Going on a river cruise is much like being at summer camp with activities and schedules. Of course the food and lodging is a lot better on the cruise, but the camaraderie and sense of adventure for each day’s excursion is palpable and fun. We were pretty excited to get started our first Monday morning. The ship provided us with an overall plan showing the various options for each day. We had received this schedule before arrival so we pretty much knew which excursions interested us, and the night before there was a briefing with details in the main lounge by the cruise director, Emmanuelle. She turned out to have a great sense of humor and to be a delight.
For our first day we chose a tour that started at 10:00, which would give us time to settle into a morning routine. I went for a swim in the tiny perfect pool, showered, met Charles, and we went looking for food, but alas that day it was served early. I consider myself very organized, but somehow we missed breakfast. I was very impressed when the Food and Beverage manager overheard our disappointed rumblings, left a nearby meeting, and found us something to eat in the bar. We learned that his name was Nedco, and more than that once, he was ready to be very helpful and caring. Most of the service staff were from Romania and Bulgaria. The ship’s crew on the other hand was French, along with the Captain.
There were two choices for excursions. We selected a walking tour of Macon. It is not a very impressive place visually, but the guide was very good, and we used these gizmos that we wore around our necks to hear her. We were tied in to her device, by short range radio transmitters much like a walkie talkie, but we could only listen, no talkie. She talked; we walked, and heard her without strain. I fought with mine for a bit as it fits over one ear, and needed to be adapted, but as the cruise progressed we were grateful for these devices. The tour was not long, and we stopped for lunch on our own at an old restaurant called Maison de Bois, made entirely as the name suggests, out of wood. It was a gorgeous sunny day and we sat outside in a large square.
Maison de Bois,
art installation of umbrellas on the main street, and a barrel in the wall
Some of the ship’s staff saw us and waved, but didn’t interrupt. I loved my simple lunch of steak haché, or chopped steak or hamburger, and a salad. The meat was cooked perfectly to my liking of rare, and I had a fried egg on top, some frites, and a decaf. I was a happy girl. I was so absorbed eating my meal that I didn’t pay attention to Charles but think he had the same thing. Afterwards we wandered around looking in the shop windows as Mondays are not good days. Everything is closed in small French towns. We headed back to the ship for a nap and lazy time looking out at the view and then we dressed for dinner. It was not necessary to be fancy which was a good thing, considering the cupboard space and my minimalist packing.
In the previous blog of this trip : https://suddenly70.ca/2018/05/07/our-first-river-cruise-part-1/ I mentioned that the ship was filled with Naval folks on a reunion of their 50th anniversary at Annapolis. One of the couples asked to join our table. They were fascinating, and Charles was enthralled with the gentleman, Doyle Borchers, who had been a commander of the USS. Carl Vinson. His wife, Joan had been a dancer, but was now the owner of an extremely successful dance school in California. Our conversations ranged from the arts to aircraft carriers. Most importantly my worries that the naval folks would keep to themselves were dispelled. Dinner was delicious; scallops, veal, and lots of wine, as all beverages were included in the ships offerings. Later there was music in the lounge, and the most awful singer performed, her name was Marion, and I hope she has a day job.
first late afternoon on board with rosé
We escaped to the deck outside to watch the lights of the city of Lyon, as we approached. We were seeing the Lyon confluence from the Saône River to the Rhône River where we would spend the rest of our trip. The lit up Basilica was particularly impressive. Now all this moving about is a bit confusing because we boarded in Lyon, but then we moved to another docking area near Macon. That night we were heading back to Lyon for day 3. As Charles and I had already done our tourist thing in Lyon when we arrived from Canada, we chose an option called Chef’s Table lunch at the Institut Paul Bocuse, which was a mix of demonstration and involvement in the preparation of the meal.
in Place Bellecour
It was a glorious sunny day, and we decided to walk into Lyon to the Place Bellecour where the Institut or rather one of the sites of the institute is located. There are many branches of Paul Bocuse. We had not been to this area earlier in the week so it was ripe for exploring, and it was an extremely stunning large square. We visited a gallery where there was a fascinating exhibit of modern paintings; we wandered in the streets bordering the Place or Square, and Charles found a pair of suede loafers at a reasonable price. We arrived at our destination in time to meet the other 10 people involved in the class and found tall bar seats in the ultra modern kitchen. Our menu/ recipes notebook and French food vocabulary translations awaited us at each place.
We were having a typical Lyonnaise lunch, much like the dinner I had chosen a few nights earlier in the Bouchon; specifically quenelle with crayfish or sauce Nantua. A salad of friseé lettuce and a dessert of meringue and custard, nice and light lunch, not, completed the menu. Now this was mostly a demonstration with some involvement from the class, because the quenelle or pike dumplings needed quite a lot of pre-prep. So we got to do some stirring and mixing and forming of the quenelles, and we have the specific recipes for take away. The live crayfish prep was also done before our arrival.
the chef, the cooking, the plated dish
The salad also included smoked pork belly, which we browned; I mixed up the vinaigrette that included Dijon, red wine vinegar and sunflower oil. The desert required a lot of whipping of egg whites and the vanilla custard cream needed a vanilla bean cut in half. Vanilla it seems is now very expensive, so that was a treat.
