Monday, September 21, 2009

A Viking Cruise, Côte du Rhone to Chalon-sur-Saone (May 2007)

Although most days began with the unrelenting ferocity of Le Mistral, bringing with it icy wind-driven rain, this day was sunny and clear and the placid Rhône mirrored reflections of Arles as we approached.

The village has an interresting history dating back to the early 6th century and it is packed with Greek, Roman and Celtic ruins--each structure built following a successful invasion. We particularly enjoyed a walking tour with a docent who explained a lot about early culture and literacy in the region as well as the history of the ruins we viewed.

Arles is the place Van Gogh loved and painted and the locals are very proud of their historical artist. If you seek out a walking tour of this quaint village, you'll walk through gardens Van Gogh painted, see where he spent his days in the throws of mental illness, and be able to pick up souvenirs of his works.

As the Burgundy cruiser floated along the Rhône toward Arles (our first stop from Avignon), we saw ruins of castles, Roman bridges, roads and structures, and a serene countryside that would inspire works by even the most novel of painters. The riparian land abutting the river is appropriately utilized as rich farmland, sparsely populated, and it also sports a myriad of campgrounds filled with European travelers with trailers, bikes and fishing equipment.

We were surprised to see many nuclear power plants along the river, until we later learned that 75% of France's power is derived from this source and that the French began to build plants following the first oil crisis in 1974. I'd say, wisely! Another reason why the French are so endearing to us: they not only plan for current improvements in quality of life, but they also take into consideration future needs that may arise. This is a trait seriously avoided by planners in Hawaii.

On our voyage, we encountered numerous locks along the river. We learned that there are 10 major locks on the Rhône, operating from 5 a.m. until 9:00 p.m.--although, arrangements may be made in advance for passage at different hours than those specified. We also discovered that the route was an early important European transportation route, carrying merchandise from all over Europe. It's quite amazing to be inside a lock, while standing on deck or even while resting in a berth, and there certainly isn't any margin for error in guiding the ship between the lock walls (there's barely an inch of space between wall and ship). We were grateful to have a captain who knew his business!

We were too busy to take pictures of our dining adventures, however Viking serves up a breakfast smorgasbord each morning with freshly baked bread varieties, freshly squeezed juice, a variety of meats, cheeses, cereals, fruit, eggs, potatoes, pancakes and rolls. Lunch was available but generally not taken, since we were customarily in a new port somewhere along the line and enjoying some of the local foods in each village. Dinner was always a planned elegant meal, like those generally enjoyed on ocean liners and there was a wine list offering a variety of wines or you could opt for the free flowing wine served each night with meals. We were some what disappointed in the food because it catered more to the appetites of those from England (meat and potatoes) rather than the fine French cuisine we'd read about and looked forward to. We decided to "go with the flow" and not fret, since we new that we'd be in the epicurean capital of the world: Paris, within a week's time. We do issue a word of warning about the wine, though. Upon boarding the ship you may select an option that costs around 350 euro and you'll be guaranteed a wine pour when you want it without further charge. We thought that with a week on the river that might not be a bad bet. However, when we received our bottle that first night the wine was quite inferior. We complained and the purser acknowledged the poor quality, giving us some flimsy excuse, and offered to refund us. We took it and then we completed our voyage by selecting which bottle of wine we wanted and paying for it separately. It was the best choice for us. Next time we'll first eyeball the wine list before investing our 350 euro!

I should also say that each berth of the ship was pleasantly furnished, spacious with large windows that opened to allow fresh air, and a nice sitting area as well as shower room and sleeping area. Maid service was supplied daily, and the rooms were clean with ample space for storing luggage and clothing. The deck offered ample seating for viewing of passing landscape, however the wind and rain of late spring in Provence kept us below deck. In this respect, on days when we chose to stay aboard or while we were traveling, we'd go to the club room--a spacious area with cocktail tables where one could dine at a banquet and listen to the talent hired by the ship to provide us with entertainment. We'd often go there for an apéro each day before dinner. Finally, some people chose to dress nicely for dinner while others wore more casual day wear. We found that layering clothing worked best, because the weather was subject to change almost instantaneously.

Enjoy some of the photos we took of our trek from Avignon to Arles.

A Pastel View Of Arles As We Approach On The Glassy Rhône

Narrow Streets Of Arles (Iron Posts Protect Homeowners
From Wayward Drivers

Outside Cathedral, Arles, With Relief Sculpture Which Told
Tales Of What Happened To Sinners

Relief Sculpture of Commoners & Clergy/Leaders Who
Watch As Sinners Meet Their Destiny
(Story Told On Outside Of Cathedral For Benefit
Of Illiterate People Who Entered Church)

Relief Sculpture On An Arles' Cathedral, Telling The Story
Of How Sinners Burn In Hell
Many Of The Countrymen Of The Time
Could Not Read, But Understood This Message

More Roman Ruins of Arles

Coliseum in Arles
Roman Architecture

We Stroll Through Ruins Of An Ancient
Roman Coliseum

Ah, Amour! Even A Bit Of Rain Doesn't Quell A Quiet
Moment For These Two Sitting On An Ancient
Stone Stairwell At Our Arles Docking

A Group Of Friendly School Children On A Field Trip
Greet The Burgundy With Verve!

The French Appreciation of Art, Even Makes
It's Way To The Exterior Of A
Nuclear Power Plant
Along The Rhône

We Enter A Lock On The Rhône
Quite An Experience When
Viewed From the Deck
of the Burgundy

Ruins of Chateau Built into Limestone Crags
To Fend Off War Factions

Castles And Chateau Abound Along
The Rhône

Roman Architecture Dominates The
Countryside Between Avignon and Chalon-sur-Saone

The French Are Great Adventurers! A Handcrafted
Raft Attracts Our Attention As We Pass
Them By

Arles, As Seen From The Rhône
(Avignon To Arles)
The Viking Cruise on The Burgundy

A Family Of Swans Dazzle Us As We
Glide Through The French
Countryside along the Rhône

A Peaceful Early Morning Shot From Our Berth Window
Demonstrates The Beauty Of The Rhône

Low Bridge, Everybody Down! (Even the Deck Chairs Must be Lowered!)

Our Captain Steers Us Safely Through Locks
and Villages Abutting The Rhône
(Before The Mistral)

Ah, A Warm Cabin on The Viking And We're Off For Our
Wine Cruise Up The Rhône To The Saone
Avignon to Chalon-sur-Saone

The Mistral Takes a Toll On This Sidewak Entertainer's
Ability to Draw In Paying Customers (Note, Even The Café Didn't Set Up Chairs)
Avignon's Ancient Plaza Yields to Tourism

It's Difficult to Keep Up With The Crowd Heading to the Chateau du Papes,
At Lease When You're From Hawai'i! Brrrr! Le Mistral blows
Unrelentenly in Avignon!

Le Mistral Begins, Plaza at the Chateaux du Papes, Avignon

Next post: Lyon to Beaune and Chalon-sur-Saone

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