We arrived in Amsterdam on day 8 of our Viking River Cruise of the Rhine. My blog posts for this trip have focused mostly on the ports of call and excursions we enjoyed along the way. But before I tell you about Amsterdam, our final port of call, I want to share some photos of ship life on the Viking Kara. Spoiler alert! For those of you who dislike food photos, this post isn’t for you.
Our cabin was small but comfortable. We chose a room on the first deck at water level since it was the least expensive and we thought it would be too chilly to use a veranda in November anyway. If you’re sensitive to noise, I must caution against this option, however, as we could often hear the engine noise. It didn’t bother us too much and the money saved was welcome.
Our first dinner onboard Elvia and Geoff were seated with us for dinner and we enjoyed one another’s company so much, they had dinner with us every evening thereafter and often we had breakfast and lunch together, too.
Elvia, Lori, Heather, Jim, and Geoff
The food was beautifully presented, well-prepared, and delicious. One evening even featured traditional German dishes with entertainment.
The service in the dining room and throughout the ship was superior.
We enjoyed the onboard entertainment including traditional German and French selections as well as the pianist. We were usually the last to leave the dance floor in the evening although it was only 11:00.
Our cruise director, Ria, was knowledgeable and entertaining. We felt fortunate to have enjoyed her expertise on her last cruise with Viking. As a new mom, I think the time away from home was too difficult. Even though we’ve been to Amsterdam numerous times, she gave us excellent advice about the city which we hadn’t heard previously.
This was our second river cruise with Viking and we thoroughly enjoyed our 8 days cruising the Rhine River. When we finished our excursions to the French and German countryside each day, we appreciated returning to our welcoming and comfortable ship where we relaxed, recharged, and readied ourselves for more explorations.
We’ll definitely look for more itineraries with this line in the future.
As I mentioned in my last post, the stork holds a special place in the hearts of Alsatians. The large white bird with black tipped wings has been commonplace in this region for millennia giving rise to various local folk tales. You’re probably familiar with the legend of the stork delivering babies, but you, like me, may not know much beyond that. Danish writer Hans Christian Andersen first popularized the fairy tale with his story, The Storks, a rather gruesome tale which I wouldn’t share with children. (Click on the title to read the story.) According to our tour guide, babies are retrieved from under the marshes by storks who deliver them to the home. Another Alsatian folk tale says if a child wants a baby brother or sister, they leave a sugar cube on the windowsill to attract a stork to leave a baby.
Storks long returned to Alsace for the warm months signifying the arrival of spring after wintering as far away as Africa. In the 1970’s, however, the population decreased to only a few remaining pairs. A number of environmental conditions threatened the population but our guide cited electrocution by flying into high voltage electrical wires as one of the main causes. In 1983, France initiated a successful repopulation program resulting in around 600 pairs nesting in the Alsace region today.
Capitalizing on their presence, the symbol of the stork is ubiquitous in Strasbourg. I understand the birds roam freely in the Parc d’Orangerie but, unfortunately, our tour didn’t take us there.
Stork mural in Strasbourg
Every tourist shop sells storks
We did, however, see lots of other sights in Strasbourg. As we arrived, our bus took us past the Palace of Europe, headquarters of the Council of Europe, the leading human rights organization on the continent of Europe with 47 member states.
Palais de L’Europe
French President Emmanuel Macron visited the headquarters that day and delivered a speech at the European Court of Human Rights. Because of his visit, we saw many police officers and military in the vicinity but alas, we didn’t glimpse Macron.
Police officers in Strasbourg
Strasbourg is also the official seat of the European Parliament where laws for the EU are debated and passed. My photo of it is terrible because it was into the sun and the window glare was horrible but you get the idea.
Parliament of Europe
Our guide explained some history of Strasbourg and told us her mother and grandmother changed nationalities 3 times although they never moved from Strasbourg. Strasbourg is the capital of Alsace which today is called the Grand Est region of France. The city is situated near the Rhine River which is the border with Germany. In the Franco-German War (1870-71) Germany annexed Alsace. After WWI, the area was returned to France; it was taken by Germany again in WWII and returned to France after the war. Our guide’s grandmother and mother must have been born after WWI.
