A week before we left, we got an email saying that we would be aboard the Buri, with no further details. It turns out that the Viking Hermod, our chosen ship, was trapped at the northern end of the route behind a bridge due to high water, ... Read More
A week before we left, we got an email saying that we would be aboard the Buri, with no further details. It turns out that the Viking Hermod, our chosen ship, was trapped at the northern end of the route behind a bridge due to high water, and we would be switching ships. That’s a lot better than the Buri passengers, who remained on the Hermod for the entire week, being bussed to various villages and cities – they probably have a few things to say about that! (and a pretty good compensation in the form of a future cruise discount in addition). The Buri was trapped at the south end for the previous week and docked at Avignon, but the water had gone down somewhat, so we could do MOST of our trip.
I agree with Viking that switching ships had to be done, due to flight arrangements. As it was, Lisette on the reception staff had to change a batch of rail connections from Chalon to Lyon, including us.
Day 1: We flew to London for a couple of days before to see the sights, then off to Marseilles on Sunday, Nov 9 to board the ship in Avignon. Met at baggage claim by the Viking representative, who called up our taxi – we figured we’d have to wait for a bus, but that was over an hour later. Danielle pulled up, and off we went to Avignon for an hour. Booked transfer through Viking, and the taxi pulled up to the Buri with 240 euros showing on the clock – Danielle had taken a load to the airport before us, then waited. Promptly signed in, after the crew had carried our luggage and assisted us in crossing a ditch next to the dumpsters where we were moored (poor location a result of the floods the previous week). Found out that we had been upgraded from the bilge deck to a balcony, an appreciated luxury – opened the door to the balcony exactly once the whole week…. Rumor was that there had been some cancellations due to the itinerary change. The welcoming champagne tasted good. Unpacked a bit, then went up to the lounge for some meat and cheese to recover from the journey, snatching another champagne on the way. Viking had a bonus walking tour in the afternoon, and all 8 of us enjoyed the cold driving rain and got soaked. Most utilized the Viking umbrellas, but I thought my Tilley hat and GoreTex could handle it (I was wrong….).
Dinner was a good clam chowder, salad Nicoise, choice of sea bass or lamb chops, and we got acquainted with the Elegant white and red wines. The amuse bouche was a interesting pesto something. The white was pretty good, and we had it for the rest of the week – the red varied. Presentation on the schedule, introducing the program director Nicholas, the dining manager Nuno, the chef Lars, etc. No mention of changing ships or any changes to the itinerary for the week.
Day 2: Arles Day Up for my first batch of smoked salmon, and today we had baked beans to put on the scrambled eggs (soon to run out). Pastry chef knows how to make croissants. Bus to Arles (40 minutes) park a few blocks out from the old city, then tour. Talky, knowledgeable gal and a good visit to the amphitheatre still in use for non-lethal bull fights. Back at noon for carrot soup (exc) and frutti di Mare (not too good). Choice in the afternoon is the optional tour (my wife) or back to Arles(me). Walk around the left side of the amphitheatre to the small chapel of Notre Dame (interesting, good view of city, some old Roman walls), then down to the park, back through the Roman Theatre (used, but not restored – a lot of carved pieces laying around like a jigsaw puzzle). Look for the walkway on the side – totally free! Back to the Plaza of the Republic and St Tropheim church – which is interesting with carved altars and the side chapel of the Saint’s relics, nicely exhibited in gold chests, etc. Then down for a lookover of the Roman Baths and a walk along the river back to the bus to finish off the 3 hours. Dinner was Scallops/Avocado, then a Chateaubriand (exc) with an amuse bouche of a bacon wrapped date/almond/blue cheese that was very tasty.
Day 3: Avignon City Tour in tolerable weather, nice walk through the Papal Palace (they took all the furniture when they left), and a visit to Les Halles market. Buy olives, cheese, wine, and a baguette for afternoon snack. Lunch of Garlic Soup(exc) and a French Dip (poor). Optional tour to Chateauneaf du Pape – fine, take the walk down from the tower if you’re able (somewhat slick but downhill) and stop in the chapel for a quick visit. Tasting at Maison Bouchard went well, and we ordered a half case @ $50/bottle to be delivered. Back to the ship for snack – olives and Roquefort, bottle of wine in the lounge with some ship supplied glasses under the amused glances of our fellow passengers who didn’t think of that themselves. (We did it a couple more times). Dinner was squash soup(good), turkey(f) ceviche(g, got another). If Viking wants to cook turkey, have some of the Americans on board help out in the kitchen so it doesn’t get dried out. Amuse was a smoked salmon tortilla with orange sauce, better without the tortilla, and the red wine was a Bourgogne(g). Late night talk on the history of Provence.
