Our first river and Viking cruise began in Paris where we opted for the 3-day stay in the city of lights. There were 5 in our party. The hotel that Viking put us in was located on Place d' Republic. Our Viking rep, Arnaud, was very helpful for this part of our visit. Our room was on the lowest floor facing the square. The traffic going around the square was bumper-to-bumper during the day and evenings. There was also a Metro entrance right below our window. The room was very warm and we discovered that the hotel had turned off the AC for the season so we were forced to leave the window open to sleep. Between the traffic, people congregating at the Metro entrance and a rally in the park one night, complete with bullhorns, it was very, very noisy. Others in our party were up higher and on the inside of the hotel and had better sleeping conditions. We planned our own tours of Paris and had a marvelous time at the tourist spots, the markets of Rue Cler, and the left bank. We stumbled onto a marvelous museum by the Sorbonne, The Museum of the Middle Ages. A charming place with everything from Roman baths to the unicorn tapestries and amazing stained glass windows from the period. We were the only people in the hotel who took advantage of the large beautiful courtyard in its center to have "happy hours" daily where we enjoyed the wines, cheeses, fruit and sausages we had picked up in various markets during the day.
The bus ride to the ship at Chalon-sur-Sane was uneventful and smooth.
We chose a "B" level cabin as we wanted open-able windows as we like moving air when we sleep. The others in our group were one level down with smaller fixed windows. The rooms were virtually identical except for the windows on every level.
The tour of the vineyard at Beaune was delightful. The buildings and grounds were quaint and great backdrops for photos. The wines being bottled there went from good to excellent according to price. We purchased some of the Caprice De Valentin 2009 which went very well with the local cheeses and baguettes.
Lyon was a lovely city, one where we all agreed we could enjoy for a lifetime. We stretched our legs and took in a lot of the sights. The market along the river, not far from our quay had a wonderful variety of foods, wines and produce that we purchased for our evening happy hour exercise.
The food on board was very good, the evening "show" with the head chef, Magalie describing the dinner menu, was always entertaining. I would have liked a broader offering of choices, but then I have been spoiled by the big cruise ships. Take the kitchen tour and you will appreciate how well they create dishes in a limited space. Also, one of the highlights of the tour was going shopping at the Paul Bocuse market with the ship's chef, in Lyon. It was a foodie's paradise and we all got to sample foods from purveyors that Magalie buys from to make our meals. We also learned a lot about food buying customs in France.
In Vienne the Roman temple and amphitheater were worth the trip. They were being lovingly maintained by government that honors its rich cultural heritage.
Arles was special as I am a painter and student of art history. The walking tour took us to many Van Gogh related sites that provided great graphic displays that show where Van Gogh actually stood and painted masterpieces that we enjoy today. Many of the places still stand and are recognizable.
The Church of Saint-Trphime is a must-see. It is an example of 15th century Romanesque that has survived the centuries as a still inspiring house of worship.
Avignon's papal palace was a treat with some rooms still having their 14th century frescoes visible. The guides there do a marvelous job of relating this interesting time in Europe's history.
It was also when we were dock at Arles that the rain came, and came and came to the point that the ship could not navigate the bridges to get to Avignon and even buses could not handle the flooded roads. The tour director, who was excellent, and her assistant hustled to keep us entertained and delivered with alternative tours that got us into Avignon.
When it was time to leave the Neptune, the water had risen many feet and the whole crew, including the captain, loaded our baggage onto the buses that took us to Marseille airport, in poring rain.
I neglected to mention earlier our waiter, who was a gem. He took exceptional care of us, even producing two baguettes for us when the flooding kept us from getting into the markets, so we could enjoy our daily happy hour ritual.
The people of Viking are superb, the ship was comfortable, the tours that are provided were excellent and well staffed. The uncontrollable element, weather, was the only downer at the end of the cruise.