Morning in Avignon and Les Halles Market

This morning’s deep fog gives way to a bright sunny day by the time we depart for a guided walking tour of Avignon. Expected high, 27 degrees. One of the nice parts of the Viking walking tours (and other tours about) are the quiet boxes they supply. You tune into the frequency dictated by your guide, adjust the volume, hang the unit around your neck and put the ear piece in. The gear is very light and comfortable and as you are touring and in range you can hear the guide and therefore they do not need to shout in the streets which I imagine would be quite annoying to those living there.  It also allows you to wander quite a bit and take photographs and still get the down low. Our guide today was once again very knowledgeable and interesting.

Avignon 001 Avignon 002 Avignon 006

Avignon, so very different than Arles, offers views of exquisite architecture, ramparts, gargoyles, narrow cobble streets, tall buildings and the papal palace. The spilly floral displays and colourful shutters of Arles are absent but are replaced by tall windows and detailed wrought iron work.

Avignon 003 Avignon 004 Avignon 005

Our tour ends at Les Halles, a fabulous food mecca and one of the highlights of the morning. After spending an hour perusing the candies, flowers, spices, meats, fish, charcuterie, vegetables, bread, chocolate and ready made goodies, we choose a cafe for lunch and people watching before returning to the ship.

Avignon 008 Avignon 011 Avignon 012 Avignon 014 Avignon 016 Avignon 020 Avignon 021 Avignon 022 Avignon 023 Avignon 024 Avignon 025 Avignon 027 Avignon 031 Avignon 033 Avignon 036 Avignon 037

We lunch at one of many little sidewalk cafes, Perigord Gourmand on Rue du Vieux Sextier. Here we eat from the Formule Plaisir — “fun menu” , which includes an appetizer, main and dessert for 16 euro.

Avignon 043

Rob chose the foie gras on gingerbread with fig compote and pear and I had the in season, asparagus cream soup. Both apps were light and delicious.

Avignon 041 Avignon 042

For mains Rob ordered the duck with mushroom sauce and potatoes. The sliced duck was done a nice medium rare and the potatoes were roasted to a perfect crisp. I had the panfried, very thin steak ordered medium  but so thin it could only be cooked through. It came with a thin Roquefort sauce.

Avignon 044 Avignon 045 Avignon 046 Avignon 047

Rob definitely won the round. I have to remember not to order beef in Europe. It is at best, just fine. We both opted for the very well made lemon tart for dessert.

After lunch we return to the ship to relax and look at our photos and check in with friends and family. The ship departing for Viviers at 3:30, hosts a classic French tea as we cast off. Tea includes a selection of herbal and black teas, French press, home made goodies such as madeleines, fresh apple filled donuts, apple and lemon tarts, and sandwiches of lox and cream cheese, delicate, savory ham and cheese, and egg with peppery watercress.

By 4 pm we are well underway and spend a relaxing afternoon on our private balcony, watching Avignon recede in the distance and enjoying the pretty Rhone coast while sipping sparkling wine.

Dinner on the ship this evening celebrates the spring produce in Provence. White asparagus graces each dish offered up by the chef. Our appetizer choices are delicate quail breast and leg with buttery risotto and monkfish with pesto and garlic chip.

Leaving Avignon 004 Leaving Avignon 005

Main courses opted for are sole fillet with white asparagus, cucumber salad and quinoa, and pork chop with mustard crust and au jus, asparagus, roasted fingerling potatoes and apple compote.

Leaving Avignon 006 Leaving Avignon2 001

Apricot clafoutis and apple rhubarb cake completed our spring time bounty of Provence meal.

Leaving Avignon2 002 Leaving Avignon2 003

We are finally feeling mostly normal after two long days. Tomorrow we have lots of time to sleep in before our afternoon excursion via steam train to Ardèche.

 

Arles, Provence

Still trying to conquer jetlag and enjoy the offerings on day 2 of our cruise. We have signed up for a leisurely walking tour through the city of Arles in classic Provence.

