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krisek Saint-Denis - A travel report by Krys
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Saint-Denis,  Reunion - flag Reunion -  Reunion
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krisek's travel reports

The capital of Reunion, the island of fire.

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Reunion, officially an overseas department of France (i.e. a proper colony), is European Union\'s an outermost region, and part of the Eurozone. St-Denis is a lovely place in the tropics with delightful French colonial architecture.


The Prefecture
The Prefecture
The capital of the Bourbon Island, as Reunion was previously known as, is a relatively bustling city located on the northern tip of the island, located over several hills, from which one looks towards the Arabian Peninsula, a few thousand miles north over the Indian Ocean.

The Roland Garros Airport terminal of Saint-Denis de la Reunion was small and it was not new. It was clean and the floors were highly polished stone tiles of some kind. A sort of terracotta, I guess. It was easy to maintained and looked good. The immigration procedure was relatively painless and no questions were asked, but the queue was moving very slowly due to a large number of arriving passengers and only two officers in the booth. As it was my turn, I might have spend about 5 seconds at the counter.

The arrivals hall was undergoing some work, so almost all of it was closed. This created a lot of overcrowding by the greeting relatives etc. There was a cash machine on the right hand side just as one leaves the outer door of the terminal, which worked fine. A few feet beyond the cash machine was a bus stand for the €4 airport shuttle bus. But one has left 15 minutes before I arrived at the bus stop (at 11:45am) and next one was in 45 minutes, as the shuttle was departing approximately every hour or every 90 minutes depending on the time of day. Timetable details could be found at reunion.aeroport.fr or citalis.re which can be downloaded in a pdf format. The airport was relatively near the city, so I thought I would not wait 45 minutes and just took a taxi. OMG! This short, 5 minute ride cost me €31. But it was Sunday, so there was higher rate.

It did not look very pretty on the first sight. The streets were completely lifeless, the buildings were very basic and the walls of any larger residencies were tall and rough. I started thinking that I should have not come here at all. I was getting really disappointed. But that was until I found the Cathedral, the Place Jean Paul II and the Old Townhall.

Favourite spots:
Cannons on the ocean front
Cannons on the ocean front
It was not easy to pick up a favourite spot in Saint-Denis. For it is a large city, parts of which were just blocks of flats, and parts of which boasted a good number of lovely colonial buildings, plus the waterfront looked nice. But it would not be a love at first sight with the city. Most buildings were dull, and one had to allow a couple of hours to let the city grow on them. I guess the most picturesque part of town was Rue Maréchal Leclerc that boasted the largest number of colonial and Creole buildings. A few nice haciendas were also found on Rue de Paris and Avenue de la Victoire.

As I walked and walked on the eerie and empty streets of the capital, I found not a single soul around. Perhaps mid day on Sunday was normally reserved to napping, I thought. The city felt really lifeless. It was a strange feeling. On the other hand, I could just stand in the middle of the road to get a better angle on my photos without upsetting the motorists.

What's really great:
The sunset
The sunset
Probably not that unusual even on the mainland France, or the metropolitan France - as it is often called, Reunion enjoyed quite a cultural diversity, which was very evident in Saint-Denis. The city had mosques (not that pretty, though) and elaborate Hindu temples (not that pretty either), plus of course Christian churches and loads and loads of examples of other cultures and religions.

There was nothing particularly great about Saint-Denis, except the oceanfront. It was partially paved, but the most important characteristic was that it was separated from the waterfront highway. A wall built of volcanic rock provided protection between the promenade and the pebble beach. The wall provided seating for those who congregated at sunset to watch the red disc disappear below the horizon.

Sights:
The Old Townhall
The Old Townhall
The Prefecture, the Old Townhall, the Cathedral, a few smaller churches with curious architecture (Eglise de la Deliverance, Eglise de l'Assomption, Eglise St-Jacques, Chapelle de l'Immaculee Conception), a number of colonial buildings along Rue Maréchal Leclerc, a number of Creole houses along Rue de Paris, the Temple of Tamoul Kalikampal, Les Temples Chinoise at Rue Sainte-Anne, the small market (Le Petit Marche), Villa de La Region at the corner of Rue Monseigneur de Beaumont and Rue de Paris, and le Jardin de l'Etat. The city had a handful of museums as well, but I did not visit any, as I am not a museum person, unless it is a world renown museum like the Prado, Louvre or Museum of the Antiquities in Cairo. If one likes statues, then the city had a few of them as well; Statue Roland Garros, Statue Mahe Labourdonnais, Statue Mc Aulife, Monument aux morts, Statue Bailly de Monthion, Statue Joseph Hubert.

