Pont du Gard

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

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

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

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Grape vines viewed from our motor coach

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

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

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

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

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The entrance to the Pont du Gard site

 

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

 

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First view of Pont du Gard

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Closer view as we approach Pont du Gard

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View of the Gardon River that Pont du Gard crosses

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

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Approach showing bicycler enjoying this space, too

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

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Proof we were here

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View of Gardon River from Pont du Gard

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On the bridge on the second level of Pont du Gard

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View from Pont du Gard

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

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

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My favorite view

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

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Iowa State University Athletic Department’s photo of the week

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

 

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Another view of the Garrigue

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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Based on events from November 2016.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

Back to Avignon

On Day 3 of our Viking River Cruise, we returned to Avignon. With our whisper boxes in hand, we set off on foot that morning for our included excursion to tour the Palais des Papes (Palace of the Popes) and the historic center. (A whisper box is a headset that enables the wearer to better hear the tour guide.)

Once inside the ramparts, we meandered through the medieval streets while our guide pointed out several buildings on our way to the Popes’ Palace. Incidentally, you can walk the ramparts which I would like to do next time.

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Ramparts surrounding historic center of Avignon

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Church of St. Agricola in Avignon

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Gargoyle on Church of St. Agricola, Avignon

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Clock tower at Hôtel de Ville (City Hall)

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Lori in front of Opera Theater in Avignon

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View of Cathedral Notre-Dame des Doms d’Avignon

The Palace of the Popes is the largest gothic palace in Europe and was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995. Why, you may wonder did the papacy relocate to Avignon, France in 1309?  Pope Boniface VIII had earlier issued two edicts; one prohibited taxation of the clergy and the other asserted the supremacy of papal authority over temporal authority.  Philip IV, King of France, objected to these edicts and responded by taking Boniface prisoner for a short time and the Pope died soon after his release.  When Pope Clement V from France was elected, he reached an agreement with King Philip to settle in Avignon where the papacy would remain for nearly 70 years. This period was known as the Babylonian Captivity of the Church, in reference to the 70-year Jewish exile in Babylon.

The Palace of the Popes actually consists of two palaces; construction of the Old Palace commenced in 1335 under Pope Benedict XII and the New Palace was completed less than 20 years later by Pope Clement VI. The model below shows just how vast the complex is, covering 15,000 square meters (over 161,000 square feet).

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Palace of the Popes model: the Old Palace is on the left and behind, the New Palace on the right in front

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Jerry and Kathy outside the old doors at the Palace of the Popes

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View from Courtyard of Honor at Palace of the Popes, Avignon

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Courtyard of Honor at Palace of the Popes, Avignon

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Sculpture in Palace of the Popes

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Frescoes in Palace of the Popes

Photography of the priceless frescoes in the private apartments and chapels of the Palace of the Popes was not allowed but I took several photos of the video shown to illustrate the beauty.

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Grand Tinel or Banquet Hall, Palace of the Popes

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Plaster effigies in Palace of the Popes

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Passion of the Christ sculpture in the Consistory of the Palace of the Popes

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The Great Clementine Chapel, Palace of the Popes

The acoustics are absolutely amazing in this chapel. When none of us volunteered to sing, our guide sang for us. I could hear her all the way at the other end of the chapel. Listen to her.

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The Papal Seat in Consistory Hall

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Central Courtyard, Palace of the Popes

Sadly, many of the sculptures were beheaded during the French Revolution. If you look closely, you can see the heads are missing on the archway of the doors below.

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Sculptured doorway at Palace of the Popes

Following the departure of the papacy, the Catholic Church maintained ownership of the palace until the French Revolution. Under the subsequent Napoleonic rule, the palace was used as a military barracks and prison until 1906 when it became a national museum and restoration began. Today the Palace of the Popes doesn’t compare to the lavish splendor of the Vatican in Rome, but I imagine in the 14th century when it was filled with tapestries and treasures, it would have come close.

