Monthly Archives: April 2017

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

 

 

 

 

 

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

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: , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

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