Sunday, 5 July 2015

Kapla: the Dutch “gnome planks” from Saint-Louis-de-Montferrand

The play room in our family home has often been the scene of large and sometimes elaborate temporary installations made out of small pieces of wood. Football stadiums, railway bridges, Formula 1 circuits, high-rise buildings… you name it, scale-model replicas have all been produced (and then ceremoniously demolished).

And the raw material used by my children is the wooden building block game, Kapla, manufactured and distributed out of a facility in Saint-Louis-de-Montferrand, 17 kilometres to the north of Bordeaux.

What, then, is Kapla? Kapla is a wooden block construction toy made up of identically-sized and shaped pieces of pinewood, with dimensions in the ratio of 1:3:15 (1 unit high, 3 units wide and 15 units long). The vital statistics of the blocks are in fact 117mm in length, 23.4mm wide and 7.8mm thick. The end-product is sold in boxes of 40, 100, 200, 280 and 1,000 and is available in natural pine colour, as well as a small variety of other colours.

Sunday, 28 June 2015

Parc du Ruisseau: Le Haillan’s very own central park

Housing, retail and industry seem to be gradually taking over every available square metre in the north-western suburb of Le Haillan. It was therefore good to hear about a project recently deployed by the municipality to reclaim some land alongside a stream and convert it into a pleasant so-called “linear park”: le Parc du Ruisseau.

The park was officially opened in late 2013 and forms a unique evergreen 2.7-kilometre-long “corridor” that splits through the town, following the course of the stream, Ruisseau du Haillan, which in bygone years was the lifeblood of those who lived nearby, providing the water needed for everything from the production of vegetables to washing clothes. (Indeed, one section of the stream was once known as “Ruisseau des Blanchisseuses”.)

Sunday, 14 June 2015

Riding the Garonne waves on board a BatCub ferry

During the recent media coverage to mark the second anniversary of the BatCub ferry service on the Garonne in central Bordeaux, I realised it was about time that I myself hopped on one of the boats to see what it was all about.

Hirondelle and La Gondole are the names of the two BatCub boats (Bat for “bateau”, and “CUB” for Communauté Urbaine de Bordeaux, which has since been renamed Bordeaux Métropole rendering the “Cub” reference somewhat obsolete). The ferries were designed and manufactured by local companies, and were first launched on May 2nd 2013. The service is run by boating company Gens d’Estuaire for the public transport network operator Keolis.

Sunday, 31 May 2015

Ateliers Louis Blériot: a little piece of aviation history in the middle of Rives d'Arcins retail park

We are in Bègles, not far from the Rives d’Arcins shopping emporium and next to the tiny Port Garonne marina. Unusually, ultra-modern office space has been created inside a metallic cage-like structure. And, tellingly, the new office complex has been given the name “Ateliers Louis Blériot”, a reference to the history of the metal framework, which previously housed workshops founded by aviation pioneer Louis Blériot. What’s the story?

Frenchman Louis Blériot (1872-1936) was an engineer and inventor whose first commercial breakthrough was a patented headlamp for trucks. He ploughed much of his earnings into developing and building aircraft and, in 1909, achieved worldwide fame as the first aviator to fly across the English Channel in a heavier than air aircraft. In 1910 he was registered as France’s first licenced pilot (the official paperwork does indeed feature “N°1”), and continued to achieve success at the head of his company Blériot Aéronautique, later also branching out into the production of motorcycles.

Sunday, 24 May 2015

Overlaying old postcards from Bordeaux and Arcachon on the same views today

Last year the blog ran a number of pictures that merged old photos with pictures taken from the same spot today, using the expert Photoshop know-how of friend Anthony Poulachon. This time though I have taken a literally hands-on approach to combining old and new, by manually overlaying old postcards onto the modern-day view, i.e. simply holding them in front of the camera lens.

This technique has been used masterfully by photographers such as Julien Knez whose pictures incorporating wartime Paris are particularly effective. The following selection is nowhere near as spectacular, but I hope you'll enjoy the views!

Friday, 15 May 2015

Pont Saint-Jean: Bordeaux's great unloved bridge

You’ve got to feel sorry for Pont Saint-Jean. In the unwritten hierarchy of Bordeaux’s road bridges, it comes very much at the bottom of the table, far behind the elegant Pont de Pierre, the slick Chaban-Delmas lift bridge, the wondrous Pont d’Aquitaine suspension bridge and the minimalist Pont Mitterrand. In the otherwise flawless “Dictionnaire de Bordeaux” it doesn’t even get an entry. Let’s face it, if Pont Saint-Jean were one of the Beatles, it would be Pete Best.

The unloved edifice was the result of a relatively short process which began in 1962 with an initial call for tenders to deliver a bridge to connect Quai de Paludate (near Saint-Jean railway station on the left bank) with Quai Deshcamps in the right-bank Bastide quarter. Campenon Bernard, a company which is now part of the Vinci group, were selected and they teamed up with the architect Jean-Louis Fayeton (1908-1968). Construction work began in April 1963.

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Invisible Bordeaux conference at Musée d’Aquitaine on Thursday June 25th!

As part of the series of conferences held by the prestigious Mémoire de Bordeaux association, I will be giving a talk in the auditorium of the legendary Musée d’Aquitaine on Thursday June 25th at 6pm.

During the hour-long conference I will be looking back over some of the sights, sounds, stories and people that I have researched and documented since launching the Invisible Bordeaux website in 2011.

There’ll be exclusive anecdotes, exciting photos, spectacular videos and possibly even indoor fireworks if I obtain the relevant paperwork from the local authorities. Bordeaux will never be the same again.

I hope to see you there!

The vital statistics:
  • Invisible Bordeaux conference, Thursday June 25th 2015 at 6pm
  • Musée d’Aquitaine auditorium, 20 cours Pasteur, Bordeaux
  • Admission entirely free of charge
  • Facebook event page
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