I was excited that we were headed next to Les Halles, the indoor market. On our way, we stopped at Basilique St. Pierre to see the intricately carved walnut doors and the gold-gilded Renaissance altar.

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Basilique St. Pierre

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Carved doors on Basilique St. Pierre

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Altar in Basilique St. Pierre

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Entrance to Les Halles

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Our guide and Viking staff offer us samples

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Les Halles fruit stand

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Les Halles fromage (cheese)

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Poisson (fish) at Les Halles

I purchased a large package of herbes de Provence from the spice stall to use at home and bring back memories of the time and food we enjoyed in Provence.

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Spices at Les Halles

My daughter-in-law likes macarons so I purchased some of those, too, to take home to her. Then they served macarons on our ship a couple days later.

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Macarons at Les Halles

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La Patisserie at Les Halles

We accomplished all of this in the morning, then headed back to the ship for lunch before our optional excursion that afternoon to Pont du Gard. Check back for my next post. Pont du Gard was truly amazing.

 

Based on events from November 2016.

 

References:

Viking Daily

Tour guide engaged by Viking

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: cruise, Travel, Uncategorized, UNESCO | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 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

Day 1: Sur le Pont d’Avignon

Day 1 of our Viking River Cruise, embarkation day, provided us with just a brief sample of the city of Avignon, France in the region of Provence. We arrived late in the afternoon and, after settling into our cabins, we joined the welcome walk through the historic center with a local guide.

Avignon is a walled city with narrow medieval streets and loads of French charm. The historic center is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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View of historic Avignon from outside the city walls

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Avignon city walls

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The Avignon City Wall

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Our group on the welcome walk

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Beautiful architecture with typical French charm

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Another charmer 

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A gated view 

Avignon is historically significant as the seat of the Papacy from 1309 to 1378. (More on that later.) The view in the photo below of the outside of the Palace of the Popes stirred our anticipation for the tour of the palace scheduled on day 3 of our cruise.

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Palais des Papes (Palace of the Popes)

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Palais des Papes

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Conservatory of Music on the Place du Palais across from the palace

The main square, Place de l’Horloge, is the center of many community activities with the National Opera Theater, the Hotel de Ville (City Hall), and even a carousel. It’s also a perfect place for people watching.

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National Opera Theater

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Hotel de Ville (City Hall)

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Place de l’Horloge

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Carousel on Place de l’Horloge

There are over 50 locations with trompe l’oeil (a painting technique to create optical illusion) in Avignon and our guide pointed out one for us on the Place de Sorano. Window peeking is acceptable in this building.

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I learned the children’s nursery rhyme, Sur le Pont d’Avignon (On the Bridge of Avignon), in my high school French class and I can still sing it to this day. The bridge in the song was built across the Rhone River in the 12th century but flooding destroyed it several times until finally, in the 17th century it was abandoned. Today only 4 of the original 22 arches remain but it’s one of the major tourist attractions in Avignon.

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Le Pont d’Avignon

After our guided stroll through the historic center, we stopped to shop at Le Chateau du Bois to purchase some lavender oil, a well-known product of Provence.

 

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Le Chateau du Bois in Avignon

 

 

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Lavender growing in Avignon

 

 

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Lori and I with our lavender purchases from Chateau du Bois

To close out day 1 of our river cruise on the Viking Buri, we enjoyed our first meal prepared by Executive Chef, Pascal Vallee, and his staff.

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Desserts

Everything including the wine was delicious and we looked forward to each and every meal thereafter.

 

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Dinner on the Viking Buri

Based on events from October 2016.

 

 

 

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

River Cruising

Several friends have long recommended we take a river cruise. I’ve looked at the brochures for years with great interest and yearning but always concluded it was too expensive. Then I received an email from Viking River Cruises in late September 2016 with an offer that looked too good to be true. As we drove to a college football game, I told my husband and a friend about the offer and we decided I should at least check it out although I suspected it would still be too expensive once all the additional charges were added in. I called from the car and was stunned to learn the price in the offer was the total including taxes and port charges.

