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MEMORIES (No. 13) - VIKING RIVER RHONE CRUISE 2017

MEMORIES (No. 13) - VIKING RIVER RHONE CRUISE 2017

Postby judgegeoff » 12 Dec 2020 08:23

VIKING RIVER CRUISE
RIVER RHONE - AVIGNON TO LYON
29/03/2017 – 05/04/2017


Although Chris and I have been lucky to have done a lot of sea cruising, we had never experienced a river cruise. We looked at the various options and finally chose a cruise on the River Rhone, from Avignon to Lyon, with the Viking Cruise Line. Chris keeps a daily diary of all our holidays and the following account of that holiday is based on Chris’ diary and the photographs that we both took.

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Avignon to Lyon.

ITINERARY

29/03/2017 - Fly from London to Marseille, coach to Avignon and embark on ship.
30/03/2017 - Moored in Tarascon and coached to Arles.
31/03/2017 - Return to Avignon.
01/04/2017 - Viviers.
02/04/2017 - Tournon and Vienne.
03/04/2017 - Lyon.
04/04/2017 - Lyon.
05/04/2017 - Disembark and fly from Lyon to London.

======================================


Day 1 – Wednesday 29th March 2017 - Home to Avignon and embark on the ship.

Chris and I were picked up from home at 3:00 am (eek, again!) by our local taxi driver for the drive to Heathrow Airport Terminal 3, about 100 miles from our home. Chris had managed to get a couple of hours of sleep in the previous afternoon, but I had not slept at all. We had a very easy run to the airport, arriving in plenty of time for our flight.

We had already checked in for our flight online and printed our boarding cards and so headed straight for the luggage drop-off area where we found quite a long queue. An Airport employee saw that both Chris and myself had walking sticks and kindly took us around the corner where another check-in desk was being set up and we were checked in very quickly.

Our British Airways flight took off a little earlier than scheduled and we had a very comfortable flight to Marseille as we had three seats for the two of us, the plane was half empty.

When we arrived in Marseille we quickly cleared Immigration, collected our suitcases and were met by two Viking Cruises representatives who directed us to wait at seats at the Meeting point until all passengers had arrived. After a short wait they led us all outside where we boarded a coach for the journey to Avignon, about 105km (65 miles) away, where our ship, the “Viking Heimdal” was waiting for us.

The “Viking Heimdal” was one of Viking’s new Longships and first entered service in 2014, so was quite new. She was 443ft (135 metres) long, is designed to just fit in the Rhone’s locks and had 4 decks (but only an elevator between decks 2 and 3). The ship was a very comfortable base for 190 passengers in 95 cabins and had a crew of 51. She was typically Scandinavian in design – elegant simplicity and functionality. Diesel-Electric Hybrid engines provided ample whisper-quiet propulsion with extremely low emissions. Heimdal was the name of the guardian of the Norse Gods.

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The “Viking Heimdal” …….

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…..one of Viking’s beautiful river longships.

On arrival at Avignon, we boarded the ship and were soon booked in and handed our cabin door cards. We had been allocated cabin No. 101 (room 101?) on the bottom deck and we were a little concerned that Chris might have problems with the fairly steep staircase because of her sore knee (she had a replacement knee joint fitted in 2019). I asked Veronika, the Guest Services manager, if it would be possible to upgrade to a cabin on one of the higher decks, but unfortunately the ship was fully booked. Veronika did however tell me that some passengers were due to join the ship the following day and, if somebody did not turn up, she might be able to move us.

Cabin 101 did not have a balcony but had a long window at a high level. It was just a few inches above the waterline and, when the ship was underway, the ship appeared to be sailing at great speed. Unfortunately, Chris being less than 5 ft tall, was unable to see out of the window.

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Cabin 101.

We decided not to unpack in case another cabin became available, so went to the ship’s Aquavit Terrace buffet restaurant, right at the front of deck 3, for a very nice lunch, with complimentary wines, beers or soft drinks. This buffet restaurant has an inside section and an outside section, with sliding UPVC doors between (that could be fully opened up in good weather). It was a very nice place to have lunch.

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The Aquavit Terrace buffet restaurant with the doors slid back.

