Rhine and Rhone Cruise Part Four

Day 14 (Thursday)  – The Ardache

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.

Ruins of a tower overlooking Tournon-sur-Rhone that we saw during our morning hike. Note the statue of Mary on top.

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.

Tournon-sur-Rhone from up the side of the mountain.
The statue of Marc Seguin in town commemorates the inventor of the suspension bridge and advances in steam locomotive design.

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.

Betty and Duncan on the open-sided carriages of the train.
Supposedly the oldest bridge in the area (or France?) (or the Universe?) (I don’t remember.)
The structure to the right of this image is an aqueduct. It collects the rainwater washing down the flint and slate mountains, and directs it through the valley to the hydroelectric dam.
A view of the train as we rounded a bend.

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.

The motley crew at lunch on the Viking Hermod.  (Duncan, Candy, JJ, Karen, Robert Redford, and Betty.)

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.

A view of Viviers during our evening walking tour (JJ on the left and Frances on the right).
A view down a narrow road in town.
A very non-picturesque walk to the old town.
The statue of Mary in town.
Frances begins our tour.
Some of the buildings in town had an Italian Renaissance look to them.
Note the mural at the bottom of this picture.
While the street looks deserted, it is also quaint and picturesque.
As the sun began to set, this was a town view.
Another view of Mary.
Another view of the town at night.
Again parts of the town appear to be Rennaissance inspired.
The door to the cathedral.

   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.

Chappelle Saint-Anne near the center of town.
Our mob in the hospital where Van Gogh was admitted due to his mental illness.
There were a number of these posters around Arles showing a Van Gogh painting and the real building or scene depicted in the image.
Another poster of a Van Gogh painting.
The remains of the Roman theater that is still used for concerts today.
A panoramic view of the amphitheater still used for bullfights and concerts.
The remains of the Medieval bridge over the Rhone.
The Medieval bridge is flanked on both ends by these lions.
We saw a building in a small square in town during our walking tour.
A portion of the interior of the amphitheater.
Another plaza in Arles.
The exterior of the amphitheater.
The interior of the amphitheater.

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.

A view of the area a Baux.
The mineral bauxite used in aluminum production was mined here, named after the town of Baux.
Part of Baux.
A view of Baux from below.
A church in Baux.
This part of France is rocky and doesn’t look like any other part of France we saw.
Carrieres de Lumbers is an old quarry that is now an art exposition. The quarry is darkened, and artwork is projected on the walls. The painting moves, and it is accompanied by music. We stayed for an hour, which was the week’s highlight.
Another view of moving artwork.
A moving portion of Starry Night.

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.

Looking this good should be against the law.
Avignon from the water.

Avignon was the home to seven Popes between 1309 and 1377.  Avignon remains encircled by Medieval ramparts and fortifications.

A structure and houseboat along the Rhone
Our guides, Phillipe and Jerome.
Candy, John Wayne, and our two buddies for the canoe trip
A reasonably close view of the Medieval bridge. I asked the guide if the bridge had been bombed in WWII like other bridges we saw. This one was poorly constructed, and parts of it washed away due to occasional flooding.
We approach the bridge.

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.

There was an excellent and impressive museum about Roman engineering at the aqueduct site. One of the exhibits within the museum was this example of how a wooden form was used to ensure the various arches were the same size.
A diorama depicting a stone quarry 600m from the aqueduct.

A map of the site.
The aqueduct brought water for Uzes to Nimes. Nimes was a major textile town. During the California gold rush, the city of Nimes sold high-quality cloth in California. This fabric became known as de Nimes (from Nimes) or denim.
The aqueduct arches were three arches pressed against each other for stability.
Who are these people? They keep photo-bombing me!

Our last supper aboard the Hermod (Duncan, Scott, Candy, Kim, Karen, Betty, some movie star, and JJ).  After dinner, we had drinks on the top deck of the ship.  See Scott and Kim in this picture.  We started getting eight-person tables even though we only had six people so that we could get to meet some other folks.

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