From the bus, we spied the Barrage Vauban which is a bridge and a dam, designed by military engineer Sebastien Vauban as part of the city’s fortifications and opened in 1690. Today, it is open to the public and has a terrace on top with great views of the Old Town. If you look closely, you can see people on top.
The nearby covered bridges have retained their name but not their covers. These three bridges cross the River Ill each guarded by a tower and were once part of the 14th-century ramparts.
Covered bridges with two of the towers
Once the bus parked, we commenced our walking tour of Grande Ill, the Big Island, a UNESCO World Heritage site and the historic section of Strasbourg.
View of the steeple of the cathedral from the River Ill
While the buildings weren’t as colorful as those in Colmar, they were nonetheless captivating. The half-timbered buildings in the Petite France neighborhood evoke a medieval atmosphere without the foul stench which would have once permeated the air.
We stopped to watch a swinging bridge that once operated by hand but has long been motorized to clear the way for boats passing through. See it operate in the short video below.
Then we were treated to an accordion player playing lively French tunes for passersby.
An accordion player in Strasbourg
View from one of many bridges with the Tanners House on the right, today a restaurant
Narrow Rue des Dentelles in the Petite France neighborhood
Dating from the 15th-century, the ornate Kammerzell House is the most famous building in Strasbourg. Once a wealthy merchant’s home, today it houses a fine restaurant.
Although Kammerzell House is reputed to be the most famous building in Strasbourg, Notre-Dame Cathedral is the most impressive and awe-inspiring, in my opinion. Construction commenced in 1015 and the spire was finally completed in 1439. The 466 foot (142 m) high building was the tallest in Christendom until the 19th century and a masterpiece of Gothic architecture.
Statues surrounding the door on the facade of the cathedral
Interior of Cathedral
Interior of Notre-Dame Cathedral
The Rose Window
Rub the dog’s head for luck
Windows in Notre-Dame Cathedral
The case of the well-known astronomical clock of Strasbourg dates from the 16th century but the mechanism was replaced in 1838. It drew a huge crowd to see the mechanism in action but we were too early for the main show. Every day at 12:30, 18-inch tall figures of the Apostles process past Jesus, turning to face him as they pass.
Panoramic view of Notre-Dame Cathedral
After our tour, we had free time with instructions to meet in the square outside the cathedral so our guide could lead us back to the bus for our return to our ship, the Viking Kara. I decided to check out a few of the shops on my own while my husband stayed in the square. A few streets away from the cathedral, I found a darling shop featuring foies gras which I decided to purchase for my adult children to enjoy an authentic French treat. Those of you who know me personally may be aware that I have a very poor sense of direction. Feeling pleased with my purchase, I left the shop and promptly turned in the wrong direction. I compounded the problem by changing direction several times to get my bearings which got me hopelessly confused and lost. When I discovered I’d left my credit card at the shop, I was so disoriented and anxious I couldn’t even find my way back to the shop. I finally stood still, took a couple of deep breaths, and walked slowly along the street until I found the shop. By then the shop was packed with shoppers but fortunately, my credit card was on the counter where I’d left it. My relief was palpable as I made my way back to the square.
Foies Gras de Strasbourg
On our return ride to the ship, when I heard Strasbourg hosts the best Christmas Market in Europe, I decided a return visit to this delightful city is in my future.
Undoubtedly one of the most picturesque towns in France, Colmar is located in the northeast in the Alsace region just 10 miles from the Rhine River. Rick Steves calls Colmar Alsace’s most enchanting city and, while I haven’t seen every city, I heartily agree. Old Town Colmar felt like we stepped back in time with its cobblestone streets and medieval architecture. And, despite a population of nearly 70,000, the medieval section of this small city is entirely walkable.
