We just came back from a great cruise. This involved an overnight stay in Bordeaux, France. My wife and I have been traveling for years, but the pandemic lockdown meant we were out of practice. I am writing this article so you can learn from my mistakes.
- Research the city beforehand. Although we hope to return to most cities we visit, we approach each new visit from the point of view we might not pass this way again. What are the important things to see?
Our experience: We got this right.
- Find a good place for lunch. It is easy to get stuck with mediocre, overpriced food in tourist traps. Your research should include finding a good restaurant or two serving fine food at good prices. Book reservations ahead of time.
Our experience: We got this right, booking Le Chapon Fin in Bordeaux for lunch on our second day. The set menu was shown on their website. We had their address and phone number.
- Get a good map of the city. Online maps are not very helpful. You need a map where you can mark down where the ship docks, where you want to go and how you will get there.
Our experience: I could have done this better. We had the handout maps the ship provides. I should have bought a street map online before leaving home.
- Do not forget the ship’s security cordon. Walking off the gangway doesn’t drop you in the center of town. It might be a city block in each direction before you reach the gate bringing you into the city.
Our experience: I forgot about this, so it involved more walking than I anticipated.
- Know how taxis work in that city. In Bordeaux, taxis operate from taxi stands or are summoned by phone. I assumed you hail a cab like you do in New York or London.
Our experience: I should have found a map with taxi stands clearly marked of asked a passer by to point one out on the map. This meant lots more walking.
- Bring rain gear. Yes, Europe has suffered a drought. Yes, we had the same conditions back home in the US. The skies opened up twice during our visit to Bordeaux.
Our experience: We got this right. My wife packed windbreakers. We still got soaked.
- Listen to your spouse. We had found a taxi stand the previous day. I retraced our steps to get back to it. My wife pointed out if we cut through a nearby park, we would save several blocks walking distance. Of course I insisted on going my way.
Our experience: The delay caused by taking (my) longer route brought us to the taxi stand just as the rain started. I should have listened to my wife and taken the shorter route.
- Know where you are going. The taxi driver would not take us to our restaurant because he explained it was about two blocks away. He gestured across the street. The tourism office nearby explained it was about five blocks away. Because I hadn’t marked it on the map, we walked about eight blocks until we found it. Did I mention it was raining?
Our experience: If I had a detailed map, the tourist office folks could have put a big red “X” on the map. Instead, I told my wife “It’s only a couple of blocks away.”
- The taxi to the vineyard cost $120. Thankfully the Euro was at parity with the dollar. The train runs from Bordeaux to Paulliac, but not in time to arrive at our appointment on schedule. We took a taxi instead.
Our experience: If we researched the trains in advance, we might have been able to have scheduled our appointment at a time that lined up with the schedule.
- The Spanish have a curious habit of sitting down to lunch at 1:30 PM. We arrived in Gijon on Monday and La Coruna on Tuesday. Taking the ship’s shuttle into the city, we were all set for lunch at noon. Apparently you can get coffee, wine, beer or cocktails at that time, but food isn’t served until 1:30 PM.
Our experience: If we had it to do over, we would have arrived in town about 1:30 PM and enjoyed the local cuisine.
- Spain is closed on Sundays. It’s a religious country. Virtually all stores are closed. We went to the Guggenheim Museum, but returned to the ship after having a coffee afterwards.
Our experience: We should have researched what is open on Sundays, if they have later but shortened opening hours and planned on lunch in the museum itself.
- How will you get back? I think we are good travelers. We took a picture of the gates into the port to show the taxi driver where we were heading. In other instances, the shuttle bus drops you outside a museum in town. As a tourist, you need to know how you will get back to the ship if you do not speak the local language.
Our experience: We were fine, but we heard in one port, the ship was waiting for two passengers who had not returned by sailing time.
We think we know what we are doing, but I realized we are out of practice. We would love to return to the towns we recently visited. We will be better prepared next time.
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Cover photo from France, credit Photos ©Dennis Cox/WorldViews
Dennis Cox is All Things Cruise Writer and Official Photographer
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