So what was the offer? This was an 8-day cruise on the Rhone River in the south of France through Provence from Avignon to Lyon beginning October 30. It included airfare from Minneapolis; transfers between the airport and the ship; a veranda cabin; excursions at each port of call; unlimited beer, wine, and soft drinks at lunch and dinner; and free onboard wifi. And if we paid with a debit card rather than a credit card, there was an additional discount. The total cost for Jim and me was $4800.

We booked it. My friend booked it. When a couple from our church heard about it, they booked it, too. And we’re all glad we did.

We flew out of Minneapolis to Amsterdam and then to Marseille where Viking staff met us and escorted us to our bus to transport us to Avignon and our ship, the Viking Buri.

Check back over the next several weeks as I review each port of call on my first river cruise.

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Lori, Kathy, Jerry, and Jim awaiting our flight from Minneapolis

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Our group arrives at the Viking Buri in Avignon, France

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Our cabin

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Our cabin with a view

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Our veranda

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Kathy and Jerry on their veranda

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Our ship, the Buri, with Lori and Jim on their verandas

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Lori and Jim on their verandas

Based on events from October 2016.

 

 

 

 

Categories: Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Just Another Packing Post

Some of you have been patiently waiting for blog posts about our Viking River cruise through the south of France at the end of October 2016. I’ll begin those posts soon but we leave today for another epic adventure. We fly to Auckland, New Zealand where we will spend 5 days then depart for a 19-day cruise to Australia, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore. This is the longest trip we’ve ever taken and my friend, Gail, asked me to do a packing post to share what I’m taking in my carry-on suitcase for 27 days. So, I’m taking that challenge and I’m excited to show you what fits in a carry-on plus backpack for this trip.

A couple caveats are in order. First, we’ll be in the southern hemisphere where it’s summer and temperatures vary from the 60’s (16C) at night to the 70’s (23C) to upper 80’s (31C) in the daytime. Obviously and fortunately, lightweight clothing takes up less space. Second, we are eligible to have 2 bags of laundry done for us on the cruise ship, but I have no idea how many items that will be. Finally, my lightweight socks and undies dry quickly when hand washed.

The last time I did a packing post I forgot to mention sleepwear and a friend humorously pointed that out. Deb, I have a lightweight nightgown although no one is sharing our cabin on this trip so I don’t really need one. 😉

Here’s what I’m taking:

3 dresses to wear for dinner  (one is reversible so it’s really 4)

2 golf skorts that can be worn like shorts or to the dining room like a skirt

3 shorts–black, khaki, jean

1 legging

8 shirts that can be dressy or casual

7 panties

2 bras (wash 1 wear 1)

1 nightgown

2 work-out outfits

1 sweater, 1 athletic jacket, 1 rain jacket

2 swimsuits + cover-up

1 scarf that can be worn as a wrap

2 hats

too many shoes: 1 trainer, 1 walking sandal, 1 dressy flip-flop, 1 pool flip-flop, 1 water shoe

umbrella

water bottle

2 cloth bags that roll up compactly to use for the beach or shopping

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The dress in back is reversible

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3 shorts, 2 skorts, 1 legging

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8 versatile shirts

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Raincoat, jacket, sweater (all black) + scarf

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Shoes–all lightweight that take up little space

In my baggie of liquids, I have sunscreen (eco-friendly that we can wear in the water at the Great Barrier Reef), hairspray, jojoba oil, eye drops, perfume, mascara.

Toiletries such as hair brush, comb, bar soap (provided everywhere but I like my own), bar shampoo (same as soap reason), curling iron, electric toothbrush (we’ll buy full-size toothpaste and mouthwash when we arrive in New Zealand), small make-up bag

Medication bag including first aid items

Too much technology including laptop, Ipad, Iphone, kindle, extra battery pack, power cords, power strip (staterooms lack outlets), headphones, adapters for hotels in New Zealand and Singapore (onboard there are American outlets)

I rolled all the clothing. It takes up less space that way and minimizes wrinkling. Everything fit easily into my regulation size (22X14X9) carry-on suitcase. In fact, I had enough extra room that I considered throwing in an extra dress and shirt but I resisted. I packed the electronics and liquids plus a small purse into my personal item, a small backpack.

