The next morning found our boat moored in the town of Tournon-sur-Rhone. We began the day by hiking up the side of a mountain to see some ruins before our first excursion.
The Ardache, in which Turnon-sur-Rhone is located in a traditionally impoverished part of France. The cruise director downplayed the area during the previous evening’s port talk, but I found the town nice and quite picturesque. When we got into the country during our excursion, the region had a bit of an Appalachian feel.
Our morning excursion featured a steam locomotive ride through rural Ardache. Duncan, Betty, Candy, and I went on this excursion while JJ and Karen went on a hike through a vineyard.
The afternoon was spent sailing down the Rhone until we reached the small town of Viviers. Viviers was founded in the 5th century. It was a former Roman settlement that became a Bishop’s seat—centuries of conflict required the town to be fortified. The Renaissance was a more stable period and wealth—many buildings in town date back to Middle Ages. The commanding feature of the town is St. Vincent Cathedral.
During the morning excursion on the train, our guide was Frances. I thought her British accent made her sound like Haley Mills. She was outstanding. When we got to Viviers, Viking organized a late evening walk through Viviers. Frances told us that she lived in Viviers. Our cruise director told us we could just pick any of the three guides for the walk. We glommed onto her since we already knew that Frances was good and lived in town. She had some interesting anecdotes about the town and its people that made the walk fun.
After the evening walk through town, we said goodbye to Frances, and the Hermod set sail down the Rhone again.
Day 15 (Friday) – Arles
In the last days of the Roman empire (back when Candy was in high school), the city of Arles was the capital of Roman Gaul. Arles has a Roman arena that seats 20,000 and still hosts bullfights and plays today. Farmers from Provence come to town for the market. Van Gogh lived in Arles and painted some famous artwork there.
The amphitheater was built in the first century and seats 21,000 people. It has large tunnels containing wild beasts and gladiators. Spectators could also watch chariot races.
After our walking tour of Arles, we took an optional excursion to the Medieval town of Baux and the Carriers de Lumieres. Baux is a Medieval town (imagine that!) atop a mountain. We spent about 40 minutes exploring on foot.
Evening entertainment on the boat was the group The Gipsy Kings. I have some of their albums. While the entertainment on the Viking ships is quite good, this was the first time I had heard of the group coming on board.
Day 16 (Saturday) – Avignon
Candy and I began our day in Avignon with a short canoe trip on the Rhone. This was an optional excursion. None of the others in our group were interested. In fact, of 180 people onboard, only four of us chose this excursion. It was a relaxing and quiet experience rather than another walk through a Medieval town.
Avignon was the home to seven Popes between 1309 and 1377. Avignon remains encircled by Medieval ramparts and fortifications.
While we were canoeing, Duncan, JJ, Betty, and Karen took the included walking tour of Avignon and the Pope’s palace. Candy and I had planned to walk around Avignon by ourselves in the afternoon. It was a scorching day. During the morning excursions, one of the people on our boat was pickpocketed. Those returning from the walking tour spoke well of the Pope’s palace but described Avignon as a hot, dirty, crowded den of thieves. At the last minute, Candy and I decided to take the optional excursion to see the Pont du Gard Roman aqueduct.