Monday, September 28, 2015

Our Southern France Cruise

Our Viking River Cruise "Portraits of Southern France", has ended and now we are back into our normal home routine. It was my hope to post to the Blog during the trip, but limited Internet connectivity and the busy schedule interfered, so I'll summarize the trip and post some albums here.

We left Boston on Saturday Sept 12th. I had booked the round-trip flights through United using my frequent flyer miles and stepped it up a bit by booking Business Class. The available flights using frequent flier miles had us going a round-about way; Boston to Dulles, then non-stop to Frankfurt(on United flights), connecting to Marseilles (Lufthansa). The return trip was more direct where we went out of Lyon to Frankfurt, then non-stop to Boston all on Lufthansa. All the flights were on-time, no issues, luggage arrived with us, the only difficulty is the very long walk at Frankfurt airport for the connecting flights.
Kathie enjoying Business Class to Frankfurt
Sunset over New Brunswick Canada

We arrived in Marseilles at about 10AM on Sunday morning and once we got our luggage we were immediately greeted by the Viking agent. This being our fourth Viking cruise, we expected the well organized "meet and greet" and transfer to the ship, and we weren't disappointed. There were two other couples on our flight who joined the agent, one couple from Canada and one from Winchester, MA (practically neighbors). We were loaded on a big fancy black Mercedes passenger van for the 90 minute drive up to Avignon to meet the ship, arriving about 12:30 PM. Our room was ready when we arrived, so we were able to get settled quickly. Later that afternoon, our travelling companions, Kathie's sister Marilyn and our friend Sandy arrived, they came by way of Boston to Paris on Air France.

Life On-board 

Our ship, the Viking Hermod, is one of the Viking "Long Ship" class. In recent years Viking has built this new fleet of river cruise ships and these ships are quite beautiful and very comfortable. I have embedded the Viking video tour which gives a good overview of the ship, although the video highlights some of the "posh" suites, we were a standard stateroom. These ships have a total of 95 cabins which means about 190 passengers, by the end of the cruise you get to know most of the passengers. In fact we made new friends Jim and Caz who are Brit/Aussie ex-pats now living in France. We had many an enjoyable dinner with this lovely and interesting couple.

A bit more about the cabins, apart from a few very exclusive (and expensive) suites, the majority of the cabins fall into three categories: Veranda stateroom which has a small outside veranda, French Balcony stateroom, which has a large sliding glass door, and the Standard stateroom, which has small windows. Of course the price will vary depending on stateroom type, with the Standard being the least expensive, interestingly, the actual size of the three classes of staterooms is pretty much the same. We have found from our previous travels that we spend very little time in the cabin except for sleeping, so having the larger window or balcony doesn't add much, we would sit in the glass lounge or on the sundeck for views while cruising and most of the time we are ashore on excursions. So we book the cheap cabin and are not disappointed (and have more money for other things).

Meals on-board are superb, the Chef will prepare a different menu every day that reflects the region being traveled. Dinner meal are three courses with a selection of three special appetizers, three main course selections and maybe 4-5 dessert choices. For those who may not want to try the local specialties, there is always a steak, seafood or salad alternative. Wine and beer are complimentary at meals and the wine selection will typically reflect the local region. The meals were GREAT!

Our new friend Jim making his selection
Celebrating Sandy's Birthday on-board
Did I mention the well stocked bar?
Enjoying dinner with new friends Jim and Caz
L-R Jim, Marilyn, Caz, Rick, Kathie and Sandy

Mandatory lifeboat drill
Jim and Rick enjoy good wine and conversation

Viking Hermod

Going through one of the many locks on the Rhone River

The weather for our week of cruise was generally good, we had one rainy day on day 5 (Thursday) in Vienne. Most days were partly sunny or mostly sunny with temp's in the 70's. Weather did affect the cruise itinerary. There were heavy rains in much of Northern Europe early in the week and this caused the Saone River to rise. When we reach the Saone in Lyon on late Thursday the Captain informed us that the ship could not go up to Macon because the higher river meant we could get under the bridges, so we remained in Lyon. Viking quickly put together alternate plans and we were able to still see the scheduled sites and tours, but by motor coach. Most people on-board were not upset by the change, after all, you can't control the weather.

