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The Chateau de Rully, where the past meets the present

While waiting for our bus to the Chateau de Rully, we joined some new friends for a drink at a little cafe. Gerda and Margery had come all the way from Capetown South Africa to tour France, but they had been on the Bordeaux cruise while we went to Normandy.  The Ramblers learned that Gerda, mother and Margery, daughter, were of Boer heritage and Gerda still farms in the countryside outside Capetown.

The Ramblers enjoyed a snack while waiting for our bus to the Chateau with Gerda and her daughter Margery.

When Gerda learned that I was a retired history professor, she asked if I would answer some questions she had about US history. I was happy to do so and before the end of the cruise, we would sit down for a question and answer session. I think it was fun for both of us. Today, however, we were just getting to know each other. Soon after we finished our coffee, our bus arrived and we eagerly boarded for our trip into the Burgundy countryside.

Rows and rows of great burgundy wine in a Beaune wine cave.

The Chateau was a fair distance from Beaune and along the way, our guide, Leslie,  told us something of its history. What was amazing to me was that the estate had been in the same family since the 12th century although the owners’ last names have  changed over time. This was because the Chateau was  inherited through  the female line several times. The bride then  took her husband’a name when she married, no hyphenated names in this family. Ownership thus  went from the Rully founders who built the first square, fortified keep, to the St. Leger’s , the Montsessus’  and finally to the De Ternays who have owned the Chateau for the last three generations.

Count Raoul and his three little boys. The eldest is in line to inherit the title and the Chateau, a mixed blessing in these days.

Count Raoul de Ternary is the current owner and he grew up and now lives in the Chateau with his wife and three little sons, his mother and his aunt.  Unfortunately for the Count and his family, although the Chateau is classified as a monument historique, the De Ternays receive no funds for its maintenance from the French government. Thus the Count in engaged in a constant battle to maintain his beautiful but aging home. You can just imagine what might need work in an 800 year old building. Consequently he decided to open the Chateau to tour groups, by appointment. In addition he added a wedding facility in the former stables where we would enjoy a farm-style lunch. He also owns a successful winery which is made from  grapes grown in the vineyards that surround the estate. Fortunately for him, some of his vineyards are classified as Premier Cru, which generally means the wines made from the grapes grown there will sell for a higher price.

The Chateau de Rully surrounded by vineyards. looking like a fairy tale castle.

We gained some background about the Chateau’s construction from Leslie en route. By end of the 14th century, the castle, initially a small fortified keep , now had, along with the initial keep, three round corner towers and one flanking tower. All were connected by curtain walls  and crenelated at the top. The St. Leger’s dug a broad, deep moat surrounding its base. The only entrance was then through a single  drawbridge. By the 15th century, the Saint-Leger’s had added a succession of buildings with splendid oak woodwork on the east, north and west of the interior courtyard,

The older part of the Chateau needs constant attention.

However at the end of the 19th century, the medieval structure. was modernized.  The moat was filled in by the order of the first De Ternay owner, after he fell into it! The  drawbridge and the large, protective courtyard doors were also removed at this time,  and another more modern building was constructed. Since the family lives on the upper floors of the Chateau we would only be touring the ground floor as well as the wine cellar. As it turned out, there was plenty to see.

Needless to say, we were all  excited when we got our first sight of the Chateau. It certainly lived up to its billing, towering  over the acres of vineyards that surrounded it on all sides like a fairy tale castle. In August, the vines were a deep green and the grapes were beginning to ripen. It was only a short walk to the open courtyard of the Chateau. No longer would we have to walk across a drawbridge which spanned a deep moat.

Here is the main entrance to the Chateau, no more moat or drawbridge.

One  of the things that Leslie pointed out was the statue of the Virgin Mary which rested high in a niche over the entrance. The statue was  placed there by the Count’s great grandmother after WWII,  in thanksgiving as the Chateau had been spared from Nazi bombs during the war.

If you look at the niche above the gateway, yo can see the statue of the Virgin Mary which was added after WWII.

We were met at the entrance  by the Count who welcomed  us to his home. This was a very different experience than entering a castle or historic building that no longer housed a family. It was obvious that the Chateau besides surviving from the 12th century, was  lived in and loved.

Count Raoul was very friendly and hospitable and open to answering questions from  our group. As he talked about growing up at Rully, I asked him how his wife felt when she came to the Chateau as a bride. He responded that it had been quite an adjustment for her at first, as she had been a city girl. I can see how one would eventually succumb to the charm and beauty of the Chateau, and it is a wonderful place to raise three active little boys. They certainly have plenty of places to explore. No one asked if the Chateau was haunted, and the Ramblers felt that it was too happy a place to house a ghost of any kind.

Before we entered the Chateau we walked around the side of the building and entered  its wine cellar.

Count Raoul opening one of the bottles we tasted.

There we would have a tasting of the wines produced from the Rully vineyards. The Count does not manage the vineyards himself as it would be a full time job.  The Rully vineyards extend over 800 acres!  Burgundy is, of course, one of the important wine producing regions of France and the Rully vineyards are just outside the famous golden triangle of Burgundy viticulture which produces the greatest white burgundy wines.  Fortunately it shares the same terroir or soil and climate.

Here is the wine I purchased in Kennesaw GA. It has traveled a long way from Burgundy.

We tasted four of the Count’s wines, two whites and two reds, and while the senior Rambler passed on wine as did a few others, I enjoyed them very much. I recently checked and found that they are available at our local Total Wine warehouse, so I had to buy a bottle of the white to enjoy at home.

The converted stable where we would have our lunch.

After the tasting, we were escorted to lunch held in part of the stables which had been converted into a sunlit room. There we were served..what else but Boeuf Bourguignon, family style along with delicious bread, salad and coffee.  Of course we enjoyed a red wine with the meal. it was an tasty meal and the service by women from a local village, was excellent.

Our lunch at the Chateau is served; a good time ws had by all.

After lunch, it was time for our tour of the inside of the Chateau. Of course its walls were lined with family portraits, some dating back to the 16th century. Perhaps the most interesting was the portrait of the Marquise who was imprisoned by the Jacobin revolutionaries

I am pretty sure this is a portrait of the beloved Marie Fernand de Vaudrey who saved the Chateau.

during the French Revolution. She was so beloved by the people who lived on and nearby the Rully estate that they protected the Chateau from damage and petitioned for her release. She was eventually able to return to the Chateau although the records are unclear as to how long she was imprisoned. Family tradition says a few days but the Count told us he recently found records indicating she had been imprisoned for months.

As you can see, they could roast some huge animals in that fireplace. Of course, the current owners have a much smaller modern kitchen elsewhere.

Mere photographs don’t do justice to the interior of the Chateau. We got a chance to see a series of formal and informal rooms, the library and finally the kitchen. The windows were relatively few in the old part of the building and the walls thick which only added to the sense of history and the past. A secret passage was even mentioned by the Count.

This had been an outstanding day, but Leslie rounded us up to board the bus for our trip back to Macon and the Catherine. As we were sleepily watching the countryside roll by from the auto-route, Leslie asked us to look outside the windows of the left side of the bus. Of course, the Ramblers with their usual luck, were sitting on the right side but… as it turned out we were able to see the white peak of Mount Blanc in the distance, more than 200 miles away

Just use your imagination and look at the area where the skyline meets the ground. You can just make out the shapes of the French Alps in the far distance. We could see it much better from the bus of course.

. Leslie said it was extremely unusual to sight the famous mountain from Burgundy but it did happen once in a while. She then added that it usually meant bad weather was coming. As it turned out, she was wrong about the weather, as we had no rain on the rest of the trip.

Back to Lyon tonight!


Lyon, the gourmet epicenter of France

After our 2 hour long train trip on the TGV, we boarded a bus  for the Quai Claude Bernard  where the SS Catherine was docked in Lyon. On the Catherine, much larger and newer than the Baroness, we happily moved into a larger cabin, which we greatly appreciated. Uniworld had scheduled no special events for Sunday arrival night, as this week’s passengers came at different times. Some were already  on board when we climbed up the gangplank. The Baroness passengers who were doing the Grand France tour came from Paris on the TGV along with another group who had sailed the Bordeaux rivers, However, the rest arrived in small groups the rest of the day.

Our cabin on the Catherine. A moody bland and white perspective

Just as on the Baroness, the Catherine was only a little more than half full when we sailed, as many people had cancelled due to the recent terrorist attacks in Paris and Marseilles. Given that there was heightened security in France at the moment, the Ramblers were surprised to see that our luggage and ourselves were not scanned for explosives at the Paris train station. Although there was a visible police presence, it seemed to us that maybe checking baggage  was a good idea. Fortunately there were no incidents on the train, but still…

We spent the rest of a beautiful afternoon exploring and enjoying the comforts of the Catherine and strolling along the quai. We were well acquainted with the cruise director, Emmanuelle Bonneau, who had come with us from Paris, but almost all the rest of the staff were new to us, and equally nice,  Ariana, the bartender in the lounge, was familiar from last year’s cruise on the Maria Theresa.