We arrived after lunch for our first optional excursion on our Viking River Cruise of the Rhine. Our guide informed us Colmar is the birthplace of Auguste Bartholdi, the sculptor who created Liberty Enlightening the World, otherwise known as the Statue of Liberty. In fact, we were greeted into the city by a replica of the famous statue. By the way, did you know another replica stands on the River Seine in Paris? I’ve seen the original and these two replicas but there are dozens more around the world. How many have you seen?
Replica of the Statue of Liberty in Colmar, France
Side note: The Statue of Liberty representing the Roman god of liberty, Libertus, holding a tablet inscribed with JULY IV MDCCLXXVI” (July 4, 1776) was a gift from the people of France to the United States to commemorate France’s support in the American Revolution. Designed by Auguste Bartholdi and built by Gustave Eiffel of Eiffel Tower fame, the statue was dedicated on October 28, 1886. Designated a National Monument in 1924, it stands on Liberty Island in New York Harbor.
Now back to Colmar. We began our walking tour at Place d’Unterlinden.
Panorama of Place d’Unterlinden
For those with mobility issues, the Petit Train Touristique departed nearby providing narrated tours.
Petit Train Tour
We, however, preferred to walk with our guide pointing out points of interest as we ambled along.
The Unterlinden Museum, housed in a 13th-century convent, is one of the most visited fine arts museums outside of Paris and houses the famous Isenheim Altarpiece painted by Matthias Grunwald with carvings by Niclaus of Haguenau. This masterpiece was completed around 1515 for the nearby monastery in Isenheim which ministered to peasants suffering from skin diseases. The altarpiece is a disturbing work of art for its realistic and tortured depiction of the crucifixion of Christ. Unfortunately, we didn’t see it as we didn’t have time to tour the museum.
Restaurant Pfeffel next to Unterlinden Museum
Our next stop was at the House of Heads. Constructed in 1609 for wealthy merchant Anton Burger, the facade is adorned with 106 heads. A cooper, sculpted by Auguste Bartholdi (him again!), standing atop the gable was added in 1902 when the building was used as the Wine Exchange.
Maison des Tetes, House of Heads
Cooper standing atop the House of Heads
You may have noticed the sign on a building across the street from the House of Heads. In case you missed it, here’s a closer view.
Sign by Oncle Hansi
Another of Oncle Hansi’s signs
Jean-Jaques Waltz, nicknamed Oncle Hansi, (1873-1951) was a Colmar artist who painted idyllic and whimsical watercolors and was known for his anti-German sentiments during World Wars I and II when Germany controlled Alsace. He also designed signs around Colmar, several of which are pictured above. Today, the Hansi Museum celebrates the work of this Colmar native son.
Shops in Old Town Colmar
Built beginning in 1235, St. Martin’s Church is the most imposing gothic Catholic church in middle Alsace. During the French Revolution, it served briefly as a cathedral but does not maintain the designation because a bishop isn’t assigned there. Note the red box on the photo below. I placed it there to point out a stork nest on the top of the church. Storks hold a special place in the hearts of Alsatians and I’ll tell you more about them in my post about Strasbourg.
St. Martin’s Church
The Adolph House is the oldest house in Colmar, dating from around 1350.
The nearby 17th century half-timbered zum Kragen House is frequently photographed due to the carved marchand (merchant) perched on the corner of the house.
Zum Kragen House
The Pfister House was built in 1537 for Ludwig Scherer, a wealthy hatter. The murals on the facade represent biblical scenes and characters, church fathers, evangelists, and Germanic emperors of the 16th century.
Auguste Bartholdi’s eponymous museum occupies the family home where the sculptor was born and grew up. Outside the entrance is a beautiful bronze sculpture created by Bartholdi, Les Grand Soutiens du Monde, representing justice, labor and the motherland supporting the world.
Our tour guide left us in the Tanner’s District with instructions about what time to meet at Place d’Unterlinden for our return to the ship. We explored the area on our own then headed to the area called Little Venice for its location on a canal.
Little Venice in Colmar
Finally, after a romantic stroll around Little Venice, we wandered back to the appointed meeting place at Place d’Unterlinden where we met up with our friends, Lori and Heather, for the bus ride back to our ship.
