Saturday, October 29, 2011

Trip Report - France 2011 - October 9th to 11th, Back Home

We had arranged to stay two extra nights in the hotel after the end of the tour, hoping to have some time to re-visit Paris on our own.  On the 9th I got tired of sitting in the hotel room watching t.v. (Wonderful reception, lots of channels, nothing in English).

A French shopping channel

On my own, I took the Metro to the neighborhood near The Pompidou Center to visit the Doll Museum, which was charming. The young lady at the counter, ever so tactfully, asked my age, and I was able to get in at a senior rate.
Only two of hundreds of antique dolls

Back in the neighborhood of the hotel I visited the open-air market on Rue Daguerre and got Harry and I some dinner.

On the 10th Harry felt better so we took the Metro heading back to the Pompidou area. The day before I had been bragging about how easy the Metro was to use so I was dismayed when part-way there we stopped and there was an announcement in French and the train started to head back the way we had come. We got off at the next station and eventually found out that there had been a Metro accident and we would have to take a different route.

After Harry and I went to see the animated sculpture done by Niki de Sainte Phalle and Tinguely at the Stravinsky Fountain, we had lunch at Flunch and just strolled around Paris for several hours.

On the 11th, after breakfast, I took a last walk through the neighborhood and down Rue Daguerre. We had planned to take the RER back to the airport, but one of the unions was on strike so we had to take a cab. There were further problems at the airport. When it was time for our plane to leave we had to climb down stairs, get into a bus, go to the other end of the airport, and climb up stairs to get into our plane. So our trip ended, as it had begun, in confusion, but it worked out all right.

All in all it was a good trip, and I would recommend this particular Road Scholar tour to anyone who would like to get a taste of Provence and the cities along the Rhone but doesn't want to have to drive or use public transportation. The negative is that you can't spend more time at a place that really interests you, but the positive side is that you see a lot and you don't have to worry about all the details of getting from place to place.

Our guides were all great, especially the main guide, Cherifa.  The French people I met (with the exception of the lady from Laduree*) were very kind and patient. If I had to do this trip over again I would take mosquito repellent (for the Camargue) and make more of an effort to speak French, even though just about everyone I met spoke very good English after they heard my French.

*Laduree sells very good desserts, but they are very expensive.  If you like sweets you might like to try Kinder Surprise and related items like KinderJoy, which you can find in most supermarkets in Europe.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Trip Report - France 2011 - October 8th: Paris

tThis was our last full day of the tour with the Road Scholar group. In the morning we took a bus to the old part of Paris area where a guide, Brad, showed us some of the sights. I especially liked the visit to Notre Dame, because some deacons were being ordained, and the church was full of ceremony and music.

If you don't have a clear view, there is video...

Fishing and some kind of martial arts...
A pan-handler and her dog and puppies.
Another interesting stop was a bridge covered with "love locks" and "love knots".
A "love-lock"

If you don't have a lock, use a rag or bag...

After the tour we had the option to return to the hotel by bus, or  to go back on our own. We chose to walk back to the hotel. stopping for a snack, window-shopping, and sightseeing.

The last group activity was a ride through Paris by night, a farewell dinner at a cafe, and a view of the Eiffel tower.

Unfortunately my husband had picked up some kind of bug and decided to stay back at the hotel for this last night.

I took eight shakey pictures of the Eiffel tower blinking, but they were all blurred, so I blurred the last one on purpose.

The next morning, October 9th, the members of the group went their separate ways.

Trip Report - France 2011 - October 7th: Chalon, Beaune, Paris

After breakfast we left the boat for the last time.  I was sad to leave the boat, but I was excited to finally be heading towards Paris.

Last sight of boat

Mannequin of nun
Our first stop was the famous Hospices of Beaune, set up as a hospital for the poor which was truly luxurious in its day with no more than two patients per bed and nursing care by the nuns. The poor ward was designed not only to care for the body but also the soul. Patients could look up at a ceiling with colorful carvings, and listen to sermons from their beds.

View from courtyard

Row of beds

Part of decorated ceiling

Detail of stained glass
Afterwards we bought sandwiches and pastries in the tourist area to eat later at a truck stop part-way to Paris.

Paris! Our hotel, the Villa Montparnasse, was near the Montparnasse cemetary and Rue Daguerre, a small pedestrian shopping area. After the tiny cabin on the boat it felt spacious!