The senior Rambler got a pleasant surprise after boarding the Catherine. He learned that his luggage had arrived from Paris, all in one piece and had been placed in our cabin. When he checked the contents later, nothing was missing although it was obvious someone had looked through it. We  thought that we would never see this bag again but evidently after a week of calling from France and some prodding from Delta Atlanta, Air France delivered the bag to our ship in Lyon. It would have been much easier for AF if they had just sent it to us when we were in Paris. Evidently it had been sitting in their lost luggage room for the last week.

The crew of the Catherine were always busy. When they were docked, it was time to make sure the Catherine was the best looking ship on the river.

We thought we would be touring Lyon the next day, but on checking the schedule, we saw that the Catherine would sail for Macon that evening; all-aboard was set at 5:30 PM and they weren’t kidding.  Promptness is very important on a Uniworld ship, and passengers soon learned to be on board before all-aboard time as the sailors would immediately begin dismantling and stowing away the gangplank and the ship would be underway shortly afterwards.

We would tour Beaune next morning before boarding a bus for the 12th century Chateau de Rully where we would enjoy a wine-tasting, lunch and a tour of the Chateau conducted by its current owner, the Count de Rully. A little bonus was the bus tour through the vineyards of Burgundy on the way to the Chateau.

The Chateau Rully tour was the only extra tour that the Ramblers signed up for on this double cruise and we were glad we did. Emmanuelle had assured me that I shouldn’t miss this tour and she was right. Even better, the Senior Rambler enjoyed it as well. But first we headed for Beaune. Unfortunately we would not see much of Macon except from the Quai des Marans before we left for Beaune. As soon as we got back from our day’s outing, the Catherine would sail back to Lyon for a full day and night’s exploration of that most interesting city.

A typical small village near Beaune in the Burgundy countryside.

Beaune is in the heart of Burgundy wine country the seat of the Dukes of Burgundy until the 16th century. Unfortunately we missed the Saturday morning market which winds around the cobbled streets of the historic center. Of course Beaune is also the heart of one of France’s great wine regions. The Hospices de Beaune which we would shortly enter, is the site of the largest charity wine auction in the world, currently in its 150th year.

The entrance to the Hospices is quite plain but it opens onto a beautiful courtyard.

The Hotel-Dieu or Hospices de Beaune is one of the great historic sites of France. Not a castle or a palace, but instead a 15th century almshouse  founded in 1443 by Nicholas Rolin the Duke’s Chancellor. The people of Beaune had suffered terribly during the 100 Years War and many were destitute. Thus the Hospice was built and staffed by a new order of nuns to heal both the bodies and spirits of the poor. Amazingly, it remained a hospital until the 1970’s!

The more than 500 year old building is well preserved and  still contains half-timber galleries and ornate roof-tops and a wonderful glazed tile roof. These  roofs originated in Eastern Europe but soon became a Burgundy trademark. Unfortunately the current tiles are replicas which date from the early 20th century but they still look wonderful.

The beautiful sunny courtyard was unexpected after the plain entrance.

The large central “room of the poor” is set up as it might have been in the 15th century  with two rows of curtained beds and space for dining in the center. From there, one enters the chapel which was the original location of the Roger Van der Weyden  polyptych altarpiece now in the Hospice museum.

I had one of my worst photo days inside the Hospices and this shot of the nuns at work in the kitchen was one of the better ones. The mannequins are amazingly lifelike, clad in the habits of the past.

The Hospices is now a non-profit organization which owns 150 acres of donated vineyards, much of which is classified as Grand and Premier Cru. It is these wines that are auctioned off yearly on the third Sunday of November as part of a 3 day festival celebrating the food and wines of Burgundy.

Not wine but chocolate caught my eye before we left Beaune.

We couldn’t leave Beaune without visiting one of its famous wine shops or caves, although we passed up a wine tasting at the Caves des Cordeliers (wine cellars) formerly Beaune’s oldest convent dating to 1242. This despite the lure of going away with my own tastevin or Burgundian wine tasting cup.

Next stop, The Chateau de Rully!

Goodbye Paris, Hello Lyon!

The last day on a cruise usually goes by quickly, and so it was on our last day in Paris. We were docked in the same spot, Quai Andre Citroen with its view of the Eiffel Tower in the distance.

On the last night, we were determined to catch the Tower light show as it sparkles and changes color every evening at dusk. We did, but  not with the world’s best photo.

This morning’s excursion was a bus tour of Paris with stops at the Eiffel Tower for a photo op, if we chose. We would also enjoy a drive along the Seine and some of the wide boulevards of Paris, and finally a stop at the Luxembourg Gardens before heading back to the ship. It was an early start, at 8:30 ,which allowed us to get around the city before it was fully awake.

Our early morning drive along the Seine, only one vendor had opened his stall.

It would also get us back to the Baroness with plenty of time for those who were going to the Moulin Rouge that evening, to pack up for tomorrow’s departure. Although you can stay on board your boat and enjoy breakfast and even lunch before you depart, you must be out of your cabin by 8 AM that morning. This is because the Baroness would be welcoming another group of passengers that afternoon and all the cabins had to be thoroughly cleaned before check in. The housekeeping staff really has their work cut out for them on those days, but they do a fantastic job.

For the more energetic in our group, the option was to “see Paris as the Parisians do,” a walking tour of the Latin Quarter and Notre Dame. Twenty years ago, we probably would have chosen this tour. I well remember walking miles around Paris when we were here with my study abroad students nearly twenty years ago. Paris is an eminently walk-able city and the metro is readily available to move you from stop to stop.

Twenty years ago, we would have walked there, today we were content to see Notre Dame from the comfort of our motor coach.

However this was the summer of terrorist attacks in France, plus the Ramblers were in a relaxed mood. We were perfectly happy to leave the driving to the our bus driver and we got to  enjoy walking around  during our several stops, first at the Eiffel Tower and then at the Luxembourg Gardens.

Paris is  a city of wide boulevards which provide great long view of the its beautiful buildings However, they also force pedestrians to practically sprint across  before the light changes. No worries on the bus. We enjoyed a slow drive along the Seine, and were able to see the magnificent Notre Dame cathedral  on the other side of the river from many angles. On our side of the river, bookseller’s stalls lined the embankment. Almost all of them were closed as it was still early on a Saturday morning but soon the vendors would arrive. Obviously has not overtaken the brick and mortar book stores in France because even in our relatively short tour, I saw numerous  bookstores.

One of the many bookstores in Paris

Our stop at the Eiffel Tower was interesting to say the least. Our guide warned us to be on the look out for pickpockets. She also said we would probably be besieged by African vendors selling tourist souvenirs. Although  we didn’t get our pockets picked we were besieged by vendors. The most popular item seemed to be small gold-tone replicas of the Eiffel Tower itself. We didn’t buy any but some of our fellow passengers did. I though we should try to get the requisite tourist photo in front of the Tower, and I had a friend take one. Unfortunately the senior Rambler looks like he has just bitten into a lemon so we did not use it for our Christmas card. LOL

No doubt the Eiffel Tower is a tourist trap but it is also a must see stop.

Our next stop was the Luxembourg Gardens. What a beautiful place. Parisians were enjoying it to the fullest. On our stroll through the Gardens, we came across many young families, joggers and gentle walkers and even an exercise class of energetic twenty-somethings being put through their paces by a trainer.

Parisians enjoying the Gardens

What was once an exclusive palace is now enjoyed by the people of Paris as well as visitors.

One of our guide’s covert reasons for this stop was that the Gardens have an excellent Restroom facility. She cleverly led us there before we left the Gardens and most of our somewhat senior group took advantage of the opportunity. Smart move.

A glimpse of the Palace and the gardens that surround it.

On the way back to the bus, we passed by amazing greenhouses and outdoor vegetable and fruit gardens. I would have liked to spend time there but had to keep up or I would have missed the bus. I did notice that some of the fruit on the espaliered trees was wrapped in paper or cloth, not sure which. Of course at the end of August, the apples and pears were almost ripe.

Fruit wrapped up. looks like the missed one, on the lower left.

Couldn’t find out why they were wrapped so I wrote to the University of Oregon Agriculture website. Incidentally, this a great place to get answers to gardening questions of any kind. Within a day, I had my answer. This is a somewhat common custom (not in the States) as the fruit is wrapped to prevent insect damage or blight before they are ready to pick. Not a bad idea, but labor intensive.

Back on the Baroness, we spent a leisurely afternoon packing our bags and enjoying the company of the friends we had made on board. Several were from Wisconsin and members of a Gluten Free group put together by their travel agent. Most had serious diseases that were exacerbated by eating gluten so their agent had arranged with Uniworld to provide gluten free dining for those that needed it. This was done in a very unobtrusive way and the gluten-free food looked amazing.