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It was lovely to sit outside and eat in the Provence sun.

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The buffets service area ……

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…..being set up for a complimentary cheese and wine tasting.

We were rather tired by this time, so decided to stay on the ship (we would be returning to Avignon in a couple of days) and have a good look around the ship and take some photos.

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There was plenty of shaded seating on the sun deck.

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The chef had a herb garden, next to a putting green and a shuffleboard game.

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Everything on the sun deck had to be able to be folded down to fit under some of the bridges. The wheelhouse could be lowered hydraulically and then the captain had to navigate by sticking his head through a sunroof in the roof of the wheelhouse!

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Looking down on the Aquavit Terrace buffet restaurant. The restaurant was very light and airy.

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Entering the ship’s lounge.

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The comfortable lounge.

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The lounge’s bar.

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A piano in the lounge.

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The ship’s main staircase in a small atrium.

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The staircase.

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The Reception desk……

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……..opposite a small shop selling mainly ‘Viking’ branded goods.

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The small library’s books were mostly about the area the ship was sailing in.

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The elevator, with glass doors, between decks 2 and 3.

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The spacious dining room on deck 2.

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Some larger tables …..

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….. and some smaller ones.

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Typical table setting.

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Wines, beers and soft drinks were complimentary during lunch and dinner and the waiters were very attentive in keeping our glasses full.

In the late afternoon, we went to the Aquavit Terrace buffet restaurant for a cheese and wine tasting which was very enjoyable. After that, we went to the lounge for a ‘Welcome Aboard’ meeting hosted by the Programme Director, Christine Couper.

We had dinner in the Main Dining Room and were extremely happy with the quality and quantity of the food we were served. The menu was not perhaps as comprehensive as the menus on the large sea-going ships, but we were very happy with the choices available and there were always everyday alternatives to the daily menu – chicken breast, grilled salmon, a Caesar salad and rib-eye steak (my favourite steak).

After dinner, we retired to our cabin as we were both very tired. In the morning we would be visiting the ancient city of Arles.


========================================


Continued tomorrow ………….
Geoff

Booked cruise :-
"MSC Orchestra" - Cape Town to Venice 2020 (now virtual)
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MEMORIES (No. 13) - VIKING RIVER RHONE CRUISE 2017

Postby Gillzajoker » 12 Dec 2020 12:15

That was kind of the airport employer to give you priority, Geoff, and I'm glad you mentioned it,
as mostpeople only seen to concentrate on negative aspects. The looks lovely, and I enjoyed
seeing all the various areas onboard, as I have never done a river cruise. I look forward to the
coming days :D
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MEMORIES (No. 13) - VIKING RIVER RHONE CRUISE 2017

Postby judgegeoff » 12 Dec 2020 12:35

Gillzajoker wrote:That was kind of the airport employer to give you priority, Geoff, and I'm glad you mentioned it,
as mostpeople only seen to concentrate on negative aspects. The looks lovely, and I enjoyed
seeing all the various areas onboard, as I have never done a river cruise. I look forward to the
coming days :D


Many thanks Gill. Since both Chris and myself have been forced to use walking sticks, we have found Airport staff to be extremely helpful. We have been directed through the 'Aircrew Only' Immigration booths at some airports, as well as being directed to quieter booths with no queues at others. I wish that we had taken walking sticks with us before we needed them!!! :lol:
Geoff

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MEMORIES (No. 13) - VIKING RIVER RHONE CRUISE 2017

Postby judgegeoff » 13 Dec 2020 10:11

Day 2 – Thursday 30th March 2017 - Tarascon (for Arles)


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Arles is north-west of Marseille.

Each day of this cruise there were complimentary ship’s excursions available, as well as a few excursions at extra cost. Most days complimentary ‘leisurely’ tours were also available – these were for people who had limited mobility and avoided steep steps and cobbled streets etc. where possible. We thought that this was a fantastic idea, as both Chris and I had limited mobility and used walking sticks. Well done Viking!!

