A Taste of Provence in Lyon

As we returned to our ship, the Viking Buri, after our tour of Lyon on day 6 of our river cruise, we were greeted by a French accordion player.  He treated us to traditional French café music as we filed into the dining room for a luncheon of regional dishes from Provence. Lyon, France, is actually in the Rhône-Alpes region but we began our cruise in Provence just south of our current location so we were still in the general neighborhood.

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French accordion player on the Viking Buri

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While all of the food on our cruise was superb, this meal was my favorite. Not only was the food excellent but the scene was set to provide us with a full Provençal experience. The tables were set in Provençal style and even the wait staff stayed in character.

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French flag at the entrance to the dining room

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Table setting with Kathy and Jerry

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Provençal dishes on the buffet

The ratatouille was so amazing I asked Chef Pascal for the recipe which he willingly provided. His recipe was actually no different than I make at home so I can only conclude that everything tastes better in France.

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My favorite ratatouille

And who could ever complain about French bread?

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French baguettes

The dessert bar featured a fountain of chocolate but many other delicacies tempted us as well.

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Desserts

Macarons, made of almonds, sugar, and egg whites are typically gluten-free, so they have become my French favorite.

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Macarons

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Decadent chocolate dessert

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My plate: please don’t judge me; it was so good

Enjoy a snippet of the French café music we enjoyed at lunch and imagine we’re together in Provence. But don’t linger too long because after lunch we’re bound for Perouges, a medieval walled town that is the subject of my next post.

 

Based on events from November 2016.

Categories: cruise, Europe, Food, France, Travel, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

A Taste of Lyon, France

Located at the confluence of the Rhône and Saône Rivers, Lyon is the third largest city in France and sometimes considered the more friendly and likable little sister of Paris. As a UNESCO World Heritage site and the gastronomy capital of France, Lyon offers obvious appeal but we enjoyed some unique and lesser-known attractions as well.

We arrived in Lyon at 8:30 AM on day 6 of our Viking River Cruise and started off with a bus tour of the city.

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This small boat pulled up to our ship following our arrival in Lyon

The Place Bellecour is the third largest square in France and the “beautiful heart” of the city. Created in 1708 by Louis XIV, a statue of the Sun King adorns the plaza.

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Place Bellecour

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View from Place Bellecour toward Basilica Notre-Dame de Fourviere atop the hill

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Place des Jacobins

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St Nizier Church Lyon, France

La Fresque des Lyonnais is, without a doubt, the most impressive trompe l’oeil I have ever seen. The mural features well-known Lyonnais including the Lumière brothers who invented the cinématographe in 1895 and the Little Prince, created by author Antoine de St.-Exupéry in 1942. I could gaze upon this for hours, it is so fascinating to me. Everything is painted, even the windows, doors, and railings. It is all illusion. Fortunately, our bus stopped to allow us the time to take photographs and I took many.

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La Fresque des Lyonnais

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La Fresque des Lyonnais

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Lumiére Brothers

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The Little Prince

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La Fresque des Lyonnais

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La Fresque des Lyonnais

Lyon was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site due to its political, economic, and cultural importance since the 1st century B.C. when the Romans founded the city and called it Lugdunum. Roman ruins are still evident although we only viewed them from the bus.

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Roman ruins in Lyon, France

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Roman ruins in Lyon, France

We stopped at the top of Fourviere Hill for a visit to Basilique Notre-Dame. Built in the late 1800’s, it became a basilica soon after its consecration. One of the most beautiful cathedrals I’ve seen, it was built entirely with private funds.

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Basilica Notre-Dame

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The views of the city from atop the Fourviere Hill reminded me of the views from Sacré Coeur in Paris. Even the bit of smog in the air hanging over the city seemed familiar.

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After our visit to the Basilica, the bus delivered us to the old town for a walking tour. I was fascinated by the traboules, secret passageways through buildings that connect one street to another.  Originally, the traboules were used to access water at the river more quickly and later they were used by weavers to transport silk to markets in the city center. Today, the 30 or so of the more than 300 existing traboules which are open to the public are marked by a shield next to the door as shown in the photo below.

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Door to a traboule

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Lori inside a traboule

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Inside a traboule

The silk industry began in Lyon in 1466 under King Louis XI and less than 80 years later, King Francois I granted a monopoly to Lyon for the production of silk.  Silk remains an important industry in Lyon today and many of the shops we saw in the old town sold scarves. (A few were even made from locally produced silk.)

