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Bordeaux is a less exuberant city than many others in France but lively and stylish elements are making a dent in the city's conservative veneer. The cleaned-up riverfront is said by some, after a bottle or two, to exude an elegance redolent of St. Petersburg and that stylish aura of 18th-century élan also permeates the historic downtown sector—"le vieux Bordeaux"—where fine shops invite exploration. To the south of the city center are old docklands undergoing gradual renewal—one train station has now been transformed into a big multiplex movie theater—but the area is still a bit shady. To get a feel for the historic port of Bordeaux, take the 90-minute boat trip that leaves Quai Louis-XVIII every weekday afternoon, or the regular passenger ferry that plies the Garonne between Quai Richelieu and the Pont d'Aquitaine in summer. A nice time to stroll around the city center is the first Sunday of the month, when it's pedestrian-only and vehicles are banned.

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