Postcards From The Road #53

Mykonos is one of the more popular Greek island destinations and is particularly noted for its windmills, cafes, restaurants and their mascot pelican along with fantastic beaches and incredible weather.

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Cruising The Med Newsletter

HOT OFF THE PRESSES

THE INTENTIONAL TRAVELER NEWSLETTER

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Mediterranean Cruising News

CRUISING THE MEDITERRANEAN – Get The Intentional Traveler’s newsletter on cruising the Mediterranean. It’s Free to download and easy to print a copy. A good reference on a Mediterranean cruise. It features information on cruise ports of call, tours and what to look forward to on your cruise.

CLICK THE NEWSLETTER IMAGE TO ACCESS A PDF COPY YOU CAN READ OR DOWNLOAD TO PRINT. TAKE A COPY ALONG WHEN YOU CRUISE THE MEDITERRANEAN.

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Oh, The Plans We’re Making and the Places We’ve Seen. Come Along, Join Us.

Bastille Day In Paris

A Short Story

An Unexpected Bastille Day Opportunity

We had been traveling through southern France for a week and intended to finish with a few days in Paris since that was where we would catch our flight home. When we planned this trip we hadn’t realized that July 14th was Bastille Day. When we learned this we weren’t sure how that day would go.

On the 14th we took a TGV high speed train from Lyon to Paris arriving at about 1:00 pm. Our new plan was to take advantage of the celebration. Figuring that the streets and Metro would be jammed and crowds at the Champ de Mars would be impenetrable, we decided to get a day pass on a Hop-On Hop-Off boat (Batoboat HERE). Later that evening we would take a boat from the Notre-Dame area right down to the Eiffel Tower stop, get off and watch the fireworks from the river. After that, since the boats stopped around 9:30, we would walk out of the area and, if lucky, catch a taxi or Metro back to our hotel.

That afternoon, as a tourist, Bastille Day seemed like any other day. We walked the streets, bought some souvenirs and had an early evening meal at a small bistro on the Left Bank. Around 8:30 we headed out for our boat ride to the Eiffel Tower. So far so good – until the boat skipped the three stops nearest the Eiffel Tower, they had been closed for the celebration. It seemed as if everyone in Paris was way ahead of us in their planning. The river was blocked to traffic anywhere near the tower, a number of bridges were blocked and many of the streets and sidewalks were impassable up to a half mile from the Champ de Mars. There was simply no way we could get close to the celebration at that time of night.

In hindsight I should have known better. I’m from Washington D.C. and going to the Mall for the the Independence Day shows on the 4th was an all day affair with the exit to home being usually a couple of hour trip. Why would I have thought Paris would be any different? Truth is I just hadn’t thought about it.

We hadn’t intended on being in Paris on Bastille day and our plan was a last minute attempt. A little discouraged we made our way back to our hotel and watched the event on television which might have been a good thing. It seemed the Sun didn’t set until way past 9:30 and the fireworks didn’t go off until around 11:00. On television the show was interesting and included two choirs, six or eight couples that seemed to be famous opera singers and the only music I recognized was a song from West Side Story(?). The finale was the national anthem sung by everybody and it seemed to go on for over a half hour. The anthem was followed by a light show on the Tower followed by the fireworks. All in all it seemed a very good evening for Parisians.

A Viking Rhône River Cruise

The Rhône With Viking River Cruises

The Rhône region of France extends from Marseille, through historic Avignon, Arles, the Roman city of Vienne, Lyon, France’s culinary heart and west of the Beaujolais wine region and includes dozens of quaint Provençal villages along its banks.

The Rhône River winds its way from Switzerland into France beginning at the Rhône Glacier in Valais, and flows to join the Saône River in the city of Lyon. From there it winds on past some of the region’s most significant landmarks with many dating back to the Roman era. Going on south past the Ardèche, the river moves past expanses of lavender and sunflower fields and past Avignon before it empties into the Mediterranean west of Marseille.

