In Bordeaux, the Cruise Ships Dock Right In the City

Today I walked the streets of Bordeaux with Stephane Thierry, who for 35 years has run the press marketing for the large region of Aquitaine, that covers five distinct parts, from Perigeaux and the Dordogne in the north all the way down to glitzy Biaritz in the South, and west to Lot-en-Garonne, where I am now.

The city wasn’t always as attractive as it is today. That’s because in 1998, they tore down twelve large warehouses and factory buildings and big wall that separated the city from the Gironde river.  Today a graceful 4 km promenade, bordered by gardens, historic limestone buildings from the 1800s  and areas for festivals and bandstands  is a highlight, and 20 cruise ships a year sail all the way up the river and dock right near the city center.  The freight is now handled out by the ocean, no longer in the city.

I asked Stephane about unemployment, and he replied with a sum that’s staggering, in this sunny, happy place. It’s 19 percent…and Ford just closed a big factory, so the number will get even worse.  In the US we are moaning about 9 percent, I told him.

There is the longest pedestrian mall in Europe down the center of Bordeaux, it’s 3 kilometers of shops, restaurants and only delivery vehicles.  They’re building an arena here, since there is no place for big concerts and the city’s theaters are all small little storefronts.  The tourism is way up in the region, and at the airport luggage carousels, man-sized replica bottles of Bordeaux’s finest wine are perched above the belts.

It’s a lovely, sunny city and mostly made of the limestone quarried nearby. It’s a beautiful shade of pale yellow and when it gets dirty turns black. There is a big business here cleaning the buildings, and most are looking pretty darn good.