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Everything in my suitcase with room to spare

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Ready to go

I’ve never been short of clothing on a trip. In fact, I still seem to take an item or two that I don’t even wear. If necessary, there are stores everywhere including on the ship so I can always purchase what I need. I’ll report back at the end of this trip to let you know whether I had too much, too little, or the right amount. Meanwhile, feel free to weigh in. Do you think I’ll be horribly short of clothing options?

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: cruise, Travel, Uncategorized | 6 Comments

Virginia Beach Family Tradition

Both my love of travel and my love of history stem from childhood travels. My maternal grandparents lived in Virginia so in the summer my parents piled us four kids into the station wagon and Dad drove from Wisconsin to the Blue Ridge Mountains in southern Virginia for a 2-week visit. Along the way, my mother, an avid antique collector, offered us kids a nickel for every antique shop we spotted and a full quarter if my father stopped. I loved poking around the musty old shops with my mother who could always be convinced to buy me an old book for a quarter, often a Nancy Drew mystery. We didn’t eat in many restaurants but my mother pulled an endless supply of pimento cheese sandwiches, fried chicken, and cold milk from the battered green Coleman cooler. After three days in the car squabbling with three of my four brothers, (the fourth came along after I was grown) we’d pull into Roanoke for an idyllic summer vacation, free to roam my grandparents’ neighborhood with little adult interference. This was heaven to me with the smell of boxwood wafting through the air, the soft sound of southern accents, and as much Dr. Pepper as we wanted to drink.   As a bonus during our stay, we’d sometimes take day trips to the Blue Ridge Parkway, Appomattox, Williamsburg, Yorktown, Jamestown, and Virginia Beach. I have fond memories of all these places and the history I learned there.

After a long absence, in 1984, I was pregnant with my first child and I returned to Virginia with my husband to visit the Williamsburg area and Washington, DC, and introduce him to relatives in Richmond and Arlington. It was the beginning of a new family tradition.

Over the years, we returned again and again to Virginia with our children in tow to spend a week at Virginia Beach with my extended family and various friends, as well as visiting the historic sites, museums, and monuments in Washington, DC; Williamsburg; Yorktown; Jamestown; and numerous Civil War battlefields. I hope my children remember these childhood experiences as fondly as I do.

Last summer my older brother’s kids and their spouses organized a reunion of sorts. They are now married with children of their own and it was time for another generation to experience the beach. My youngest brother wanted to rent a house rather than our usual suites in the beachfront hotel area of Virginia Beach, so we searched across Rudee Inlet at Croatan Beach where we found two large houses across the street from the beach that would accommodate all 27 of us.

Jim and I headed south, picked up one son in Des Moines, (the other and his wife couldn’t make the trip this time), and stopped first in St. Louis to caravan with my youngest brother and his family. A stop in Louisville, Kentucky at the Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory broke up the trip and was great fun for all of us.

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Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory

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Leah at the Louisville Slugger

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3 J’s: Jonah, Jackie, and Jim.  Jackie Robinson was the first African-American to play major league baseball.

We also found Mrs. Rowe’s Restaurant and Bakery for lunch the second day on the road in Staunton, Virginia, which fed my nostalgia with a pimento cheese sandwich.

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Mrs. Rowe’s in Staunton, Va

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You can’t take these people anywhere

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Pimento cheese sandwich YUM!

We were thrilled with our lodging choice on quiet Croatan Beach. With four bedrooms and 3 1/2 baths, there were plenty of beds for the 13 of us and enough bathrooms, too. The other house, a couple blocks south, was also outstanding with plenty of space for 14. Between the two houses and 8 nuclear families, we divided into teams to cook dinner on 6 nights for the entire group. The seventh night we all went out to dinner en masse to Captain George’s Seafood Restaurant, another family tradition.