Dinner was a quiet affair as about half of the people on board had gone to the Moulin Rouge for a gala dinner and show. We spent some time in the lounge, enjoyed the pianist who played every evening and headed for bed, after exchanging addresses and saying  our good byes.

Departure Sunday morning started even before breakfast for some. All passengers had to have their luggage and themselves outside their rooms by 8 AM. The luggage was stowed until their departure when it re-appeared ready to be loaded on their transport.

After placing our luggage outside our cabin door, we headed to a leisurely breakfast and heard about the Moulin Rouge excursion. The general consensus was that it  was excellent and worth the money. However, the Ramblers didn’t feel they had missed out, just not our thing.

Had to include this photo of smiling member of the dining room staff on board the Baroness.

Departure time on a river cruise depends on where you are going from there. If you had an early flight home, you were bussed to the airport at the crack of dawn or earlier, and so on. This time it would be different for the Ramblers and a number of our fellow passengers. We had booked a cruise called Grand France which was in two parts, on two different boats. We had now completed the first half, in Paris and Normandy, and were  headed to Lyon later in the morning  for the second half of our cruise  on the SS Catherine. There we would cruise the rivers of Provence.

We had wondered how we would get to the Gare de Lyon and find our train, but soon learned that Emmanuelle Bonneau, our delightful cruise director, would shepherd us onto the TGV as she was transferring to the Catherine for the second part of the cruise. We later learned that she lived in Marseilles and that this would be her last cruise of the season

Not too crowded early Sunday morning, you can see the TGV in the background.

. At the Gare, we met another group of Uniworld passengers who had been on a different first half cruise, to Bordeaux and were also going to Lyon for the second half.

We enjoyed the train ride, it really doesn’t seem that you are going as fast as you are, and before you know it, we were approaching Lyon. En route we had passed many interesting villages and churches, and even a few castles but they went past in the blink of an eye. One tip for riding the TGV, if you have problems with stairs, book a seat on the first level. The Ramblers’ seats were on the second level and it was no fun getting our carry-on cases up the spiral stairs.

Lyon at last! Before we knew it, we were at the quay, ready to board the Catherine for another wonderful week on the river.

We were happy to see our new ship, the SS Catherine docked in the center of Lyon.

Conflans, both mariner’s retirement home and medieval town

At breakfast this morning, we watched the Baroness make a technical stop at Mantes la Jolie,

The Baroness making a technical stop.

although our destination was Conflans Ste. Honorine.  On a river cruise, a technical stop occurs when some of the passengers are going on a special tour and it is more convenient for them to board their busses before we got to the days destination.  In this case some of our friends were going on an optional excursion to the Palace of Versailles. Since the Ramblers had already been to Versailles, we were happy to stay on board. Especially since the busses left at 8:15 AM,on the first cloudy morning of our trip.

At 6 PM, the Baroness would set sail for Paris. where we would spend our last full day on board.

The church in Auvers through the eyes of Vincent Van Gogh

The week in Normandy had gone by all too quickly. Today’s excursion was a walking tour in Auvers-sur -Oise, the village where Vincent Van Gogh spent the last two months of his life, killed himself and was buried.

Although we decided to stay in Conflans and walk along the river, we learned that Van Gogh went to Auvers because it was a place beloved of many impressionists who had lived there. There Van Gogh was treated by a doctor whom he liked, but felt wasn’t doing him much good.

Portrait of Dr. Gachet, Van Gogh’s doctor. The painting sold for 82.5 million plus 10% buyers’ commission.  Van Gogh painted Dr. Gachet, his therapist shortly before his death. There is another version of this image which varies in color at the Musee D’Orsay in Paris. There is some debate that the second painting is a counterfeit as Van Gogh never mentioned it.

In fact, he committed suicide two months after his move to Auvers. After hearing more about the village, I was sorry that we didn’t go on the tour but we did enjoy our time in Conflans.

Conflans is an ancient place and got its name originally because it is at the confluence of the Seine and Ouse rivers. You can see the divide from the boat if you look for it. At Conflans we were moored at a quay right in the center of the historic area of Conflans. We learned later that Conflans was considered a far suburb of Paris and was only 15 miles by road or train from the center of the city near where we would dock that night. Consequently when we set sail at 6 PM, we would see the outskirts of Paris as we enjoyed the gala farewell dinner later. On this cruise, because  our ports were close together, we never cruised very long on any day, even at our speed of about 6 knots per hour. (A knot is slightly longer than a mile.) The distance between some ports on the Rhine, Danube and Main rivers can be much farther. Spending a lazy afternoon cruising is a very relaxing experience.

Ariel view of Conflans at the point where the two rivers come together. There is a monument at the spot. Photo from Conflans St. Honorine tourism brochure.

However, now we were in Conflans and determined to take a look at the dozens of barges converted to houseboats that lined the bank. It is said that Conflans has become the final docking spot for many retired mariners who spent their lives on the rivers of Europe. It seems like a good choice because while they are moored in a relatively small town of 30,000 plus inhabitants, they are only a short train ride from the center of Paris.

One of the many docks with barges moored on both sides.

Around 370 barges make their home at Conflans including the Chapelle Je Sers, a barge built in 1911 that had been converted into a floating church and pastoral center for the maritime community. We were unable to visit the chapel on board because a funeral was in progress. Many cars and taxis lined the quay and while groups of somberly clad  people talked quietly outside. What a wonderful idea it was to convert a barge into a floating church. Of course it was named for St. Nicholas, the patron saint of boatmen and women.

Funeral held on Je Sers the afternoon we were in Conflans. You can see the entrance to Je Sers in the middle of the photo.

Conflans also boasts a number of interesting buildings both along the river and at the top of a high bluff. We were not ambitious enough to climb to the top that afternoon but now wish we had. The historic center of Conflans has not lost its medieval roots. Because of our laziness, we missed the maritime museum, the Church of St. Maclou, with its relic of St. Honorine. St. Honorina, a 10th century Christian martyr, lent her name to the town. She is also considered the patroness of mariners. Conflans also boasts one of the last remaining stone towers in France, the Tour de Montjoie.

The historic center of Conflans,with the Tour Montjoie on the left. Wiki had one taken from a river vantage point.

The tower can easily be seen from the river. Unfortunately it is only an imposing shell, as the interior is an unsafe ruin. It is surrounded by a beautiful medieval garden and worth a look

We strolled the bank of the Seine from one end to the other, taking a good look at the interesting buildings that lined the quay. Several of the most imposing looked unkempt as though they were no longer occupied or had fallen on hard times.

A beautiful home but it looked very neglected. Lots of weeds in the planter.

One of the oldest was the Chateau de Themericourt built by a secretary of Louis 14th in 1667. It changed hands many times, and was sometime a hospital and a school. Although it belongs to the state, the chateau seems to be waiting for a new purpose. Unfortunately, it is not a very interesting building, just a large, square box with two rows of windows, totally bereft of landscaping or ornamentation. Some of the windows on the second floor were covered and the others allowed a look into a mostly empty building. Hopefully the government will find a new use for the chateau.

The chateau looking lonely, waiting for the next stage of its long life.

Our time in Conflans was low-key but enjoyable as we had a chance to spend some time in a very pleasant spot. We stopped at the tourist office to pick up one of their brochures, in French, but this allowed us to identify what we were looking at.

The Baroness sailed promptly at 6 PM on the last leg of our journey. We would be back in Paris at the Quay Andre Citroen by 11 PM at the latest. It is the Uniworld custom for the Tour Director to have a talk about the next day’s activities before dinner.

Our tres chic cruise director Emmanuelle explaining our next day’s activities.

Tonight was especially important because many of the passengers would be off the ship at the Moulin Rouge tomorrow night.  One of the few optional tours on this cruise was a  chance to attend a dinner show at the Moulin Rouge, our last night in Paris. The Ramblers decided not to attend. The senior Rambler in particular, does not care to be in large rooms full of people nor is he a great fan of most music. Although I enjoy music, I don’t like large crowds either and the Moulin Rouge is in a very large room indeed so it was not difficult to miss it. Friends that went said it was an excellent show, worth the high price (195 Euros per person.) If you would like to see a little of what we missed, click here.

Thus our delightful Cruise Manager, Emmanuelle Bonneau gave the disembarkation talk one night early. Many of the guests would be going with Emmanuelle to the Gare  de Lyon where we would catch the TGV to Lyon. There we would board the SS Antoinette for the second week  of our Grand France cruise on the Rhone and Saone rivers in Provence.

Heading back to the Quay Andre Citroen on the banks of the Seine

Honfleur, thatched roofs and an aviation mystery…

As we soon found out, it was not a very long ride from the Manoir Apreval to Honfleur. The city of less than 9,000  has been a port since the early middle ages. Its harbor is so beautiful that it has attracted artists for several centuries. We were dropped off in the bus parking lot where we would meet up again several hours later. Our guide, Irene, gave us a brief tour of the harbor area and then  we were free to wander around at our leisure.

