Once again, Invisible Bordeaux has been busy touring the city with a batch of old postcards in one hand and a camera in the other. And he...

Another selection of old postcards overlaid on modern-day Bordeaux

Once again, Invisible Bordeaux has been busy touring the city with a batch of old postcards in one hand and a camera in the other. And here is the photographic evidence, starting out in front of Porte Cailhau, the fortified gate into the medieval incarnation of Bordeaux.

Porte Cailhau: not much has really changed in over a century, other than all those bollards to regulate traffic and parking. There are dozens on the 2018 view below, and they still didn't prevent an unmarked white van from photobombing the picture! 

Place Pey-Berland and Palais Rohan city hall: the 1971 postcard shows that the square was a busy car park rather than today's location for a pleasant stroll. In the 1980s and 1990s the situation changed further still as the area was an inhospitable mass of traffic!
Place de la République / Saint-André hospital: this space that lies between the hospital and the city's Palais de Justice used to be home to the elaborate "monument des Enfants de la Gironde morts pour la Patrie en 1870-71", inaugurated by French president Raymond Poincaré in 1913. The statue has been relocated to another spot on the square, and this area is now used as a terminus for buses!
Place Picard/Statue of Liberty: This replica of Bartholdi's most famous creation has already appeared on the blog. The original 1888 statue, with its ornate base and fountain (which disappeared in 1941), was far grander than the resin replica which has been in position since 2000.
Maison Gobineau: to remain in a New York state of mind, this distinctive triangular building on Allées de Tourny (completed in 1789) is often compared to the legendary Flatiron Building on Fifth Avenue (built in the early years of the 20th century). With all those traffic lights and tram lines, pedestrians have to be careful where they walk these days and it's more difficult to pose for the camera in the middle of the road, but the most noticeable difference is surely the fact that an extra storey has been added to the building! 
Gare Saint-Jean: some things clearly never change! Cars can no longer drive right up to the railway station but now, as then, the esplanade is a public transport hub. Today's paving is arguably smoother than the cobblestones of yesteryear! 
Place Gambetta: in many ways, the flowerbeds of 1951 have changed little over the years. There are certainly less seats to sit and enjoy the view than there were back then. Over to the right, what was the "Librairie Picouot" bookshop is now the Pruilh home accessories shop, while the "Petit Paris" establishment on the corner of Cours de l'Intendance is now a Hippopotamus steakhouse. The square is about to undergo a massive overhaul and may be about to change beyond recognition though!
Quai Louis XVIII: out with the horse-drawn carriages and dogs wandering around freely! The tramlines are more or less back where they were in the early years of the 20th century though... The "Café Américain" establishment on the corner now trades as Café Via Luna.
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In January 2018, Bordeaux Métropole Arena, the city’s purpose-built large-scale indoor concert, entertainment and sports venue, opened ...

Inside Bordeaux Métropole Arena for the first time

In January 2018, Bordeaux Métropole Arena, the city’s purpose-built large-scale indoor concert, entertainment and sports venue, opened its doors for the first time, hosting electropop legends Depeche Mode. A few gigs down the line, Invisible Bordeaux finally got to see inside, attending a concert by the high-flying US act Imagine Dragons. What was the verdict? 

The arena project had been on the cards for many years, throughout a period when the only indoor concert venue in the city capable of hosting top-name acts was the acoustically-challenged Mériadeck Patinoire, which opened in 1981. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Mériadeck drew a succession of top artists, but in recent years those big names visibly dried up, with many tours instead favouring Toulouse’s Zénith venue for their stops in south-western France.

In December 2013 the contract to build and run the arena, earmarked to take shape on a plot of land in the right-bank suburb of Floirac, was awarded by the Metropole authorities to a conglomerate formed by operators Lagardère Live Entertainment, building contractors Bouygues Bâtiment and the architect Rudy Ricciotti. The building permit was finally issued in July 2015 and construction work began in early 2016. Overall, local authorities went on to plough 77 million euros into the resulting venue (including 15 million for the multi-storey car park alone), which can cater for events drawing crowds ranging from 3,000 to 11,300, making it the third-biggest venue of its kind in France, behind AccorHotels Arena in Paris (20,300) and Strasbourg's Zénith (12,079).  

