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July 7-8, 2014

Our first stop on our Viking river cruise was at the ancient city of Arles, France. Before the Romans took the town back in 123 AD, Ligerian and Celtic tribes controlled this Southern section of France. But, it was the Romans that established Arles on the map. They constructed a series of aquaducts providing water power to a complex of flour mills that became known as, ‘the greatest concentration of mechanical

power in the ancient world.” Even Vitruvius and Pliny the Elder acknowledged this technological advancement back in 25 BC and 77 AD.

In addition,, the Romans constructed a huge amphitheater that still occupies the center of the city and, of course, the ever present baths that Romans popularized thorough the Empire.

  We toured the Roman amphitheater where the gladiators did their thing. Today they hold bull fights and “bull games.” In the games, several special types of bulls are released into the arena where men with special instruments try to grab a ribbon from the neck of the bull. If they are successful, they receive a money prize. If they are not, the owner of the bull gets the reward..

The Saint Pierre church in the center of town was a beautiful example of Gothic architecture and the original wooden front door was in perfect condition.

Arles is filled with Vincent Van Gogh memorabilia. It was in Arles that Vincent discovered complementary color, cool and warm, primary and secondary. Although Vincent spent only one year in Arles, during that time he ended his long-term relationship with his best friend, Gaugin, cut off his ear in despair, was committed to a mental hospital all the while creating 300 paintings and drawings

Throughout Arles, there are examples of Vincent’s work -- in front of the first hospital where he was taken after his ear episode is a cement structure where Vincent’s painting of the hospital’s garden is reproduced. The painting shows the garden in Winter, while we were fortunate to see the garden in its summer splendor. The 3 trees depicted in Vincent’s painting are evident in the summer display.



The subjects of “Yellow House” and “Café Noir,” also still stand with the little reproductions shown in front.

After the morning tour of Arles, Marsha and Gwen decided to tour on their own. They discovered that the Van Gogh Foundation had just opened 2 days before with 15 of his paintings. They even allowed us to examine them very closely and take pictures.  The museum also displays the books that led to Van Gogh’s discovery of color combinations.

On the top floor of the museum was a strange display by Thomas Hirschhorn called “Interior Van Gogh Alter.“ It was a mess, filled with slips of paper with Van Gogh quotes, small reproductions of paintings, tin foil ropes hanging from the ceiling. One display showed a Vincent painting of shoes side-by-side with mounds of shoes of the same type and color. Weird.

Back to the ship. The Viking long ship Hermod fulfills all of the expectations established by recommendations from family and friends. Our cabin is luxurious with all the amenities of a 5 star facility, the floor to ceiling windows looking out over the private balcony provide a great view of the passing countryside and the food and wine served is outstanding. The other night, for instance, we were served lightly cooked sea scallops with avocado sauce, then a perfectly prepared chateaubriand accompanied by a French Cabernet Sauvignon. We finished with a chocolate soufflé.

The 117 cruise passengers convened on the roof top after dinner to observe the ship approaching Avignon which will be toured before we drive to the town of Chateauneuf du Pape where we will attend a tasting of France’s most famous vintages.

On Tuesday the ship went back to Avignon and we had an opportunity to get a better appreciation of the Pope’s Palace. For a hundred years there was a rival papacy housed in Avignon, resulting from competition between France and Italy. Avignon is called the City of Popes because it was home to seven pontiffs from 1309 to 1377. To prove its supremacy over its neighboring country, France built this enormous structure. With 15,000 square meters of floor space, it is equivalent in size to four Gothic cathedrals.

We were particularly impressed with the kitchen. They set the fire in the middle of the stone floor, contained by a stone fence-like barrier. The chimney is 40 feet high in a cone-shape. They hauled as many as 6 cows up to the kitchen, several stories above the grounds, through the window. According to our ship’s information sheet: “At the 1344 coronation of Pope Clement VI, 7428 chickens, 101, 3443 fowl, 1500 capons, 1195 geese, 1023 sheep. 914 kids, 111 oxen, 101 calves, 60 pigs, 15 sturgeon, 300 pike, 10 tons of sugar, 50,000 tarts (not prostitutes), 95,000 loaves of bread and 42,000 gallons of wine were consumed.”

The other room that particularly impressed us was the bedroom where the walls were covered with what looked like wallpaper, but which was, of course, elaborate painting. Unfortunately, pictures were not allowed.

In Chateauneuf du Pape, we visited one of the region’s 350 vineries for a wine tasting. Sampling their white first, then, the crème de la crème…..the red wine that is each year blended with as many as 12 different locally grown grapes to accomplish the famous Chateauneuf du Pape. This name actually means the Pope’s new house, which was constructed just above the small town of the same name. our guide discussed the various techniques employed to make their unique wine, including culling schedules, exacting time schedules for exposure to the fine French oak barrels and of course, he discussed the terrior which includes climate, terrain and soil types. We have never seen vineyards like this before. The vines are surrounded by river rock that has been deposited by the nearby Rhone river over the past 10,000 years. In all of Chateauneuf du Pape we never saw one square inch of actual clay or soil….nothing but smooth river rocks for miles.

We tasted a 2009 and 2006 Chateaunuf d’Pape and just those couple of years were represented in a different bouquet as well as smoothness highlighting the distinctions that are achieved with just a short aging process. Thus, Bill purchased a 2005 which we dedicated to the evening dinner. Superb.


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Reader Comments (1)

You can imagine the intense interest sparked in Ed by your mention of tarts and Peggy's horror at the kids that were sacrificed. Upon further reflection, she might be okay with it depending on which kids.
Seriously, we love the history and will expect to have a full length feature of pictures with narration in CZM.

July 9, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterEdn Peggy

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