Tuesday, September 21, 2021

France 2021, Day 10, Viviers

On Wednesday, we walked from our ship, the Buri, down a beautiful tree-lined street to Viviers, a medieval walled town located in the Ardèche region of Provence. The town and its majestic cathedral basically perch on a large rock elevation overlooking the Rhone. The ascent was very steep and it was raining on and off – just enough to make you open your umbrella and then decide to close it five minutes later. I struggled on the cobblestone streets, which lead up to the top, and was sure someone would slip – possibly our guide Josette. I could hear her gasping for breath through the audio boxes we wore around our necks. Like many of our guides, she had suffered financially during the pandemic when tourism disappeared. She told us she had not spoken English in the last 18 months and apologized if she sounded rusty.
When I turned the corner and caught sight of the cathedral, I forgot the uneven streets and was simply amazed at the power of the Catholic Church to have built such a beautiful cathedral in such a tiny community. It is the smallest cathedral in France but that wouldn’t occur to you unless the guide mentioned it. Built in the 11th and 12th centuries, St. Vincent Cathedral contains both Romanesque, such as the nave, and Gothic architecture, and has priceless Gobelins tapestries hanging from the walls.  
The cloudy day made it hard to take pictures but my
mother persevered and got some good ones -
she really liked this cathedral. 
We also enjoyed the view down over the Rhone Valley from a big open area behind the cathedral, as well as the architecture of the small townhouses in the village. Of particular interest was the Maison des Chevaliers, or House of the Knights, on the Place de la République one finds in every town in France. It was owned by a prominent 16th-century merchant, with unusual decoration on all levels, and is named for the figures in high relief. The guide also showed us a house with waist-high shelves, which she explained were used by vendors to show their wares without letting the customers into their shops.
We had been told the Buri was leaving promptly at 12:15 for Tournon and not to be late but when the rest of the group headed back to the ship my mother and I looped back to visit Église Saint-Laurent de Viviers, a local parish church (a sister church, although it doesn’t know it, to St. Lawrence in Brookline, MA which she attends).  As we returned down the tree-lined street, we saw locals playing pétanque, a form of bocce.
Maison des Chevaliers
In the afternoon, the ship set sail (so to speak) and we were fascinated every time it went through a lock on the way to Tournon. Some locks seemed more complicated than others and I may suggest that Viking offer a lecture on the topic. Instead, this afternoon there was a cooking demonstration of the chocolate dessert the chef was preparing for dinner, which was entertaining. Manuel, the outgoing Maître d'hôtel, whom we found over the top at first but came to like and appreciate, was assisting with the mixing and brought the large bowl and a handful of spoons so we could have samples of the batter. Later in the afternoon, there was a reception for passengers who had been on more than one Viking cruise. There was a very emotional speech by the ship’s “hotel manager” Chris thanking us all for coming and helping the crew feed their families. There were shots of Aquavit and yummy hors d’oeuvres even for us first-time voyagers. The captain of the ship made an appearance and dashed about clinking glasses with all.
A narrow street in Viviers
Several crew told us that Viking went on paying them during the pandemic, which made me think well of Torstein Hagen, the Norwegian billionaire who founded Viking Cruises in 1997. You might argue that he can afford it but we all know that many who could afford it, treated their employees poorly. As an avid Masterpiece Theatre viewer, I feel like Torstein is part of my life because he sponsors the show and appears frequently, radiating benevolence and luxury. 

We had been slow to understand that by not hanging out at the bar before dinner we were missing the evening briefings by Raquel, the events manager, on the next day’s activities. I assume these were partly to encourage people to sign up for excursions if they had not already done so but she also describes the difficulty or other aspects to prepare for. She is very vivacious and entertaining so we made sure not to miss her later presentations. All these events take place in the spacious Observation Lounge which offers good views from its windows. Several times, I came down with my laptop to do homework.
I should have taken pictures of the menus posted twice each day! Nearly every meal was delicious but they began to blur together. For dinner on Wednesday, I had goat cheese salad; Mediterranean Chicken Breast with risotto, zucchini, and cherry tomatoes; and Moelleux au Chocolat, which the chef had demonstrated in the afternoon.  And wine, of course.  The waiters fill our glasses attentively.
These signs on the river amused us - do some boats really not know which way is Lyon?


Lex @ Lexlingua said...

Ooh, I didn't realize you were off on a trip to France! The photos are lovely and the backstory even better. I think I have missed out on previous related posts, so I'm going to look through them one by one. Thanks for telling us about it, feels like I'm travelling by proxy too. :) Hope you have a grand time.

Lory said...

I'm jumping in midway on your tour and I have to catch up on all the stops! What a treat for you to get to do this, thanks for sharing with us.

CLM said...

Thanks for following along. We had been planning this trip so long and I am glad we managed to do it without any Covid disasters.

TracyK said...

This all sounds great. I guess the activities / tours balance out the delicious food.