Of course the best part is the eating, and after the quenelle was covered with the sauce it was put in a hot oven for 10 minutes, then garnished with crayfish tails. Yum. Well it was more than yummy; it was floating rapture, light and frothy. We were served many glasses of wine to wash all this down, and then espresso with the decadent dessert, and we toddled back to the ship. I knew that I would not be able to eat a morsel for dinner. However, the theme was Burgundian, we were in Burgundy after all, and snails in garlic was the starter course. This was something I had not eaten for years. I decided to just have a double order and forget the main course, although looking around the dining room I noted that many from the lunch were actually eating the entire meal, including Charles.
two chefs on two different vessels
The escargots/snails were wonderful and I soaked the baguette in the butter. I thoroughly enjoyed the dish although my stomach in the middle of the night rebelled. Morning arrived to a bright day in Tournon (Tain L’Hermitage) and we had decided to do a hike in the vineyards and the a wine tasting. But first at 8:45 we went to a lecture on Van Gogh, given by Jeannette, a charming, knowledgeable speaker with a wry wit. Her pictures and story of this very crazy brilliant artist were compelling. We got an insight into his life and works and the atmosphere where he painted, and although Dutch, he spent much of his life in France. We were slated to visit Arles, where he was most prolific. It is worth reading about him. See the link above. Yes, I know we always think about that missing ear, but fascinating to read why he cut it off.
on the deck then under the bridge-deck closed
After the lecture we quickly got ready for the hike. I was not to be dissuaded by my stomach and we headed off with the active group. Turns out it was a steep climb up a rather gravelly hill/mountain, but the view when we reached the top was splendid and the tour leader was knowledgeable. The way down was more challenging and we had to wait for a few ladies for about 20 minutes while they carefully navigated the route. This made us late for a presentation with a local choir at a castle, and meeting up with the other groups who had chosen less arduous tours. Some delightful Croze Hermitage wines were served along with wonderful regional hors d’oeuvres. My belly had recovered.
heading up the path through the vineyards doesn’t look steep, but
the view from the top
the castle, the concert, the views, and a special couple
view of the boat and a plane tree ready for regrowth
On our way back we were encouraged to visit the famous chocolate shop of the region, called Valrhona. Now I love chocolate and particularly Belgium dark chocolate, but there were many raves about this store. My very favorite chocolate store is in Stratford, Ontario and it is called Rheo Thompson. The store is beautiful with unusual gift packages and the chocolate is superb. So we were not impressed, but everyone else seemed to be.
beautiful flowering tree and the chocolate place loved by almost all
We ate lunch on the ship, a buffet of salads and other goodies, but not as varied as I would have liked. Then back to our cabin, large window open, and ship moving leisurely with the view framed by the window seemed like a moving watercolour painting. All was quite soporific and you guessed it, a lovely nap ensued. We decided to skip the red wine and chocolate pairing at 4:00. But my appetite had returned by 7:00 and we spent a fun dinner with new friends from Australia. The Aussies always have a good time. The bar had a much better singer, Stacy, then to bed. And by the way the large Queen bed was very comfortable with a delicious duvet and crispy sheets.
My morning swim was early as we planned to go to Grignan on a walking tour. The actual place of docking was Viviers. Off the ship there were quite a few guides gathered for this expedition, and after wandering among them I spotted Jeannette, the Van Gogh lecturer, and we joined her group. She was simply delightful and so knowledgeable and moved quickly through the tiny streets while telling us wonderful stories. I had the gizmo working very well, and could hear all, and it wasn’t falling off my ear thanks to Charles.
Jeannette and views of Grignan
Grignan turned out to be a charming small town with winding hilly streets covered in cobblestones. In the midst of our walk we were expected at what was billed an exclusive organ recital at the cathedral. I wonder who chooses the musicians. The church was beautiful the organ impressive, but the organist couldn’t play. I could do better, and I am not an organist. He obviously had never learned time signatures and there were many of us who rolled our eyes. Fortunately it was short.
more views of beautiful Grignan
We continued on our walk and Jeannette took us to the most beautiful house that was hidden behind stone walls. One would never guess that there was a magnificent, very modern home inside. The host, a charming woman from Viet Nam told us about the history and we were invited to walk everywhere and see the rooms. The dining room table was laden with wine and delicious snacks.
aperitifs in Grigan home
We walked back to the ship for lunch and then headed off to a truffle farm in a bus. Alfred, the truffle dog, was doing his job at finding truffles by the old oak trees. His master carried a large iron fork that was once used when pigs searched for truffles, to dislodge the large truffles from their mouths. Pigs like truffles, dogs don’t. It was fun watching him dig, and even faking a truffle find so he could get his treat. The simple farmhouse had many jars of truffles in oil for sale, and we were offered rosé, and samples. I am not sure whether I have mentioned this before, but Charles and I like to speak French when we have the opportunity. He has more vocabulary, and I have the grammar. We are a good team. Of course we spoke French to the truffle farmer, however he had a very rural accent and it was a challenge.
at the truffle farm, retired dog
happy truffle finding dog, Alfred
through the locks
We dined with a young couple that evening and ate a splendid rack of lamb. We were all invited to the suite of the couple we had met previously, Doyle and Joan Borcher. We were served cognacs and then Charles and I headed back to our cabin.
I am going to take a break now because the highlight of our trip came the next day at our cooking class in Avignon, and I want to share it with you in detail.
I would love it if you left some comments after you read this. I look forward to telling you about the rest of our cruise and our last few days in France.