Author Archives: lclalor

About lclalor

Passionate about all things travel.

Puerto Aventuras 2017

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).

IMG_2837

View from our balcony

IMG_2862

View from our condo of our balcony and the bay

IMG_2876

View from the bedroom to the upper balcony

IMG_2863

Walking along the marina

IMG_3279

Dolphin Discovery on the marina

IMG_2842

Selfie while walking the beach in front of our condo

IMG_2713

The lagoon near the marina

IMG_2719

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.

IMG_2746

Ruins at Coba with our guide

IMG_2756

Sculpture at Coba

IMG_2760

The walk to the pyramid

IMG_2761

Rickshaws transporting tourists at Coba

IMG_2788

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.

IMG_2789

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.

IMG_2797

This was as far as I climbed at Nohoch Mul Pyramid

IMG_2800

Looking back down the pyramid

IMG_2810

Looking down from Nohoch Mul Pyramid

Screen Shot 2017-06-27 at 11.11.32 AM

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.

Based on events from January 2017.

Categories: History, Mexico, Travel, Uncategorized | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Ruins of Cluny Abbey

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.

Screen Shot 2017-06-11 at 4.34.49 PM

From the public domain

IMG_2238

Remaining south transept

IMG_2355

Entrance

IMG_2262

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.

IMG_2348

Ruins of church nave

IMG_2249

Original side entrance to nave

IMG_2292

Inside the south transept

IMG_2293

Inside the south transept

IMG_2295

Inside the south transept

IMG_2296

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.

IMG_2275

Sarcophagus

IMG_2276

Decorative capital depicting the sacrifice of Isaac

IMG_2278

Decorative piece from Cluny

IMG_2277

Daisy Portal decoration

IMG_2302

Outer wall of south transept

IMG_2307

Entrance to Bourbon Chapel at Cluny Abbey

IMG_2316

Ceiling in Bourbon Chapel

IMG_2320

Bourbon Chapel at Cluny Abbey

IMG_2319

Bourbon Chapel at Cluny Abbey

IMG_2327

Excavation area

IMG_2325

Cloister at Cluny Abbey

IMG_2331

Chapter House where the monks lived with south transept behind at Cluny Abbey

IMG_2332

Entrance to Chapter House that was used as administrative offices following the French Revolution

IMG_2340

Gardens at Cluny Abbey

IMG_2334

Grounds at Cluny Abbey and Granary

IMG_2335

Rose from the garden in November

IMG_2341

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.

For now, adieu to the Viking Buri.

IMG_2368

Our ship, the Viking Buri, as we depart

IMG_2367

Lori, Kathy, Jerry, Jim headed to the airport

 

Based on events from November 2016.

 

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

Wine 101 in Beaujolais

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.

IMG_2005

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.

Version 2

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.

IMG_2037

Moulin-a-Vent

IMG_2042

Moulin-a-Vent

IMG_2048

Chateau Portier Vineyard

The other Beaujolais Cru vineyard we spotted was Juliénas, named for Julius Caesar, as the welcome mural indicates somewhat obviously.

IMG_2072

Bienvenue (Welcome) to Juliénas

IMG_2081

Vineyard in Beaujolais

IMG_2104

We stopped first at the Rock of Solutré, close to the village of Solutré-Pouilly, located in the wine-producing area of Pouilly-Fuissé.

IMG_2106

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.

IMG_2135

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.

IMG_2111

IMG_2121

IMG_2115

IMG_2137

IMG_2140

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.

IMG_2145

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.

IMG_2151

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.

IMG_2157

IMG_2158

IMG_2160

IMG_2165

IMG_2169

IMG_2172

IMG_2176

IMG_2188

IMG_2191

At our appointed time, we followed our group to the wine cellar where we enjoyed the wines included in our tasting.

IMG_2192

IMG_2194

IMG_2199

IMG_2200

IMG_2202

IMG_2205

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.

 

Based on events from November 2016.

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

Timeless Town of Perouges

We elected to join an optional tour to the medieval walled village of Perouges, France, on the afternoon of day 6 of our Viking River Cruise. When I read the description of Perouges as “The Most Beautiful Village in France,” I definitely wanted to see it.

