GOING WITH THE FLOW IN SOUTHERN FRANCE
When Mother Nature opens her floodgates, all you can do is go with the flow. Two years ago my husband and I were on a Viking European river cruise, but because of high waters we bussed more than we boated. Although it had been disappointing, the company did everything they could to make sure the trip was memorable and gave us a partial refund to use on a future booking. Well, here we are, back again, this time to cruise Southern France.
"The Saône River is too high," the Viking rep explains after we arrive at Chalon-Sur-Saône, the city of departure. "We'll be shuttling you to Lyon, the second stop on your itinerary." It's impossible to hide our shell-shocked faces. "Don't worry," she says, nonchalantly. "It will all work out." Clearly, these unplanned occurrences happen more than we realize, something that's not boldly outlined when booking one of these pricey holidays. No point in shedding tears. There's already enough water flowing around here.
When we arrive, service is exceptional, check-in is efficient, and within short order we're introduced to stateroom 208, our floating (hopefully) oasis for the next seven days.
Because they don't want to veer off promised plans, all original tours are a-go. We could get on another bus for a two hour ride back to Beaune, in Burgundy, where we'll partake in a wine-tasting tour. Or go even further to Cluny, for a paid optional tour. Lastly, and our choice, is a leisurely day on board with shopping in nearby Lyon. No bustle and NO BUSES!
Although we'd rather be cruising, there's plenty to do over the next two days in this country's third largest city. Trendy shops border the crooked streets and nearly two thousand restaurants offer gastronomy delights. Lyon is also known for textiles and silk production. I walk away the first day with three colourful scarves.
1 Jane poses in one of Lyon's historical squares
Also being home to many historical landmarks, some dating back to Roman Times, it's no surprise that Lyon has been deemed a UNESCO World Heritage Site. On our second day, we tour the oldest area, Vieux Lyon, that snuggles up to the Saône. A labyrinth of ancient laneways branch away from the epicentre where the Roman-Gothic cathedral of St. Jean proudly stands. And connecting them are over three hundred passageways, known as taboules. "These were used to transport looms during the era of silk production," we're told by our Viking guide. "They were also escape routes during the second world war."
2 Old Town Lyon Speaking of escaping, on day three we finally cast off! Soon we're breezing out of the city, scooting beneath bridges and dipping down into concrete locks. Over a dozen of these engineered marvels are lodged along our route today, making the river levels passable.
3 Entering one of the locks
In spite of the hiccups, Viking maintains their reputation for cuisine excellence throughout our voyage, from breakfast buffets to full course meals, topped off with complementary wine and beer. They're even able to accommodate my special dietary requests with delicious and beautifully-presented meals.
Although we're now cruising, a lot of water travel on this route is unfortunately done at night, so there's little opportunity to enjoy that iconic river cruise experience. And even when we're coasting, because of the higher water levels, the top-viewing deck never opens while we're on the move.
4 Tournon Steam Train ride
But we have three ports of call over the next three days and all the land tours are great. In Vienne, we explore an amazing Roman museum. In Tournon, we ride a steam train, offering postcard views of flourishing gorges. And in Viviers, we wander the lamplit streets of this community that dates back to the Middle Ages.
5 Lamplit street in Viviers
Our itinerary indicates that there is one more port, an overnighter in Tarascon, but we're told by the staff that this stop is only done on the return route. Another disappointment. Instead, while spending the final two days docked in Avignon, we're bussed back to that area for a tour of Arles, a Vincent Van Gogh favourite.
6 Cruising into Avignon
As a grand finale, we end up cruising one more short time, up the Rhone, to the famous Avignon Bridge. Lights illuminate the four arches on this structure, built in 1345. It's a perfect backdrop for one last photo and an au revoir to new-found friends. Though there have been glitches along the way, some wonderful memories and friendships have been made. And over the past eight days, while voyaging Southern France, we've all managed to go with the flow.
7 Group photo Avignon Bridge backdrop
PHOTOS by Brent Cassie
1. Jane poses in one of Lyon's historical squares
2. Old Town Lyon
3. Entering one of the locks
4. Tournon Steam Train ride
5. Lamplit street in Viviers
6. Cruising into Avignon
7. Group photo Avignon Bridge backdrop
8. The Delling Viking shipTravel Writers' Tales is an independent travel article syndicate that offers professionally written travel articles to newspaper editors and publishers. To check out more, visit www.TravelWritersTales.com
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