Accommodations:
Table at Le Roland Garros next to Best Western
Table at Le Roland Garros next to Best Western
I stayed at the Best Western in the north-western part of the town near the coast, booked via booking.com for the price of €86 per night. Not a terrible value for money, but nothing really was on Reunion. Poor but central, so it has its benefits, including lower number of taxi trips. a simple, but clean room with tiled floors, air-con, and excruciatingly white walls with absolutely no art on them. The bed was nicely firm, comfortable and large. The bed linen was crisp and the bathroom was well scrubbed, although it started to show its age. The white towels were fresh and fluffy, but the toiletries were incredibly basic: two minute bars of soap enough for a couple of washes each, 2inch by 2 inch sachets of dubious shampoo and shower gel. Apart from toilet roll, that was it. For €86 a night, one would expect slightly more than that. But luckily I took some of the Cinque de Monde toiletries from Le Meridien. The room had a large corner desk, which was also used a stand for the 32 inch TV.

Nightlife:
Rue Maréchal Leclerc
Rue Maréchal Leclerc
O'Bar at 32 Rue de la Compagnie and a number of bars on Rue de Pasteur were just examples where the locals spent their euros at night. The O'Bar also did food and it was extremely popular. When I passed by a number of times, it was always full. It was a small place, however so if just 30 people arrived, almost all seats would be have been taken up. The petite bar was well stocked and the personnel were very professional.

Le Green Billard Academy, on the corner of Rue Jean Chatel and Rue Labourdonnais had at least a dozen of green pool tables and a long bar full of drinks to assist with gaining the right focus on the balls and pockets.

Le Prince Club, formerly known as Le Boy's Bar, on 108 Rue Pasteur opened late, after 9pm on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. On the other end of the street, at number 19, was Le Bar a Cas - a large place attracting the young and beautiful.

At the oceanfront, at the end of the La Barachois park was a handful of simple cafes that got full after sunset.

Hangouts:
Place Jean Paul II and the Cathedral
Place Jean Paul II and the Cathedral
Place Jean Paul II in front of the cathedral & the cannons at the oceanfront, particularly at sunset were the city's main hangouts for the locals. For those who wanted a sundowner with the view of the sunset, the Brasserie Le Roland Garros, just across the street from the canons had excellent collection of cocktails (€8.70), draught lagers (€4.70 local - €7.80 imported), whiskies (€5.80-€26), digestifs, champagne, coffees (€2), teas (€2.40), freshly pressed juices (€4.60), juice drinks and sodas (€3.50).

The local residents also used the benches at the Square Leconte DeLisle and the Place General de Gaulle, as well as the small park (whose name I cannot remember) just across the Old Townhall. There was also a nice patisserie called Amorino at the corner of Rue Merechal Leclerc and Avenue de la Victoire, serving pastries and ice-cream, and it was also opened on Sunday.

Restaurants:
King prawns
King prawns
I didn't want to eat next to the hotel (Le Roland Garros, L'Oasie, Nicolas, Paul), but didn't realise that on Sunday it was almost impossible to have lunch. Most places were shut and those that were open, were booked for weddings. I didn't fancy McDonald's either, but I stumbled upon a Chinese restaurant called Ying Bin. It had simple menu (€6-€9 for main course). It was full of Chinese clientele, so I could not go wrong with this one. It wasn't creole, yet since I was in Afrasia, Chinese was acceptable. I had king prawn tempura (€7) and king prawn in Sichuan sauce (8.50). The food was standard and I thought it was the first time in my life to hear the Chinese speak French! But then I remembered that once I dined at a Chinese restaurant in Palaiseau near Paris.

I also tried Il Giardino d'Italia, who did pizzas (€8.90-€15.90), pastas (€7-€16), meat dishes (€13-€25), fish (€€13-€23) in a pleasant rooftop garden. On entry, a couple of bruschettas with olives and cold towel. Nice touch.

Other recommendations:
Direct flight connections with Reunion's main international airport as of September 2013.
Direct flight connections with Reunion's main international airport as of September 2013.
Saint-Denis, and the entire island, was served by a single international airport, just east of the city. It is called Roland Garros Airport (RUN) and serves approximately 2 million passengers a year. It has relatively good facilities, including cash machines dispensing euros. The airport was served by Air Austral, Air France, Air Madagascar, Air Mauritius and Interair South Africa had direct connections with Comoros (Moroni), France (Paris and Marseille), India (Chennai), Madagascar (Antananarivo, Antsiranana, Nosy Be, Taolagnaro, Toliara, Sainte-Marie), Mauritius, Mayotte, South Africa (Johannesburg), and Thailand (Bangkok).

Public transport out of the airport stopped after 6pm. There was no way to get anywhere but by taxi (€30), a hired car or on foot! Furthermore, the entire public transport on the island stopped at about 8pm. So, if you plan to land on Reunion after 7pm, the only sensible option is to stay in Saint-Denis the first night.

Published on Monday August 26th, 2013


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