So, head on over to Un Air de Bordeaux and see where the webzine takes you. There is, after all, so much more to Bordeaux than its waterfront and Rue Sainte-Catherine!


Video introduction here: