The Garonne splits the city of Bordeaux in two, often viewed as a rift between the right and left banks. Bat3, however, is giving the people of Bordeaux a chance to overcome this division.
For many years, Bordeaux residents had to settle for the Pont de Pierre, built to cross the Garonne between 1810 and 1822 on the orders of Napoleon. Bridges are all well and good, but they do little to encourage large-scale trade between the banks. In an effort to overcome this shortcoming, the people of Bordeaux turned to gondolas. Eat your heart out, Venice. These steamboats operated between 1865 and 1940, with several companies offering this particular type of transport—the Hirondelles, the Gondoles and the Abeilles—each providing a specific route. The Second World War disrupted the service, and some of the boats were burned or destroyed. The gondolas have now disappeared from the Garonne. My mother often told me about these boats, and how she liked to use them to cross the Garonne. This means of transport has therefore always struck me as particularly appealing.
In 2012, Bordeaux Métropole, the authority for the Bordeaux urban area, brought back river shuttles, despite the increasing numbers of bridges.
And thus Bat3 was born. The two 19-metre-long catamarans were built by Chantiers Dubourdieu, located in Gujan-Mestras on Arcachon Bay. The Bat3 boats run on electricity and diesel, and have been designed to integrate with the buses and trams that make up the rest of the public transport network. But when I take one of these boats, I do so first and foremost for the pleasure of sailing the Garonne for the price of a bus ticket. I feel a bit like a tourist in my own city, seeing Bordeaux from a whole new perspective. A trip on the water is unlike any journey on foot or by car.
The walk is quite short, given the distance travelled. Living on the left bank of the Garonne, I can take the Bat3 from the Quinconces/Place Jean-Jaurès stop for a simple crossing towards Place de Stalingrad, where the statue of the famous Blue Lion stands. But I would rather take the boat for a longer tour, all the way to the lower edge of Lormont, making stops at the Quai des Marques, with its factory boutiques, and the Cité du Vin centre, still on the left bank, before crossing the river to the base of Lormont, where the village-like atmosphere provides a striking contrast.
From the Bat3, stirring the muddy chocolate-coloured waters in its wake, I contemplate, among other things, the Rostral columns, one end of the Maritime Exchange, both Dutch houses, the beautiful stone vaults on which the quays are built and, at the very end, the armada of cranes gathered at the Port. And while the passengers on the bus or in the tram are often grumpy and reserved, conversation flows on the Bat3, and there is a generally positive and relaxed atmosphere. Bordeaux natives can almost believe that they are on holiday. I have met some interesting people on board, who told me all about their lives and their experiences of Bordeaux. Be sure to repeat the experiment; the river offers different perspectives depending on whether the tide is high or low.