My view of the harbor, it was a lovely romantic spot.

The Ramblers could see why the harbor had been painted many times, the reflection of the tall medieval houses in the still water was framed by a host of sailboats in the marina. I took a number of photos but none of them really did it justice. The good thing about this is that many skilled photographers have photographed it and you will surely see one of these in any article about Normandy. We ducked out of the tour early because it was fun to just to wander aimlessly around the harbor looking in the shop windows and admiring the view.

I had wanted to buy one of those Breton blue and white striped sailor shirts but missed my chance the first time I saw them at a highway rest area. Honfleur seemed like a perfect place to get one but alas,  they seemed to sell shirts for only petite French women, although I saw many much larger folks wearing them. Not to mention  they were very expensive. The shops in the harbor area were mostly upscale and seemed to cater to  wealthy tourists. As it turned out, I wouldn’t get one until we got home when I ordered a very nice one, on line and  on sale, from a British company, Boden. So much for an authentic Breton shirt. LOL

Here, once upon a time, working class women used to gather to do their laundry. Now it is a pleasant spot for people watching.

In our search for the elusive shirt, we headed away from the harbor but learned most of the shops faced the harbor. Instead  we found a relic from the past. Honfleur had preserved a covered pool where women used to gather to wash their clothes in the days before washing machines and running water. The pool was now a nice mini-park so we sat down for a while and did some people-watching. There were many family groups in Honfleur that day, enjoying the beautiful weather at the end of summer.

Wide selection of fresh fish available at the market. Note the eels in the right bottom corner.

Truthfully the Ramblers were a little tired. We had already enjoyed a very busy day, so we headed back towards the parking lot to wait for our bus, and found some  of our fellow passengers already there. Guess we weren’t the only tired folks in the group. However, I couldn’t resist walking over to a large building close to the harbor which seemed to be a fish market. I was curious as to what kind of fish they caught and even how much they cost. The market had an amazing variety of seafood on ice in the market, many you rarely see in the US, including eels. I am sure eels are tasty, but somehow they have never appealed  to me.

One of the problems about a busy tourist spot like Honfleur is the large number of busses  arriving to pick up folks from river cruises and land tours. Many of them  are very similar and sometimes it is necessary to walk right up and look inside to see if you recognize the driver. The Ramblers had absolutely no desire to board the wrong bus and miss our own. Fortunately all the  Baroness passengers who had congregated at the edge of the parking lot were looking for the Uniworld busses which made spotting them much easier.

On board, our guide, Irene, told us that she had another point of interest for us to see on the way back. We did drive by the impressive modern Pont de Normandy which connects Honfleur with Le Havre, but we didn’t cross it.

The Pont de Normandy, which somehow looks out of place among these historic spots.

Instead we were headed inland for a while before we reached our quay at Caudebec. Irene explained that this area of Normandy was famous for houses built with grass or thatched roofs, many with plants growing on then. As we passed through the small towns of Berville sur Mer, Jobles and Conteville, Irene asked our driver to go very slowly and even pull over if he could, so we could see them.. Fortunately there was not much traffic on the narrow two-lane road, so he was able to do so

One of the prettiest of the cottages, it looked inviting.

As luck would have it, I was sitting on the side of the bus  closest to the buildings, which usually didn’t happen. The cottages and barns were indeed picturesque and seeing them was lagniappe forus on a pleasant day. I did look them up later and found that this area has few permanent residents. Indeed many of the buildings have been turned into gites     ( vacation rental homes) or bed and breakfasts. As you might expect, many  of them are listed on Trip Adviser.  if you are considering a vacation in the Normandy countryside, it is a pretty place.

Another thatched roof farmhouse in the distance, set in the rolling hills of Normandy.

Back on board the Baroness, we went to the top deck after our ship set sail. We didn’t want to miss  the airplane carved in the sandstone cliffs mentioned by our hotel manager, Celina Sousa. The Latham 47 Monument was not far from Caudebec and again, on the port side, so we spotted it from the boat and I took a photo. What we saw looked amazing but it was too far away to take in all its details. Neither did we learn anything else about its story, so we promptly forgot about it.

Here is my original photo much enlarged. Wish we could have seen it close up.

When I started blogging about this trip, I vaguely remembered the airplane as did the senior Rambler but we didn’t remember exactly where it was in Normandy. Also I didn’t remember my photo as it was taken from far away and the plane was barely visible.  Well, I thought, something so spectacular should be easy to find. Wrong! Even though I had some idea where it was, my search descriptors brought up nothing. But there is more than one way to locate a place. I had run across an excellent blog titled, Normandy Then and Now written by Pip and Ian. They thoughtfully provided a contact email so I sent them a query about the sculpture. The next day they replied that they hadn’t heard of it but they would send out a Tweet. Amazingly one of their followers sent the link to the Latham 47 Monument the next day. Bingo!

The Latham 47.02 before it took off from Norway on its last flight.

Caudebec is a small town, and it wasn’t much bigger in the 1920’s. Who knew it had been  the site of the Latham seaplane factory. The factory  no longer exists, but Societe Latham and Cie built seaplanes for their government there in the late twenties. The Latham twin-engine flying boats were a fairly large plane for the day, equipped with two engines mounted below the upper wing. It was flown by two pilots in an open cockpit  but had two more cockpits and room for additional crew.

Although these planes are long gone, one particular Latham 47 made the news when it disappeared on a mission to rescue  the Italian polar explorer Umberto Nobile. Nobile and his crew were stranded on the polar ice cap when their dirigible crashed. One of the crewmen jumped out with a two-way radio, so the would-be rescuers knew their position. However, getting to them was another story.

For more information about Nobile and the rescue mission, look here

The stone plane seems to be fling out of the fog.

An attempt was made to rescue Nobile by 6 men, including Roald Amundsen credited with being the first to fly over the North Pole in the dirigible Norge. They chose the new Latham 47 because it was capable of landing on ice or water. However, after the flying boat left Norway, it was never seen again. A piece of  its pontoon was later found by searchers but the fate of Amundsen and the Latham remains one of the great aviation mysteries.  The daring but failed rescue mission was commemorated in a striking memorial sculpted by Robert De Landre in 1931, It is an amazing sight.

Alas we are leaving Normandy behind and heading back to Paris. Our next stop is Conflans Sainte Honorine.


From the Cliffs of Etretat to the Orchards of Normandy

After two nights docked in walking distance of the Rouen historic district, the Baroness now sailed as close to the Atlantic coast of Normandy as we would get on the Seine. Our ship sailed at night to Caudebec en Caux, a river port on the edge to the Seine estuary. The town itself boasts a beautiful flamboyant Gothic cathedral but we had no time to visit it. It also held other secrets which we wold discover much later. The Ramblers were ready to go shortly after breakfast. Those who took the tour would be gone all day and the Baroness’ crew would stow away the gang plank and head back towards Paris  as soon as our busses returned.

Needless to say, the river is wide here, and we saw more commercial traffic on the Seine than is usual further inland. You realize that this river still has a strong commercial purpose in Normandy. Caudebec must get quite a bit of river traffic because they have a large permanent dock which makes it very easy for even elderly passengers to disembark.

The dock at Caudebec, according to Emmanuelle, most of the town was destroyed during a fire in 1940 and rebuilt.

From Caudebec we would travel to not one, but three different places. For our enjoyment, Uniworld had combined an optional tour with our scheduled tours which made for a long but interesting day. I know some passengers complain about  long bus rides to get to a scheduled destination on river cruises. The Ramblers don’t mind the bus rides as they provide a glimpse of the countryside not visible from the river, the nearest thing to being able to drive the narrow country roads oneself. This day, we drove through many tiny villages with ancient churches, saw crumbling  chateaux and fortifications in the distance and learned something abou daily life in rural Normandy.

However prolonged busing that results from either too high or too low water in the river is another story and is not always so pleasant.

Our time on the bus would be relatively short today as nothing seems to be too far away in Normandy. Our first stop was the Cliffs of Etretat

You can see the pebbly beach, and the arch, with gold course on top of the cliff in the distance.

. One always hears about the white cliffs of Dover, but there are similar cliffs on the coast of France. The ones in Etretat are particularly spectacular and attract many tourists, while locals come to the pebbly beach to swim in the chilly waters. We learned that the cliffs and the beach had been attracting artists since the times of Gustave Courbet and Claude Monet. They boast three spectacular arches ; our guide told us that a reckless German pilot had flown his Messerschmidt through the largest one when the Germans occupied the area during WWII.

The cliffs of Etretat also have another connection with airplanes. It is where the white bird, (L’Oiseau Blanc) was last seen. This was the plane piloted by Charles Nungesser and Francois Coli, French WWI air aces. They attempted a non-stop flight from Paris to New York City  two weeks before Charles Lindbergh took off from the other side. Unfortunately, the white bird disappeared somewhere over the Atlantic; their disappearance is considered one of the great unexplained mysteries of aviation. However, some researchers feel that Nungesser and Coli actually reached the coast of North America but haven’t proved it conclusively. This is but one of many theories regarding their disappearance.

