Itinerary map

France by riverboat

The Saone and Rhone Rivers

Paris, The Loire Valley & the Cote d'Azur,

Including Monte Carlo and Monaco

September 19 - October 6, 2002


We arrived at our hotel in Paris late in the afternoon, just an hour before having to be at an orientation meeting for an overview of our trip. One of the subjects covered in this meeting was a warning to be aware of pickpockets lurking on the metro rail. This comment will become meaningful later in this commentary.

At the Eiffel Tower Our first full day in Paris started with a half-day motor coach tour with views of the Eiffel Tower, Champs Elysees, Arc de Triomphe (commissioned by Napoleon in 1806 and completed in 1836), tour of the Gothic Cathedral of Notre Dame. One of the reasons for this tour was to help us decide what sites to visit on our own time the next day. We ate dinner that evening at a brasserie near the hotel where we surprisingly ran into a couple we had met two years previously on our Great Rivers of Europe trip. I saw them, thought they looked familiar, so when they finished eating I went over to ask if we'd met before. They remembered us also, and she even remembered Dale is a physician. It is, indeed, a small world!

An option we took advantage of was a tour to the incredible Palace of Versailles. We toured the palace's Grand Chambers, dazzling Hall of Mirrors ~ where the Treaty of Versailles was signed in 1919, ending WWI ~ and the Royal Chapel. One interesting thing we learned from our tour guide at the Palace is that when royalty gave birth there were many in the room to witness it so the line of succession was witnessed and assured. In 1623 Louis XIII built a little ,hunting lodge at Versailles, which he enjoyed so much that he had it enlarged over the next 40 years. His son, Louis XIV, known as the Sun King, continued to add to the modest residence so that by 1682 Versailles was a magnificent place and became the official residence of the Court of France. The Hall Of Mirrors is a masterpiece of a room more than 200 feet long. Huge windows overlooking the expansive palace gardens on one side are matched by exceptionally large arcaded mirrors on the other. The finest of Louis XIV's collection of ancient statues, including busts of Roman emperors, are spread throughout the room. While touring the gardens at Versailles, we again ran into our friends from the previous trip.

The next day was ours to do with as we pleased. We decided to go to the Louvre with another couple from our tour group. This would involve taking the metro from our hotel and changing trains to get there. This is where it got . . . well . . . interesting, for lack of another word. After changing trains, and as the doors were about to close, Dale felt a hand in the FRONT pocket of his pants. He grabbed the guy's hand, and with his other hand grabbed him by the shirt. The guy was getting off the train, so Dale felt he had no choice but to go with him because he didn't know if he'd gotten his wallet or not (he hadn't). The three of us were on the train and gone, and Dale was alone with this kid on the train platform. To make a long story short, Dale was fine, the three of us were very scared for his safety, and for three hours we didn't know what had happened to him. Our 'new best friends' from Portland, OR stayed with me the whole time, for which I will forever be grateful. We went to the Louvre in case Dale had gone there, since that was our original plan, and then back to the hotel and waited with me until Dale walked into the hotel as I was on the phone with the American Embassy trying to figure out what to do. We later found out that pick pocketing in Paris is a misdemeanor and that they do not assault because then it becomes a serious crime. When Arc de Triomphe Mitterand was elected president he released 10,000 pickpockets from jail. We also found out that many pickpockets have a pimp who tells them how much money/how many credit cards to bring back at the end of the day. Kids get involved at ten and twelve years of age.

Anyway, to get back to the nuts and bolts of this trip, we settled down and decided to 'get back on the horse' and took the metro to the Champs Elysees to walk around and get some lunch. Our new best friends went off on their own now that we all knew Dale was OK, though we were all quite shaken by the experience. We never did get to the Louvre, as there wasn't enough time left to do it justice. We walked to the Arc de Triomphe at the end of the Champs Elysees, and climbed the winding staircase of 284 steps to the top, which afforded us a breathtaking view. It is located on a central roundabout where twelve avenues converge, and affords a 360' view of the city. We began talking with a couple from New Zealand and took each other's picture at the Arc de Triomphe, and as we parted I said, 'Watch your wallet!' They then told us they had been the victims of a pick pocket the day they got to Paris ~ they were checking into their hotel when the wife noticed her wallet had been stolen from her ZIPPED purse as they rode the metro from the airport to their hotel.