IMG_3503Breakfast in the dining room proffers an American style hot breakfast of omelets, scramble, sausage and bacon as well as a European selection of meat, cheese and fruit. Our breakfast companions inform me that the the coffee is excellent but I am avoiding liquid before our planned excursion as we have been told that French public toilets are scarce and…”oh la la.” Yes, they actually say that here.

Soon we board a comfortable Mercedes-Benz coach bus and we are off to explore Arles and the Roman ruins in the city. The scenic countryside of Provence unfolds outside our windows. Ditches are clotted with wild yellow iris and scarlet poppies. Cherries are just pinking up in their orchards, thorny artichokes ripen in neat rows, and bridal spirea hedgerows arch to the ground with their heavy blossom bounty. We fly past horses grazing in the morning sun, ancient terracotta roofs, giant sycamores, elegant cypress, a colour all their own.

We pull in to Arles on the Rhone river, just outside the city ramparts. The ancient stone ramparts are softened by eons of time and have given themselves over to wildflowers. Our guide says the city would like to restore them but I think they are magnificent as is.

Arles 001

We enter the city beyond the ramparts and begin our walking tour through Arles. Classic Provence. Cobbled streets in amazingly good shape and lovely, colourful, shuttered windows bedecked with window boxes and planters of all kinds greet us cheerily. The ship gives us quiet box radios to listen to our guide through. We are lucky to have a most excellent and informed guide. She allows us to walk and explore at our own pace and we are guided by her voice, always knowing down which narrow alley the tour will go and when to jump out of the way of the cars which travel down these narrow streets.

Arles 005

Arles is waking up this Monday morning and the small shops and cafes that dot the charming streets sputter to life.. The sun warm on the light breeze makes the walk perfect.  As we move through Arles we come to the Colosseum built by the Romans in 90 AD. The structure, largely intact serves today as a stadium where bullfights are hosted. Go Bull! Sitting on the cold, ancient stone seats brings the ghosts of another time to the fore.

Arles 003

From there we head into Vincent Van Gogh territory, the cafe where he painted “Cafe Terrace at Night”. The cafe has been unfortunately completely bastardized for les touriste, but ah….stuff happened here.

1913269_10153207750365469_8756882242506574075_o

We also were treated to the spot Van Gogh was inspired to paint “Starry Night on The Rhone” and the garden courtyard  of the Hotel Dieu, “Garten des hospitals in Arles”, where Van Gogh was hospitalized after getting loose and free with a knife near an ear.

Arles 002

Our walking tour through the streets of Arles is everything you could want in a brief tour of Provence. Arles and Provence define “quaint”.

Arles 006

We wind our way slowly back to the coach and are transported to Tarascon where the ship has moved in the meanwhile to meet us. We board and head to the dining room for a light lunch of squid pasta and shrimp po’boys. Not quite classic but a very nice sandwich.

IMG_3155

 

IMG_3160

After a brief nap (still recovering from the time change), we head up to the lounge for a pre dinner drink and await the briefing about the events for the following day after which we retire for dinner at the civilized hour of 7 pm.

At dinner we meet up with companions from day one who are entertaining dinner mates. Our foursome elects to abide by the chef’s choices for the evening: Poached Scallops and Avocado, Chateaubriand and Chocolate Souffle.

IMG_3164

IMG_3166IMG_3168Dinner was beautifully presented and accompanied by a local wine. All in all, an excellent meal. Tomorrow we do hope to take advantage of a cafe in Avignon on our free time.

En Route to Avignon!

Cloudy, humid and very warm in Ottawa. Leaving behind a city bursting to life with the first tulips and new leaves. My driveway is a carpet of tiny white petals. I will miss my azalea bloom but be back for the lilacs. Scout gave me an affectionate send off. Josie laid on the kitchen floor sighing and doing her best end-of-the-world impression. Smudge refused her treat and isn’t speaking to me. There was a single wet, black nose in the window as we pulled out. Never look back.