Our room at the Villa Montparnasse
That evening we had a meal at a cafe next door to the hotel.

Trip Report - France 2011 - October 6th - Tournus, Burgandy

In the morning the boat was docked at Trevoux, but sailed at 7am.  After breakfast we listened to a lecture on the wines of Burgandy. As we moved north some of the foliage was starting to change color.
The foliage is changing
We see swans all along the Rhone and Saone.
A herd of swans. Usually we only see one or two at a time.

After lunch we take a bus to visit St. Philibert.  Some of us go down into the crypt.

In the crypt
Afterwards we visit a family vineyard and taste wines from the region. We re-board the boat at Chalon-Sur-Saone. 

Tonight is our last night on the boat and we are offered a cocktail in the lounge and there is a gala farewell dinner. I would like to continue sailing.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Trip Report - France 2011 - October 5th - Vienne, St Roman en Gal, Lyons

The ship left Tain L'Hermitage at 2am. This was the first night sailing.  In the morning we docked at Vienne. After breakfast we left the ship to visit Vienne on foot.  We walked past the Cathedral and viewed the Temple of Augustus and Livie,

Temple d'Auguste et de Livie

Then we took the bus across the river to the Saint Romaine en Gal museum. This was constructed on the site of part of an old Roman settlement that was discovered in 1967 when they started work on a new school.  The museum held a wealth of ancient mosaics and had many models showing how life had been in the old settlement.  Outside the museum there were the remains of a Roman roadway and the outlines of buildings.

Part of a Roman mosaic

The next stop was part of the ruins of the Gier Roman acqueducts at Chaponost
Part of Roman Aqueduct at Chaponost
Considering the original scale of the acqueduct  (perhaps 85 km long ) not much remains. According to what I've read, when the Romans left they took most of their skilled technicians and administrators. Populations in former settlements dwindled, and with no central government to prevent it, Roman structures were plundered to be used as stone quarries; iron clamps and nails were removed and reforged; lead pipes were removed from the water systems; and graves were robbed for their pottery and kitchen utensils.  Some of the structures that remain were saved because they were useful: for example, an old villa might have a church built on it, or a coliseum might have become a fortress, or a theater might continue to be used as a theater.

From Chaponost we went to Lyon. The bus let us off near the Basilica Fourviere, which we visited, and then we had lunch at Restaurant Fourviere.  The restaurant had a magnificent view, but the food was so-so, and service was so slow that by the time the first course arrived I had already filled up on bread.
Salad Lyonnaise
After lunch we took a branch of the funicular down to the Old City.
Funicular cable wheel
Funicular car at bottom

In the old town we visited the St. Jean Cathedral, which had recently been cleaned. Workmen were still patching the outside. 

Patching St. Jean
Something that I did not know* until I started looking for links to Saint Jean Cathedral, was that there is a new gargolyle on the Saint Jean Cathedrul which was put up in honor of the Muslim worker, Ahmed Benzizine, who has spent nearly 40 years helping to restore the ancient cathedral. Next to the gargoyle is the inscription "God is Great" in both French and Arabic. While it is an old tradition to immortalize workers and benefactors as statues and gargoyles on church buildings, the fact that this one portrays a Muslim and part of the inscription is in Arabic has excited some controversy.

Further on, we traversed the Long Traboule, one of many covered passages in the old city.
Looking up

Interior stairs

After some more walking the group separated so that we could travel on our own or return to the boat by bus.  Harry and I walked east across the river to where the boat was now docked. It was a long walk, because there was much to see, and there was a detour because Harry wanted to get a picture of the Mistral from across the river.
A puppet watches in the Old Town
Harry takes a picture of an outdoor sculpture near the river
Although Lyon is famous for its Festival of Lights in December, the ordinary night views were still spectacular, and after dinner the ship departed the city to sail up the Rhone past lighted buildings.

*Possibly I was not paying attention. This happens.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Trip Report - France 2011 - October 4th - Viviers to Tain L'Hermitage

Last sight of Viviers
We had an early breakfast and boarded the bus around 8am for a trip through the French countryside. I took a last photo of Viviers through the bus window.