Today we had booked the ship’s included ‘ Arles City Walk’ and were really looking forward to seeing this ancient city. Whilst we enjoyed a leisurely breakfast in the ship’s dining room, the ship cruised away from Avignon until we reached the town of Tarascon where the ship moored. Disembarking in Tarascon we were then taken by coach to the nearby city of Arles, where we were divided into two groups and our ‘Leisurely Group’ set off with a guide named Anna. We all had our own audio sets to enable us to hear the guides without having to be near them. These devices were charged in our own cabins, so we had to remember to take them with us when ashore.

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Our audio devices on charge in our cabin.

Arles goes back to at least the 6th century BC when Greek settlers first established a town here. In 123 BC, it was one of the first Roman conquests in Gaul, of which it became the capital in 395 AD. Because of this and the mild climate, there are some excellent Roman building remains.

Our first visit, following Anna, was to the Roman Amphitheatre (aka the Arena) which reminded us very much of the Colosseum in Rome. Built in 90 AD, it was designed to hold 26,000 spectators. In Medieval times it was turned into a defensive fort, with four towers, although only three remain today. It still hosts bullfighting, although this would not interest us.

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We entered Arles through this gate in the old city walls.

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We passed this memorial on the end of a building.

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Approaching the Amphitheatre.

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The Amphitheatre.

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One of its defensive Medieval towers.

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Entering the old structure………..

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Anna showed us a drawing of what the Amphitheatre would have looked in medieval times with buildings inside the fort.

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Inside the building….

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…... with Anna telling us its history.

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Leaving the Amphitheatre we passed several ancient ruins.

We then stopped at the Church of St. Trophime which had an amazingly ornate carved stone frontage. Built between the 12th and 15th centuries, it is in the Romanesque style. The carvings on the frontage represented a lot of stories from the Bible and Anna was able to explain what they all represented. After leaving the church we passed the Hotel de Ville (the Town Hall).

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The ornate frontage of the church of St. Trophime.

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The stone carving was almost as good as the day it was carved.

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Moving on, we passed this square with a tall obelisk……

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…..and this quirky doorway.

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Arle’s Town Hall.

Leaving the Town Hall we moved on to the former Arles Hospital (now offices and shops) where the artist Vincent Van Gogh was hospitalised for a period after he cut his ear off. The gardens were very recognisable from a couple of paintings that van Gogh completed whilst there. We also passed the famous ‘Yellow Cafe’, also made famous in his paintings.

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The old hospital at Arles…….

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…..captured by this Van Gogh painting.

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The famous Yellow Cafe in Arles.

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One of Van Gogh’s paintings of the yellow cafe.

We were then reunited with the other group and were picked up by the coach for the journey back to our ship moored at Tarascon. We had lunch in the Aquavit buffet restaurant and then Veronika came to find us that an American couple had cancelled at the last minute and we could move into Cabin 338 on deck 3. When I asked her how much they required for the upgrade she advised me that there would be no charge, it was complimentary. I was very grateful as Chris had found the steep staircase between decks 1 and 2 rather difficult. We quickly packed our suitcases and a crew member transferred them to the new cabin.

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Our ship moored at Tarascon.

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Deck 3 corridor.

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Moving in. The cabin had a large sliding patio type door.

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We had a large interactive television.

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We had a large shower cubicle with double doors. The floor in the room was heated – lovely!

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The large mirror was also heated, so never misted up.

As it was March, we had not brought any sun cream with us, but we had not bargained for the strong Provence sun, so I decided to walk into Tarascon to buy some, whilst Chris rested her legs. Tarascon is still associated with fairy tales and legends dating back to prehistory. According to tradition, Martha of Bethany, who came from Judea, landed at Tarascon c. AD 48 where an amphibious dragon or tarasque was destroying the river traffic and killing the local people. She tamed the beast only for it to be butchered by the townspeople.

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The dreaded tarasque.

There is a splendid 15th-century castle in the town, built on a solid rock base, to prevent it being undermined in the event of a siege.

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The magnificent castle at Tarascon.

When I got back to the ship I gave the suncream to Chris who noticed that the pharmacy had given me a tube of sun cream lotion that was out of date!

We left Tarascon at around 6:45 pm to return to Avignon, arriving between 9:00 and 10:00 pm. The Viking Longships are too small to have resident singers and dancers troupes, but they had a resident pianist who was very talented and guest singers and dancers came aboard in some ports.