Most people, when they think of France, picture Paris, the French Riviera – Cote d’Azur, the beaches of Normandy, but usually not Roman ruins and Medieval castles. It’s probably not on the short list of most peoples travel plans, but it should be. River cruising on the Rhône through the heart of France is an enjoyable experience. There’s a lot to see, the people where amazing and chances are you will learn some surprising history. You will discover Avignon, the “City of Popes,” and the historic Papal palace, see the massive Roman Colosseum of Arles, still hosting bull fights today, experience the ancient Roman city of Vienne and a number of riverside villages dating back almost a thousand years.

Viking River Cruises

We are long time cruisers but have come to river cruising just recently. In the Summer of 2019 we cruised for eight nights on the Viking Longboat Buri from Avignon to Lyon, France and both the ]boat and this region greatly exceeded our expectations. This was only our second river cruise and will probably not be our last. If you are an ocean cruiser and haven’t taken a river cruise before here’s what we see as the differences.

Level of Service

Because the passenger compliment is counted in the dozens and not thousands the atmosphere is much more intimate and the staff seems a bit more focused on your individual needs. It is also easy to become quickly acquainted with a number of the staff and the quality of the wait-staff, servers, bar staff seems higher than our experience on cruise ships.

Accommodations

The cabins are smaller compared to ocean staterooms but if you are like us and don’t spend time in your room this isn’t much of an issue. On our first river cruise we had booked a room with a balcony and decided this wasn’t worth the expense. Most evenings we tied up side-by-side with other longboats and when we opened our curtains we usually found the view being another stateroom only inches away.

Life On Board

The boats lounge or the top deck is where you will spend most of your time on board. The lounge is the central gathering place and extends to a patio deck where breakfast and lunch can be enjoyed. The lounge usually features live music at lunch and in the evening features music for dancing.

There aren’t any stage shows or swimming pool or gym but we assure you they won’t be missed and with walking tours most mornings you’ll still get some good exercise. A lot of people are fond of cruising because of the food and again river cruising will probably not disappoint. Also in the case of Viking they work very hard to expose their guests to tastes of the region being visited and also bring on local entertainment on a few occasion.

Stops Along The Rhône

This particular cruise provides a number of interesting stops along the river which include;

Avignon

Avignon, the “City of Popes” is normally the starting point for the cruises going north. This walled city’s name dates back to the 6th century BC. The first citation of Avignon (Aouenion) was made by Artemidorus of Ephesus. The historic walled city, which includes the Palais des Papes, the cathedral, and the Pont d’Avignon, became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995. The Papal Palace, the medieval monuments and the annual Festival d’Avignon have helped to make the town a major center for tourism.

The Festival d’Avignon is an annual festival held every summer in July in the courtyard of the Palais des Papes and other locations in the city. Founded in 1947 it is the oldest festival in France and one of the world’s largest. In addition to the official festival, often hundreds of shows are presented in Avignon at the same time of the year adding to the festivities.

Arles

Near to Avignon is Arles. The Arles Colosseum and Amphitheater are one of the most popular tourist attraction in this city. They were built around the 1st century BC and the Colosseum was capable of seating over 20,000 spectators on three tiers. Today it has been mostly restored and is home to regular bullfights. After the Roman Empire fell the amphitheater became a shelter for the population of Arles and the Colosseum was transformed into a fortress with four towers added on.

Vienne

Traveling north toward Lyon you will come to the ancient Roman city of Vienne. Before the arrival of the Romans, Vienne was the capital city of the regions Gallic people. It was established as a Roman colony in 47 BC under Julius Caesar, with Vienne becoming a major Roman city, ideally located along the Rhône, a major transportation route. Numerous remains of Roman buildings are still visible in modern Vienne today.

