History

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).

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View from our balcony

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View from our condo of our balcony and the bay

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View from the bedroom to the upper balcony

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Walking along the marina

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Dolphin Discovery on the marina

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Selfie while walking the beach in front of our condo

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The lagoon near the marina

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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.

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Ruins at Coba with our guide

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Sculpture at Coba

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The walk to the pyramid

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Rickshaws transporting tourists at Coba

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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.

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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.

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This was as far as I climbed at Nohoch Mul Pyramid

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Looking back down the pyramid

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Looking down from Nohoch Mul Pyramid

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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.

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From the public domain

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Remaining south transept

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Entrance

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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.

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Ruins of church nave

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Original side entrance to nave

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Inside the south transept

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Inside the south transept

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Inside the south transept

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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.

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Sarcophagus

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Decorative capital depicting the sacrifice of Isaac

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Decorative piece from Cluny

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Daisy Portal decoration

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Outer wall of south transept

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Entrance to Bourbon Chapel at Cluny Abbey

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Ceiling in Bourbon Chapel

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Bourbon Chapel at Cluny Abbey

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Bourbon Chapel at Cluny Abbey

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Excavation area

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Cloister at Cluny Abbey

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

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

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Gardens at Cluny Abbey

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Grounds at Cluny Abbey and Granary

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Rose from the garden in November

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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.

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Our ship, the Viking Buri, as we depart

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Moulin-a-Vent

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Moulin-a-Vent

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Chateau Portier Vineyard

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

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Bienvenue (Welcome) to Juliénas

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Vineyard in Beaujolais

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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Eglise forteresse Saint-Marie-Madeleine

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Narrow window with arrow slit below

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Entrance to the church

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Inside Eglise forteresse Saint-Marie-Madeleine

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Interior of church

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View of the countryside from the hilltop at Perouges

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WWI Monument (obviously not from the Middle Ages)

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Building in Perouges

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

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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.

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Sundial on the front of the building

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Place du Tilleul

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Liberty Tree in Place du Tilleul

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Ostellerie du Vieux Perouges

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Interior of Ostellerie du Vieux Perouges

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

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Kathy and Jerry resting a moment

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Cobblestone street in Perouges

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Old well

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Lori in Perouges

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Galette de Perouges is a local favorite

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Scenes from Perouges

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Our guide serving us galette de Perouges

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Medieval well that was part of the original fortified castle

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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

Through the Ages in Vienne, France

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

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

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

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Looking out the windows of the museum

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Excavation is currently occurring in this area protected by the covering

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

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One of many exquisite mosaics

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Close-up of preceding mosaic

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

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

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Roman bed with statue behind

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

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

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Roman Temple of Augustus and Livia

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Temple of Augustus and Livia

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Temple of Augustus and Livia

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Original walkway around the temple

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Plaque commemorating the visit of Thomas Jefferson

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

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Garden of Cybèle

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Sculpture in Garden of Cybèle

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

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

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

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Gargoyles adorn the cathedral

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

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

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

 

Based on events from November 2016.

 

 

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Exploring Tournon-sur-Rhône

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

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

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Marc Seguin, French engineer

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

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Hill of Hermitage across the river

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

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Castle of Tournon

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WWI Memorial on the Tournon Castle

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

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Marc Seguin Pedestrian Bridge

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Passerelle (Bridge) Marc Seguin

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

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Pollarded plane trees

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Pollarded plane tree

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

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Statue of Cardinal Francois de Tournon

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Lycée Gabriel-Fauré

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

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Mauves Gate

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Carved bottle in Mauves Gate

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

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Fromagerie (Cheese Shop)

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

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Trompe l’oeil in Tournon

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Shops in Tournon

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

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Saint Julien’s Collegial Church

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Interior of St. Julien’s

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Fresco in St. Julien’s

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Fresco in St. Julien’s

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Original church bell from 1486

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The Virgin

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

 

Based on events from November 2016.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

