Having so enjoyed the Rhine River Viking Cruise last Fall, we contacted our expert travel agent Jeffrey Elkin at VacationsToGo.com for booking our Provence cruise and air fare. My husband and I flew from Fort Myers, Florida to Lyon and ... Read More
Having so enjoyed the Rhine River Viking Cruise last Fall, we contacted our expert travel agent Jeffrey Elkin at VacationsToGo.com for booking our Provence cruise and air fare. My husband and I flew from Fort Myers, Florida to Lyon and joined our close friends arriving from Boston. Every hour of every day on the Rhone River was just as the Viking River cruise brochure and the website had described.
We were very pleased with the ambiance and friendliness of the staff and crew onboard our longship Heimdal. A large painting acquainted us with the ship's namesake: The Norse god Heimdal is the ever-vigilant guardian of the gods.
Our river view cabin was cozy and we only were there to shower and sleep. Once we unpacked, the empty suitcases went under the bed and we were ready to join our friends for drinks and dinner. Our 3 meals a day were carefully prepared and artistically served. Everything on the ship was pleasing to the eyes! Chris Harrington, Hotel Manager, was attentive to everyone's wants and needs 24/7 and always with a kind word, smile, or perhaps a joke to brighten our day. We enjoyed the cheese tasting, musical entertainment, French cooking lesson of molten lava chocolate cake, and highly informative silk painting class. History and French culture were emphasized daily and it was refreshing to learn in such a relaxed setting.
Passing through locks was fun to watch from the Aquavit Terrace as we continued cruising on the Rhone River. Having time to relax on the upper deck, snuggle into a comfy chair to read a chapter in our books, or take a quick nap in the afternoon left us refreshed for our evening Cruise Director's informative talk in the lounge. From there we went downstairs for our satisfyingly delicious dinners next to the floor to ceiling windows that allowed us to enjoy the passing river views and vineyards.. Chef Daniel and our Maitre D' made sure we were well fed and that there were regional favorites paired with wine as well as several entree choices. Best of all was our terrific "Taste of Provence" dinner. It was also nice to have round the clock availability in two locations of make-it-yourself hot tea, coffee, or cocoa plus cookies.
Our morning tours were superb and our English-speaking guides were extremely knowledgeable. Having the ear piece and receiver was very helpful in hearing everything that was being described. Our full day in Lyon began with a bus trip up to the Basilica of Norte-Dame de Fourvieres and hilltop view of the sprawling city below us . The city walking tour featured architecture and the trompe l'oeil frescoes on several buildings. Then we were allowed to enter through doorways that led us via hidden passageways (' traboules ') along the ground level of stair-cased buildings all with interesting designs. This allowed us to go from a main street to other small streets and shops. Of course there was time for a quick cafe au lait and people watching at a local cafe. Lyon now reminds us of Paris 40 years ago when life was not so hurried as it is now.
Pont du Gard was enthralling when looking at the remains of the Roman aqueduct built in 1st Century AD. Their museum was well worth the time spent beforehand and the olive trees scattered about on the grounds are still thriving there. Oh, how I loved walking in the old Medieval walled towns of Perouges known for the Three Musketeers, Viviers with the spectacular view from Belvedere de Pipet, Vienne for a moonlit walk, and majestic Avignon. Beaujolais wine tasting at Chateau Ravatys was a delightful outing in the French countryside and their 5 tasty wines paired with 2 kinds of breads was wonderful. The old-fashioned steam train de l'Ardeche provided us with hidden vistas and the turn-around was interesting to watch before we took the return trip.
Arles was a fascinating city with Roman ruins and cobble stone streets. However, the highlight of my trip to Provence was the 8 hour special tour there walking "In the Footsteps of Van Gogh". Philippe Monnier and his wife welcomed ten of us into his studio where we were immersed in classical music as we each used acrylic paints and a variety of brushstrokes to paint in the style of Van Gogh. We also looked at Vincent's various scenes of Arles and the surrounding countryside before we walked along and saw the yellow Night Cafe, the hospital where he was treated in town, and at the riverside where he painted the Starry Night. Color, light, and composition were key to Vincent as he painted portraits as well as scenes of still life and landscapes especially during his 15 months in Arles. Here he discovered and was inspired by the light of the south in Provence! Our gourmet 3 course luncheon at Hotel Jules Cesar was included. Philippe met us there after dessert to give each of us our painting that had dried and was wrapped in brown paper for our trip back to the ship.
A short bus ride next took us out into the countryside to the quaint town of St. Remy. The restoration of the buildings and Van Gogh's bedroom at Saint Paul's Hospital was heart-warming. To see Vincent's iron bedstead and then gaze out his window at numerous fields of flowers was breath-taking. Such a variety of flowers and many shades and types of iris were plentiful in the May sunshine. Having large reproductions of Vincent's work at the locations where they were painted was awe-inspiring. This restoration work is based on sketches and descriptions in Vincent's letters to his brother Theo Van Gogh. A sign told us "Thank you for respecting the tranquility of this site. Patients and residents are still housed and cared for in a contemporary way according to the traditions, values, and vocations of the place and caretakers from the times of Vincent Van Gogh." Not only did Vincent love painting the various floral scenes and buildings here, he tried to capture the beauty of the flowering olive trees against the cloud strewn sky with mountains and moonrise in the background. Thank you, Vincent!
We have found that each of our two Viking River Cruises provided us with many delightful experiences while we were making new memories. Now we have had Jeffrey Elkin from Vacations To Go book another trip for us: this time it's a 2 week Viking Ocean Cruise to Panama and Central America. Stay tuned for details when we return! Read Less