Jazz, A Vienne Festival

For two weeks in July Vienne plays host to a jazz festival. It is recognized as one of the best jazz festivals in Europe, featuring way over 100 jazz musicians. With one of the most picturesque settings amongst Roman amphitheater structures the mostly outdoor music festival creates the perfect atmosphere for music lovers featuring full days and nights of the new and old sounds of jazz music.

Nobody should spend time visiting this region of France without planning on sampling French wine. Some of the widely recognized names include Côtes du Rhône, Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Beaujolais. All within easy reach of the river with numerous tours leaving from the riverboats. Unlike many ocean cruise ships, the river boats usually tie up right in the center of towns within an easy walk to many sights. Most river cruises also include daily tours in the cost of the cruise and we really enjoyed this option. The atmosphere onboard a river cruise also strikes us as much more relaxed and accommodating even though we seemed to do less reading than on ocean cruises probably because our days were so full.

Mediterranean Itineraries

Considering A Mediterranean Cruise

Venice

Summer is cruising season in the Mediterranean and the major cruise lines are well established in the market and offer a wide variety of itineraries. There are a number of similarities in most itineraries with the two main embarkation ports being Barcelona and the port for Rome, Civitavecchia. Venice, Italy is another popular embarkation port with some cruises to the eastern Mediterranean sailing out of Piraeus, the seaport of Athens, Greece. Itineraries vary in length with cruises of around seven days usually including four or five ports of call, those of nine to eleven days make six to eight stops and fourteen day itineraries calling on up to ten ports.

Dubrovnik

Cruises from Barcelona often stop at a series of ports east along the coast that usually include Villefranche-sur-Mer on the French Riviera, located near to Nice and Monte Carlo. Favorite Italian ports visited include Rome/Civitavecchia, Naples and Venice, with Venice often being an overnight visit. Additional popular ports include Livorno, for its proximity to Pisa and Florence, along with Genoa on the west coast and Ravenna on the east coast.

Kotor

Most cruises out of Rome/Civitavecchia go south and cruise around the Italian boot passing through the Straights of Messina. Popular destinations on shorter cruises (6 to 8 days) include Naples, Venice, Dobrovnik, Kotor in Montinegro, the Greek island of Corfu and Malta. Longer cruises can add Messina, the Greek islands of Mykonos and Santorini, Ephesus, Turkey and Athens.

Pisa

There are also Rome itineraries that sail west and often include Livorno, Villefranche, Provence France, with stops in the Spanish ports of Barcelona, Cartagena, Malaga and Palma de Mallorca and at times a visit to Gibraltar.

With the popularity of cruising growing there are more and more returning passengers. The cruise companies are always looking to add new ports as an enticement to get them to cruise again. For that reason there are always differences and surprises in searching itineraries so look for one that hits your “must see” destinations or new stops.

Santorini

There are some important things you need to consider when planning how you are going to get the most out of your cruise port visits. For most ports of call visits have a serious time limit and if you go off on your own you cannot be late returning to your ship. The ship just won’t normally wait for you. If you take a cruise sponsored tour the ship is obligated to get you and your fellow passengers back on board before sailing. That doesn’t mean that you are locked into taking only sponsored tours but you need to plan and allocate extra time to get back to the ship.

Corfu, Greece

When making your plans there are a few ports that many people put high up on their list to visit when they decide to cruise the Mediterranean. Here we offer a few highlights along with ideas on getting the most from those all-to-brief stops.

Florence

Livorno with trips to Pisa and Florence – You can easily take a train from Livorno Centrale to Florence Santa Maria Novella for €6 and €14 per person one way. You do have to get from the pier to the train station but most cruises offer a shuttle service at a reasonable price into town center. In Livorno you can also buy a combination round-trip ticket that includes the train tickets and a bus to the train station that can be purchased at many convenience shops. The trip takes about one and a half hours and trains run about every half hour. In Florence from Santa Maria Novella you can walk into the historic district in only a few blocks. You can get to Pisa in much the same way but the train trip is only twenty minutes with a moderate walk to the Cathedral and old city walls.