Striking monument from the Etretat page.

A monument to commemorate their flight was built on top of the cliffs in the 1930’s  but destroyed by the orders of Hermann Goering during the German occupation of Normandy during WWII. Fortunately it was replaced by a new, taller monument in 1963 and a small museum which commemorates their lives was added. Why was this particular monument destroyed? Legend says that Nungesser tangled with Goering in the air during WWI, and challenged him to a duel. I can find no hard evidence of the but it would not be surprising if the swashbuckling Nungesser had issued such a challenge. Yet Goering did order the monument destroyed… Since all parties are long dead, it will likely remain a mystery but it is still a great story.

Main street of Etretat

Unfortunately we did not have time to visit either the monument, museum,  or the small church  of Notre Dame that guards the cliffs just visible through the arch of the monument. In more recent times, a golf course was built on the grassy expanse at the top of the cliffs.  It is always difficult to put together a tour that interests people from several countries and with varied travel experiences, but Uniworld does a good job hitting a balance.

Ancient hotel on main street, it had 7 1/2 stars on Trip Adviser. Hmm

We did walk along the main street of Etretat. a small town which seems to survive on tourism. The houses are a mixture of well-kept and shabby medieval buildings. Frankly the Inn we strolled past didn’t look too appealing and gave the impression it might fall down in a stiff breeze. They were holding a market while we were there, mostly with inexpensive and pretty awful looking clothing. Our friends kept suggesting the senior Rambler should buy some to replace his still missing clothing with many chuckles. Mixed in with the clothing stalls and beach apparel were a few local producers selling Normandy ham and the cheese for which it is famous. These did look appetizing.

A local vendor of ham and cheese setting out his wares among the clothing stalls.

Our next stop was the Manoir d  ‘Apreval, one of Normandy’s  family owned organic farms producing cider, pommeau de Normandie and Calvados (apple brandy. . This was our first visit to the Normandy countryside and fortunately it was a beautiful, sunny day,.  Apreval was a homey and welcoming  place where the Letellier family has farmed and produced cider for three generations.

Our busses turned into the gates of Apreval, with the manor house in the distance.

We first enjoyed a tour of the cider-making facility and the Calvados distillery. I have been to many wineries and distilleries in the US, so this part of the visit wasn’t particularly interesting to me. The process is very similar no matter the fruit or grain used. What did interest me was the kind of apples Apreval grew for their cider and brandy. They mentioned that they raised 17 varieties of apples, bitter, bitter-sweet, tart and sweet. I had never heard of bitter apples and wished I could have tasted one. Sadly they didn’t offer an apple tasting. Before writing this blog entry, I googled Apreval and found a list of the apple varieties,many of which can now be grown in the US for cider which has enjoyed increasing popularity in recent years.

A selection of apples, cider, Pommeau and Calvados from the Apreval website. As you can see the French apple varieties are considerably smaller than most grown in the US>

The cider produced at Apreval contains a small amount of alcohol, three to four percent, depending on the variety, definitely not apple juice. A tasting of all their products including Pommeau  a mixture of 1/3 Calvados and 2/3 cider would be part of our lunch. In France, Pommeau is often served as an aperitif before a meal. This is a beverage I had never tasted and I am not sure that I would try it again. While the cider and Pommeau were pleasant tasting, I prefer water or wine with meals, the Calvados is another story. After dinner we tasted the 4 year old Calvados which is often drunk as a disgestif. The Apreval Calvados was excellent and even available at a few stores in the US but at quite a high price. It started at $68. They did have a store where we could have purchased Calvados and other products but glass bottles are always difficult to bring  on a plane alas.

After the distillery tour, we enjoyed a farmer style lunch in their dining room .  Emmanuelle told us that this would be a meal similar to what the staff of the manoir ate at home. It was a nice change from the many wonderful choices  available on the Baroness.  We enjoyed farm fresh green salad, cucumber salad and tomato salad along with roasted potatoes and a duck terrine along with a tasting of Norman cheeses. We started with a taste of the  Pommeau as an aperitif and drank their excellent cider with the meal. Four year old Calvados Reserve provided a satisfying finish to a simple and delicious lunch. During the lunch we had a chance to taste their local cheeses as well, along with good home made bread.

Normandy cows grazing among the apple trees

Normandy’s famous spectacle-wearing cows are famous for  proving milk for three cheeses, Camembert, Pont ‘Eveque and Livarot; relatively mild, medium and strong. The senior Rambler is not fond of  any French cheese having had a bad experience when we were in France years ago.  I enjoyed it all, particularly the strong and stinky Livarot.

After a pleasant, leisurely time at the farm, we headed for our busses. Although we had seen much already, there was still one more stop, the picturesque port of Honfleur. For the moment though, it felt good to relax on our bus for the relatively brief ride and so we did. Next stop Honfleur


Rouen a city of two churches…

For some reason, the Christmas season has taken over our lives for the past month, much to the detriment of my blog. I should have put together a post about great places to travel in the United States during December and January, (and there are many) but that will have to wait for another time. Now that the New Year has arrived, it is time for some serious writing.

In chilly January, the Ramblers look back to last summer’s warm August in Normandy and the fascinating city of Rouen. Above all, Rouen is a city of two churches, the magnificent cathedral of Notre Dame and the modern church of St. Joan of Arc. Both, as I found out, are monuments to the storied history of Rouen. Although our first day docked at the Rouen quay was spent on the beaches of Normandy, On the second, we would spend the day in the historic center of the city and it would not disappoint.

The senior Rambler was particularly happy to reach Rouen  because  at last he could  visit an oral surgeon to have his tooth repaired . Unfortunately he had to wait until our second day in Rouen, because we traveled to the Normandy beaches the first day. However the Normandy trip more than made up for this.  Fortunately, the dentist’s office was only a few blocks away from the quay, in easy walking distance. One of the lovely young women on the staff accompanied him to his appointment, as both guide and translator as the dentist had little English. His office was in a 19th century building with an equally 19th century elevator that barely held one person.

The Baroness was docked very close to the historic district of Rouen.

The senior Rambler said the antique surroundings worried him a little bit, but fortunately the dentist had modern equipment and was very skilled and as they say,” a good time was had by all!”

In the early afternoon, we set out on a tour of Rouen’s historic center, fortunately only a short distance from the Baroness. Our first stop was the Cathedral of Notre Dame; I had seen the light show on the facade of the magnificent building, today we would see it in the daytime.

I had seen the front of Notre Dame at night but it drew the eyes upward in the daytime. Note all the statues in niches on the facade.

A Christian church existed on this site during the waning days of the Roman empire (the end of the 4th century) when Christianity was the official religion of Rome. However, although the Christian community continued to build churches there. Unfortunately they  had to be rebuilt and repaired through the ages as they suffered from Viking raids, fires and lightning, a cyclone, war and more lightning damage. The cathedral was almost done in for good during WWII when it was bombed by the USAF before the Normandy Landings in June, 1944. The North Tower burned and its bells melted in the intense heat, dropping their molten remains on the floor of the church. The final disaster to befall the Cathedral happened during a cyclone in 1999 when a wooden turret weighing 26 tons fell into the building. Truly, the Cathedral of Notre Dame is a survivor.

Construction on the building that we entered dates to the 12th century. Rollo, the founder of the Duchy of Normandy was buried in an earlier church standing here, in 932 AD, and Richard I, the Lion-heart enlarged the same building in 950 AD; unfortunately it  was struck by lightning in 1110 AD.

I like this photo because it shows the many repairs that were made on this high vaulted ceiling.

Thus the determined citizens of Rouen had to start over again. As you might expect by now, this new building was also struck  by lightning and burned in 1200 AD, however the current edifice dates to this time.

Although the Cathedral would continue to be the victim of a series of disasters to the end of the twentieth century, in 1200 AD enough of the building remained so that it could be repaired rather than rebuilt. You might wonder why a church building would burn so quickly. There are several reasons; there was much wood in the early structures and a total lack of fire fighting equipment beyond buckets and wells. The church spire or tower was always the tallest structure around and attracted lightning strikes which the people believed attacks by the devil. The medieval Gothic cathedrals gradually utilized more stone as the master masons learned to build higher towers but even so, much of the interior decoration was made of wood.

After learning the history of Notre Dame Cathedral, the Ramblers were amazed that so much of its medieval past is still present.

For some reason, I didn’t take a photo of the stained glass in Notre Dame Cathedral, here instead in a photo of the stained glass saved from destruction in WWII and placed  in the Church of Joan of Arc.

A few of the windows  hold stained glass from the 13th century, distinguished by their special cobalt blue color called Chartres blue which can no longer be duplicated by modern craftsmen. Although we didn’t hear it, the cathedral boasts a magnificent organ dating to the late middle ages which is not surprising because of the strong musical traditions that have exited here since medieval times.