And so to bed…...zzzz. We always slept very well on this ship.


=========================================


Continued tomorrow ………………...
Geoff

Booked cruise :-
"MSC Orchestra" - Cape Town to Venice 2020 (now virtual)
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MEMORIES (No. 13) - VIKING RIVER RHONE CRUISE 2017

Postby Gillzajoker » 13 Dec 2020 11:34

Wonderful photos of a beautiful place, Geoff, and the history gave a lovely insight into the place.
Well done Viking for the upgrade - looks a wonderful cabin! :D
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Re: MEMORIES (No. 13) - VIKING RIVER RHONE CRUISE 2017

Postby Camela » 13 Dec 2020 23:55

Very good of Viking to move you to the vacant cabin at no cost for the upgrade. Obviously didn't cost them anything yet gained a lot of good will.
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MEMORIES (No. 13) - VIKING RIVER RHONE CRUISE 2017

Postby judgegeoff » 14 Dec 2020 08:36

Day 3 – Friday 31st March 2017 - Avignon

Avignon, a city in south-eastern France’s Provence region, with a current population of around 92,000. From 1309 to 1377, it was the seat of the Catholic Popes. It remained under papal rule until becoming part of France in 1791. This legacy can be seen in the massive Palais des Papes (Popes' Palace) in the city centre, which is surrounded by medieval stone ramparts.

The Pont Saint-Bénézet, also known as the Pont d'Avignon, is a famous medieval bridge spanning the River Rhone. A wooden bridge spanning the Rhône between Villeneuve-lès-Avignon and Avignon was built between 1177 and 1185. This early bridge was destroyed forty years later in 1226 during the Albigensian Crusade when Louis VIII of France laid siege to Avignon. Beginning in 1234 the bridge was rebuilt with 22 stone arches. The stone bridge was about 900 metres (980 yards) in length and only 4.9 metres (16ft 1in) in width, including the parapets at the sides. The bridge was abandoned in the mid-17th century as the arches tended to collapse each time the Rhone flooded making it very expensive to maintain. Four arches and the gatehouse at the Avignon end of the bridge have survived. The Chapel of Saint Nicholas which sits on the second pier of the bridge was constructed in the second half of 12th century but has since been substantially altered. The western terminus, the Tour Philippe-le-Bel, is also preserved.

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The remaining 4 arches of the bridge.

This morning we were booked on the leisurely walking tour of Avignon and, on leaving the ship assembled with our local guide, a lady named Isabelle.

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Our local guide, Isabelle, holding the Viking excursion paddle. We had to synchronise our audio units with the guide's unit each day by touching them to the paddle. We kept the same sets throughout the cruise, recharging them in our cabin.

Assembled into a group we set off with Isabelle and walked the short distance to the Palace of the Popes, one of the largest and most important medieval Gothic buildings in Europe. Once a fortress and palace, the papal residence was the seat of Western Christianity during the 14th century. Six papal conclaves were held in the Palace, leading to the elections of Benedict XII in 1334, Clement VI in 1342, Innocent VI in 1352, Urban V in 1362, Gregory XI in 1370 and Benedict XIII in 1394. It remained in Papal hands for another 350 years until taken over by the Napoleonic French State. It has been a museum since 1906.

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Our ship was moored very near to the old town walls….

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…..strong defensive walls.

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On the way to the Palace we passed the Town Hall.

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Approaching the Palace.

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The huge Palace of the Popes.

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As we were on the leisurely tour we did not go inside the Palace – there were 120 steps on the other tour.

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This busker, entertaining people at the Palace, was the chap who had come aboard our ship yesterday with his piano accordion to entertain us.

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One of the newly renovated towers of the Palace.

Leaving the Palace we followed Isabelle down some lovely old medieval cobbled streets until we reached the Papal Basilica of Saint Peter in the Vatican or simply Saint Peter's Basilica. There has been a church on this site since the 7th century which was destroyed by Saracen raiders. The present building dates from the mid 14th century. The nave was enlarged in the C15th by the addition of a large south aisle and side chapels. The inside really is impressive with the 17th century gilded panelling in the chancel. In the sunlight, this glows golden.