Day 4: Cruising up the Rhone, through locks in the rain and drizzle, doing about 10 Km/hour by my stopwatch. Lunch of Roast Beef/remoulade (ex, had 5) and Potato-leek soup (ex, had 2). Docked in Tain L’Hermitage/Tournon, and skipped Viviers on the itinerary due to high water, which no one on the ship mentioned. 1:30 “Stay in your cabin, the buses are delayed”. At 2:00, my wife went down to reception to find the buses gone! Nicholas made up for this, and that’s all I’m going to say about it. Dinner was and amuse of a shrimp ball (g), curry carrot soup (EX+) pepper salmon/coq a vin, choc tart (ex) and the red wine is switched to a good Macon.
Day 5: Vienne in the morning. Tour good, cathedral and top of mountain, Roman temple and forum, amphitheatre in good shape, although the first groups found the top of the mountain in the fog and an invisible town. Limited free time. Lunch was lamb soup (g) smoked fish with horseradish sauce (ex), as we leave the dock for the cruise to Lyon in the rain again. OK – here’s your hint. The meeting in the lounge tonight signs you up for the chef’s tour in Lyon. Ask for the signup sheet on your way passing reception – it’s in high demand! Shuttle to Place Bellacour with shopping surrounding. We’re docked a block from Confluence Mall and about 40 years too old for the shops it contains, but the market has Kinder Eggs to smuggle into the USA for the grandkids. (Hint: list them as “chocolate” on your customs form). Dinner was the walk-around in the kitchen, and we get to personally thank Gary the soup guy and the gal who was the pastry chef for doing outstanding jobs. Excellent Lamb with au jus, ham en crute, salads, desserts, Brussels sprout soup, and the red is Ogier Cotes du Rhone (g). We are moored on the outside of another ship, and leaving involves going up to the top deck, crossing over the other ship, and going down a steep staircase, than a slippery ramp to the dock. If you’re somewhat handicapped (more than cane level), you’re trapped aboard.
Day 6: Lyon. Since the bridge still blocks us, the trip to Cluny or Beaune now involves a bus trip of two hours each way, so we skip out on the bus ride. My wife has been asking for green onions in her omelet, and Paul the chef in the morning finally got restocked and proudly presented her with her very own bowlful, which he had hidden under the counter for the occasion. Lunch was a chilled cucumber soup, beef burgundy (ex), rice pudding. Pass on the cold soup on this chilly day Actually nap in the afternoon, although there’s a tram stop a couple blocks away to access the city in the rain. Dinner was the Captain’s farewell dinner, and the best meal I’ve had in four Viking trips, which is really saying something. Mushroom soup, a deconstructed Wellington, and some Crème Brulee – all top notch.
Day 7: Lyon Tour of the Basilica overlooking the old town and the chapel beneath, then the old town itself. Free time to check out the cathedral, and you can use the free toilets in the information booth next to it. Lunch of lamb shank(ex) and some kind of subway sandwich (f). . Chef’s tour is great, and we buy some truffle oil for our gourmet daughter, and some snacks and wine for this afternoon back on the ship. Dinner was Escargot (lousy, in a cream sauce), what passes for French Onion Soup but is broth, good fish and a good apple crumble, and plentiful wine.
Overall: the heated bathroom floors are a genius idea on Viking ships in the fall, but the placement of the light switches next to the headboards not so genius (only turned it on twice this trip). Ivana and Eva treated us like family in the dining room, Nicholas was an excellent Program Director in difficult high-water circumstances, listening patiently to passengers carping about minor annoyances. Nuno did his job well as Dining Manager, and Lars the head chef had the kitchen running like a top. The reception staff got everyone rebooked for leaving from Lyon as far as I know. We will never go on a fall cruise again due to the crummy weather, but that and the high water are not the fault of Viking. The cabins are small but well organized – and only one person can walk around at a time. Bring an old card of some kind (I use a casino card) to plug into the European style light switch, then just lift it when you leave to turn off all the lights. Otherwise, you’re forever switching cards – one has to be in the light switch. The 24/7 coffee machine on the 3rd deck is a beauty, and I always get my coffee from there rather than the dining room. Beside it are muffins in the morning and cookies in the afternoon.
After the cruise: we took the TGV from Lyon to Paris, and spent a couple of days seeing the sights and enjoying the excellent meals before returning home to Colorado. The weather remained lousy, and we both got colds.