Rome

Civitavecchia / Rome – This is a city that everyone should make an effort to visit. From the buildings of the ancient Roman Empire to the Vatican there are days worth of sightseeing to be experienced. There is good information on seeing Rome in one day HERE.

You can find a good article on getting into Rome HERE. In Civitavecchia the train station is a moderate walk along the waterfront from the port and a train to S. Pietro station (Vatican City) takes about 40 minutes. Fares start at €5 per person one way on the commuter trains and up to €20 round trip using regional trains. There is a manned ticket booth at the Civitavecchia station along with automated vending machines. A round-trip bus booked through the ship will cost over €80 and take about two hours depending on traffic.

Barcelona

Barcelona -Barcelona is one of the two largest cruise ports in the Mediterranean and is used as an embarkation port as well as a popular port of call. The city is a modern and historic place with a number of iconic neighborhoods and attractions. If you are cruising out of Barcelona do not miss the opportunity to spend a couple of extra days visiting this vibrant city.

There are 3 cruise terminals at the World Trade Centre pier called North, South and East terminals and are much closer to the Columbus Monument on the waterfront at La Rambla.

The third terminal is Sant Bertrand, and it to is near the World Trade Center (refer to our cruise terminal map). Sant Bertrand is usually used for ferries to the Balearic Islands.

Palma, Spain

Transportation – The T3 PORTBUS (the “Blue Bus”) runs a circuit from all cruise port terminals to the monument of Christopher Columbus. The tickets for the T3 need to be purchased with cash on the bus itself. Single ticket: €3.00, with Return ticket: €4.00. Many of the cruise ships also provide a shuttle bus to their passengers for free or a small charge (usually about $5 to $8). Getting to the Gothic Quarter by

taxi from the port is normally less than 10 minutes with a fare of about €20.00. A Taxi to Barcelona airport from the cruise port should take about 25 minutes with a fare: of €30.00 – €35.00.

Malaga, Spain

Barcelona is a city steeped in culture and history and many think it is the city itself that is the main attraction. From great food to an exciting night life, from the old Gothic quarter to the modern shopping districts this is truly a remarkable city. The Gothic Cathedral in the heart of the Gothic quarter is a must-see as is a walk up Las Ramblas. Make sure to save time to explore the winding side streets with their shops and restaurants. There are also a number of great museums in the city. The MACBA (museum of modern art) and the CCCB next door are worth an hour or two. The Picasso and the permanent Dalí exhibition in the Gothic Quarter are always worth a visit. The Caixa Forum is a museum which has different art exhibitions every month. It is just off Plaça Espanya, on Avenida Marques.

Venice – Cruise ships dock at the cities cruise port and most ships offer water shuttles into the area near Piazza San Marco. That’s a good option but you can also walk out of the port. With a good map or phone app you can navigate through the city and reach the Piazza in only about a mile and a half through a number of interesting neighborhoods.

Pompeii

Naples – This city is near to the ruins of the Roman city Pompeii and well worth the time , but Naples is also not far from the Amalfi coast. There are frequent Trains from Naples to the Amalfi Coast. To get from Naples to Salerno, you can take one of Trenitalia’s Alta Velocità (AV) trains from Napoli Centrale station. The trip is about 30 miles and there are also InterCity and Regionale trains serving this route, with over three dozen trains a day costing €5 each way. From the Positino station it is a good idea to know where you want to visit and take a taxi but this is still an easy day trip.

The Acropolis

Piraeus and Athens – You can find a good piece on Piraeus HERE. The main attraction is the Acropolis in Athens and it’s well worth a day if this is your first visit. If you wold like to save a good amount over the cruise tours you can use the metro to travel from Piraeus to central Athens. A trip to Athens using the metro costs less than €1. Also a free shuttle bus usually operates in the port taking passengers from the ships to the metro station. Visiting the Acropolis has a general admission €10 and hours vary by season and day of the week. You should also expect a good uphill climb to reach the top but the is an elevator fro people with disabilities.