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St. Peter’s Basilica.

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One of the two plaques on the front of the Basilica.

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Inside the Basilica, showing the gilded panelling.

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Isabelle in the church.

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We would have liked to have sampled some of the little restaurants in the town, but we did not have the time unfortunately (although the ship’s food was very, very good).

Our final visit was to Avignon’s Indoor Market where there were hundreds of stalls, most selling food of one kind or another.

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The indoor market.

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Inside the market.

As we had another tour in the afternoon we decided to leave the group (after advising and thanking Isabelle) and made our own way back to the ship, stopping en route at a cafe for coffees.

Back on the ship, we refreshed ourselves and then went to the Aquavit Terrace where we had hot dogs and fries, followed by fruit, for lunch.

Fully refreshed we left the ship again and boarded one of the Viking coaches for our second excursion of the day, a trip to the famous Pont du Gard (this excursion was at extra cost, but we could not go so near it and not visit it).

The Pont du Gard is an ancient Roman aqueduct bridge built in the first century AD to carry water over 50 km (31 miles) to the Roman colony of Nemausus (Nîmes). It crosses the river Gardon near the town of Vers-Pont-du-Gard in southern France. The Pont du Gard is the highest of all Roman aqueduct bridges, and one of the best-preserved. It was added to UNESCO's list of World Heritage Sites in 1985 because of its historical importance.

Our guide, Mary, introduced herself on the coach and also introduced a young lady named Camille, a trainee who was shadowing her (Camille spent most of the tour writing in her little notebook). The coach driver was named Raymond and it was about a 30-minute drive to the Pont du Gard.

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A Viking coach – they were all very new, extremely comfortable and spotlessly clean.

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Our first view of the Pont du Gard, a very impressive structure.

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There is a small museum at the bridge Visitor’s Centre offices which gives an insight into how the bridge was built.

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Walking to the bridge.

The bridge has three tiers of arches, stands 48.8 metres (160 ft) high, and descends a mere 2.5 centimetres (1 in) – a gradient of only 1 in 18,241 – while the whole aqueduct descends in height by only 12.6 m (41 ft) over its entire length, indicative of the great precision that Roman engineers were able to achieve using simple technology. The aqueduct formerly carried an estimated 40,000 m3 (8,800,000 imp gal) of water a day to the fountains, baths and homes of the citizens of Nîmes. It may have been in use as late as the 6th century, with some parts used for significantly longer, but a lack of maintenance after the 4th century led to clogging by mineral deposits and debris that eventually stopped the flow of water. A new bridge was built by the engineer Henri Pitot in 1743–47 next to the arches of the lower level so that the road traffic could cross on a purpose-built bridge.

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Amazing workmanship considering it is nearly 2,000 years old!

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On the bridge roadway, added in 1743 – 1747 looking one way …….

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…..and looking the other way.

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The River Gardon viewed from the roadway.

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One of the arches.

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We were told that this olive tree was planted in 908 AD, so was quite old at the time of the Battle of Hastings!

After having a good inspection of the aqueduct we returned to the Visitor’s Centre where we had coffees before making our way to the assembly point and then to our coach.

On the drive back our guide Mary sang a couple of French songs – she had a very good voice. We responded by singing ‘Sur Le Pont D’Avignon’. It had been a very enjoyable afternoon excursion.

Back on the boat, we left Avignon at about 6:30 pm, en route to travel to Viviers. At 7:00 pm Christine Couper, the Cruise Director, gave a talk about our next port, Viviers, and this was followed by dinner.

After dinner we relaxed in the lounge, listening to the ship’s talented pianist.


