My last blog entry left us in Arles, Provence, France.
We cruised down the Rhone River and woke up on June 18th, docked in Avignon. A leisurely breakfast in the ship's dining room, where the food is always good and the service is great, and then a decision to put off walking until this afternoons tour of Avignon. We need a little down time.
It is a beautiful afternoon for a stroll through Avignon and the Pope's castle. The grounds host the largest Gothic Church in France.
The temperature rose to 81⁰ F and the dry Mistral winds began blowing. We would be experiencing the Mistral for the next several days. While they are fierce winds, they do have a side benefit. The Mistral blows away the moisture and any chance for rain. Hang on to your hat, but no need for an umbrella.
The Pope's castle was vast with many stair cases, and we managed to climb them all. Our tour guide, Sandy, was very knowledgeable and had a great personality. It took several hundred servants and serfs to keep the castle running and the Pope waited on.
The "We" I am referring to is my girlfriend Rose, my companion on this adventure.
We left the tour after the castle for some free time shopping. After spending a few minutes at a sidewalk cafe with a cold drink, it was off to find a few shops where Rose had spotted some table cloths and napkins she wanted to check out. She found just what she was looking for and we made our way back through the winding, narrow streets to the boat. Avignon is a very impressive city with the original walls and battlements still in place.
A couple of the things I like most about Europe is the outside cafe's, winding, narrow streets, and their open air markets. We will find plenty of each on this trip.
The 19th of June and a late start to the day as we cruised up the river to the largest, and deepest lock on the Rhone - The Bollene Lock. It takes about 50 minutes to raise the ship 82 feet to the level of the river upstream.
After another fine lunch in the Avalon Scenery's dining room, we took the walking tour of Viviers. A very steep climb to the Cathedral at the top of the village. Rose chose to go on a prearranged Van drive to the Cathedral for the Pipe Organ concert by ValerY Imbernon. He is a well known organist that provides mini concerts for some of the River Cruise companies under the auspices of the Viviers Tourist Board. Then it was back down, through the winding, narrow streets to the boat.
As soon as we returned to the boat, the bus was ready to take us to the Lavender Fields. We drove and drove through the country side and saw many fields of Lavender in bloom. I was beginning to wonder if we would stop for a Kodak moment, but eventually the bus pulled off the road and the tour guide gave us 15 minutes to photograph the Lavender. We had one other opportunity when we made a brief stop at a Lavender Distillery. Then it was off to Chateau Grignan.
Grignan is located in the south of the Drôme department in the Rhône-Alpes region in southeastern France, near the border of the neighbouring Vaucluse department, and close to Mont Ventoux, the highest mountain in Provence. The main crops produced in the area are lavender, truffles, wheat, and sunflowers. A 45 minute stop in this small, picturesque village was not nearly enough. Rose purchased some Lavender Honey, as well as some Nouget candy, that are made in this region.
Due to scheduling the use of the locks on the Rhone, the ship left the dock within 15 minutes of our returning from the tour. Time for supper while the boat makes its way to Tournon.
Woke up in Tournon on the 20th of June, and took a short walk in the village. Our English speaking guide this morning was Barbara, an American from Pennsylvania who has lived in France for 39 years. She led us on a short walk through the streets of the small town, explaining the history of the village on the way to the market. It was a nice market for a small town. Barbara purchased small amounts of Bread, Garlic and Goats Cheese for us all to sample. I just love the markets and the fresh bread and cheese- so good. I purchased a couple of Lavender soaps for Rose. Then it was back to the boat, where I photographed a pair of swans and their signets.
Off it is to Tain l'Heritage-Vienne, one of the oldest towns in the region with Roman ruins dating back to around 20 B.C. We set off with our guide, Cecil, a french woman with an American accent - what a fresh sounding voice. An informative hike around the city with views of a Gothic Roman Catholic church dating to the middle of the 12th century. The Priest kicked us out as he was performing a small wedding. Now I can say I have been kicked out of a Cathedral.
Several musicians were playing as tomorrow is the first day of their music festival. Seems there is a music festival scheduled in all the villages in the region for the next week, or so.
Once again, it is back to the boat for a small chocolate tasting. This evenings meal was superb as usual. I had the breast of Duck, along with the Apple Fritter. Wow, can the chef put out a great meal! After supper, Jerome, the cruise director, has booked a French singer. Very reminiscent of someone you would listen to in a small French Bistro in Paris or Marseille.
The 21st of June and we arrived in Lyon last evening. However, what a way to start the morning!!! Alarm did not go off and we have missed this mornings tour. Oh well, a leisurely breakfast and a little stroll on the rivers edge showed that my knee was hurting too much to walk very far. Lots of people out this morning. Several organizations are setting up demonstrations along the river, to take part in the music festival.
Another great lunch and it is off to Beaujolais for a wine tasting. But first, a stop in a beautiful area called les "Pierre Dorees", and the small village of Oingt. Oingt is the only village in the county to have been awarded the French accolade 'Most Beautiful Village'. The ochre-yellow stones that are the predominant building material in Oingt literally shine when the sun is on them. Then it is on to "Domaine Paire" for an introduction to the vineyards Beaujolais wines, both Red and White. Great flavor and aroma, but a little dry for my taste. The owner of the vineyard explained the process of making the wines and lead the tasting. Sixteen generations of Paire have been making wine here.
Back to the boat for a lecture about France and its history. The presenter was quite good, and very humorous. This evening a presentation by the Captain of all the staff, as we only have 1 more evening on the river. The special desert this evening was a delicious serving of Baked Alaska. When in Lyon we left the Rhone and started up the Saone River.
On the 22nd of June we woke up in Macon and decided to give the knees a rest. We were not going to be in this port for long. When we set off for Tournus it was quite apparent we were on a different river. The current was very strong on the Rhone, and it was much wider. The Saone is more of a gentle river experience with slow moving water, and more farm yards on each bank. Fishermen were in their boats and in their waders and we passed a small island with a White Stork rookery. There were many Swans on the river, and passed one flock of at least 25 birds, some with their signets.
In Tournos we had a nice leisurely walk about town and bought a macaroon baking sheet at a local hardware store. Our French was not so good, and their English wasn't either, but we managed to complete the transaction and had a good time doing it.
As we set sail for Chalon-Sur-Saone, Jerome had arranged for a cheese tasting. This is the last evening on the boat. Tomorrow, we will have a tour in Beaune before heading to Dijon and the high speed train for Paris.
For more travel information on France, be sure to check out the Blog by Jen: 100 Best Things to do in France