Day 4: Viviers

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

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Swans on the Rhône River

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

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Taking flight

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

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View of the Rhône as we departed the ship

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

 

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Allée du Rhône lined with plane trees

 

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

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Trunk of the plane tree

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

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Buildings along the Allée du Rhône in Viviers

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Jim in the midst of lovely fall foliage

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Lori in front of a petite doorway in a stone wall

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The men straggling behind our tour group

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Decorative fountain in a wall

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

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

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

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

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

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Tower of St. Michael

 

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St. Vincent’s Cathedral

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Interior of St. Vincent’s Cathedral

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Altar in St. Vincent’s Cathedral

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Another visitor at the cathedral

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

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Up to see the view

 

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View from the upper town

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Ruins of the fortress in the upper town

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Clock tower of Viviers from the upper town

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View from upper town

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

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Window shopping at the charcuterie

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

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

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Chef Pascal and Maitre d’ Imre

 

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

Based on events of November 2016.

References:

Tour guide from the Viking Buri

Viking Daily

Viking Cruise Documents

 

 

 

 

 

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

Pont du Gard

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

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

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

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Grape vines viewed from our motor coach

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

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

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

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

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The entrance to the Pont du Gard site

 

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

 

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First view of Pont du Gard

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Closer view as we approach Pont du Gard

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View of the Gardon River that Pont du Gard crosses

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

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Approach showing bicycler enjoying this space, too

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

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Proof we were here

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View of Gardon River from Pont du Gard

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On the bridge on the second level of Pont du Gard

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View from Pont du Gard

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

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

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My favorite view

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

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Iowa State University Athletic Department’s photo of the week

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

 

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Another view of the Garrigue

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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Based on events from November 2016.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

Tarascon Tour

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

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

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

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Tarascon Castle

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Jerry at the Castle door

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The old moat

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Tarascon Castle

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Tarascon Castle gardens

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Tarascon Castle

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Tarascon Castle

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Studying the brochure

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Chapel

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Salle des festins where banquets were held, Tarascon Castle

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

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

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

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Decorative drain spout at Tarascon Castle

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Jerry and Lori on the roof of Tarascon Castle

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View of the Rhône River from the roof of Tarascon Castle

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

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View across the top level of Tarascon Castle

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View of the garden from the top of the castle

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

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Graffiti

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Graffiti

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Graffiti

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Jim and I at Tarascon Castle

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

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Jerry at the end of our visit to Tarascon Castle

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

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Jim, Jerry, and I walking in medieval Tarascon

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Another view of Tarascon

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

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Church of Sainte-Marthe

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Interior of Church of Sainte-Marthe

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Interior of Church of Sainte-Marthe

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Crypt of Sainte-Marthe

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Sarcophagus of Sainte-Marthe

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

 

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Lobster and shrimp bisque

 

 

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

 

 

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Châteaubriand

 

 

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Soufflé au chocolat

 

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

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Based on events from October and November 2016.

 

References:

Tarascon Castle brochure obtained at the castle

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

A Walking Tour of Arles, France

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

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Dawn on the Rhône River approaching Tarascon

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Tarascon Castle from the Rhône River

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

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Scrumptious breakfast

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

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

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

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Lori and Jim at the Roman Amphitheater

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Inside the Roman Amphitheater

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Inside the Roman Amphitheater

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

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

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

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Place de la Republique

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

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Christ in Majesty with the Evangelists

Version 2

The righteous delivered to the saints

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The damned with chains around their waists delivered to hell

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Inside the Church of St. Trophime

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Church of St. Trophime Interior

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Church of St. Trophime

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Church of St. Trophime

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

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

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

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In the footsteps of Vincent Van Gogh

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

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

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Another view of the café

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Marker for Van Gogh’s La Nuit Étoilée

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

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

 

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Baths of Constantine

 

 

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Baths of Constantine

 

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

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

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Check back for a tour of Tarascon Castle.

 

Based on events from October 2016.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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