====================================

Continued tomorrow ……………….
Geoff

Booked cruise :-
"MSC Orchestra" - Cape Town to Venice 2020 (now virtual)
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MEMORIES (No. 13) - VIKING RIVER RHONE CRUISE 2017

Postby Gillzajoker » 14 Dec 2020 12:42

I have enjoyed today's tours, Geoff, a wonderful visual history lesson! :D
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Re: MEMORIES (No. 13) - VIKING RIVER RHONE CRUISE 2017

Postby Camela » 14 Dec 2020 19:53

I'd forgotten about visiting the Pont du Gard when we were motoring in the area in mid 90s with our sons. It was an amazing structure.
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MEMORIES (No. 13) - VIKING RIVER RHONE CRUISE 2017

Postby judgegeoff » 15 Dec 2020 08:33

Day 4 – Saturday 1st April 2017 - Viviers

When we awoke this morning we were moored in the town of Viviers, a hilltop town settled by the Celts long before the Romans constructed a fortress here. Viviers became a bishopric in the 5th century and the upper part of the town remained an ecclesiastical domain for over a thousand years.

After a leisurely breakfast, we assembled ashore where we were met by a local guide named Pierre for our short leisurely walking tour of the town. Pierre had been a ballroom dancing teacher and had an excellent skill that was useful as a tour guide – walking backwards whilst talking about the various place we visited. As this morning’s weather forecast was for intermittent showers, we took Viking umbrellas with us.

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Viking umbrellas were available at the gangways.

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Our guide Pierre telling us about the history of the town….

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…. and telling us about the coat of arms.

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The Cathedral of St. Vincent was at the top of the hill, but our leisurely tour did not go there as the road up was very steep…..

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…..and heavily cobbled. Our leisurely tour avoided steps, hills and cobbles (where possible).

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We walked into the town along this tree-lined street.

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Pierre told us that this tree was popular with the local children playing ‘hide and seek’.

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We stopped outside one house where Pierre showed us the water level when the River Rhone flooded.

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The Hospice at Viviers dated 1874.

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The narrow medieval streets were beautiful.

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Some residents had made a real effort.

We stopped at the Maison des Chevaliers (Knight’s House), a Roman house belonging to a rich merchant, Noel Albert, who transformed it into the Renaissance style (facade) from 1546 by the mason Louis Pic from Pont-Saint-Esprit. Noel Albert was born in Viviers around 1511. He was a salt merchant who got rich by neglecting to pass on the tax he collected to the king. During the religious wars, he took charge of the Huguenots and seized the town by force. He was arrested and executed in Toulouse on August 30th 1568. The façade is made up of 4 levels, all lavishly decorated. The ground floor has been subjected to changes but above the doors the decoration is still intact: acanthus, women and men's busts and coats of arms, each with a helmet. The levels are separated by carved friezes, scenes of equestrian combat between the first and the second, and foliage between the higher levels. The two identical windows on the first floor are framed with pilasters. The lintel of every window is embellished with ornate brackets, separating a motif which is repeated four times, a ram's head surrounded by a garland of foliage.

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The Knights House in Viviers.

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A detail of the house’s facade.

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Another tall building.

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We appreciated the tarred centre of this cobbled street.

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One way of extending your house!

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On the way back to the ship…..

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….. we passed this sausage shop. Mmmmmm!

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The town centre.

We thanked Pierre for an excellent and informative walking tour and went back aboard our ship by 11:00 am where, after refreshing ourselves, we had lunch in the Aquavit Terrace.

After leaving Viviers the ship had to pass through two locks, one at Montelimar and one at Beaucastel. Unfortunately, for safety reasons, we had to stay inside the ship when passing through locks. We also passed a Power Station operated by ‘Electricite de France’ (E.D.F.). Having spent most of my working life in the Nuclear Power Station construction industry, I took early retirement from ‘British Energy’ (originally the C.E.G.B.) in 1996. In 2009 ‘British Energy’ was taken over by E.D.F.

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Passing the Power Station with its cooling towers (that is steam, not smoke).

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One of the giant towers had this painting on it.

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Keep on generating mes amies, my pension depends on it!!!

We spent the afternoon reading, watching the world pass by us and talking with new friends. At 7:00 pm the Programme Director, Christine, gave us a talk on our next port Tournon. We had dinner with a couple we had made friends with, John and Rita, and then spent the rest of the evening in the lounge. We entered a music quiz and did quite well, although we didn’t win it of course.

In the late evening we retired to our cabin, tomorrow we would be going on a train journey.


==================================


Continued tomorrow ……………….
Geoff

Booked cruise :-
"MSC Orchestra" - Cape Town to Venice 2020 (now virtual)
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