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Jerry, Lori, and Jim outside a shop in Lyon while Kathy shopped

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Street in old town Lyon

As I said earlier, Lyon is considered the gastronomy capital of France. My palate is not refined enough to appreciate a 3-star restaurant (and my pocketbook can’t afford a 3-star palate anyway). You can still enjoy a great culinary experience at a reasonable price at a bouchon Lyonnais, a local eatery that features regional cuisine.

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Our guide tells us about the bouchon Lyonnais

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One last view

We had too little time in this impressive city. I definitely needed more time to adequately explore the Roman ruins, learn about the silk industry, and eat in a bouchon Lyonnais. A return trip is definitely on my list.

 

Based on events from November 2016.

Categories: cruise, Europe, France, Travel, Uncategorized, UNESCO | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Through the Ages in Vienne, France

One of the oldest towns in France, Vienne traces its roots back to Roman invaders, who in 37 B.C. wrested control from the Allobroges, a tribe of Gauls. Does the name Pontius Pilate ring a bell? Local legend claims he was buried in Vienne after his banishment from Rome and subsequent suicide. Swiss legend, however, has him buried in a lake on Mt. Pilatus in Lucerne, Switzerland. I’m traveling to Switzerland in October 2017 so you can expect more on this later.

At any rate, a treasure trove of Roman monuments and ruins still exists in the town of Vienne (pop. 30,000), 20 miles south of Lyon, and we were keen to see it. Offered a choice between two included afternoon tours on day 5 of our Viking River Cruise, we selected the Vienne Roman Architecture Tour. Our coach delivered us to the door of the Gallo-Roman Museum where we began our tour with typical alacrity.

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The museum, built in 1996 on an archaeological site discovered in 1967 during construction of a school, is a structure dominated by glass which allows visitors to see the excavation site outside while viewing the recovered artifacts inside the museum. This struck me as conceptually similar to the New Acropolis Museum in Athens, Greece, where the use of glass allows visitors to see the Acropolis on the hill above the museum while viewing the artifacts inside the building and excavation occurring under and around the museum. It’s kind of history heaven for nerds like us.

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Looking out the windows of the museum

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Excavation is currently occurring in this area protected by the covering

The museum houses an exceptional collection of mosaics unearthed here. Not all of them are complete but the quantity and quality of these exquisite artifacts are unlike anything I’ve seen before.

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One of many exquisite mosaics

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Close-up of preceding mosaic

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In addition to the mosaics, many other artifacts, some discovered here and some on loan from other facilities, tell the story of daily life in ancient Roman times.

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A few reproductions such as this ship loaded with barrels and amphorae tell the story of Vienne’s position as a trading center and the transport of goods such as olive oil, wine, and fish on the river.

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Roman bed with statue behind

Our tour guide led us outside to the archaeological site named Saint-Romain-en-Gaul to see the excavations, including the paved street below, the remains of homes, and even a public bath.

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Across the river in the city center stands the city’s best-preserved Roman monument, the  Temple of Augustus and Livia, built around 20 B.C. During his visit in 1787, Thomas Jefferson remarked that it looked like a Praetorian palace. Thankfully, the Gothic windows installed in the Middle Ages when the building was used as a church have been removed and the temple has been restored to a semblance of its former glory.

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Roman Temple of Augustus and Livia

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Temple of Augustus and Livia

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Temple of Augustus and Livia

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Original walkway around the temple

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Plaque commemorating the visit of Thomas Jefferson

The nearby Garden of Cybèle isn’t as well-preserved but it’s historically significant, nonetheless.

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Garden of Cybèle

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Sculpture in Garden of Cybèle

The medieval Chateau de la Batie on the hilltop north of the city overlooks Vienne like a vigilant parent keeping silent watch. While it’s not Roman and not open to the public, the juxtaposition of this and other medieval buildings with Roman ruins increases the historical interest and value of Vienne.

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Around the corner from the Garden of Cybèle, this medieval building still stands from the 1200’s.

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The 11th-century Cathedral of St. Maurice is a combination of Romanesque and Gothic styles and was under restoration when we visited. Nevertheless, the building was most impressive late in the day with the lighting highlighting the intricate detail.

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Gargoyles adorn the cathedral

Our guide pointed out a creative modern project that the city adopted to deal with the abundance of chewing gum discarded on sidewalks and streets. They simply painted it and called it art.

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Speaking of creativity, I couldn’t resist taking a picture of the door knocker on this lawyer’s office. It’s one of the most imaginative I’ve seen.

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Although we signed up for the Roman Architecture Tour, several important Roman monuments in Vienne were notably absent from our tour. I would enjoy a return trip to Vienne to see the 13,000-seat Roman Theater on the slopes of Mt. Pipet, unearthed in 1922 and used for theatrical performances today, and the Pyramid that is the sole remnant of the Roman Circus where legend has it that Pontius Pilate is entombed.

