We first visited Puerto Aventuras, Mexico, in January 2015. It was such a great getaway from the January cold and snow in Iowa we went back in 2016 and again in 2017. We don’t usually return to the same place year after year because there are so many new places to discover, but this place is special. Puerto Aventuras is located on the Yucatán Peninsula, 89 km (55 mi) south of Cancun and a short colectivo (local bus) ride from Playa del Carmen and Tulúm. It’s a small gated community with a laid back atmosphere and beautiful views of Bahia Fatima (Fatima Bay).
View from our balcony
View from our condo of our balcony and the bay
View from the bedroom to the upper balcony
Walking along the marina
Dolphin Discovery on the marina
Selfie while walking the beach in front of our condo
The lagoon near the marina
Sunset from our balcony
We arrived on January 10 and we wanted to continue our exploration of Mayan culture before our friends, Gail and Chuck, arrived on January 15. Since we visited Chichen Itza the previous year (you can read that post here) and Tulum in 2002, this year we scheduled a guided bus trip to the ruins at Cobá. After a mix-up about our pickup location, we were finally on our way.
Coba is a large, mostly unexcavated archeological site in the jungle just 39 km (24 mi.) northwest of Tulum. Dating from 600-900 AD, the main attraction is the pyramid, Nohoch Mul, which is taller than Kulkulkan Pyramid at Chichen Itza. Nohoch Mul has 120 steps to the top compared to Kulkulkan Pyramid’s 91 steps. And, unlike Kulkulkan Pyramid, Nohoch Mul is still open to the public to climb. 😱 This pleasure, however, was saved until the end of our visit. Nohuch Mul is at the far end of the grounds, a distance of at least 2 km (1.2 mi.), by my estimation. Because not everyone wants to walk that far, they offer bike rentals and rickshaw bikes with drivers to transport visitors at a very reasonable cost. We, however, walked.
Ruins at Coba with our guide
Sculpture at Coba
The walk to the pyramid
Rickshaws transporting tourists at Coba
One of the stone slabs or stelae that archeologists used to learn about life in Coba
When I saw the pyramid, I knew climbing to the top was out of the question for me. The slope was extremely steep and everyone I saw coming down was doing so on their butts close to or holding onto the rope. The steps were also very uneven and quite narrow.
Nohoch Mul Pyramid
I did climb far enough for a photo, then relinquished my phone to Jim who made it all the way to the top. It was, in a word, terrifying and I worried about Jim’s safety the entire time. Since he had the camera, I was unable to get photos while he climbed but he took pictures during his ascent and from the top.
This was as far as I climbed at Nohoch Mul Pyramid
Looking back down the pyramid
Looking down from Nohoch Mul Pyramid
Jim’s photo of the surrounding jungle from the top of Nohoch Mul Pyramid
I hadn’t heard of Coba before my research but this tour was impressive. While it’s not as extensive as Chichen Itza, if your dream is to risk your life by climbing to the top of a pyramid, this is the place to do it. So go there before they prohibit it.
And come back next time for more of our 2017 trip to Puerto Aventuras.
Cluny Abbey was the largest church in Christendom until St. Peter’s Basilica was constructed in Rome in the 16th century. Founded by William I the Pious, Duke of Aquitaine, in 910, and built as a Benedictine monastery dedicated to St. Peter and St. Paul, at one time 10,000 monks lived, prayed, and worked in the Cluny network of monasteries. Due to the abbey’s size and wealth, the abbot of Cluny wielded nearly as much power as the pope, and indeed, several abbots became popes. The monastery’s library was one of the finest in Europe housing a large collection of valuable manuscripts. (Unfortunately, many of these were destroyed or stolen when the Huguenots attacked in 1562.)
Because the church in France was viewed as part of the “Ancien Regime” (Old Regime), much of the abbey was destroyed during the French Revolution between 1789 and 1799. Following the Revolution, the abbey was sold and became a stone quarry resulting in near total dismantling of the buildings. Today it is largely in ruins but it was nevertheless, in my opinion, well worth a visit.
What remains of the 656 ft. x 130 ft. church at Cluny Abbey is the south transept. (The transept is the cross piece of a cruciform church.) The nave was completely destroyed but the ruins give you an idea of the once-colossal size of the church. On the diagram below I’ve circled the towers that remain. The south transept is at the bottom of the diagram.
From the public domain
Remaining south transept
Map of site as it exists today
The nave would have extended through the area in the photo below to the tiny red dot at the top of the stairs which is Jim. In the foreground, you can see the bases of the columns that once supported the roof.
Ruins of church nave
Original side entrance to nave
Inside the south transept
Inside the south transept
Inside the south transept
Inside the south transept
I couldn’t remember what our guide told us about the sarcophagus below so I emailed Cluny Abbey and I’m so excited to tell you I got a response. How’s that for customer service? This is an old Merovingian sarcophagus that was used to entomb the Duke of Aquitaine’s sister, Ava, who was the only woman entombed in the church. It was found near the choir of the church.
Decorative capital depicting the sacrifice of Isaac
Decorative piece from Cluny
Daisy Portal decoration
Outer wall of south transept
Entrance to Bourbon Chapel at Cluny Abbey
Ceiling in Bourbon Chapel
Bourbon Chapel at Cluny Abbey
Bourbon Chapel at Cluny Abbey
Cloister at Cluny Abbey
Chapter House where the monks lived with south transept behind at Cluny Abbey
Entrance to Chapter House that was used as administrative offices following the French Revolution
Gardens at Cluny Abbey
Grounds at Cluny Abbey and Granary
Rose from the garden in November
Hallway in Chapter House
Following our tour, we checked out the 3-D film that showed how the Abbey would have appeared before it’s destruction. You’ll find a sample of it from Youtube below.