Selfie to prove we were here
I was delighted with this extra excursion although Jim would also have enjoyed the other optional excursion, Colmar in WWII: Museum and Memorial. That tour included a visit to the Colmar Pocket where American and French forces battled the Germans during the winter of 1944-45 finally liberating the area from the Nazis. It’s also the place where Audie Murphy made his heroic stand seizing a .50-caliber machine gun on the turret of a burning tank destroyer to fire on approaching Nazi troops. His actions forced the approaching German tanks to fall back and earned Murphy the Medal of Honor.
It was a good day in the Alsace region and we looked forward to the following day in Strasbourg, France.
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.
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.
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.
Eglise forteresse Saint-Marie-Madeleine
Narrow window with arrow slit below
Entrance to the church
Inside Eglise forteresse Saint-Marie-Madeleine
Interior of church
View of the countryside from the hilltop at Perouges
WWI Monument (obviously not from the Middle Ages)
Building in Perouges
As you can see in the photo below, the uneven cobblestone streets in Perouges could be treacherous for anyone not wearing sensible walking shoes.
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.
Sundial on the front of the building
Place du Tilleul
Liberty Tree in Place du Tilleul
Ostellerie du Vieux Perouges
Interior of Ostellerie du Vieux Perouges
I loved the corn hanging from the ceiling to dry at a cafe terrace on the square.
Kathy and Jerry resting a moment
Cobblestone street in Perouges
Lori in Perouges
Galette de Perouges is a local favorite
Scenes from Perouges
Our guide serving us galette de Perouges
Medieval well that was part of the original fortified castle
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.
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.
French accordion player on the Viking Buri
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.
French flag at the entrance to the dining room
Table setting with Kathy and Jerry
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.
My favorite ratatouille
And who could ever complain about French bread?
The dessert bar featured a fountain of chocolate but many other delicacies tempted us as well.
Macarons, made of almonds, sugar, and egg whites are typically gluten-free, so they have become my French favorite.
Decadent chocolate dessert
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.
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.
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.
View from Place Bellecour toward Basilica Notre-Dame de Fourviere atop the hill
Place des Jacobins
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.
La Fresque des Lyonnais
La Fresque des Lyonnais
The Little Prince
La Fresque des Lyonnais
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.
Roman ruins in Lyon, France
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.
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.
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.
Door to a traboule
Lori inside a traboule
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.)
Jerry, Lori, and Jim outside a shop in Lyon while Kathy shopped
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.
Our guide tells us about the bouchon Lyonnais
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.
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.
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.
Looking out the windows of the museum
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.
One of many exquisite mosaics
Close-up of preceding mosaic
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.
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.
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.
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.
Roman Temple of Augustus and Livia
Temple of Augustus and Livia
Temple of Augustus and Livia
Original walkway around the temple
Plaque commemorating the visit of Thomas Jefferson
The nearby Garden of Cybèle isn’t as well-preserved but it’s historically significant, nonetheless.
Garden of Cybèle
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.
Around the corner from the Garden of Cybèle, this medieval building still stands from the 1200’s.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Tournon-sur-Rhône St-Jean-de-Muzols Station
I also checked out the sign that showed the train route along the Doux River.
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.
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.
Le Grand Pont
Next came the Barrage de la Ville, a dam surrounded by spectacular foliage, followed by one breathtaking view after another.
Barrage (dam) de la Ville
Barrage (dam) de la Ville
Viaduc de Troye
Scene from the train of the Doux River
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.
Tunnel du Mordane and Usine Électrique (electrical plant)
Canal des Allemands
Le Pont des Étroits
Station at Clauzel
I wasn’t the only one taking photos
View from the train
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.
Train station at Colombier le Vieux – Saint-Barthélémy le Plain
Bridge across the river
These chickens added to the rural ambiance
In less than a minute, two men turned this locomotive around with the aid of what’s called a swing bridge. Watch it here.
You can see the steam locomotive and more rail cars in this photo
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.