The pre-concert scene and Pisa-like leaning pillars holding the building up.
And it was a capacity crowd that headed to Floirac to see Imagine Dragons on April 4th. Of course, the first challenge would be getting to the venue, considering that the most logical route has yet to be completed, given that Bordeaux’s next bridge, Pont Simone-Veil, will provide a direct and convenient means of reaching the Arena from the left bank… from 2020 onwards.

The recommended means of getting there is currently the free shuttle bus service that runs from Porte de Bourgogne and Place Stalingrad in central Bordeaux. But I’d heard from fellow concert-goers that the post-show waiting time to catch a bus could be upwards of an hour. Would it be simpler just to use the car park? Well, other than costing all of 12 euros for the duration of the show, I’d also been informed that getting out of the car park was particularly difficult! So, taking all of the above on board, we simply sought a parking space in a side street mid-way between Pont Saint-Jean and the venue and opted for a relaxed 15-minute riverside walk to the Arena.

The next challenge would be to get inside the venue proper, especially given that I'd been told that at some of the first events the queues had been remarkably slow-moving. We made it on site around an hour before the support act (K.Flay) started and admission was still fairly free-flowing, although the queues did gradually build up once we were inside. 

Patient punters.
Our next priority was food. In the main concourse, the solitary ground-floor food stall was teeming with people, although by heading up to the outlet in the lobby near to our upper-level seats, things were distinctly quieter and it didn’t take too long to be served by a student, who was likeable enough but not exactly made for the part-time evening job he’d taken on, certainly when it involved keying in four separate combinations of sandwich, dessert and drink. Oh, and it turns out the Arena has adopted a similar policy to Stade Matmut-Atlantique, i.e. having a system with food options listed on a board that bear little relation to what they actually stock. It took me three attempts to order an advertised dessert that they did indeed have.

While enjoying our (reasonably-priced) sandwiches, drinks and third-choice desserts, we were able to enjoy the view, looking out over the Garonne towards the Bordeaux skyline in the distance, through the slender horizontal windows which, from the outside, have been designed to collectively look like the LED indicators of a graphic equalizer on a sound system. Close up, it is interesting to spot the mood lighting system, which constantly changes colour, switching from pink to yellow, green, blue and others in-between.    

Looking over towards Bordeaux.
Let there be LED.
Pre-show, there was an inevitable restroom stop and an unusual discovery: the gentlemen’s toilets I visited comprised no less than 10 urinals and three individual cubicles, meaning that 13 guys can be in there simultaneously relieving themselves. They then have to jostle for position for one of four taps if they wish to wash their hands. But then, to complete the bottleneck, there is just one hand-drier (which was out of order). So, please bear in mind the fact that there are no doubt lots of unwashed male hands at Bordeaux Métropole Arena gigs. 

The inside view. How many of those hands are unwashed?
Inside the venue itself, the scale and structure of the surroundings felt seriously world class, at least until we sat in our wooden foldaway seats which weren’t exactly that comfortable or cutting-edge. Perhaps it’s to provide an extra incentive to remain standing up throughout the shows. Most importantly though, the sound was very, very good. Instead of the booming, echoing, cavernous environment that we’d got used to at Mériadeck, the sound was clear, sharp and dry, and just as God intended it (or, at least, how the Imagine Dragons sound engineer intended it). And what better band than Imagine Dragons to fill the space with their spectacular show and joyous, uplifting rock anthems?

Imagine Dragons, arguably on top of the world.
Show's over: the view after the 11:15pm curfew.
As the final notes of Radioactive faded away and the members of Imagine Dragons took their bows, the crowd shuffled as one towards the exit and it all suddenly became somewhat chaotic, with people heading in multiple directions all at once. The crash barriers that were positioned in front of the venue to guide people inside were still in place, making it difficult to navigate or circulate. Anyway, we somehow managed to make our way past the huge crowds stood waiting for a shuttle bus back into the city centre and walked back to our car, secure in the knowledge that, in spite of the occasional imperfection and the distinct shortage of hand-driers in the gents, Bordeaux has at long last joined the concert venue big league.

> Find it on the Invisible Bordeaux map: Bordeaux Métropole Arena, Floirac.
> Official website: www.bordeauxmetropolearena.com

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