 In the Garden of the Bees

Our first stop was Le Jardin Aux Abeilles (The Garden With Bees?).  The farmhouse and garden are usually closed at this time of year, but Marie-Paule, the owner, is a friend of our co-guide, Laurence, and has taken time off to show us around.  Surrounding the converted farmhouse and outbuildings Marie-Paule has done extensive planting, and created winding paths leading to lovely small gardens. It is a work in progress. She provided information, in english to explain how the French farm gardens have changed over time.
Old farmbuilding

A garden path

Reproduction of antique watering pot

Cat by a farmhouse window
After the tour, Marie-Paule offered us walnut wine, bissap, and chocolate cake. I was sorry to leave because the house and garden were so lovely and peaceful. The bees were no problem.


The next stop was the tiny village of Cliousclat. We first visited The Poterie of Cliousclat (I'm sorry, Google won't translate this page into English for me).
In through an obscure entrance
To the sunny courtyard:
The courtyard
A young potter at work:
A young potter at work

Grapes on the wall

A stroll through the village:
A doorway

We rode back to the ship, which was now docked at La Voulte,  and had lunch. After lunch, while the boat sailed towards Tain l'Hermitage, our guide Cherifa gave a lecture on the wine of the region.

Tain L'Hermitage

In Tain L'Hermitage (the ship's home port) we had a wine-tasting at a cellar next to one of the Valrhona Chocolate Factories. The chocolate factory was closed, but they had free samples in the wine cellar's gift shop.
Wine-tasting in Tain L'Hermitage

We took a foot-bridge from Tain L'Hermitage across to Tournon-sur-Rhone.  In the dark I did not at first realize that the outside of the bridge was covered with spider webs. 
Spider on the bridge, captured by flash
Perhaps it was appropriate that an art installation, les peuple des ondes, on the bridge, consisted of life-sized figures that looked as if they had been wrapped in spider webs.

Top part of an art figure from "People of the Waves"
After our walk, we went to an entertainment in the lounge area of the ship. It was a long day, but the crew members who participated seemed as peppy as ever.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Trip Report - France 2011 - October 3rd - Avignon & Viviers

Avignon has had, as this website details, 20 centuries of turbulent history. Since the first prehistoric residents sheltered on the rocky outcropping currently known as the Roches des Domes and the site of the Palais de Papes, it apparently did not have many periods of peace until after the end of the Second World War.

The morning we visited it was tranquil. As we left the boat in the morning to enter the old city by the oratoire passage, the first thing I noticed is that the old ramparts were in remarkable repair.  They're not the original ramparts, but "new" ones started in 1355, and they completely circle the old city. We tour the Papal Palace, which is huge but largely empty,

A room inside the Papal Palace in Avignon

From the Papal Palace

Wall on South Side of Papal Palace
and afterwards we go on our own to walk through the park north of the Palace, which has wonderful views.  (My camera batteries failed here.  I realized I had had my camera on all morning, rather than turning it off between shots.)

It found it interesting that there was a Papal Palace in France. Apparently there were seven Popes who lived there, who preferred Avignon to Rome for many reasons. The first ones just lived in the bishop's old residence, which Benedict XII tore down and enlarged.  Then Clement VI, Innocent VI, and Urban V added to and altered it to make the present structure.  Whether they were good Popes or bad Popes depends on whose version of history you read. *

We found our way back to the ship and headed up the river towards Vivier. After lunch our guide, Cherifa,  gave us a lecture in the dining room.  Later, sitting on the top deck, I watched while the canvas cover and the bridge were both lowered so that we could sail under low bridges. The landscape along the Rhone was quite interesting, and the ship speakers often alerted us when we were passing significant landmarks.

At 7:30 our ship docked in Viviers, a small village with medieval streets and buildings, and our guide led us up through the deserted streets to the Cathedral. We pass a man and two women who look as if they are returning to work from a theme restaurant, and a cat. The cat follows us hopefully for a while.  It is very quiet.

Window of deserted building

Ancient door

View from the terrace in Viviers

I was trying to take a picture of the cat, but it kept moving. When I finally caught up with the tour group, something seemed strange.  My husband had been waiting for me and explained "That is a different tour group." Oops! 
The wrong tour group

We passed at least one other tour group on our way back to the ship, and the people we had passed on the way up (who turned out to be entertainers). Suddenly the empty village seemed quite crowded.

*For more information about the Popes at Avignon, you might want to read THE BAD POPES by E.R. Chamberlin or CHRONICLE OF THE POPES by P.G. Maxwell-Stuart.