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Our place at the beach

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Living room with two sofa beds

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Kitchen

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Back of the house with balconies for each bedroom

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Backyard pool with the kids

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Wisconsin brat night at the other house

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My brother, Paul, shucking oysters for dinner on his night

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Sister-in-law Sarah, grilling the oysters

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The finished product–DELISH

Sadly, two of my brothers are already deceased but they loved the beach, too, so we brought them along in spirit.

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My brothers, Bill and Collier, with their daughters, two of whom were on this trip with their families

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My brothers, Stafford and Paul, at the beach

We had plenty to celebrate with Gavin’s birthday and the 4th of July.

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Gavin’s birthday party

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My son (in the middle) and nephews celebrating the 4th of July

Several mornings my brother, Stafford, and I rode our bikes about 3 miles north over the Rudee Inlet on General Booth Boulevard to the beachfront hotel area. We missed the action along the boardwalk and we ended up renting a suite at the Comfort Inn in addition to the houses on Croatan Beach.

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Bike trail from Croatan Beach to Virginia Beach

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View from the Comfort Inn

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Virginia Beach morning view

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Enjoying the view from our hotel

For this group of beach lovers, the real draw is catching the big waves for a great ride on a boogie board.

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Watching for the right wave

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Boogie Boarding

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Riding the waves

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Sand time

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My son, Michael

The week went by way too fast and before we knew it, it was time to head for home. When we left, my brother, Paul, and his family decided to visit Jamestown Settlement, just 66 miles from Virginia Beach. We hadn’t been there since our own kids were small and we were eager to go again.

For anyone not familiar with Jamestown, Virginia, this was the first permanent English colony in America founded in 1607. The outdoor living history exhibits, including the Powhatan Indian Village, James Fort, and the Jamestown Settlement Ships were there when we last visited but they have since added a large museum with many exhibits incorporating authentic artifacts from the period. Both the museum and the outdoor living history exhibits are very child-friendly with demonstrations that appeal to kids and engage them in the presentations.

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Replica dugout canoe the kids are encouraged to try in the museum at Jamestown Settlement

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Filling their bags with corn for bartering at Powhatan Village

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Trading their corn for goods at James Fort

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They even have armor for visitors to try but you can’t shoot the cannon

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Jamestown Settlement replica ships

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Jonah trying out the bilge pump on one of the ships

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Leah checking out a small bunk on the ship

After our visit to Jamestown Settlement, we headed for home in earnest. Until next time.

 

Based on events from July 2016.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: History, Travel, Uncategorized, USA | Tags: , , , | 7 Comments

Camino de Santiago

The story of the Camino de Santiago or the Way of St. James, is a mixture of history and legend. Historically, we know St. James the Apostle spent time on the Iberian peninsula seeking converts to Christianity, then he returned to Jerusalem where he was beheaded in 44 AD. Legend has it his body, accompanied by two disciples and two angels, was transported by boat to Galicia for burial. Nearly 800 years later a shepherd named Pelayo found some bones in a field which were declared to be the relics of St. James. Hearing of the discovery, King Alfonso II commissioned a church in the area and later, in 1078, a cathedral was built to house the relics. The town of Santiago (St. James) de Compostela (burial ground) grew up around it. Pilgrims came from around the world to see the relics of St. James and continue to come to this day.

Today there are 2.5 million visitors to Santiago de Compostela each year and about a half million are pilgrims walking the Camino, the third most important Christian pilgrimage after Jerusalem and Rome. If you walk 100 km or bike or ride a horse 200 km to Santiago by the routes on the map below, you can receive the Compostela, a certificate of completion. For Catholics, completion of the Camino during a holy year which only occurs every 25 years or by special declaration, also carries with it a plenary indulgence. (A plenary indulgence essentially forgives sins and can shorten the time in Purgatory.) Pope Francis declared 2016 a holy year so it may be a while, however, before another occurs. And by the way, Santiago de Compostela and the Camino are UNESCO World Heritage sites.

