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Trip Report One Hundred Foot Journey through Bordeaux, Burgundy and Paris

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This was our 8th visit to France, third visit to Paris but our first time to the Bordeaux and Burgundy regions. We were here in September for 17 days and split our time evenly among the three cities.

BORDEAUX

We flew direct to Paris from Seattle on Delta Airlines (9 ½ hour) and then flew to Bordeaux on Easy Jet Airlines (less than a hour). The Bordeaux airport is small as we departed the plane onto the tarmac. The baggage claims area and parking lot is dotted with gigantic wine bottles that greet you and you definitely know you are entering the wine region.

Our first apartment was very modern and spacious but it was located in a residential neighborhood a 20-30 minute walk away from the center of the city.

The apartment building was near the Garonne River that has a wide promenade for pedestrians, cyclists and skate boarders. I was not used to seeing a brown river (being from the Pacific NW) but I was told it was due to low tides as the water comes from the Atlantic ocean. The city’s mayor (once the Prime Minister of France) has beautified the former port that was covered in soot and now has light colored limestone buildings facing the river.

A tram was only a 10 min walk from our apartment. The A and B line trams does not go into a complete circle so you need to know when to get off to catch the other tram but it’s easy to figure out. The tram stops have ticket machines. After you board the tram, you punched your ticket in the yellow ticket machine.
Bordeaux is known as a popular University city and is vibrant with lots of young people around. It has the longest pedestrian street (Saint Catherine) in France filled with stores and restaurants. On Sundays, most stores are closed.

The city has a great food market on Sundays that makes it hard to resist trying something new. Bordeaux’s famous treat is caneles (small fluted cakes) that were created in a convent by a nun to raise money for the poor back in the 18 century. I found a kitchen store that sold the molds and found a recipe on line when I got back. It’s been fun to make and a nice treat with coffee or tea.

Wine Touring in Bordeaux

We originally thought of renting a car but decided after hearing that visiting vineyards is not like in Napa/Sonoma so we decided to go on wine tours.

We did two full days of wine touring with Orpheous Wine Tours and visited the Medoc Region (three Chateaus on our first day). The chateaus in Bordeaux are beautiful and vineyards larger than the ones in Burgundy. We were on our own for lunch and stopped in a village so we had some times to ourselves. We were comfortable in an air-conditioned mini van that was nice because it was very hot when we were in Bordeaux. The tour guide wore a microphone so everyone could hear. We learned something different at each chateau we visited. Each vineyard had an English speaking tour guide so it was interesting to hear the history of the Chateau as well as the wine making. The Bordeaux chateaus we visited were large (100-300 acres).

Second day was visiting two Chateaus in Pauillac and Saint Emilion. The Chateau de Sales has been in the same family for the last five centuries and still does their own de-stemming by hand which was amazing. It was very nice that the owner/winemaker came out to greet us before the tour.

We had about 4 hours in Saint Emilion which is charming village town from the 4th century and has 1000 residents. We were on our own to explore the village and have lunch. The tour also included an optional wine tasting at Le Cellier de Saint Emilion wine shop. We almost skipped this but glad we didn"t as it was complimentary and part of the tour. We tasted seven Saint Emilion wines and some were grand and premier cru’s. We arranged for 2 cases of wine to be shipped and because we had another week in France they delayed the shipping. The wine arrived the day after we returned home.

Dijon (Heart of Burgundy) – A real gem

We originally were going to fly to Dijon but the Easy Jet airlines discontinued the route in July so we had to fly to Lyon from Bordeaux. We decided to take the Rhone Express Shuttle (15e) from the Lyon airport to the Lyon Gare Perdieu. A taxi was about 50-60 euro so we took the tram shuttle that was less expensive (15 euro each). It was about an hour-long ride to reach the downtown train station. We paid for tickets once we were in the tram.

We had originally thought we could see a bit of Lyon and have lunch but we had less than 3 hours before we met with our Dijon apartment owner so we decided to take the next train to Gare Dijon-Ville. We found out later that our 2:00 train had been canceled so good thing we took an earlier train.

We got baguette sandwiches at Paul Maison bakery at the train station. One of the oldest family owned bakeries in France. The office of Tourism is outside the terminal on your right.

The main pedestrian street is only about 4-5 blocks away from the train station so this city is very easy to visit if you are staying somewhere else.

