Once again, impeccable service from KLM and Viking saw us on to the ship before 2pm. Checked-in bags delivered and off to lunch by 2:05pm - on the sunny deck!!
Took a short breather to catch up on the early start, but the sun is out, not a cloud, temperatures high 30’s (about 97℉). Pretty place to go for a stroll.
A day-trip to Beaune, wine capital of Burgundy.
Because the heatwave continues (oh dear, what a shame, never mind) we set off at 8am for the hour’s drive.
Beaune is a pretty little town which we’ve visited before. Lots of pleasant, shady streets and interesting old buildings. A great place to stroll and enjoy the warm morning, already in the mid 20’s (high 70’s) stopping for coffee in a pavement café.
They’re also proud of their charcuterie; wild boars beware!
We then moved along the wine route to visit a vineyard, wine-tasting and (surprise, surprise) an opportunity to buy what we’d tasted. We were offered “village” quality and 1er crus including a Pommard.
Maybe over the years I’ve become a wine philistine, but, to be honest, wines costing half the price from other countries are twice as good. Californian chardonnay and Pinot Noirs from Australia or South Africa are far more rounded and complex than those offered today at €25 a bottle (and that’s the “gate” price). France needs to get over itself and realise the world is moving on!
On the other hand, the cheese breads offered to clean the palette; those could take the world by storm!!
Back to the ship for a (far too large) lunch and an afternoon’s sailing down the Saône. Magic!
Lyon, gastromic capital of France. Over 2,000 restaurants and more Michelin Stars than the Milky Way. And we dare not visit any of them, as Viking insist on feeding us beyond full during every sitting.
Today, for example.
Breakfast was the usual array of cooked foods (eggs, omelettes, bacon, sausage [2 varieties], potatoes dauphinoise, corned-beef hash) or continental (smoked salmon, ham [3 varieties], cheeses [4 varieties], breads, croissants, cereal, mueslis) with yogurts, oat-meal and Lord knows how many other “sides”.
So, you’d think, a light lunch? Buffet de Provence! Hot dishes (roast lamb, duck, chicken, ratatouille, potato wedges), salads (too many to list), charcuterie (patés, cured meats, cheeses). Not to forget a bouillabaisse to start and a desserts table with enough cream on it to stop your heart at fifty paces.
Can’t wait for dinner tonight. Three hours to wait. Starvation is a real worry. Still, I can always collect some cookies from the coffee station!
Between breakfast and lunch, we managed to squeeze in a bus tour of the city of Lyon. Third city of France with a metropolitan population of around 1.3 million. A very busy place.
The Basilica on the hill dominates the city and was on the itinerary. Very beautiful architecture and interior (although, tbh, we’re a bit fed up with visiting churches).
An interesting feature of Lyon is an excellent idea for dealing with uninteresting blank concrete walls at the ends of buildings. They paint a mural of windows on them. Street art on steroids! Really good!
As always, we ended the tour with a visit to the “old town”. Not the most interesting we’ve seen as it was mostly full of restaurants. We’re planning to visit the regular City Centre tomorrow morning - the afternoon was simply too hot.
“Mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the noon-day sun.” We’re Welsh and had more sense!
In the morning, bright and early (well 8:45am) we set off to take a look around Lyon City Centre. The earliness wasn’t unplanned. It was already pushing 30℃ (86℉) and it was just getting started.
Central Lyon is a nice enough place. Lots of open spaces, parks and cafés. One boulevard, the Golden Mile, has enough high-end designer shops to bankrupt a Russian oligarch.
It’s also a host city for the France 2016 UEFA Championships (c’mon Wales) and is clearly proud.
In the heat we found a pavement café to rehydrate. There I discovered the best iced-tea in the world. Freshly squeezed lemons and rich black tea. Later I discovered it was the world’s most expensive iced-tea, but worth every cent.
Back on the ship the chef had put on an Independence Day lunch with a Stars & Stripes cake on display. Now on most Viking Cruises the majority of fellow travellers are American (say 70%+), but, unusually this sailing is about 65% British. They saw the irony when I reminded the Maitre D’Hotel from whom it was that America won its independence. C’est la guerre!
After a pleasant afternoon sailing we docked in Vienne, a city of the Roman Empire.
Walking tours were on offer (estimated 3 hours), but with the temperature at 37℃ (99℉) we thought better of it and went for a short walk by ourselves. After all, all you miss are long descriptions of the history of sites and buildings whilst slowly being cooked alive!
It is a charming little place, although a little scaffolded, as we arrived in the middle of their annual jazz festival. Quite a few parks and squares were set up for evening performances. Looked fairly interesting, though.
Plenty to see and lots of shops and some great shaded areas to stop for a beer.
It really is stupidly hot and as we go South it’s going to get hotter. Still that’s why cold beer was invented!
Docked this morning in the small town of Tournon, with Tain l’Hermitage on the opposite side of the river. The towns are linked by the World’s first suspension bridge, but remain separate (no explanation offered!).
We took an early guided stroll around this pleasant (but unremarkable) place before boarding coaches to the station to take a steam train ride through the gorge.
Lots of pretty scenery and a pleasant way to spend the morning.
We sailed during lunch and will dock at 8:30pm this evening, so plenty of time to relax, have a drink or learn how to make Mousse au Chocolât!
Sailed into Avignon during the afternoon. Temperatures outside at 43℃ (109.4℉) and faulty air-conditioning. It did manage to keep the cabins at about 30℃ but that’s hotter than a British heatwave!! Free drinks at the bar after dinner, so not all bad!
A medieval town with all it’s fortifcations intact. Home of the Popes for around 100 years in the 14th Century. An atmospheric place with narrow streets and some lovely buildings and architecture through which to stroll. Narrow streets are such a blessing - shade and some relief from the sun. Thought we knew what “hot” meant - we were wrong!
The Papal Palace dominates the town and can be toured. Lots of interest, but on our guided tour, a little too much information? You’d expect a building with such thick stone walls to be cool. More like a tandoor oven!
Out on our own, we went sur le pont d’Avignon but did not danser - too old for youthful frolicking!
Only 4 of the original 22 piers remain, but it’s easy to imagine what a wonder of the world it must have been 600 years ago.
The only complaint about the town is that it’s holding a theatre festival (I suppose a little like Edinburgh) but in typical French style, they allow the walls, trees and anything else that doesn’t move to be plastered with posters advertising various productions. It makes an absolute bloody mess of the place!
Some of the street performers, however, were great fun to watch.
The air-con was fixed by Tuesday morning so all is, once again, well with the world.
After a morning exploring Avignon, we set off for the Luberon, the location for Peter Mayle’s best-seller “A Year in Provence”. (A recommended read: Informative and very funny).
About an hour’s drive from Avignon, this is a beautiful, but conflicted region; it is traditional Provence but has become the home of the rich and (wannabe) famous.
We toured back roads just a few centimetres wider than the coach and the scenery was simply spectacular.
Provence is well known for, amongst other things, its lavender products. We visited a “museum” to take a look at its growth and production. Interesting to view, overwhelming to smell.
After dinner the ship did an evening sail (with free cocktails!!) a short distance along the Rhone, to see Avignon at sunset and bring an end to an enjoyable week in Southern France.
And Chef Pascal has asked me to destroy the negatives!! (Loud choruses of Sur le pont d'Avignon.)