One of the elements that set Notre Dame apart in my estimation was a series of statues that stood in row along a side aisle. Our guide,Lise, told us that originally they were part of the exterior facade or set in niches high on the interior walls, but when the cathedral was last restored, it was decided to place them  where visitors could see them close up. Indeed binoculars are necessary if you want to fully appreciate the detailed exterior and interior of Notre Dame.

The detail is amazing on these statues of forgotten saints. The one on the right seems appreciative of the attractive blonde tourist…

The medieval stone carvers had modeled these saintly statues on people they knew and thus they provide an unusual eyewitness glimpse into the medieval world. The nave also holds a series of effigy tombs including that of Rollo the Viking founder of Normandy, as well as another which holds the heart of his descendant, Richard I of England. Although the rest of Richard’s remains were buried at Fontevraud Abbey near Chinon, France,  his Rouen tomb still bears his effigy on top and his name inscribed below.  Many other members of Rollo’s family are buried here including William I (the Conqueror) and William’s mother, mother, Poppa.

In trying for a close-up of the lion at Richard’s feet, it looks like his tomb is at a weird angle, but rest assured it isn’t.

As we left Notre Dame, Lisa pointed out the famous Butter Tower, built in the early 1500’s from the sale of Lenten Indulgences which allowed parishioners to consume butter during Lent..  This was normally forbidden under the strict Lenten Fast which was part of medieval life. Those who couldn’t go without and had the money paid a fee to the Church which allowed them to butter their bread without a guilty conscience. Unfortunately, the Butter Tower somewhat unbalanced Notre Dame’s facade and required some further reconstruction. The cathedral interior also suffered during the anti-Catholic phase of the French Revolution; the building was nationalized and some of its interior furnishings were sold to raise money for the Republic.

Evidently the French have problems enforcing building codes. Here plopped right next to the cathedral is this functional box, a retail outlet of H & M and a branch of the French department store Printemps. It looks like a tart at a tea party to me.

After leaving the Place de Cathedrale, we headed towards the Gros Horloge, and the street that bears its name. This would lead us to the our second stop, the Cathedral of Joan of Arc. No two churches could be more different, the first strikingly high Gothic and the second very modern.

The exterior of the Church of St. Joan. To me it looks like a helmet.

The Church of Joan of Arc sits on the Rouen Market Square, Place du Vieux-Marche,  near the spot where she was burned at the stake for heresy in 1431 AD. She was tied to a high pillar in the marketplace still holding a wooden cross given her by an English soldier. Joan, only 19 at her death, had been responsible for a French resurgence in the war between France and England for control of France. For more information about her amazing life and death go here  A small garden close to the church  marks the exact location of her death.

Tired tourists taking a break in front of the market garden when Joan met her fate 600 years ago.

Unlike its medieval neighbors, the Church of Joan of Arc was consecrated in 1979 despite some criticism of its modern design. The Ramblers liked the church. It has its own beauty in its simplicity and to this Rambler, the roof line had the look of a helmet in the style that Joan wore as she led the French troops into battle. I know it is supposed to be a boat but that’s not what it looks like to me. The interior design is an interesting combination of old and new stained glass and a  simple mostly polished wood interior

The pleasing combination of old and new inside the Church of St. Joan.

. The old stained glass comes from the  16th century Church of St. Vincent which was bombed into rubble in 1944. Some of its stones are still visible in the plaza. The windows, like many others during WWII had been  removed and stored in a safe place early in the war, and it seems appropriate that they were reborn in St. Joan’s Church.

The market square, the stones are from the bombed church  of St. Vincentand La Couronne is one of the buildings on the left.

Our final stop in Rouen was at the restaurant that Julia Child credits with awakening her interest in French cooking, La Couronne. Fortunately for our tired feet, the restaurant was in the same Place du Vieux Marche, only a short distance from the Church of Joan of Arc. Uniworld had arranged that we would enjoy coffee or tea and their specialty, tarte tatin, one of Julia’s favorites at La Couronne before we headed back to the Baroness at our leisure.

The sign proudly announces it is the oldest inn in France, built only a few years after St. Joan’s death a short distance away.

La Couronne was founded in 1345, only 4 years after Joan’s death, which is hard to believe. However, when you enter the old building, with its narrow halls and very steep stairways, it feels like you are walking into the past. Since it started as an inn, La Couronne is quite large  and has many small and a few large dining rooms which can serve numerous guests. While we enjoyed the apple tarte, and a cup of good coffee,

The apple galette in solitary state…

I would have loved to have tried all the dishes Julia enjoyed in 1948 when she dined there  for the first time with Paul Child. The senior Rambler who is not fond of French food but is a fan of Julia, couldn’t be talked into it, so I didn’t even try. However, the Menu Julia Child is still available at 95 Euros plus wine. It features oysters, sole, white cheese with fruit and the ubiquitous green salad. I will admit that I haven’t mastered eating raw oysters, so its probably just as well that we only had apple tart and coffee. LOL

On our leisurely way back to the ship, we had a chance to pick up a change of clothes for the senior Rambler who still hadn’t been reunited with his carry-on bag. Emmanuelle, our on point cruise director and mentor on all things French pointed out several stores that would have reasonable prices. As we had already learned, there are more designer shops than regular clothing stores in most historic areas and we only wanted to get  the senior Rambler a change of clothes until the errant suitcase arrived (we hoped).

Shopping in the historic district

. We were about to go into one store when Emmanuelle dashed up and steered us into a place called C&A, where, she assured us, we would be able to find what was needed. She was right. They were having a sale and for 60 Euros, we were able to get a pair of shorts ,3  t-shirts, socks and undies to tide him over. Evidently C&A is well know in Europe though not in the US as several of our British friends said they missed shopping at C&A as it was no longer open in Britain.

This was an entirely successful day, tooth repaired, clothes purchased, great guided tours…we were looking forward to what the next day would bring!

I could not leave Rouen without adding a photo of the Gros Horloge which is an important landmark. It is a large gilt clock that dates from the 1600s set in an archway over the street.
Couldn’t resist adding this striking image of the Palais of Justice in Rouen, a study in spikes!



Night lights at Rouen Cathedral

After our long but exhilarating day at the Normandy beaches, the Ramblers were ready for a relaxing dinner on board the Baroness. We did enjoy our dinner as usual, but Emmanuelle Bonneau, our cruise  director had lined up another “can’t miss,” excursion for the  evening. It was not in the program but the passengers of the Baroness happened to be in the right place at the right time. It was also relatively easy to add because our docking space in Rouen was just a few blocks from the heart of the city. For a change we could just walk to our destination instead of having to board a bus. This is somewhat unusual for a city the size of Rouen, with a population of half a million. Often the quays are at least a bus or tram ride away from the historic heart of the city in larger European cities.

Emmanuelle told us thatNotre Dame Cathedral had a special music and light show on its facade at dusk during the summer months.

Here is the facade of Notre Dame in Rouen at the start of the light show.
Here is the facade of Notre Dame in Rouen at the start of the light show.

Fortunately the cathedral was just a short walk from the quay where the Baroness was docked and we were in luck. The show is held on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday at dusk during the summer months, and it was Tuesday, and a very clear night. Admittedly the Ramblers had had a long day at Bayeux and the Normandy Beaches however this special event seemed too good to miss.

If you follow our blog, you already know which one of us was going to go and who would stay behind. The Senior Rambler felt he could indeed miss it, and decided to stay on board as his back was hurting. However, when we returned from Normandy, he got some very good news.The hotel manager on board the Baroness, Celina Sousa, had arranged an appointment for him with a Rouen oral surgeon the next day. At last his front tooth would be reattached. Because the dentist did not speak much English, a member of the hotel staff would accompany him to his appointment and translate if necessary.

One of the many photos I took. This was a difficult task as I didn't know what was coming next.
One of the many photos I took. This was a difficult task as I didn’t know what was coming next.

We were both happy about how efficiently Uniworld had arranged this for us. We only had to wait a few days because we needed to stop at a town large enough to have the right kind of dentist. Although he wasn’t in any pain, having a missing front tooth was not pleasant for the Senior Rambler. He didn’t smile much until it was repaired. LOL

The thought of seeing the beautiful facade of the cathedral lit up at  night was intriguing, and I knew the Senior Rambler would be quite happy on board.  So with much encouragement from Emmanuelle, who said I shouldn’t miss it, I decided to join a small group of gentle walkers for an evening stroll to see the light show. I was not sorry I did.

This is one of the most spectacular visual of the first part of the film. Please watch the video at the end and you will see the amazing almost 3 D of the invaders climbing up the facade of the Cathedral.
This is one of the most spectacular visual of the first part of the film. Please watch the video at the end and you will see the amazing almost 3 D of the invaders climbing up the facade of the Cathedral.

It was a truly spectacular event for several reasons. The program was beautifully done and the cathedral facade is ideally suited to a light show.