A word about the Viking staff on-board....... excellent! Our cruise director Nickolas was great, all the service staff was very friendly, attentive, professional, courteous... just good people. There will certainly be a fifth cruise with Viking.

Photo Albums

If you are unable to view the albums in the blog, click on the title link.

Monday Sept 14th - Arles

Arles is a UNESCO world heritage site. It has impressive Roman ruins from the 1st century B. C. including a large coliseum arena and amphitheater.

Le Beaux

Afternoon tour to the Medieval mountain village of Le Beaux.


Finished the day with a tour of two well preserved Roman monuments and the Saint Paul Asylum where Vincent Van Gogh was committed.

Tuesday Sept 15th - Avignon

Avignon is called the "City of Popes" because it was home to seven pontiffs from 1309 to 1377. The Palace of Popes is the largest Gothic building in Europe. The old town of Avignon is surrounded by a medieval wall. The Pont d'Avignon, or its official name, Pont St. Benezet, is the remains of a bridge over the Rhone built in 1185. Most of the bridge washed away in floods of 1668, but what remains is a UNESCO listed historic site.
Avignon's 14th century Popes were great lovers of wine, so vineyards were established on the fertile hills upriver from Avignon. A summer palace for the Popes was established in Chateauneuf and the surrounding hills produced mostly red wines.

Wednesday Sept 16th - Tournon

Stopped at the small town of Tournon on the Rhone. This town is the birthplace of Marc Seguin, a 19th century Engineer who invented the wire-cable suspension bridge and multi-tubular steam engine boiler. A statute to Marc Seguin is featured in the waterfront park. A pedestrian cable suspension bridge designed by Seguin connects Tournon with the town of Tain l' Hermitage.

A coach tour to a family run winery and vineyard, Domaine du Murinais, for wine tasting and a visit to the Valrhona chocolate factory in Tain l' Hermitage. Then a short walking tour of Tain l' Hermitage and visit to a small art museum featuring works by Pierre Palue. The museum is run by the late artist's daughter.

Thursday Sept 17th - Vienne

This day it rained heavily. The walking tour required rain gear and umbrellas. The girls braved the elements, I stayed behind. Vienne is a town rich with Roman ruins and the large Gothic Cathedral Saint-Maurice. We sailed early afternoon and arrived in Lyon by late afternoon and the sailing part of the trip ended because of the high water further up the Saone. 

Friday Sept 18th - Lyon

Lyon is France's third largest city. It sits at the confluence of the Rhone and Saone Rivers. Lyon is a beautiful city and is know as the gastronomic capital of Europe. We toured the Basilica on the hill overlooking the city and we had a walking tour of the old town section with it's many bistros and cafes. We also visited one of the buildings adorned with the famous trompe l'oeil murals. Lyon is a beautiful city, especially the riverfront areas which reminds one of a small Paris. 

Medieval town of Perouges

Perouges is a preserved medieval village surrounded by a wall with narrow cobblestone streets and old stone buildings. There are some half-timber structures as well. The town is so original that it is often used for filming medieval period movies.

Saturday Sept 19th - Cluny and Beaune

The Cluny Abbey was originally founded in the 10th Century. In the 11th Century the large cathedral was built at that time the largest christian church in Europe. It was partially demolished during the French Revolution. The elegant nearby 18th Century monastic cloister now serves as an elite engineering school.

The town of Beaune is the wine capitol of Burgundy and is also the home of the 15th Century Hospice of Beaune, a charity hospital for the poor. We toured the famous hospice with its lavishly decorated ceramic roof tiles. We also visited a family run winery and wine cellar for tasting of the local wine. In this part of Burgundy all the red wines are from the Pinot Noir grape and the white wines from the Chardonnay grape.

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