The next day we rode a motor coach to the town of Blois, in the Loire Valley. We stopped in Chartres for lunch and saw a 13th century cathedral that rivals Notre Dame in both fame and beauty. It is one of the few European Gothic cathedrals to still show a medieval labyrinth laid out on its floor. We then had a ride around the town in a miniature train.

In the afternoon we had a walking orientation tour of the area surrounding our hotel in Blois, locating restaurants and retail therapy opportunities ~ there were many of both. For dinner Dale had the largest mound of mussels we've ever seen ' the shells hardly stayed on the large plate. Blois is a charming little town that is an important commercial center known for its trade in wines and brandies. In the 10th century the Counts of Blois became the most powerful feudal lords of France. We toured several ch'teaus in the surrounding countryside. One of these ch'teaus, Chenonceaux, was built in 1515 on the site of a medieval fortress and old mill and has an elegant bridge over the River Cher. Madame Dupin, an 18th century ch'telaine, saved Chenonceaux from destruction during the French Revolution. We also visited Ch'teau Chambord, the largest in the Loire Valley, with 440 rooms, which began as a hunting lodge in 1519. King Francois I continued building this ch'teau even when he could not pay the ransom for his two sons held captive in Spain. The royal emblem of Francois I is the salamander, and they appear 700 times throughout the ch'teau. Chambord was completed by Louis XIV in 1685. It was at this ch'teau where the traditional Son et Lumiere (Sound & Light) show originated, and is now an evening tradition in many places of the world. The opulence of the ch'teaus rivals that of the cathedrals. Another castle of theTown of Vezelay~The Eternal Hill Loire Valley we toured was Cheverny. It is said this ch'teau invented the French style of architecture in 1630-1640. The fourth and final ch'teau we visited is the Ch'teau de Blois, which towers majestically over the Loire Valley. It was the principal royal residence from the Middle Ages until King Henri IV moved the court to Paris in 1598. This castle was a residence of Catherine of M'dici, who died there in 1589. All six French kings of the 16th century spent time here, and it is where Henri III murdered the Duke of Guise and his brother. Several museums containing various forms of art are housed in the ch'teau, and a sound and light show is presented evenings throughout the summer.

In the morning we left Blois and traveled through the French countryside to the town of Vezelay, The Eternal Hill, on our way to Chalon-sur-Saone to board our riverboat in the evening. Vezelay is a hillside town and was the point of assembly and departure for the Crusades and for pilgrims headed for Santiage de Compostela. It was here in 1146 that St. Bernard preached in favor of the Second Crusade, and in 1190 Philippe-Auguste and Richard the Lion-Hearted met and set off on the Third Crusade. We climbed to the top of the hill to the 12th century Sainte Madeleine Basilica. In the apse of this cathedral is the 9th century Carolingian crypt (rebuilt in 1165), said to house the bones of Mary Magdalene. This medieval town Helen, Mike, Jane, Dalehas kept its ramparts, doors and round path. The narrow and winding streets are lined with 15th, 16th, and 18th century houses with sculpted doors, ransomed and mullioned windows and corbelled stairs. The photo on the left is of us in Vezelay with our 'new best friends' who stayed with Jane during the pick pocket caper in Paris.

As we ate dinner on the riverboat we set sail on the Saone River. In the morning we set off on a full day Wine Road of Burgundy tour. We toured the Clos de Vougeot and had lunch in Beaune, the wine capital of Burgundy. Many of the region's vineyards are still owned by the Hospices de Beaune, founded in 1443 as a hospital, which is an example of Burgundian/Flemish architecture. We toured the hospital, now preserved as a museum. We also visited a winery for a tour and tasting of local wines. References to Joan of Arc came up several times with various local tour guides throughout the trip, and some referred to her as, 'Joanie on the Pony. In the morning we cruised through the beautiful Beaujolais region toward Lyon (pronounced Lee-own), at the confluence of the Saone and Rhone rivers. We literally 'turned the corner' from the Saone River to the Rhone River for our continuing voyage to the south of France. Upon arriving, we had a tour of this 2,000 year old city that is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In Lyon one of our program directors was almost a victim of a pick pocket, and may have been were it not for his fluent French and verbally threatening the twelve year old boy who was about to try it.