Afterwards I learned  more about the backstory of the show, but Tuesday night I only knew that it was not to be missed. When we arrived there were already a number of people waiting in front of Notre Dame.

Here the villages are being burned by the Vikings
Here the villages are being burned by the Vikings

Many were tourists; those who had brought chairs were obviously locals. It actually would have been nice to sit down and watch the lights leap upwards on the cathedral’s tall facade without fear of falling over backwards, but alas there was standing room only.

The sound and light show was divided into two parts. The first portrayed the Viking conquest of Normandy with a Norse serpent slithering up the stone facade and villages burning brightly.

The serpent...
The serpent…

This part of Normandy, so close to the sea was very attractive to the Viking sea raiders, and they happily pillaged the prosperous villages they found, Some Vikings decided to settle there, married local women and added a warrior strain to the mix of cultures in Normandy. Because it was impossible to capture the essence of the sound and light show with any kind of still camera and I don’t do video, I have added a link to a video produced by the city of Rouen.. It covers the first part of the show about the Vikings. I hope you will watch it because it is truly spectacular. Imagine yourself standing in front  of the Cathedral as a live-action tapestry unfolds before your eyes. In a way it is like a Bayeux tapestry of film.

Here is the link to the first part which features the Vikings:

The second part of the show  about Impressionism and the art of  Claude Monet, who painted this cathedral many, many times.

The facade of Notre Dame became an impressionist painting.
The facade of Notre Dame became an impressionist painting.

Rouen is not very far from Giverney and the gardens of Monet which we visited on Monday. It is not surprising that the sound and light show featured the work of Monet because he painted Notre Dame Cathedral many, many times in all kinds of weather and at different times of day and in all seasons. Again, I have added a video produced by the city of Rouen of the second half of the show which is equally spectacular in a totally different way. It is as gentle and soothing as the first was devoted to warriors and conquest.

Here is the link to the Impressionist half.

Finally, I have included a photo of one of Monet’s paintings of Notre Dame. Do you think the sound and light show captured its essence?

One of the many pictures Monet painted of Notre Dame.
One of the many pictures Monet painted of Notre Dame.

After the show we strolled back to the quay, climbed down  an interminable series of stairs to get to the river level and spent the rest of the evening relaxing on the Baroness to rest up for another action packed day along the river.

A touching visit to Omaha Beach and the American cemetery

Not like in Saving Private Ryan, I thought as looked down from the cliffs at Omaha Beach  on August 16. The beach that our soldiers had to cross to escape the murderous fire of the Germans on D-Day seemed impossibly far away on this beautiful day.

Looking down from the top of the cliff. I was standing against a railing, no doubt built by Americans, at the edge of the cliff.
Looking down from the top of the cliff. I was standing against a railing, no doubt built by Americans, at the edge of the cliff.

Some places retain a sense of their past history and this beach was one.  Although now it was surrounded by golden fields of ripening grain not German soldiers. The cliffs were now  covered in bright green grass and shrubs not bristling with weapons. Yet to many who come here, especially young French families, it is now a place for holiday fun by the ocean, or the land their family has farmed for generations.

Ripening grain with the ocean in the background on a beautiful d
Ripening grain with the ocean in the background on a beautiful day

Perhaps this is as it should be. Certainly the men who died here decades ago must be happy to see the living working and playing on the land they died to liberate.  For the Ramblers and many other tourists who come to visit the Normandy beaches daily,  it is a place to celebrate the sacrifice of those who came before. And a place we would never forget.

Our day didn’t start out in a somber mood, in fact, we had enjoyed a pleasant and more typical cruise experience, touring a small town in France on a sunny morning. Deeper emotions would surface later, but we didn’t realize this until after we boarded our bus at Bayeux.  Irene, our  guide was determined that we would get the most out of our day. She announced that even though we weren’t supposed to visit the other landing  beaches because of our stop at Bayeux, we would still get a chance to see them, if only briefly.

The map gives you an idea of where the landings took place,
The map gives you an idea of where the landings took place, It is a large scale map, and the beaches are close together.

Irene had asked our driver to drive along the shore on our way to Omaha beach and stop  so we could at least see where the British and Canadian troops had landed. He kindly agreed, and it certainly made his job more difficult.

Did I mention that the coastal roads were narrow and packed with vacationers and their vehicles along with many bicyclists. Yet our bus driver patiently wheeled the large bus through traffic and parked at all the landing spots to give us a brief view.

Here is the road our bus drive took through Arromanches-les--bains where the British troops landed.
Here is the road our bus drive took through Arromanches-les–bains where the British troops landed. The ocean is to the left.

This helped us understand just how difficult a task the Americans had been given on D-Day. As we soon realized, the other landing spots were flat, with no cliffs bristling with German machine gun posts to pin them down. Their sprint across the sand would not be nearly as long or as deadly.

We stopped at several places along the beach on our way to Omaha Beach, where we were able to walk along the coast to inspect some of the German gun  emplacements and bunkers which remained, a rusting memorial to the futility of war.

One of the crumbling gun emplacements facing the beach
One of the crumbling gun emplacements facing the beach

The gun emplacements just sit there, slowly decaying, available for people to inspect at their leisure. We walked along the sandy, windswept paths, passing bicyclists and families on vacation who no doubt took these grim reminders in stride. Having spent time beach combing along the Gulf of Mexico and the southern Atlantic coast, I couldn’t help wondering what kind of potentially grim or dangerous mementos washed up after a storm.

This one looks much like it must have done on the 6th of June, 1944.
This one looks much like it must have done on the 6th of June, 1944.

Back on board our bus, we heard a brief history of the cemetery. The land itself , like all other American cemeteries in France,  and elsewhere in foreign countries, is considered American soil, given to the United states  in a perpetual concession. It is managed by the American government which provides funding for its maintenance and staff. Thus the American flag flies above the 172 acres that have been granted to the US. Not all American soldiers who died overseas are buried in these cemeteries. Of course, some were never found or remained unknown. For those who were identified, at the time of permanent burial, the next of kin were asked if they wanted their loved ones’ remains returned home or buried in the closest American cemetery overseas. Six-one percent asked for the remains to be repatriated while thirty-nine percent, for a variety of  reasons, agreed to burial in a US military cemetery overseas, close to where they fell. The Rambler was not surprised to learn that over 200 families wanted their soldiers to remain where they had initially been interred, whether in a civilian cemetery or on the battlefield where they had fallen.

When we reached the Omaha Beach site, we quickly disembarked and headed for the cemetery where 9,387 graves, most marked with crosses , but some bear  a Star of David instead. The white marble markers are washed three times a week and they shone in the bright sunlight.

Rows and rows of crosses. Three women are buried here, and one soldier who died during WWI.
Rows and rows of crosses. four women are buried here, and one soldier who died during WWI.

The soldiers,  all Americans, lie in long rows, not separated by rank or unit, race or religion, but with only the name and date engraved on the white marble marker. All but one died either during the June, 1944 landing or shortly afterwards. The one exception was Quentin Roosevelt, the son of American President Theodore Roosevelt, who had been killed in WWI. When his older brother, Theodore Roosevelt Jr, who had earned the Medal of Honor was killed in 1944, Quentin’s body was exhumed and buried next to his brother. This is, of course, the cemetery seen briefly in Saving Private Ryan.

Perhaps a relative had left a rose...
Perhaps a relative had left a rose…

Although the movie was fiction, it is based on a true story based on the experiences of the Niland family. Two of the Niland brothers are buried in this beautiful place. One was sent home alive, and the other, supposedly killed in the Pacific, ironically, survived the war.

Four women are also buried here, although some sources say three. In doing my research for this blog, I found that information about just who the women were, was scarce. However, it seems that three were African-American WAC’s killed in a jeep accident after the landing and the fourth was a Red Cross volunteer. The WAC’s were part of a postal division from Connecticut, charged with getting the mail to the troops ASAP. Wish I had know about the lack of information while we were at the cemetery, it would have been easy to check.

The WWII Memorial in front of the cemetery is very impressive. Its heart is a semicircular colonnade with a loggia at east end . At the center is a 22 ft. bronze statue titled The Spirit of American Youth Rising from the waves. Upon our arrival we were surprised and touched to learn that Uniworld had contacted the cemetery staff to arrange a  memorial service.

It would allow our small group  to commemorate the soldiers who lay there.  The  ceremony included a brief dedication, playing the National Anthem, laying flowers at the base of the statue, and finally the sounding of taps. The cemetery official asked if there was a US veteran present who would lay a floral tribute in front of the statue.

The senior Rambler and another American vet from the Baroness placing the flowers
The senior Rambler and another American vet from the Baroness placing the flowers in front of the statue

The senior Rambler found, to his surprise, that he was the oldest veteran present, he just missed WWII by a few years, serving in the USAF for 4 years during the Korean War. Another wheelchair bound VietNam War vet also came forward and took part in the ceremony.

