Category Archives: Taking the TGV

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!