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Map of Camino de Santiago Routes provided by http://www.caminoadventures.com

Vigo, Spain, on the Galician coast was our final port of call on our Holland America cruise on the ms Rotterdam and we booked transportation to Santiago de Compostela for the day. Photos taken through the windows on the bus were on the whole, unsatisfactory, but I thought one photo with the explanation shared by the guide should be included. Throughout the countryside, we frequently saw what looked to me like raised miniature churches. They are called horreos, granaries that hold any kind of grain but especially corn in this area. The horreos are raised from the ground to keep the grain dry and often built of concrete to keep rats out.

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Horreo seen from the bus

As our bus approached the city, we saw more and more pilgrims with their walking sticks reaching the end of their Camino. We parked a short distance away from the Old Town and our guide led us on foot. Approaching the Cathedral, the excitement was palpable as we followed a pilgrim through a passageway where a bagpiper played traditional Galician music.

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Passageway into Praza do Obradoiro

Sadly, our first view of the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela was almost completely obscured by scaffolding but I appreciate that repairs and restoration continue to protect the cathedral for future generations to enjoy.

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Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela

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Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela

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Clocktower at Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela

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Hostal dos Reis Católicos across from the cathedral

The scallop shell is the symbol that marks the Camino to guide pilgrims along the trail. Although there are several explanations of the symbolism, the one that resonates most with me is the grooves on the shell begin from different points but all lead to one central point just as the many Caminos all lead to the destination of Santiago de Compostela.

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Scallop shell that marks the Camino

Inside the cathedral, the celebration of Mass was in progress but visitors were welcome, nevertheless.

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Interior of the Cathedral

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Interior of Cathedral

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Censer for burning incense during mass

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Statue of St. James that visitors touch, hug, or kiss as they pass behind it to see the crypt

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Crypt of St. James

Back outside, we walked around to the north facade of the Cathedral, then wandered through the narrow medieval streets of the Old Town.

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North facade of Cathedral

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Old Town Santiago de Compostela

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Old Town scene

 

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Rick, Lori, Laura, and Jim trying the local fare in Old Town

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Typical dish recommended by our waiter

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Local produce

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Iberian ham in a local shop

We bought just one item in the local shops–a cross of St. James rosary for our Catholic son who bears the middle name of James.

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Cross of St. James or Santiago Cross

As we stood on the street in the Old Town, we were delighted by a surprise parade through the narrow cobblestone street.

At the appointed hour, we headed back to the Cathedral and our meeting place for the return bus trip to Vigo and our cruise ship.

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Lori, Rick, Jim, and Jeff outside the south facade, the oldest of the Cathedral

I would love a return trip to Santiago de Compostela and the thought of a hiking adventure appeals to me. Our visit fired my imagination with visions of hiking the French Way, the original route marked in heavy red shown on the map above. Cheryl Strayed hiked 1100 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail. Bill Bryson hiked nearly 800 miles of the Appalachian Trail. l propose we walk just 100 km (62 miles) from Sarria to Santiago which will earn us our Compostela. Who wants to go with me?

Based on events from May 2016.

Categories: cruise, Europe, History, Travel, Uncategorized, UNESCO | Tags: , , , , | 4 Comments

Explorers in Lisbon

During the 15th century, Portugal rose to dominance as a maritime power and Lisbon, one of the oldest capitals in Europe, became the most prosperous trading center on the continent. Under the leadership of Prince Henry the Navigator, Portugal entered the Age of Discovery. Knowing we were walking in the footsteps of these great travelers who preceded us sent shivers down my spine.

We set off with alacrity the morning of day 2 in Lisbon to continue our own exploration. After a long fruitless wait at a tram stop for the famous Tram 28 to show us the city highlights, we continued walking until we reached Figueira Square, a transportation hub for the city.

