Get to Bordeaux: Your first stop in France
Conventional wisdom suggests that visits to France start in Paris. Without doubt Paris is a wonderful destination city; however, for an enjoyable immersion into the French life-style, the best starting point is Bordeaux.
Rail Europe to Bordeaux
Fly XL Airways (if you are on a budget) to Paris (CDG Charles de Gaulle), then take a 15-minute walk through the airport and you will reach the Paris station for the train to Bordeaux.
As you meander through the airport, make a stop at the loo (access is free), if you wait until you reach the train station, you will have to pay for the privilege and the accommodations are not nearly as attractive.
The train station waiting area is clean and comfortable, the departure signs are clear and visible and when combined with the comfortable seats on the train, the ride from Paris to Bordeaux is very pleasant.
Heads UP for Traveling by Rail
Before you go. Make Rail Europe reservations as soon as you have confirmed airline travel dates. The webpage for Rail Europe is easily navigated and the 800-number links to knowledgeable reservation agents who provide professional assistance for routing, times, fees, costs, and other information that you need to know before you start the journey. Reservation confirmations are sent to by mail – so do not leave arrangements to the last minute. Read every line of the documents and carefully follow the instructions to ensure a smooth journey. Remember: Reservations are required on TGV (SNCF French railways).
Challenges: European rail can be a challenge, especially the task of identifying the rail car and seat number. Seating is not on a random, or first come, first served basis. There is no open seating and if you have settled in to another person’s seat, you will be asked to vacate.
With Rail Europe reservations you have a rail car, and a seat number in addition to confirmed departure dates/times and arrival times. While there is some flexibility, time and routing changes may be accompanied by a service fee and may not be available at the last minute. Pay the fee for the insurance that enables changes without penalties. Additional information here.
Getting on the train
There is no desk (or person) for check-in. With reservation in hand, head to the departure platform as soon as the gate number is posted on the station monitor. Walk directly to the departure platform, view the TV screen to find the location of the train car (sounds easier than it is) and locate the correct car (ask for assistance – people will be happy to oblige). Do not tarry, the train will not wait for you.
Once on board the train, leave your luggage with an ID tag (with your name/hotel/email and telephone number) on the rack before entering the train car. Locate your seat – the number is likely to be on the back edge of the armchair – near the wall (not near the aisle). Once seated, you will find a plug for cell phone/computer charging and a pull-down tray for a laptop. Remember that the electrical connections require a converter for USA plugs.
Keep all your Rail Europe paperwork in a convenient and accessible spot as the conductor will ask for the information, along with your passport.
Where to Sleep
Bordeaux offers visitors accommodations at all price points.
I spent two nights at the City Residence (located at the edge of the city). This budget property is a 3-minute walk to the riverfront, and 12-minutes to the Musee d’Art Contemporain de Bordeaux. Modestly priced (for Bordeaux), the space was small but basically functional and equipped with free wi-fi, mini-refrigerator, television and air conditioning. The best part? Location! The City is in a “neighborhood” where the people of Bordeaux live and work. The location offers a laundromat (10-minute walk) as well as a local boulangerie and informal café dining options.
The laundry is a self-service system with instructions in French. Fortunately, I found other people doing their laundry and they kindly provided assistance and walked me through the steps from detergent to drying (bring coins to use the machines).
Across the street from the laundromat is a Paul with fresh coffee and warm baguettes.
Near the City Residence, is a small popular local restaurant with outdoor seating offering an eclectic menu at value prices.
Prefer to be knee-deep in tourists? There is no better city-center location than the InterContinental Bordeaux Le Grand Hotel.
Fortunately for visitors, there are many other hotels in the same vicinity at different price points – just be aware that this area is tourist central.
hotel concierge or front desk personnel for assistance. The people walking next to you on the street, having an aperitif, or working in the many shops and restaurants will be happy to offer assistance.
Skip this Stop
Bordeaux Office of Tourism, 12 Cours du XXX Juillet 33080 Bordeaux. A short walk from the hotels the Bordeaux Tourism office is the departure point for the Hop On/Off bus. This is the only spot in Bordeaux where the staff was unpleasant and more engaged with each other than with providing services to visitors. If possible, skip this spot and ask the staff at your hotel, or the people who work at nearby restaurants and cafes if you want to engage in a pleasant and helpful conversation.
For additional information on Bordeaux, click here.
© Dr. Elinor Garely. This copyright article, including photos, may not be reproduced without written permission from the author.