To say that it was moving was an understatement. Most all were teary eyed at the end, even those in our group who were from Australia, Canada or Great Britain.

Playing the National Anthem.
Playing the National Anthem.

I later learned that the Memorial faces the United States at its nearest point to the cemetery, somewhere between Eastport and Lubec Maine.

We had one more stop, to view the almost side by side memorials tht stand on Omaha Beach directly on the beach not far from the high tide line. The first was the massive Liberation Memorial, built of concrete block with stainless steel letters. it commemorates the American Infantry who lost their lives near here. The second was titled Les Braves,

The Liberation Monument
The Liberation Monument
Children playing near Les Braves
Children playing near Les Braves

and is completely different from the first. It was commissioned by the  French government in 2004 to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the landing. It was supposed to be temporary but twelve years later, it is still there. You can see why. It captures the spirit of the place.

It was an afternoon the Ramblers will long remember, and the most memorable day of our cruise

A Morning in Bayeux, to see the story of another invasion

Unlike some of our other cruises, the Grand France cruise was packed with activity from the beginning. The Baroness had sailed at 6:30 PM on the day we embarked, unusually early. Even then, we had taken a brief cruise of the Seine before we headed to Normandy. The second day was action packed with two separate stops, one for Giverney and the second for The Lion Hearts castle. In between, we had the traditional welcome dinner and were introduced to the staff and crew.

Most of the Baroness' staff and crew are in this photo.
Most of the Baroness’ staff and crew are in this photo. Celina is wearing a white jacket in the photo middle left.

We were fortunate indeed to have an excellent hotel manager in Celina Sousa, one of the kindest and most caring we had encountered. She was very concerned by the Senior Rambler’s missing luggage, and lack of spare clothes and so we worked out a plan so that he could change into his robe and pajamas while the staff washed and ironed his one outfit. After wearing the same clothing two days in a row, he was very happy to have something clean to wear.

Emmanuelle Bonnier, our cruise director, was equally proactive in trying to wrest the missing bag from the clutches of Air France. She called them several times a day, getting the run-around each time, until finally they admitted, that the luggage had been at Charles de Gaulle all along. On the 9th day it would be delivered to Lyon after we had transferred to the SS Catherine. So even though we had a few problems on the cruise to Normandy, the kindness of the staff more than made up for our inconvenience.

The staff’s incredible service   would continue on the second half of the cruise when we transferred to the SS Catherine. I will never forget the quick action of the Baroness’ lady butler, Valentina. The Senior Rambler takes a blood thinner and what would be a bruise on me, is a bleeding cut for him. He had evidently banged his arm somewhere on board and  his arm was bleeding. She noticed it even before we did and appeared wearing plastic gloves and armed with peroxide and a band-aid. She quickly cleaned the cut, used the antiseptic and put on a band-aid with practiced skill. We were not in a suite and so technically, we shouldn’t even have been helped by a butler, but this was just a small example of their concern.

The action-packed schedule on the Baroness continued on our second full day of the cruise. This was the day we would visit the Normandy beaches which turned out to be the high point of the cruise for the Senior Rambler.

Map of Normandy with D-Day beaches, we would see them all.
Map of Normandy with D-Day beaches, we would see them all.

Again we  had two options. The first was an all day tour of the Normandy beaches with stops at Arromanche and Juno and  Sword Beaches. Naturally the British and Canadian cruisers joined this group. They would stop at Arromanche for lunch on their own after viewing a film of the landing in its 360 degree cinema. Arromanche also had many shops where they had an opportunity to buy souvenirs if they chose, as there would be no chance to do this at the beaches. We were surprised to find that these once bloody battlefields now served both an outdoor museum and a  seaside vacation spot for the local residents.

A tank we passed on the way to Bayeux
A tank we passed on the way to Bayeux

The Ramblers on the other hand, decided to take the second option. This was first a stop at Bayeux to see the famous tapestry with time on our own for lunch in the pretty little town. We would then re- board our bus for the journey to Omaha Beach where the D-Day landing of the American troops was so graphically shown in Saving Private Ryan. Our guide Irene, however, made sure our bus driver took a route that went past Sword, Gold and Juno beaches on the way to Omaha beach and American cemetery there.

But first Bayeux. Our bus ride took us mainly through rural Normandy where many contented cows grazed. Irene proudly stated that they were a special breed, Norman (Normande) cows.

These Normande cows looked much like the ones we saw on our trip.
These Normande cows looked much like the ones we saw on our trip.

Those of us who are familiar with the Holsteins of Chic-Fil-A fame, thought they looked just like them until Irene pointed out that Norman cows, unlike Holsteins wear the marks of spectacles around their eyes. And so they did. I didn’t get a photo of any Norman cows wearing their glasses from our moving bus but here is one from the web. The breed had been around since Viking times and give rich milk that is well suited for the making of the many cheeses produced in Normandy.  We did pass by an American tank en route, painted a bright green, and evidently a war memorial.

This majestic cathedral dates to the time the tapestry was completed and may have been displayed inside. It was not damaged during WWII.
This majestic cathedral dates to the time the tapestry was completed and may have been displayed inside. It was not damaged during WWII.

Bayeux, like many towns in Normandy, dates back to Roman times and is only 4 miles from the sea.  Duke William of Normandy, later William the First, King of England set sail from the nearby shore  on his successful invasion of England in 1066. The magnificent Bayeux cathedral of Notre Dame also dates from the 11th century, as does the Bayeux Tapestry which tells the story of the Norman conquest of England.

Model of one of William the Conqueror's knights outside the tapestry display.
Model of one of William the Conqueror’s knights outside the tapestry display.

It is displayed in a stone building in Bayeux that once housed a seminary. Legend says that it was embroidered by Queen Matilda and her ladies as they waited for the successful warriors to return. Like many legends, it probably isn’t true but it makes a nice story.Even today, historians are not sure of the exact origin of the tapestry. It may have been commissioned by Odo, Bishop of Bayeux,

to commemorate the successful invasion as he played a prominent role in the event as William’s half-brother. It may even have been embroidered by English monks.

No photos inside, bu this is the way it is displayed from their brochure.
No photos inside, bu this is the way it is displayed from their brochure.

Wherever it came from , it provides crewel-work time capsule of life in Normandy in the 11th century. As a retired history professor, I was very familiar with the tapestry and was anxious to see it for myself. When I did, I have to say that I was disappointed. It looks just like it does in the pictures. The tapestry is displayed behind glass in a darkened room, and one shuffles slowly past its 60 ft. length as one of many listening to their audiovox players. Photos do not do justice to many things, the Grand Canyon comes to mind, but the Bayeux Tapestry was not one of them.

As you can see, Bayeux has a medieval feel but and is close to many ports.
As you can see, Bayeux has a medieval feel but and is close to many ports.

Fortunately the town of Bayeux was a great place to have a relaxing stroll. Since we were on our own, for lunch, we hoped to enjoy a snack at one of the many sidewalk cafes near the cathedral. Unlike the nearby town of Caen, Bayeux had suffered little damage in WWII as the Germans had concentrated their defenses in Caen. In fact, it was the first town liberated after the Allied landing.

The local specialty is a Galette or buckwheat crepe with various savory fillings. However we Ramblers are not fond of savory crepes, having grown up with their jelly or apple sauce filled cousins, so we did not try them. I know, no sense of adventure. We strolled down one of the main streets that leads to the cathedral although we didn’t go in.

You can't miss the old mill ias you stroll the streets of Bayeux.
You can’t miss the old mill ias you stroll the streets of Bayeux.

After all the activity of the last two days, it was pleasant to just take a leisurely stroll. Some of our fellow passengers had already chosen a place to eat, but nothing looked just right. We went into the courtyard of one of the larger restaurants but it was jam-packed with families on holiday and we quickly left. The Ramblers finally settled on a tiny place, staffed solely by a friendly and attractive young woman. After looking at her tiny menu we settled on something very ordinary, deciding to share an order of fish sticks and chicken  fingers. I know what you are thinking, you are in France and you order fish sticks!!! Well yes, and as it turned out it was an excellent choice.

Everything prepared to order by the smiling proprietress. You can see the crepe maker on the counter. Highly recommended.
Everything prepared to order by the smiling proprietress. You can see the crepe maker on the counter. Highly recommended. She was pleased when I told her she would end up in my blog eventually.

Neither the fish nor the chicken were pre-packaged, they were cooked beautifully and came with two different and tasty sauces. It was a very pleasant  lunch, just enough to fortify us for the rest of our trip.

We took our time walking back to our meeting place, noting the  old mill as well and a more up-scale restaurant on the other side of the  lazy river.

We might have tried this upscale restaurant if we had been there for the day. Glad we didn't.
We might have tried this upscale restaurant if we had been there for the day. Glad we didn’t.

But we had no regrets. We were well fortified for our visit to Omaha Beach. We later learned that there was yet another WWII cemetery in Bayeux, this one for British troops who died at Normandy