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King João I, Figueira Square

Adjacent to Figueira Square, we found Rossio Square where it looked like a market would open soon, judging by the small white tents lining the square. No time to wait for that. We were intrigued by the wavy pattern in the pavement that seemed appropriate for the capital of a country whose Golden Age was based on sea power.

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Praca do Rossio, Rossio Square, Lisbon

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Statue of Dom Pedro IV, Rossio Square

We debated how to get to the district of Belem, about 4 miles away, to see the UNESCO World Heritage sites and the Monument to the Discoveries. The trolley supposedly went there and we had yet to ride it so that was one option. Lori and I were somewhat enamored with the touristy yet appealing tuk-tuk but Jim was unenthusiastic. We could also go by bus or taxi. In the end, we settled on a taxi as the quickest and simplest solution with our limited time.

We had the taxi deliver us to Belem Tower, constructed around 1515 as part of the defense system on the Tagus River to guard the entrance to Lisbon’s harbor. It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1983.

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Belem Tower

A short walk away, we found the other UNESCO site, the Monastery of the Hieronymites, built by King Dom Manuel I as a gift to the monks of St. Heronymus in exchange for their prayers for the king and seafaring explorers. Appropriately, Vasco da Gama, who famously discovered the route to India by sailing around Africa in 1497 and prayed here with his men before the voyage, is entombed within the monastery.

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Monastery of the Hieronymites

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Monastery of the Hieronymites

After exploration on our own, we eventually discovered the underpass to cross the highway to the Monument to the Discoveries. Built in 1960 to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the death of Prince Henry the Navigator, this monument memorializes explorers, cartographers, monks, leaders, and others from the Golden Age of Discovery, including Vasco da Gama, Magellan, King Manual I and others, led by Prince Henry at what appears to be the bow of a ship headed out to sea.

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Monument to the Discoveries from across the highway

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Monument to the Discoveries

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Monument to the Discoveries, Belem

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Monument to the Discoveries with 25th of April Bridge and Cristo Rei in the background

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View of 25th of April Bridge and Cristo Rei from Monument of the Discoveries

If the two sights in the photo above look familiar, the 25th of April Bridge, named for the revolution of 1974, looks much like the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco except that this one is longer. Cristo Rei, the monument on the other side of the Tagus River, was inspired by the Christ the Redeemer monument in Rio de Janeiro.

Whether you call it a cable car, trolley, or tram, a ride on this vehicle is a highlight of any visit to Lisbon. We had the taxi drop us at the stop farthest west for Tram 28. The famous tram is so full by the time it gets further into the city that it’s nearly impossible to get a ride. At the outermost stop, everyone is required to get off and reboard and we were rewarded with seats by using this strategy. Tram 28 comes with pickpocket warnings due to the crowds of tourists who are distracted by the sights and ripe for the picking, so a seat where we could grip our purses while we took in the views was reassuring.

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Tram 28

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Riding Tram 28

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View from Tram 28

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View from Tram 28

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Scenes from Tram 28

While the photo ops from a moving vehicle aren’t always the best, we saw more of the old city than we could cover on foot and we thoroughly enjoyed our ride on Tram 28.

After we disembarked, we saw the scene below. The old buildings covered in satellite dishes struck me as a study in contrasts that demanded digital capture.

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Lisbon old and new

On our way back to the ship, we encountered a flea market but we didn’t really have the time or interest to shop.

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Flea Market in Lisbon

Here are just a couple more photos from the city.

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Lisbon

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Lisbon

Our final stop on our way back to the ship in time for our departure was a peek into the National Pantheon Church of Santa Engracia.

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National Pantheon Church of Santa Engracia

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National Pantheon Church of Santa Engracia

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National Pantheon Church of Santa Engracia

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View outside the National Pantheon Church of Santa Engracia

As we sailed away, I imagined the feelings of the sailors who accompanied Vasco da Gama centuries ago as they departed from Lisbon to sail into the unknown. They, like me, likely hoped they would return to see this beautiful city again.

 

Based on events from May 2016.

 

 

 

 

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

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