Todd and Lois, another couple on our Viking River Cruise, also took lots of photos and in chatting with them, Todd told me about his website. To see his outstanding photos of our trip, please check out http://www.informalphotography.com/France-2016.
Cluny was our final excursion on our first Viking River Cruise. We enjoyed it so much we booked another cruise for October 2017. Next time we’ll cruise the Rhine River beginning in Basel, Switzerland with stops in France and Germany and ending in Amsterdam.
Water levels on the river sometimes cause changes to the itinerary on a river cruise. For example, when we were in Porto, Portugal, in the spring of 2016 we heard the Viking River Cruise on the Douro River was transporting passengers entirely by bus because the river was flooding. Our Viking River Cruise was scheduled to leave the Rhône River at Lyon, cruise up the Saône River, and dock at Mâcon on day 7. Instead, the captain announced our ship would stay in Lyon because it might not make it under the bridges on the Saône due to high water levels.
While we missed views of the Saône from the ship and didn’t get to visit Mâcon, the accommodation seemed quite seamless to me. We would still travel by coach through the Beaujolais region for an included wine tasting at Le Château Pierreclos. The only difference was that a complimentary lunch would be provided for us at a restaurant afterward because we wouldn’t have time to travel back to the ship before our afternoon optional excursion to Cluny Abbey.
The scenes from the coach and the commentary offered by our guide made the longer bus ride totally worth it.
Door to Beaujolais
French wine is complicated and I certainly don’t know enough to be an expert but I now know more than I did before. At least I feel a little more comfortable looking at a French wine label. When buying wine in the U.S., the most important information on the label is the varietal or type of grape such as Syrah (my favorite), chardonnay, pinot noir, etc. In France, the varietal is usually not found on the label at all. Instead, the most important information is the Appellation d’Origine Controlée or AOC. Each region has rules and guidelines that determine whether the wine qualifies for AOC classification. The most well-known appellation and easiest example to explain is Champagne. In order to earn the AOC of Champagne, the wine must come from the region of Champagne. Anything else is just sparkling wine and can’t claim the name of Champagne. According to Wikipedia, there are currently over 300 appellations including Beaujolais, Chateauneuf du Papes, and Côtes du Rhone, to name just a few that we encountered on our river cruise in France.
French wine label with my explanation
If a wine doesn’t meet the rigorous standards for AOC, it’s either a table wine or a country wine (Vin de pays). I’m sure we drank some of these in France but truly they are good enough that we didn’t know the difference.
Driving through the Beaujolais region which is just 34 miles long, we saw lots of vineyards. Beaujolais is often thought of as a young light fruity red wine made from Gamay grapes best consumed immediately or soon after release which always occurs on the third Thursday of November. Actually, that is true of Beaujolais Nouveau which accounts for one-third of the wine produced but the AOC Beaujolais Villages and the top 10 Beaujolais Cru have a longer shelf life.
We were fortunate to have spotted two of the Beaujolais Cru vineyards. The Moulin-a-Vent, named after a local windmill, is considered the King of Beaujolais.
Chateau Portier Vineyard
The other Beaujolais Cru vineyard we spotted was Juliénas, named for Julius Caesar, as the welcome mural indicates somewhat obviously.
Bienvenue (Welcome) to Juliénas
Vineyard in Beaujolais
We stopped first at the Rock of Solutré, close to the village of Solutré-Pouilly, located in the wine-producing area of Pouilly-Fuissé.
Rock of Solutré
In the 1860’s, the discovery of thousands of horse and reindeer bones around the base of the rock resulted in a now discredited theory that 20,000 years ago Cro-magnon man herded the animals over the edge of the rock to their death. The presence of the bones remains an archeological mystery to this day.
Rock of Solutré
Even more amazing than this archeological site was the incredible beauty of the surrounding vineyards among the rolling hills. I’m sure it was our good fortune to visit when the autumn color was at its peak. We arrived following the completion of harvest which depends on around 300,000 minimum wage pickers throughout France for about a two week period each year. In the Beaujolais region, all grapes must be picked by hand although that requirement varies in other regions.
Looking at the countryside one wouldn’t suspect the harvest in this area was one of the worst in 30 years due to terrible weather conditions including frost, heavy rains, hail, drought, and mildew. You can read more about the devastation here.
Back on the bus, we headed onward to our wine tasting but just up the road, we spied these animals on the loose; I just can’t tell you whether they were sheep or goats.
Chateau de Pierreclos is a restored medieval castle that offers wine tasting, a bed and breakfast, and a wedding venue. Prior to our tasting, we wandered around on a self-guided tour enjoying the grounds and the setting on a crisp autumn day with only a sprinkle or two of rain.
At our appointed time, we followed our group to the wine cellar where we enjoyed the wines included in our tasting.
The wines included in our tasting
Following our tasting, we were directed to a modern spacious shop where we perused and bought local products to take home with us. Then we boarded our coach again for transportation to the restaurant for lunch before our afternoon visit to Cluny Abbey. But that’s the subject of my next post so please join us next time.