 

Based on events from November 2016.

 

 

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Train de l’Ardeche

The Train de l’Ardeche began operating in 1891 to transport goods, people, and mail between Tournon-sur-Rhône and Lemastre. Today it is a designated historical monument. The narrow gauge track follows the Doux River through beautiful verdant gorges that are otherwise inaccessible without locomotives specially designed to handle the tight curves. Locomotive 403 has been in operation on the line since 1903, joined in 2015 by sister Locomotive 414 which was built in 1932.

Passengers have three choices but trains don’t operate every day and tickets sell out so check the website and book ahead. Le Mastrou is an all day journey with time to spend in Lemastre for 21€ round trip or 19€ one way. The second option, Le Train du Marché, operates only on Tuesdays at 8:30 a.m. to deliver passengers to the market at Lemastre with a return departure at noon. I assume ticket prices are the same as Le Mastrou but they are not listed on the website. The third option, included in our Viking River Cruise, is Le Train des Gorges, a half-day excursion leaving at 10:15 a.m. and 3:15 p.m. to the station at Colombier le Vieux – Saint-Barthélémy le Plain where passengers can watch the locomotive turn around for the return trip. The cost of this option (had it not been included in our cruise) is 15.50€.

Upon our arrival at the train station on day 5 of our Viking River Cruise, we were directed to pass through the clean, new station (offering opportunities to shop for souvenirs), then stop briefly in the restrooms before boarding our train.

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Tournon-sur-Rhône St-Jean-de-Muzols Station

I also checked out the sign that showed the train route along the Doux River.

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Sign at Tournon station showing route

Excited for the journey ahead, we boarded the train and found plenty of seats available at this time of year and, since we were armed with our quiet vox headsets, we could hear our guide wherever we sat. The crisp morning air in early November made us appreciate the closed car although in warmer months the carriages are open.

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All Aboard with Jerry, Kathy, Jim, and Lori

As the train rumbled out of the station, I soon learned, however, that photos through the windows showed too much reflection. Instead, I stood outside on the platform between the rail cars to photograph the incredible autumn scenes we passed. The average speed of the train is just 20 mph (32 km/h) so I felt quite safe if a little chilly.

We’d barely left the station when we were treated to views of Le Grand Pont (bridge), built of stone during the Middle Ages.

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Le Grand Pont

Next came the Barrage de la Ville, a dam surrounded by spectacular foliage, followed by one breathtaking view after another.

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Barrage (dam) de la Ville

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Barrage (dam) de la Ville

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Viaduc de Troye

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Scene from the train of the Doux River

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Le Doux River from the train

I especially like the effect of the smoke from the locomotive lending an aura of nostalgia for bygone days to my photos.

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Tunnel du Mordane and Usine Électrique (electrical plant)

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Canal des Allemands

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Doux River

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Doux River

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Le Pont des Étroits

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Station at Clauzel

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I wasn’t the only one taking  photos

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View from the train

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When we arrived at the station at Colombier le Vieux – Saint-Barthélémy le Plain, we got off the train to look about and watch the locomotive turn around on the swing bridge for the return trip.

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Train station at Colombier le Vieux – Saint-Barthélémy le Plain

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Bridge across the river

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These chickens added to the rural ambiance

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Our train

In less than a minute, two men turned this locomotive around with the aid of what’s called a swing bridge. Watch it here.

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You can see the steam locomotive and more rail cars in this photo

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Pastoral scene just before our arrival at the station

According to Trip Advisor, the Train de l’Ardeche is the #2 rated attraction in Tournon-sur-Rhône. Number 1 is Le Jardin d’Eden (the Garden of Eden) which we did not visit so I won’t quibble but the train was #1 with our group.

 

Based on events from November 2016.

 

References:

http://www.trainardeche.fr

 

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Exploring Tournon-sur-Rhône

Who doesn’t love a train ride? We looked forward to riding the narrow gauge steam train through the Doux Valley in the Ardeche on day 5 of our Viking River Cruise. But first, we were treated to another walking tour, this time in the French town of Tournon-sur-Rhône where our ship docked.

As we left the boat, we were struck immediately by two things. The first was the mistral, a biting north wind that blows through the Rhòne Valley mostly in winter, causing us to huddle more deeply into our coats, like birds fluffing up their feathers for warmth. The second was the statue of the French engineer, Marc Seguin, that greeted us in the square adjacent to our docking space. Seguin invented the wire cable suspension bridge which he and his brother erected in 1824 over the Rhône River at Tournon. He also invented the tubular boiler for steam locomotives.