We were transported 25 miles (40 km) from Lyon by coach to the village. We entered through a fortified gateway called the Barbican into a village with so many original buildings, I felt immediately transported back in time to the Middle Ages, although undoubtedly a cleaner and better smelling version. Movies such as The Three Musketeers (1973) have been filmed here due to the authenticity of the setting.

IMG_1812

The Barbican at the Upper Gate to Perouges

Immediately inside the gate, we stopped first at the Eglise forteresse (fortified church) Saint-Marie-Madeleine that comprises part of the city wall. The narrow windows prevented intruders from gaining access and the arrow slit below allowed defenders to shoot from inside.

IMG_1808

Eglise forteresse Saint-Marie-Madeleine

IMG_1809

Narrow window with arrow slit below

IMG_1820

Entrance to the church

IMG_1821

Inside Eglise forteresse Saint-Marie-Madeleine

IMG_1825

Interior of church

IMG_1818

View of the countryside from the hilltop at Perouges

IMG_1826

WWI Monument (obviously not from the Middle Ages)

IMG_1830

Building in Perouges

IMG_1833

IMG_1834

As you can see in the photo below, the uneven cobblestone streets in Perouges could be treacherous for anyone not wearing sensible walking shoes.

IMG_1836

The Place du Tilleul is the center of Perouges. Our guide pointed out the sundial on the building below, the liberty tree planted following the French Revolution over 200 years ago, and Ostellerie du Vieux Perouges where President Bill Clinton visited in 1996. You can read President Clinton’s speech here.

IMG_1852

Sundial on the front of the building

IMG_1855

Place du Tilleul

IMG_1900

Liberty Tree in Place du Tilleul

IMG_1891

Ostellerie du Vieux Perouges

IMG_1905

Interior of Ostellerie du Vieux Perouges

I loved the corn hanging from the ceiling to dry at a cafe terrace on the square.

IMG_1856

IMG_1903

Kathy and Jerry resting a moment

IMG_1866

Cobblestone street in Perouges

IMG_1868

IMG_1873

Old well

IMG_1874

Lori in Perouges

IMG_1884

Galette de Perouges is a local favorite

IMG_1885

Scenes from Perouges

IMG_1897

Our guide serving us galette de Perouges

IMG_1898

IMG_1899

IMG_1916

Medieval well that was part of the original fortified castle

IMG_1919

View of the countryside from Perouges

I later discovered 155 villages in France carry the designation Les Plus Beaux Villages de France.  If the others are nearly as captivating as Perouges, I would like to visit each one. Until then, I would agree Perouges is the most beautiful village in France.

 

Based on events from November 2016.

 

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

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.

IMG_1781

French accordion player on the Viking Buri

IMG_1805

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.

IMG_1785

French flag at the entrance to the dining room

IMG_1789

Table setting with Kathy and Jerry

IMG_1803

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.

Version 3

My favorite ratatouille

And who could ever complain about French bread?

Version 3

French baguettes

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

IMG_1804

Desserts

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

Version 2

Macarons

IMG_1801

Decadent chocolate dessert

IMG_1791

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.

IMG_1583

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.

IMG_1600

Place Bellecour

IMG_1611

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

IMG_1613

Place des Jacobins

IMG_1617

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.

IMG_1640

La Fresque des Lyonnais

IMG_1627

La Fresque des Lyonnais

Version 2

Lumiére Brothers

IMG_1637

The Little Prince

IMG_1634

La Fresque des Lyonnais

IMG_1643

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.

IMG_1675

Roman ruins in Lyon, France

IMG_1676

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.

IMG_1680

Basilica Notre-Dame

IMG_1692

IMG_1693

IMG_1694

IMG_1695

IMG_1696

IMG_1697

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.

IMG_1705

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.

IMG_1744

Door to a traboule

IMG_1747

Lori inside a traboule

IMG_1748

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.)

IMG_1764

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

IMG_1752

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.

IMG_1760

Our guide tells us about the bouchon Lyonnais

IMG_1775

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.

