Day 27-33, Aug 16- 22,2022
They weren’t kidding when they said we’d be on a fast train from Paris to Lyon. The TGV is a high-speed electric train that operates all over France and links many major French cities. Steve had been looking forward to this trip, and he checked the speed via a satellite app as we cruised along on a very comfortable ride. Wow, the countryside was flying by!
It was a leisurely 2-hour trip from Paris to Lyon, where we boarded Viking Heimdal. Below is the map of our two combined France cruises. We were now going on the second segment from Lyon to Avignon, cruising on the Rhone River:
Lyon is the 3rd largest city in France, a UNESCO World Heritage Site known for its cuisine and gastronomy. Even with many of the locals out of town for the annual “summer vacation” which happens for about 3 weeks every summer, the city was jam-packed with tourists but traffic wasn’t too bad. The highlight of our included Panoramic City Bus Tour was a drive to the Basilica of Notre Dame at the top of Fourvière Hill. Our jaws dropped when we entered the basilica to see its spectacular interior. It is richly decorated with a variety of ornaments and gilded features, and particularly beautiful are the mosaics which cover the church from floor to ceiling. The basilica was built between 1872 and 1884 to thank the Virgin Mary for having spared the city from invasion during the Franco-Prussian war.
Another notable item we saw were the famous Lyon murals that tell stories and are incredibly realistic. Unfortunately we saw only 2 out of 60 on our tour. We were also guided to some of the famous traboules, unique hidden passageways made for busy merchants in medieval days, which wound between buildings and courtyards:
Meandering down the Rhone River through the southeastern French wine region, we gazed at the rolling vineyards along both banks. Since we always enjoy a good glass of wine, we chose excursions that involved sipping wine and walking through vineyards. We did three wine tastings at Beaujolais, one of France’s most beloved wine regions at Lyon. We also toured the northern Rhône Valley wine country at Tournon and the emblematic Châteauneuf-du-Pape at Avignon, one of the world’s most celebrated wine-producing regions:
We were very surprised to learn that nearly all French wines, including the expensive ones, come from vines grafted onto American roots. That’s right – the U.S. has a heavy hand in several of Europe’s most venerated vintages. Why? In the late 1800’s the Great French Wine Blight destroyed many of the vineyards in France and laid waste to the wine industry. It was caused by an aphid that originated in North America and was carried across the Atlantic in the late 1850’s. The only successful means of controlling the aphids has been the grafting of phylloxera-resistant American rootstock to more susceptible European vinifera vines.
Attending several detailed tasting demonstrations in different wine regions made us feel like we could hang out with the the best of the wine snobs. Cheers!
Rhone River, locks and bridges
From Lyon we were sailing downriver on the Rhone to Avignon, passing through 12 locks. The river was deep here and the lock chambers were also deep so that vessels could rise or fall up to 75′ in just minutes. That’s roughly the height of a seven-story building! Surrounded by soaring walls, we stared upward and eventually the massive “guillotine” gate would lift open and out we’d go. We learned that from Lyon to the Mediterranean there is a descent of 485′, hence the 12 locks:
The top deck (including the pilot house) of all Viking longships can be lowered prior to passing under low bridges.
Arles is a city located close to the mouth of the Rhône. The city has a long history and is home to many treasures left by its Roman conquerors. It’s a beautiful little town that looks like a small version of Rome, only with French charm:
Aside from the Roman ruins, other places we viewed had fascinated and inspired painter Vincent Van Gogh, who arrived here in February of 1888. He was strongly inspired by Arles, where he created more than 300 drawings and paintings up until May of 1889.
There is even a “Van Gogh Trail” that can be followed to see locations linked to his work.
Avignon was the end of the line in our cruise of Southern France. It’s an ancient medieval city nicknamed “City of Popes”, because it was home to seven popes from 1309 to 1377. Our excursion here was the Pope’s Palace Tour, where we learned how Popes originally reigned in Rome, then here in Avignon, then back in Rome again throughout most of the 14th century. Did you know that at one time there were actually 3 popes ruling simultaneously? That’s right, one in Rome and two in Avignon. The history lesson was wonderful, as was the architecture of the many structures we walked through.
Photography was not allowed where the original 13th century frescoes were preserved. They was fascinating, intricate and beautiful.
In Avignon, the walls of the buildings tell a story through the creativity of street artists, and highlights from the Festival d’Avignon are immortalized on some 50 painted windows throughout the town:
Let’s see, what have I forgotten? Oh yeah, the food! Here’s a sampling of some of the rich and creamy French Cuisine we enjoyed:
And drinks? Those Viking folks know how to pour a cocktail:
And that concludes our France’s Finest 15-day cruise. We will depart the ship early the following day for our transportation to the TGV and another high-speed blast back to Paris. We’ll be on our own there for two days of pre-planned adventures – stay tuned!
Next up: On our own in Paris