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Marc Seguin, French engineer

As we walked to the bridge, our guide pointed out the hillside across the river at Tain l’Hermitage where vineyards cling to the steep granite slopes with the help of terraces. This is the Hill of Hermitage which claims to be the birthplace of the Syrah grape, used to produce a full-bodied, dark red wine, also known as my favorite. Too bad we didn’t get to taste any!

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Hill of Hermitage across the river

We passed the Castle of Tournon, built into a granite hill overlooking the river. The foundation dates back to the 10th century but the castle that remains today was constructed during the 14th to 16th centuries. The war memorial attached to the castle lists those who died serving in WWI.

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Castle of Tournon

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WWI Memorial on the Tournon Castle

The current Marc Seguin Bridge is not the original but it was rebuilt in the same location, connecting Tournon with Tain l’Hermitage, across the river.

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Marc Seguin Pedestrian Bridge

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Passerelle (Bridge) Marc Seguin

As we turned from the river into the pretty little town, I spotted the knobby trees below like many I’d seen previously and asked the guide about it. She explained that the trees are pruned to maintain the size and dense shade desired. This process is called pollarding which you can read more about by clicking on the link.

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Pollarded plane trees

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Pollarded plane tree

In 1536, Cardinal Francois de Tournon founded the Lycée Gabriel-Fauré in Tournon which claims to be the oldest lycée (high school) in France. The Cardinal was born in Tournon and is entombed there.

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Statue of Cardinal Francois de Tournon

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Lycée Gabriel-Fauré

We proceeded to the only remaining gate, Mauves Gate, to the south of the town. The coat of arms of Tournon can be seen above the arch and above that, what looks like a wine bottle carved into the stone. The town of Mauves is just 4.4 km south of Tournon so I suspect that accounts for the name of the gate. I don’t remember whether our guide shared any information about the carving but I’m going out on a limb here to conjecture that this may have been the “wine gate” for delivery of wine that was produced in the area around Mauves.

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Mauves Gate

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Carved bottle in Mauves Gate

I captured a few images along the way as we proceeded along the winding medieval streets from Mauves Gate to St. Julien’s Collegial Church.

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Fromagerie (Cheese Shop)

I wrote in a previous post about trompe l’oeil and we encountered some in Tournon, too. (But wait until my post about Lyons where you will see the mother lode of trompe l’oeil.)

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Trompe l’oeil in Tournon

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Shops in Tournon

St. Julien’s Collegial Church was built in the 14th century in Gothic style. It became a protestant church during the 1500’s as a result of religious wars during the time and then following the French revolution it was briefly named the Temple of the Supreme Being. In 1795, it was restored to the Catholic Church.

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Saint Julien’s Collegial Church

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Interior of St. Julien’s

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Fresco in St. Julien’s

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Fresco in St. Julien’s

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Original church bell from 1486

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The Virgin

Following our walking tour of Tournon, we boarded a coach to transport us the short distance to the train station for our steam train tour. Please come back next time for more exploits on our Viking River Cruise.

 

Based on events from November 2016.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: cruise, Europe, France, History, Travel, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Day 4: Viviers

Every morning on the Rhône River offered new delights. At breakfast on morning 4, we saw these elegant creatures gliding through the mist on the river.

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Swans on the Rhône River

After taking no fewer than 50 largely disappointing photos, I definitely had a greater appreciation for wildlife photographers and the images they capture.

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Taking flight

Following breakfast, we readied ourselves for a walking tour of Viviers, France. This small walled town with a population of 3400 captivated us with its winding medieval streets, medieval and Renaissance architecture, and quintessential French charm. The crisp autumn weather with azure skies accompanied by the aroma and rustle of fallen leaves completed the scene as we entered the village.

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View of the Rhône as we departed the ship

Plane trees (called sycamore in the U.S.) lined the road creating a shady canopy for locals having the time and inclination to sit for awhile. Napoleon had them planted all over southern France to provide shade for his troops as they marched or rested.

 

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Allée du Rhône lined with plane trees

 

The plane tree is also sometimes called a camouflage tree due to the dappled appearance of the trunk caused by the bark peeling in patches.

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Trunk of the plane tree

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Doesn’t this just invite you to sit for a while?

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Buildings along the Allée du Rhône in Viviers

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Jim in the midst of lovely fall foliage

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Lori in front of a petite doorway in a stone wall

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The men straggling behind our tour group

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Decorative fountain in a wall

Notice the narrow lane below with the buildings so close together that the center of the lane is trenched to drain the water.

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The clothesline in the next photo was a clever invention to hang laundry out to dry in areas without the benefit of outdoor space on the ground level.

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When we reached the Place de la Republique in the center of the old town, our tour guide told us about the Maison de Lestrade, built in the 13th century which today still contains windows installed in the 16th century. For many years it served as the town hall for Viviers.

IMG_0965Located on the same square was the Maison des Chevaliers, built in Renaissance style for a rich salt merchant, Noel Albert. He was executed in 1568 after seizing control of Viviers during the Huguenot Wars. Look closely at the ornamentation on the facade. C’est magnifique.

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Leaving Place de la République we headed uphill through the old gate at St. Michael’s Tower to St. Vincent’s Cathedral, the smallest cathedral still in use in France. The tapestries in this cathedral depicting various Bible scenes are especially fine.  IMG_0978

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Tower of St. Michael

 

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St. Vincent’s Cathedral

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Interior of St. Vincent’s Cathedral

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Altar in St. Vincent’s Cathedral

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Another visitor at the cathedral

I must mention that it was in this cathedral that an old gentleman asked me whether I was American. When I replied in the affirmative, he inquired whether I supported Donald Trump and whether I thought he would win the election. I responded, “Absolutely not!” but he was elected immediately upon our return from this trip.

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Up to see the view

 

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View from the upper town

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Ruins of the fortress in the upper town

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Clock tower of Viviers from the upper town

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View from upper town

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After enjoying the views from the upper town, we made our way back to lower town and stopped in a couple shops.  IMG_1038

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Window shopping at the charcuterie

When we returned to the ship, it was such a beautiful day we made for the upper deck of the Viking Buri where we tried out the putting green and shuffleboard and checked out the herb garden.

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After another superb lunch, we decided to take it easy and stayed onboard for the afternoon. We attended the cooking demonstration featuring Chef Pascal and Maitre d’ Imre preparing Chocolat Fondant and a French lesson before dinner. Parlez-vous Français?

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Chef Pascal and Maitre d’ Imre

 

That evening at dinner, we invited Drago, our expert waiter, for a photo with our dinner group. All of the staff were attentive and helpful but Drago’s excellent sense of humor made him a favorite with this crowd. IMG_1093It was the end of another perfect day on our Viking River Cruise. But please come back again to check out day 5 in my next post.

Based on events of November 2016.

References:

Tour guide from the Viking Buri

Viking Daily

Viking Cruise Documents

 

 

 

 

 

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Pont du Gard

After our morning tour of the Palace of the Popes and Les Halles in Avignon on day 3 of our Viking River Cruise, we returned to the ship for lunch before our next excursion. Our new friend, Laura, joined us and we discussed our plans for the afternoon. Laura had chosen an optional Chateauneuf-du-Pape Tour and Tasting. We had considered it but being Roman history junkies, we opted instead for the excursion to Pont du Gard. I asked Laura to pick up a bottle of wine for us to share at dinner that evening so that we wouldn’t entirely miss out on tasting this celebrated wine.

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Laura, Kathy, Jerry, Jim, and Lori at lunch on the Viking Buri

Following lunch, we boarded our motor coach for the half-hour ride to Pont du Gard. We especially enjoyed seeing the vineyards from the bus and wondered whether any of the grapes we saw were used for Chateauneuf-du-Pape wine.

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Grape vines viewed from our motor coach

Built by the Romans over 2000 years ago, the Nimes Aqueduct carried 5 million gallons of fresh water each day from the springs of Uzes to the Roman outpost of Nimes, 31 miles away. The actual distance is somewhat less but the uneven terrain necessitated a longer winding route. The engineering requirements amazed me. Obviously, the aqueduct transported the water downhill using gravity to get it to flow but Nimes is just 55 feet lower than the water source. Consequently, the slope of the aqueduct was just 25 inches per mile. Much of the aqueduct ran underground or at ground level but the magnificent Pont du Gard was built to cross the Gardon River and stands today at 50 meters (164 ft.) as the tallest aqueduct built by the Romans. The three-level bridge was built of locally quarried limestone and according to our guide, constructed without the use of mortar. The official website of Pont du Gard, however, says, “The highest part of the structure is made out of breeze blocks joined together with mortar,” so I believe mortar was used on the uppermost level in the water channel to waterproof it.

Although use of the aqueduct to transport water ceased by the 6th century, it continued to function as a bridge for carts and pedestrians to cross the Gardon River. By the 18th century, a road designed by Henri Pitot was incorporated into the second level and motorized traffic was allowed until 1997. In 1985, Pont du Gard was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Today the bridge is used strictly for pedestrian traffic. For those who are particularly adventurous, you can also take a guided tour of the third tier for an extra fee. We did not.

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Our tour guide showing us a map of the area at the entrance to Pont du Gard

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The entrance to the Pont du Gard site

 

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1000-year-old olive tree transplanted from Spain to Pont du Gard in 1988

 

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First view of Pont du Gard

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Closer view as we approach Pont du Gard

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View of the Gardon River that Pont du Gard crosses

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Le Bistro du Vieux Moulin along the walkway to Pont du Gard

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Approach showing bicycler enjoying this space, too

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I don’t get tired of this view, do you?

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Proof we were here

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View of Gardon River from Pont du Gard

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On the bridge on the second level of Pont du Gard

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View from Pont du Gard

After our guide led us to the bridge on the second level of Pont du Gard while telling us about the construction and history, we had free time to explore on our own. Well-marked paths on both the right bank and left bank of the river enable visitors to wander, explore, and picnic in the Garrigue, as the wooded scrubland surrounding Pont du Gard is called. Swimming, canoeing, and kayaking are allowed in the river but it was a little late in the season to see anyone engaged in those activities.

We followed the path on the right bank (rive droite) and clambered first down to the river level where I found my favorite view for photographs.

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My favorite view

Then we climbed up the trail to see Pont du Gard from the hillside and explore some of the Garrigue. We also found the perfect spot to take Jim’s picture holding up his Iowa State flag. The athletic department has a social media contest to pick a fan photo each week to post on their Facebook page. Our photo won.

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Iowa State University Athletic Department’s photo of the week

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View of the Gardon River and Garrigue from the path above with limestone rock in the foreground

 

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Another view of the Garrigue

 

The top level of Pont du Gard was not open but we did get a selfie of us underneath it.

 

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Laura, Lori, Jerry, and Jim beneath the third tier of Pont du Gard

 

 

This excursion was worth every penny of the $59 we paid for it. And when we returned to the ship, Laura brought an excellent bottle of Chateauneuf-du-Pape to celebrate a day well-spent.

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Based on events from November 2016.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: cruise, Europe, History, Travel, Uncategorized, UNESCO | Tags: , , , , , | 3 Comments

Back to Avignon

On Day 3 of our Viking River Cruise, we returned to Avignon. With our whisper boxes in hand, we set off on foot that morning for our included excursion to tour the Palais des Papes (Palace of the Popes) and the historic center. (A whisper box is a headset that enables the wearer to better hear the tour guide.)

Once inside the ramparts, we meandered through the medieval streets while our guide pointed out several buildings on our way to the Popes’ Palace. Incidentally, you can walk the ramparts which I would like to do next time.

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Ramparts surrounding historic center of Avignon

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Church of St. Agricola in Avignon

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Gargoyle on Church of St. Agricola, Avignon

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Clock tower at Hôtel de Ville (City Hall)

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Lori in front of Opera Theater in Avignon

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View of Cathedral Notre-Dame des Doms d’Avignon

The Palace of the Popes is the largest gothic palace in Europe and was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995. Why, you may wonder did the papacy relocate to Avignon, France in 1309?  Pope Boniface VIII had earlier issued two edicts; one prohibited taxation of the clergy and the other asserted the supremacy of papal authority over temporal authority.  Philip IV, King of France, objected to these edicts and responded by taking Boniface prisoner for a short time and the Pope died soon after his release.  When Pope Clement V from France was elected, he reached an agreement with King Philip to settle in Avignon where the papacy would remain for nearly 70 years. This period was known as the Babylonian Captivity of the Church, in reference to the 70-year Jewish exile in Babylon.

The Palace of the Popes actually consists of two palaces; construction of the Old Palace commenced in 1335 under Pope Benedict XII and the New Palace was completed less than 20 years later by Pope Clement VI. The model below shows just how vast the complex is, covering 15,000 square meters (over 161,000 square feet).

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Palace of the Popes model: the Old Palace is on the left and behind, the New Palace on the right in front

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Jerry and Kathy outside the old doors at the Palace of the Popes

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View from Courtyard of Honor at Palace of the Popes, Avignon

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Courtyard of Honor at Palace of the Popes, Avignon

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Sculpture in Palace of the Popes

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Frescoes in Palace of the Popes

Photography of the priceless frescoes in the private apartments and chapels of the Palace of the Popes was not allowed but I took several photos of the video shown to illustrate the beauty.

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Grand Tinel or Banquet Hall, Palace of the Popes

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Plaster effigies in Palace of the Popes

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Passion of the Christ sculpture in the Consistory of the Palace of the Popes

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The Great Clementine Chapel, Palace of the Popes

The acoustics are absolutely amazing in this chapel. When none of us volunteered to sing, our guide sang for us. I could hear her all the way at the other end of the chapel. Listen to her.