IMG_1520 2

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.

IMG_1490

Looking out the windows of the museum

IMG_1518

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.

IMG_1488

One of many exquisite mosaics

IMG_1489

Close-up of preceding mosaic

IMG_1496

IMG_1504

IMG_1498

IMG_1507

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.

IMG_1500

IMG_1499

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.

IMG_1502

IMG_1493

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.

IMG_1510

IMG_1512

IMG_1513

IMG_1514

IMG_1515

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.

IMG_1538

Roman Temple of Augustus and Livia

IMG_1542

Temple of Augustus and Livia

IMG_1539

Temple of Augustus and Livia

IMG_1544

Original walkway around the temple

IMG_1545

Plaque commemorating the visit of Thomas Jefferson

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

IMG_1555

IMG_1551

Garden of Cybèle

IMG_1554

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.

IMG_1497

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

IMG_1556

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.

IMG_1527

IMG_1531

IMG_1530

IMG_1533

IMG_1536

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.

IMG_1532

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.

IMG_1547

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.

 

 

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

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.

IMG_1207

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

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

IMG_1456 2

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.

IMG_1209

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.

IMG_1225

Le Grand Pont

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

IMG_1238

Barrage (dam) de la Ville

IMG_1239

Barrage (dam) de la Ville

IMG_1252

Viaduc de Troye

IMG_1255

Scene from the train of the Doux River

IMG_1263

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.

IMG_1276

Tunnel du Mordane and Usine Électrique (electrical plant)

IMG_1285

Canal des Allemands

IMG_1295

Doux River

IMG_1298

Doux River

IMG_1300

Le Pont des Étroits

IMG_1307

Station at Clauzel

IMG_1311

I wasn’t the only one taking  photos

IMG_1317

View from the train

IMG_1323

IMG_1333

IMG_1339

IMG_1342

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.

IMG_1358

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

IMG_1369

Bridge across the river

IMG_1372

These chickens added to the rural ambiance

IMG_1374

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.

IMG_1392

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

IMG_1455

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

 

Categories: cruise, Europe, France, Travel, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , | 7 Comments

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.

IMG_1112

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!

IMG_1123

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.

IMG_1118

Castle of Tournon

IMG_1121

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.

IMG_1127

Marc Seguin Pedestrian Bridge

IMG_1133

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.

IMG_1130

Pollarded plane trees

IMG_1137

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.

IMG_1142

Statue of Cardinal Francois de Tournon

IMG_1143

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.

IMG_1152

Mauves Gate

IMG_1154

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.

IMG_1155

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.)

IMG_1156

Trompe l’oeil in Tournon

IMG_1162

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.

IMG_1167

Saint Julien’s Collegial Church

IMG_1177 2

Interior of St. Julien’s

IMG_1175

Fresco in St. Julien’s

IMG_1176

Fresco in St. Julien’s

IMG_1178

Original church bell from 1486

IMG_1179

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.

IMG_0842

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.

IMG_0901

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.

IMG_0911

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.

 

IMG_0914

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.

IMG_0916

Trunk of the plane tree

IMG_0918

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

IMG_0919

Buildings along the Allée du Rhône in Viviers

IMG_0925

Jim in the midst of lovely fall foliage

IMG_0927

Lori in front of a petite doorway in a stone wall

IMG_0931

The men straggling behind our tour group

IMG_0936

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.

IMG_0940

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.

IMG_0943

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.

IMG_0953 2

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

IMG_1006

Tower of St. Michael

 

IMG_1033

St. Vincent’s Cathedral

IMG_1008

Interior of St. Vincent’s Cathedral

IMG_1014

Altar in St. Vincent’s Cathedral

IMG_1010

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.

IMG_1017

Up to see the view

 

IMG_0987

View from the upper town

IMG_0994

Ruins of the fortress in the upper town

IMG_0995

Clock tower of Viviers from the upper town

IMG_0997

View from upper town

IMG_1026

 

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

IMG_1049

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.

IMG_1069IMG_1072

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?

IMG_1081

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

%d bloggers like this: