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Day 24 - Bordeaux, done
March 26, 2010            Latresne to Bordeaux and on to Le Pian Médoc             18 miles
Pont de Pierre
River panorama
Reaching up
I covered a lot of ground today, and it was much too interesting to feel any aches and pains. Besides, I think I've "hit my stride". I felt that same fluency and ability to "go the distance" after two hundred miles on my last British hike - yes, it took that long. Well, it's taken nearly three hundred miles on this hike. Yes, that two hundred miles in Britain translated to about 20 percent of the total distance. Here in France, as Hobson was quick to point out, it's taken me more like 85 percent of the total distance before I've really felt on top of things. And the terrain has been much flatter here. Did anyone say age is catching up with me?

With my newfound alacrity, I strode out of the Hôtel d'Arcins at Latresne at 7.15 am, and was riverside in Bordeaux less than an hour later. As you may know, Bordeaux has a tidal range of 17 to 18 ft (5 m). Back home, the tidal range is more like 3 ft. At the time I took the picture (see below) of the little crane on pilings, it was by no means low tide. It gives an idea of how high the river banks have to be. The speed of the tide is significant, and boaters use it to go upriver, or down. In fact, at peak speed going out, the tide is fast enough to deny some boats any headway.

I crossed into downtown Bordeaux using the Pont de Pierre, a stately two hundred year old bridge which now carries a modern tramway system as well as cars and bikes and pedestrians. Arriving on the west side of the river reveals a really impressive city. My R&R in Bordeaux is being reserved for when I've finished my hike, and have some time while waiting for my return flight, but I took a few photographs today.

The streets are hardly on a grid pattern, and there were a great many multiple-street junctions and squares from which I sometimes headed off in slightly the wrong direction before correcting myself when landmarks didn't present themselves as planned. I think I covered some extra mileage, but it was all too interesting to frustrate.

Then, slowly the suburbs came, and then the countryside. At this point, just when the sidewalks ended, Friday afternoon traffic picked up. In parts, the road had almost no shoulder, and the grass verge was distinctly graded right from the roadside down to a drainage ditch with water in it. It really wasn't much fun navigating that slope for any distance, let alone a few miles.

Then, headed out to the boonies, and coming to a Carrefour supermarket, I thought I'd better stock up on some staples for the upcoming weekend - when most stores are closed. There I had just selected two Granny Smith apples - yes, that's their name in French too - when a store clerk arrived, and told me I couldn't be in the store with my backpack on. Now if there is one place for my backpack fo be where it's impossible to use it to stow shoplifted items . . . it's on my back. My arms don't reach backwards that far. And, besides, I don't shoplift. Furthermore I didn't plan to be in the store for more than five minutes, which is too little time to want to take the pack off and heft it on later and do up all its straps. This conversation went on in my halting French, which was less grammatical but more emphatic for having walked on a sloping grass verge for an hour without slipping into the aforementioned wet drainage ditch.

The store clerk said that the backpack would bother other customers, so I pointed out that the store was empty. She said I could leave the pack in my voiture, so I explained that I'm a randonneur and randonneurs don't have voitures.

At this point, the store clerk offered to care for my pack herself, but I told her that if she didn't trust me not to steal two Granny Smith apples, I wasn't going to trust her not to steal my computer.

Eventually, I gave her the two Granny Smith apples, and told her she could put them where the monkey put the nuts, not that I could say that gracefully in French.

I still have tomorrow to buy some rations, though I'm in the boonies, and I really must do so because - apart from the stores closing - hotel breakfasts on weekends may not start until 8.30 am or even 9.00 am, which is too late for hiking. On Sundays, even hotel restaurants close after a short lunch service, and other restaurants may be closed all day. That at least is how it is in country towns.

At Auberge du Pont Bernet, after 18 miles, I found a hot bath, a radiator, wifi and a nice dinner. The French really do try to do food well. Moreover, just as we like a restaurant with a view or a roaring fireplace, they like those things and more. They like to discuss the food, perhaps the seasonality of the offerings, and for sure all the ingredients. You're served with a touch of theater, which we might call affected but they call it flair. An interval between courses is important. The key social part of the day is never to be rushed.

Thinking back at the beautiful tramway in Bordeaux, and of the food tonight, I'm reminded of a French-born colleague in my former engineering life. He was marked as French by his accent, and bemoaned the reputation this brought with it. "The French are known for wine, sex and food," he said. "But not for their engineering."

He is right, and their engineering is excellent.

But not, apparently, French marine engineering. At least, not according to Hobson. Hobson has been complaining about the sailing qualities of the boats he's tried. I'll let him loose on the one pictured below. Maybe he'll feel better when he gets the speed up a bit.
Showing tidal range
City scene
Hobson's red barge
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