The charming apartment owner, Coco, came to pick us up at the train station. I don’t think you will find another apartment owner who offers this service. She is very kind and has lots of enthusiasm. The apartment is located in the most ideal spot next to the Dukes Palace and is in a pedestrian area zone. A huge piazza is in the front of the Burgundy’s Duke’s home with lot of restaurants and shops. I highly recommend staying here.

The apartment is spacious for a studio and is nicely decorated and has a homey feeling instead of an apartment. She thought of everything to make our visit wonderful. Along with the fresh flowers, special treats, bathrobes, fluffy towels, the kitchen was stocked with all the cooking ingredients if you were inclined to cook meals and she had bought food for breakfast for the next few days for us. www.myhomeindijon.com

The famous Les Halles covered food market that was built by Dijon native, Gustave Eiffel, who also designed the Eiffel Tower was about 5-10 minutes walk away. Sadly we missed the International and Gastronomic Fair in France which is later this year (Oct 31-Nov. 11) but I will keep this event in mind for our next visit. Dijon has been hosting this event since 1930.

We were fortunate to be in Dijon when they were celebrating Heritage Days. This is when all the government offices/museums were free.

We decided to go and see all the churches and museums during the Heritage weekend. We first started with the Duke's Palace. They only allow so many to go up the tower so you need to make reservations. We made reservations to take the tour on a later day. The view at the top of the city is worth the climb.

The museums are small and filled with history so you don’t feel overwhelmed. We went to see the Musee des Beaux Arts that is used as government offices. The last place was the best we thought and enjoyed the Magnin Musee which was like the Frick Museum in New York City. These musuems were just a few steps away from our apartment.

There is the Musee Archeologique built in 1000. It’s here that the relics of the 1st relic of the apostle of Burgundy was found.

We visited the Dijon’s Botanical Gardens that was nearby.

The city has this adorable Owls Walking tour that you can purchase a self guided handout at the Office of Tourism for a small fee. Someone brilliant came up with this creative thought of placing gold owls along the city cobblestone streets marking the tourist sights.

There is a gourmet shop just a few doors down from the apartment called Grains de Cassis. Great store to pick up gourmet items like black truffles, duck pate, cassis and Kir to bring back home. I love to cook so it’s nice to add some specialty items that we can bring home from France. Adding these items to the jars of Dijon mustard, grey salt, and chocolate sauce and Burgundy wine we will get to enjoy for many months afterwards. I also picked up chestnuts in each city so during the holidays I'm planning to roast them.

The train station is only a 15 minute walk from the apartment so it’s easy to go to Paris, Provence or to Switzerland (Lausanne) only 2 hours away but we decided to just stay in Dijon and enjoy the city.

We chose the Discovery Wine Tours and took the Grand Premier tour. We got picked up in Dijon and spent the day wine touring in the Burgundy region. Be prepared to pay in cash because they are not able to take credit cards.

We visited three Domaines and a three-course lunch was included in the tour price. The lunch was very good and we got to enjoy Burgundy regional food. We were extremely lucky that we able to do wine touring during the harvest. It was fun seeing the workers in the field, field machinery that tops the vines, machine stem sorters, all the French Oak barrels and cellars. We were told that we were lucky to see the Domaines as often they closed during the harvest season. All domain owners that we visited spoke only French so our guide was our translator. It was good to see both the Bordeaux and Burgundy wine regions as they are under different systems. We learned a lot in each of the regions so we were glad we got to do both.

We sadly left Dijon and took the TGV to Paris (less than 2 hours) and arrived at the Lyon Gare station.

The line for taxi was long and about a half an hour wait but it seem like there were many taxis in the queue.

We rented an apartment in the Latin Quarter and it was off on a quiet side street not far from the Seine River and Notre Dame. We have stayed in the right bank during our first trip to Paris, then stayed in the left bank in the Latin Quarter but our taste has seemed to change and we made a mental note to stay in a less touristy spot and stay in the Ile St-Louis or the Marais area next time.

We walked to all the major tourist sights and visited the Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, Champs Elysees, Jardin des Tuileries, Louve, Musee Carnavanet (history of Paris), and the beautiful Luxembourg Garden. There was one-day trip where we went to visit the Chateau de Fontainebleu that was wonderful. We had been to Versailles before so we decided to go here since we hadn’t been before and it was a good decision. It wasn’t crowded at all when we went on a Friday.