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The Papal Seat in Consistory Hall

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Central Courtyard, Palace of the Popes

Sadly, many of the sculptures were beheaded during the French Revolution. If you look closely, you can see the heads are missing on the archway of the doors below.

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Sculptured doorway at Palace of the Popes

Following the departure of the papacy, the Catholic Church maintained ownership of the palace until the French Revolution. Under the subsequent Napoleonic rule, the palace was used as a military barracks and prison until 1906 when it became a national museum and restoration began. Today the Palace of the Popes doesn’t compare to the lavish splendor of the Vatican in Rome, but I imagine in the 14th century when it was filled with tapestries and treasures, it would have come close.

I was excited that we were headed next to Les Halles, the indoor market. On our way, we stopped at Basilique St. Pierre to see the intricately carved walnut doors and the gold-gilded Renaissance altar.

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Basilique St. Pierre

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Carved doors on Basilique St. Pierre

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Altar in Basilique St. Pierre

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Entrance to Les Halles

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Our guide and Viking staff offer us samples

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Les Halles fruit stand

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Les Halles fromage (cheese)

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Poisson (fish) at Les Halles

I purchased a large package of herbes de Provence from the spice stall to use at home and bring back memories of the time and food we enjoyed in Provence.

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Spices at Les Halles

My daughter-in-law likes macarons so I purchased some of those, too, to take home to her. Then they served macarons on our ship a couple days later.

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Macarons at Les Halles

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La Patisserie at Les Halles

We accomplished all of this in the morning, then headed back to the ship for lunch before our optional excursion that afternoon to Pont du Gard. Check back for my next post. Pont du Gard was truly amazing.

 

Based on events from November 2016.

 

References:

Viking Daily

Tour guide engaged by Viking

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: cruise, Travel, Uncategorized, UNESCO | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Tarascon Tour

Is a visit to a castle on your bucket list? It was on our friend, Jerry’s, and he was especially excited when the opportunity presented itself on day 2 of our Viking River Cruise. After a tasty lunch onboard, we set off on foot to see Tarascon Castle, or Château de Tarascon, as it’s called in France.

Rebuilt by Louis II, Louis III, the Dukes of Anjou, and the Counts of Provence in the early 1400’s on the site of the previously destroyed castle, Tarascon Castle was used both as a residence and a military base. When the castle was later converted into a military prison, graffiti engraved by prisoners appeared on the walls and is still evident today. None of the sumptuous furnishings that would have once filled the space remain but one can imagine how resplendent it looked.

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Jim and Jerry on the bridge at the entrance to Tarascon Castle

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Tarascon Castle

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Jerry at the Castle door

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The old moat

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Tarascon Castle

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Tarascon Castle gardens

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Tarascon Castle

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Tarascon Castle

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Studying the brochure

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Chapel

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Salle des festins where banquets were held, Tarascon Castle

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I was fascinated to see the toilet that emptied down the side of the castle wall

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View across the river to ruins of Beaucaire Castle from Tarascon Castle

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View of the town of Tarascon from the top of the castle

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Decorative drain spout at Tarascon Castle

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Jerry and Lori on the roof of Tarascon Castle

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View of the Rhône River from the roof of Tarascon Castle

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View from the top of Tarascon Castle with the Viking Buri on the right

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View across the top level of Tarascon Castle

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View of the garden from the top of the castle

After making it all the way to the roof and back down, we discovered we hadn’t visited all the rooms so we went back through to see what we had missed. The rooms containing graffiti engraved by prisoners were some of the most interesting to me.

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Graffiti

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Graffiti

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Graffiti

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Jim and I at Tarascon Castle

Jerry told us his first visit to a castle exceeded his expectations and he looked like he thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

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Jerry at the end of our visit to Tarascon Castle

When we left the castle, we continued into the town of Tarascon.

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Jim, Jerry, and I walking in medieval Tarascon

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Another view of Tarascon

The Church of Sainte-Marthe was built on the site where Martha, sister of Lazarus and Mary, lived in Tarascon. According to the Golden Legend, after the resurrection, Martha traveled to Provence and preached the word and converted the people to Christianity. She also tamed a fierce dragon, the Tarasque, by sprinkling holy water on him, after which the people of the town killed the dragon. Sainte-Marthe’s relics are entombed in the church.

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Church of Sainte-Marthe

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Interior of Church of Sainte-Marthe

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Interior of Church of Sainte-Marthe

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Crypt of Sainte-Marthe

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Sarcophagus of Sainte-Marthe

After a full day of touring first Arles then Tarascon which racked up more than 15,000 steps on my Fitbit, we were more than ready for dinner that evening. We decided to take our waiter’s recommendation and ordered the chef’s choice. We enjoyed a delectable dinner accompanied by French wine and authentic French bistro music.

