Saturday, September 3, 2016

Avalon Waterway’s Seven nights Burgundy and Provence river cruise

Avalon Waterway’s Seven nights Burgundy and Provence river cruise was exceptional. First of all being a river cruise you must be aware that the vessel is going to be smaller than a cruise ship, naturally. When we first saw the Poetry II, we were concerned that per chance it was going to be too crowded.  This was NOT the case at all since as there were only 128 passengers on-board.  

But first, with time on our hands, we walked about the town of Chalon-sur-Saône.   We were ready for lunch and scouted about for a place to dine. Now, what can we say about the cuisine of this part of France?  Note that just about anywhere you turn there is usually some wonderful café, in some beautiful half-timbered house, run by a family dedicated to good cooking. No, let’s make that GREAT cooking! They offer delicious meals consisting mostly of the provincial food eaten by the locals.  This was probably one of the best aspects of this trip.  

Scouting about for a meal in Chalon-sur-Saône. It was so easy to find great food!

Now, back to the Poetry II!  We should also make this note about the crew: they were very, very professional.  It is clear that Avalon maintains high standards in selection of its personnel.  The captain was very young but very adept at his job.  His English was impeccable and he went out of his way to explain the workings of the ship and how it was navigated.  Safety features abound on this very intriguing piece of waterborne equipment. And, even if you're not interested in engineering it is very worthwhile watching the ship go through the lock systems on the river.  
Boarding the Poetry II!
Also, when able, be on deck when the ship goes under bridges! There's not much clearance with some of them and interestingly the captain’s pilot house can be raised and lowered accordingly. I would venture that under some of those bridges it's just a matter of inches, clearance-wise, but the whole process is managed professionally and safely. 
We were really impressed with every aspect of the Poetry II ... the crew, the ship, the food! Everything!
Also, if you wondering about sailing in southern France, this route on the Saône, and eventually the Rhone, is not the same as sailing on the Rhine or the Danube. You do not see vineyards sweeping up steep slopes from the banks nor do you see massive walled cities on mountain tops. However, the further south we went we noted more and more medieval structures on the banks.  Yes, more castles were becoming visible and they were imposing to say the least! The best time to see them was at night or early in the morning when they were illuminated! 

The city of Lyon was particularly interesting. This was one of the more modern cities we experienced, certainly because it has been situated there for a very long time, of course. This is one city on the river that you get the same visual experience of some parts of the Danube on the Rhine. Lyon is rather big. It is one hour from Mont Blanc. What was interesting about Lyons is that the Rhône and the Saone run parallel to each other for quite a ways. The rather odd looking  Musee des Confluences is situated at the point of land marking the spot where the two rivers do join. 
Sailing into Lyon, one of the bigger cities on the cruise
Once off the ship, it was very enjoyable to walk around the old parts of Lyon. Also, we took a tour up to the top of the city on the Southbank where we were able to tour the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière Cathedral. The cathedral is not all that old. And right next to it is a smaller version of the Eiffel Tower which is their simply for telecommunication purposes. It was a wonderful view of the city up there.
Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière Cathedral, high above the city of Lyon!
Back down in the city, one enjoyable aspect of Lyon was hiking to the market.  Yes, a walking trip to the city market is recommended.  It was not very far from the boat and the directions provided by the crew were easy to follow. Once there, the visual experience is great!  
The City Market in Lyon -- an amazing sensation for the eyes ... and nose!
The aromatic experience, however, may be different sensation to some!  Yes, your sense of smell will indicate that you are truly in the marketplace; it sells everything from meat, to fish to cheese.  Indeed, there is some very pungent fromage. But there is also chocolate! It was great to walk around and look at all the chocolate and other delicacies. 
A sampling of French culinary products in Lyon!
To and from the ship there are numerous cafés for when you're tired or should you simply want a break.  There is a café just about on every corner where you can sit, enjoy a hot beverage, and people watch. By the way, a lot of famous French characters, celebrities, and other notables came from Lyon. Most notably was Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, or “Saint X”, the author of The Little Prince.

There are many very intriguing short shore tours available in the small villages.  These were always a delight! We were never disappointed! The guides were all local residents and extremely knowledgeable on the history of the specific stop.  Very intriguing was the Roman history; yes, to this day visages of the Roman Empire can still be seen here in there and some of the villages along the river.   

Depending on your historical interests, it should be pointed out that if they lie in the realm of the medieval then the village of Pérouges is probably going to be your best bet for a short excursion.
Katherine at the entrance to Pérouges; a very picturesque medieval gate! 
This village is about one hour bus ride from Lyon.  
Once you are there it is literally like stepping back into medieval era! 
Extremely old restaurant in Pérouges
It seems as if it's hardly changed at all unless you look closely for an occasional mailbox or power meter which are fairly well hidden for the most part.  The town has been used as a setting for a few medieval period movies.
Walking the old streets of Pérouges
Another great part of this trip was a venture from Lyon into the Maconnais Region.  It is the most southern wine growing terrain of Burgundy. Dry wines made from Chardonnay grapes are produced here. The rolling hills, vineyards and picturesque country villages are spectacular.
The beautiful and distinctive terrain of the Maconnais Region

Châteauneuf-du-Pape is small wine village in the Rhone Valley. The grapes grow in a very rocky and sandy terrain. Actually, the term “rocky” is an understatement; it is the most extraordinary ground imaginable.  The stony terrain (see the photo, below) makes one wonder how anything could grow here.  
Vineyards of Southern France!  The rocky soil seems to do the trick!
But the vines, indeed do grow.  Some of these vines are around 100 years old.  Indeed, Rhone Valley wines are a blend of different grapes that thrive here. There are around thirteen variety of grapes growing in the Rhone Valley, but Grenache is the primary grape. 

Wine tasting in a medieval setting!  Amazing!
Wine tasting in these regions is an educational experience.  The French take great pride in their wines and love to share their knowledge of cultivating grapes and the wine making process with their guests.  In many small villages, such as Châteauneuf-du-Pape, it seems as if every other building is a winery.  Generally, most are open to the public for a tasting experience. You can purchase wine directly from the wine houses and they will ship it for you. 

As we neared the end of our trip, one of the highlights was the tour of Arles, the point of disembarkation.  Again, you take in the former grandeur of the Roman Empire when you see the coliseum (still used for bullfights) as well as the Roman aqueducts.. 

The ancient Roman coliseum, one of many throughout southern France.

But for those with a bent to the medieval period, be sure to tour the Church of St. Trophime with its amazing cloister.

The Church of St. Trophime
Take the time to walk the galleries and observe the detailed capitals that depict many scenes of the Old and New Testament.
Biblical tales a evident throughout the Cloister.
Whether you are an art connoisseur or not, you are walking through a dwelling of Vincent Van Gogh. That poor tortured artist took refuge in Arles in the year 1888.  The town has gone to great pains to inform visitors that they are standing in the exact spot where Van Gogh painting some of his beautiful and more renown pieces such as The Night Cafe, the Yellow Room, Starry Night Over the Rhone, and Garden of the Hospital in Arles
The setting for Vincent Van Goph's The Night Cafe
This city was a fascinating experience!  It was bittersweet, too, because we knew our cruise was over.  

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