We were there during Paris Fashion week and I didn’t see any red carpet moments except I did come across some model shoots at the Eiffel Tower and near Notre Dame that was exciting. The French women are so chic and even the older women are so smartly dressed.

Arche Shoes

I had discovered these Paris made shoes in New York City this year where I bought a pair in the spring. These shoes are very expensive but they feel like slippers when wearing them and I couldn’t resist the python looking ankle boot but wondered if they would be less expensive in France.

When I was in Bordeaux, I did find the same style shoe for $100 less. In Paris, I stopped in one of the stores and didn’t find the same style. The season was for fall so not many sandals.

Thoughts on Renting Apartments

This was our first time renting internationally through VBRO. The other eight times we have visited Europe we have stayed in hotels.

After being up for 30 hours and arriving after a long flight to Bordeaux, our friendly apartment owner overwhelmed us with giving us instructions for the passwords to get in the building & elevator; where the light switch in the halls were; what apartment key to use to open the door and for this apartment we had to learn how to lock the door once we got in. We had instructions on how to use the washer, stove, dishwasher, air conditioner, TV, intercom, opening the windows, where to take out trash and where to recycle. Our tired minds were overloaded with information. We asked the kind owner if instructions were all written down and yes, it was. The next day, we kept hearing a beeping sound coming from the gas/electric stove we reached for the instruction to see it was all written in French. We finally figured it out that the stove didn’t like anything resting on top when the stove wasn’t being used.

The apartment was very nice but we had only 1 set of the thinnest scratchy towels to use.

All the apartments had one set of keys so we had to ask for two sets – all were provided on the same day except for the apartment in Paris where the owner lived in Nice so that took another day to communicate with the housekeeper that it was ok. I know now to make sure we arrange for two keys in advance.

The Bordeaux apartment did not have a land phone which would have come in handy since we discovered our mobile phone did not work in France. Luckily, I did have my iPad with me.

By the time we got to our apartment in Dijon, we surprised the sweet owner with whipping out our pens to take note. She said we were the first guests to do this. I was chuckling inside.

Our Dijon apartment was the best as far as the comfort of the apartment and location and the ease of going to and from the building. It was the only apartment that had a washer/dryer and desktop computer. The gracious owner provided chauffer and photography service as well as stocking the kitchen with breakfast items for your first few days. It was relatively inexpensive when you consider all the amenities the owner provided.

Our Paris apartment was not the best but adequate. It was on a quite side street in the Latin Quarter so location was great. We walked in the apartment and thought where is the kitchen? Oh, it is hidden behind a closet door. This apartment had only a washer but no drying rack to hang your clothes. We got spoiled with our Dijon apartment.

Despite some of the surprises, would we do it again? You bet. We might stay at a hotel at the beginning of our visit but now that we know what to expect, we do a better job researching and knowing the city better.

Air France Airlines Strike

The Air France strike lasted for about 2 ½ weeks. It was supposed to end on Sept. 26 but they extended to Sept 30. We were flying on Sept. 28 and knew the airlines had to give 24 hours notice if canceling so we check our flight the day before and found it canceled.

We were flying Air France from Paris to London. Then we were on Delta for a direct flight from London to Seattle.

Luckily, our apartment had a land phone so we tried calling Air France but only got automatic messages in French. My husband decided to call Delta and say we were going to London and to rebook our tickets to depart from London and they sent us via email new boarding passes. We went to SNCF ticket office and bought first class tickets on the Euro Star to London the next morning. The first train left at 8:30 and our flight from Heathrow was at noon. It was a 2 hour train ride and we had forgot that there was a one hour time difference so we actually gained an hour. My DH arranged for Heathrow Car Service to come pick us up at St. Panceas station. The driver was on time and holding our name on sign so we easily identify him. It was a Sunday so typically it would be an hour drive but we got there in 45 minutes and was dropped off at Terminal 3 where Delta Airlines was. We made our flight as scheduled.

I can’t imagine what it was like for other travelers who were flying only on Air France. The airline was causing all kinds of delays on other airlines so it would be interesting to hear from other Fodorites who got caught up in this and what their experience was like. Delta Airlines was very quick to respond after we got home and sent the refund to Air France but we have a claim number and still waiting to hear from Air France about a refund.

We did have a fantastic trip and great weather as a bonus so despite the inconvenience and extra cost it was all worth it.

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