Our flight at the civilized hour of 4:55PM, finds people traffic light and we breeze through security. Viking Cruises has done all of the bookings. First class all the way. I’ve never flown in a first class “pod” before. Looking forward to it. Tons of space and leg room, big monitor, full sized pillow, blanket quilt and real food. We are treated to Champagne and orange juice while the rest of the plane boards. Sit back and relax. Later my pod will become a bed.

Dinner in first class includes a choice of wine, including an excellent California cab and a French red, a well presented and very nice light appetizer of a marinated shrimp, paper thin ahi tuna on a bed of fennel dotted with fresh dill, unremarkable mixed greens salad, bland beef tenderloin, distinctly untruffled truffled potatoes, carrots and green beans.

IMG_3376

Rob’s tandoori chicken biriyani was excellent and served with spiced okra.

IMG_3378

A nice complement of cheeses (yes, served chilled, truly roughing it here) grapes, water crackers and port follows the main. Sticky toffee apple cake with lightly sweet whipped cream and tea completed the meal. Much better than anything the plebs in the back of the plane are getting, and quite remarkable for coming out of that tiny galley.

I watch a little TV and then try to sleep for three hours before simulated dawn and breakfast. The pods are certainly more comfortable than a regular airline seat but alas, sleep never comes.

We land in Frankfurt. Every bit the hellhole Rob says, a total zoo. Eventually we get to our gate where we then have to board a bus to take us to our plane. And off we are to Marseille where our trip along two French rivers begins! Our flight path carries us over breathtaking views of the snow capped alps, lovely patchwork landscapes and tiny villages, emerald green pasture, meandering rivers and glacial blue lakes.

FullSizeRender-1

Soon we are over sparkling blue waters and a sea of terracotta roofs. Ancient fixtures rise from the cliffs they are built in to and are visible from the air. Reunited with our luggage and placed in a taxi by Viking reps, we speed off to Avignon to board our ship, The Viking Buri.

IMG_9124

During the hour and fifteen minute trek over well maintained roadways, we breeze through countless roundabouts and are treated to a visual feast that is the Southern French countryside… Past fields of red poppies, yellow and blue wildflowers, sun washed stucco homes with tiled roofs and pretty shutters, vineyards, olive trees, huge, dusty, blue green agaves and sandstone hills dotted with cypress and deep green shrubbery.

Nearing Avignon we notice the ancient ramparts from the 14th century that encompass the old part of the city. Built of local sandstone and pockmarked with age and likely acid rain, they are magnificent. Joggers, moms and infants in strollers, and people catching some sun at lunch hour, carry on their business, bustling about in the ancient shadow. Can’t wait to explore…but we are exhausted. We have been up for over 24 hours now. Luckily, check in is smooth, we are shown to our lovely, spacious and very well designed stateroom, unpack and catch some shut eye. Dancing on a bridge must wait. Tomorrow our adventure begins!

IMG_3510

Dinner this evening will be aboard ship in the main dining room after our muster station drill and welcome orientation in the ship’s lounge. Here we met a lovely couple near in age from Britain, one via Chicago. They have cruised with Viking before and we are immediately comfortable with them. They follow us to dinner and we are seated with what must be the youngest couple on board, thirty somethings from LA. The table turns out to be a great match and conversation lively.

The wine steward has a generous hand while menus are delivered. LA immediately spills an entire glass of water and much laughter ensues. The ice, now broken kickstarts a lovely evening of good food, wine and chatter. Viking offers a surprising number of options for each course. Rob chose the salad Nicoise, determined to stay with the “when in France…” theme. Excellent by all standards.

IMG_3150

I chose the goat cheese souffle, light, tangy, delicious.

IMG_3151

Mains follow at a leisurely pace. Rob chose the lamb with potatoes, elegant with a lamb au jus reduction and deliciously French.

IMG_3152I opted for the pasta with a full, ripe tomato sauce topped with brie.

IMG_3154

For dessert I had an underwhelming chocolate pot de creme with pineapple gelee. Just too sweet after a long day of travel. Rob’s small taste of apple crumble with excellent chocolate ice cream was perfect.

IMG_3503

After cappuccinos, more conversation, the ugly lights come up and we are kicked out. Lovely ending to a loooooong day.FullSizeRender