Many people have asked us about the food on board. I rate it about 7.5 stars on 10, this being more of a reflection on Rob and I, not Viking. The Viking chefs and kitchen staff, thoughtfully and carefully prepare and present meals that are pleasing to 98% of the passengers — a considerable feat in light of the fact that the average cruising age is about 60 and from all over the world. The chef, always accessible, makes recommendations and visits each table at dinner to chat. In light of that, there is not a single meal that I cannot wait to get home to recreate or an item I would return to order again. Despite their use of local ingredients and menus, the food is still what Rob and I call “hotel” food. We would prefer a more rustic style menu, a slaved-over bouillabaisse, ham and cheese on excellent baguette.
However, on this, day 5 of our 8 day cruise, we made a discovery which I hope holds out to not be an anomaly. Each day the ship serves a three course lunch and dinner but offers “lighter” fair on the beautiful forward deck. As I mentioned yesterday, we were changing to our original ship, the Hermod. After touring lovely Vienne, our cabins were not yet available so we retired to the aforementioned deck for a little sun and beer. There was a light nosh of local olives, charcuterie including local tiny sausages, whole wheat and white baguette and an excellent olive tapanade already placed at the tables on the deck. Since the light lunch was about to be served and we were comfortably seated, we decided to stay.
This decision led to the best meal we have had on board. Memorable, delicious, and yes…I would eat here again. The chef carved up perfectly roasted herbed chickens, ducks and lamb. Sides included a rich gravy, ratatouille (of which I am generally not fond, but must say this was excellent and light on the eggplant which I find makes it bitter), whole grain baguette, a sweetish, red cabbage salad, herbed tomato, arugula, bocincini salad dressed with a light vinegar and a most excellent olive oil, and potato wedges that I think are cooked in a chicken soup base. Also on offer was squid salad, fish in tomato sauce, green salad and a tuna salad.
Dessert, a feast for the eyes and palate, was a table of colourful, delicate, airy, melt on your tongue macrons, a local very trifle-like, specialty tart from Vienne, mille feuilles, candied lemon and orange peel and other assorted tortes. This was exactly the kind of rustic fare we have been craving in France. This change may also be a reflection of the chef on the Hermod.
Earlier in the day, we departed by motor coach to Tournon and headed off to meet the Hermod, our new ship at Vienne, a lovely town on the Rhone which is built into a hill and features some amazing Roman architecture and ruins. Vienne is an hour bus ride through the Rhone valley countryside alive with the ubiquitous terracotta roof tiles, fruit orchards, rolling hills dotted with small villages and churches, steep vineyards, cypress trees which stand erect on their own rising from mixed forests and landscaped properties. Unfortunately for us we are teased by the neat, soft silver grey-green fields which will erupt in waves of glorious lavender in about a week, long after we depart.
Arriving in Vienne we disembark and promptly board a tour tram which takes us to the top of the steep hill into which old Vienne is built, overlooking the Rhone Valley. At the top we see ancient Roman walls and quaint properties with walled gardens, a timeworn cemetery and a small chapel of Notre – Dame de Pipet, noted for its acoustic properties. Our guide says she will sing to us to demonstrate. She begins to sing Ave Maria in a mesmerizing acapella rendition, that rings through the chapel and renders the tour spellbound.
After this little treat, we reboard the tram and descend to the town square where our leisurely walking tour guides us by a Roman Temple to Caesar Augustus and Livia, Roman Forum ruins and the massive, ornate St – Maurice Cathedral. Medieval and Roman buildings are found side by side here, an interesting view to the past history of the valley.
Upon our return to the boat and lunch we depart for Lyon where we are to have a tour of Les Halles de Bocuse, ultimate foodie destination and what we have been looking forward to all trip. By the time we pull in to Lyon we are told the excursion has been cancelled and the reason is because it is France and that is what France does. Even though it is a “bank” holiday, this has been arranged and approved but Les Halles decided business was too light today and they were not going to wait for us to arrive. C’est la vie. We are told today that our visit to the Avignon market earier in the week was superior and that while we could go off-book tomorrow, the tour would be more fun.
For dinner this evening Rob chooses the creamed mushroom appetizer, veal tenderloin and spring pea main and a white chocolate bread pudding. I opt for the refreshing tomato, cucumber, incredibly creamy and light blue cheese salad, snapper with a cream sauce of fresh green peas and white Tuscan beans and raspberry cake for dessert. Our new Austrian chef may be a difference maker.
Tomorrow we will walk the streets of Lyon and peruse the shops.