Chateau Clos de Vougeot Are you beginning to see an underlying theme here? Anyway, back to Lyon history. It was the capital of Gaul under the Romans and flourished as a Renaissance trading center based on its extensive silk industry. In a country known for its fine cuisine, Lyon is also known as a gastronomic capital of the country. It was in Lyon that the Jacquard loom (named for its French inventor), the first automatic loom able to weave complex patterns, was invented. Our tour of the city included a silk factory for a demonstration of silk screening and then a retail therapy opportunity in the factory's gift shop. We then toured the Basilica of Fourviere, with its interior of gilt, marble and colorful mosaics, including a mosaic floor. We walked back to the ship in the afternoon, as it was a beautiful day.

Ahhhh . . . Now we come to the town of Chocolate . . . er, I mean, Tournon. When we heard there was a chocolate factory here, we just had to find it. We got a city map from the ship, and once we walked across the river we followed the chocolate fragrance to the factory. We made a few purchases and then walked around this quaint town. In the afternoon we sailed toward Viviers, gateway to Provence. We had a walking tour to the top of the town, which afforded us a wonderful view of the river and hillside scenery. Upon reboarding our riverboat we sailed through Provence to Avignon. When we arrived in Avignon we Street mime in Avignon boarded a small sightseeing train that traveled through the town to the top of a hill where we toured the Papal Palace. We had the afternoon to do as we pleased, so we had lunch at an al fresco brasserie and did some retail therapy, finding a mime (she would be the one on the left in the photo . . .) among the shops and caf's.

We continued on to Arles, the town beloved by Vincent Van Gogh. Some of his finest works were produced here, and his friend, Paul Gauguin, joined him in Arles for a short time. On our guided walking tour we saw where Van Gogh painted 'View of Arles with Irises', and also 'Caf'. We also saw Roman ruins, including an arena built by the Romans in the 1st century that originally seated 20,000 and is still in use for bull fights today, 20 centuries later. After lunch we walked around and did more retail therapy . . . then back to our riverboat to pack our suitcases, as in the morning we would be disembarking and going by motor coach to the French Riviera's Cote d'Azur.

On our ride from Arles to Nice we stopped at another site painted by van Gogh, 'The Drawbridge at Langois', and saw the actual drawbridge he painted. We rode through Provence, and its lavender fields, stopping in Aix-in-Provence for lunch. This town was founded in 123 B.C. by the Romans, and over the years has attracted many artists, including writer Emile Zola and painter Paul Cezanne, who were both born here and lived and worked here much of their lives. This town is known Lavender fields of Provence as the 'city of a thousand fountains.' C'zanne's studio is still preserved as it was when he died in 1906, though it does not have any of his major paintings.

In the afternoon we arrived at our hotel in Nice, France's fifth largest city, capital of the Riviera, and the Cote d'Azur's premier French Riviera resort city. It is a city known for its lush gardens and superb setting on the Mediterranean's Bay of Angels. Our hotel was located across the street from the Mediterranean, on the Avenue des Anglais. After settling into our room our program director took us on a hotel vicinity tour and pointed out caf's, brasseries, and . . . you guessed it . . . retail therapy opportunities. The next morning we visited the Nice flower market, one of the most renown in the world. It is blocks long, as it stretches the length of the city's seafront and is lined with delightful caf's, museums, posh apartments, and lush gardens. It is much more than a flower market, as in addition to the abundant florists, farmers are selling their products, and artesians are selling their wares. It was at an ATM in the flower market that a member of our tour group had his credit card stolen from the machine as he stood there in shock while the thief grabbed it and ran away. In the afternoon we walked to the central part of town and did some window shopping. Later this same afternoon a lady with another tour group staying at our hotel had her purse stolen by a motorcycle rider going past as she stood at the curb waiting for a green light. Principality of Monaco The next morning, our final day in France, we left by motor coach for a full day excursion to the small Principality of Monaco, which is built on a rock, and traveled on a part of the Grand Prix Motor Race circuit. The Grimaldi family has ruled this tiny province since 1297. We saw the Rock of Monaco and the magnificent facade of the Prince's palace, and toured the 19th century Monaco Cathedral, final resting place of the Princess of Monaco, Grace Kelly. From there we visited Monte Carlo and its famous square, Place du Casino, home of the legendary Grand Casino. Suffice it to say, we didn't break the bank at Monte Carlo!

That pretty much sums up our France riverboat experiences . . . a trip through history in places centuries old.

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