 

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Lobster and shrimp bisque

 

 

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Poached asparagus with prosciutto, ricotta panna cotta, quail egg, and balsamic reduction    

 

 

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Châteaubriand

 

 

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Soufflé au chocolat

 

Following dinner, we enjoyed nighttime views of the Bridge of Avignon as we returned to the city where we would begin day 3 of our cruise.

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Based on events from October and November 2016.

 

References:

Tarascon Castle brochure obtained at the castle

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: cruise, Europe, History, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

A Walking Tour of Arles, France

We first glimpsed Tarascon, France through the early morning mist on the Rhône river. As the castle came into view, we knew that day 2 of our river cruise promised to be at least as delightful as the first. Our ship docked at this small town of 13,000 inhabitants, 11 miles (18 km) north of Arles. Tarascon would have to wait until later in the day, however, because we were scheduled for a walking tour of Arles that morning.

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Dawn on the Rhône River approaching Tarascon

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Tarascon Castle from the Rhône River

But first, a good breakfast was in order to fuel our explorations. We were offered an outstanding array on the buffet or we could order from the menu or both.

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Scrumptious breakfast

Following breakfast, our motor coach waited to transport us to Arles, pop. 50,000. Arles was settled by the Greeks as early as the 6th century, BC, and the city was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its Roman monuments dating from the 1st century, BC, and Romanesque monuments from the 11th and 12th centuries.

As we walked through the city, I was charmed by almost everything I saw.

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The Roman Amphitheater, still in use today for bullfights and other events, was built in the 1st century AD to accommodate 21,000 spectators.

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Lori and Jim at the Roman Amphitheater

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Inside the Roman Amphitheater

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Inside the Roman Amphitheater

The nearby Roman Theater, built in the 1st century BC, was not as well-preserved as the amphitheater but it, too, is still used today for outdoor performances, accommodating audiences of 8,000.

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As we continued our stroll toward the Place de la Republique, I captured a few views along the way.

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The Place de la Republique, where the Hôtel de Ville (City Hall) is located, is the center of the historic district. The ancient Egyptian obelisk was moved here from the amphitheater in 1676.

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Place de la Republique

Facing the Place de la Republique is another UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Church and Cloister of St. Trophime, named for an early bishop of Arles. The facade of the Romanesque church features sculptured scenes of the Last Judgement including Christ in Majesty surrounded by symbols of the four Evangelists above the doorway, the righteous being delivered to the saints on the left, and the chain-bound souls being delivered to hell on the right.

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Christ in Majesty with the Evangelists

Version 2

The righteous delivered to the saints

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The damned with chains around their waists delivered to hell

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Inside the Church of St. Trophime

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Church of St. Trophime Interior

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Church of St. Trophime

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Church of St. Trophime

Incidentally, the Church of St. Trophime is a stop along one of the pilgrimage routes of the Camino de Santiago. We didn’t see any pilgrims while we were there, however.

Vincent Van Gogh arrived in Arles in 1888 at age 34 and spent 15 months here producing 300 paintings including some of his most famous. It was here that he cut off his ear and was hospitalized at the old Arles Hospital where he painted Le Jardin de la Maison de Santé a Arles. Today this hospital is a cultural center featuring many of Van Gogh’s works. Sadly, the artist died young in 1890.

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Sign to mark the place where Van Gogh painted Le Jardin de la Maison de Santé a Arles

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In the footsteps of Vincent Van Gogh

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Sign to identify the cafe where Van Gogh painted Le Café Le Soir

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Location of the painting Le Cafe Le Soir (Cafe Terrace at Night)

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Another view of the café

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Marker for Van Gogh’s La Nuit Étoilée

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View of the river where La Nuit Étoilée was painted by Vincent Van Gogh

We saw one more ancient Roman monument on our walking tour, the Baths of Constantine, dating from the 4th century.

 

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Baths of Constantine

 

 

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Baths of Constantine

 

Before boarding our bus to return to Tarascon, I took a few photos of The Bridge of Lions. The bridge was destroyed in a WWII bombing but the lions have been restored and stand regally on guard on the embankment of the River Rhône. IMG_0326

Upon our return to our ship, the Viking Buri, we were greeted by staff with a welcome aboard drink for us.

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Check back for a tour of Tarascon Castle.

 

Based on events from October 2016.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: cruise, Europe, History, Travel, Uncategorized, UNESCO | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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