Monte Carlo

Villefranche-sur-Mer – You can find a good piece on Villefranche HERE. Less than a half mile around the waterfront is the train station where you can catch frequent trains to Monte Carlo, Nice or Cannes. They run about every twenty minutes and a trip to Monte Carlo takes only fifteen minutes and costs usually under €7.00. So before you sign up for that expensive tour consider some exploring on your own.

Visiting The Rhône Region Of France

The Rhône And The Heart Of France

Recently we spent a little over a week visiting the Rhône region of France which extends from Marseille, through historic Avignon, Arles, the Roman city of Vienne, Lyon, France’s culinary heart and west of the Rhône in the Beaujolais wine region including visits to some quaint Provençal villages.

The Papal Palace of Avignon

The Rhône River winds its way from Switzerland into France beginning at the Rhône Glacier in Valais, and flows to join the Saône River in the city of Lyon. From there it winds on past some of the region’s most significant landmarks dating back to the Roman era. Going on south past the Ardèche, the river moves past expanses of lavender and sunflower fields before it empties into the Mediterranean west of Marseille.

Mary above the Papal Palace

Most people, when they think of France, picture Paris, the French Riviera – Cote d’Azur, the beaches of Normandy, not Roman ruins and Medieval castles. Travel up the Rhône through the heart of France and you will discover Avignon, the “City of Popes,” and the historic Papal palace, the massive Roman Colosseum of Arles, still hosting bull fights today, the ancient Roman city of Vienne, a number of castles and riverside villages dating back over eight hundred years.

Street performers in Avignon

If you are thinking of visiting the region we might recommend going in late June or early July. Usually the temperatures are moderate (the 115° weather in 2019 is not common), the skies are clear and there are a number of fantastic seasonal festivals well worth attending.

  Avignon

City walls of Avignon

Avignon, the “City of Popes” is usually the starting point for the cruises going north. This walled city’s name dates dates back to the 6th century BC. The first citation of Avignon (Aouenion) was made by Artemidorus of Ephesus. The historic walled city, which includes the Palais des Papes, the cathedral, and the Pont d’Avignon, became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995. The Papal Palace, the medieval monuments and the annual Festival d’Avignon have helped to make the town a major centre for tourism.

The Festival d’Avignon is an annual festival held every summer in July in the courtyard of the Palais des Papes and other locations in the city. Founded in 1947 it is the oldest festival in France and one of the world’s largest. In addition to the official festival, often hundreds of shows are presented in Avignon at the same time of the year adding to the festivities.

Arles

The Arles Colosseum

Near to Avignon is Arles. The Arles Colosseum and Amphitheater are one of the most popular tourist attraction in this city. They were built around the 1st century BC and the Colosseum was capable of seating over 20,000 spectators on three tiers. Today it has been mostly restored and is home to regular bullfights. After the Roman Empire fell the amphitheater became a shelter for the population of Arles and the Colosseum was transformed into a fortress with four towers added.

 

Vienne

Temple of Augustus and Livia

Traveling north toward Lyon you will come to the ancient Roman city of Vienne. Before the arrival of the Romans, Vienne was the capital city of the regions Gallic people. Established as a Roman colony in 47 BC under Julius Caesar, Vienne became a major Roman city, ideally located along the Rhône, then a major transportation hub. Numerous remains of Roman buildings are still visible in modern Vienne.

 

Jazz is everywhere in Vienne

Jazz, A Vienne Festival  For two weeks in July Vienne plays host to a jazz festival. It is recognized as one of the best jazz festivals in Europe, featuring way over 100 jazz musicians. With one of the most picturesque settings amongst Roman amphitheater structures the mostly outdoor music festival creates the perfect atmosphere for music lovers featuring full days and nights of the new and old sounds of jazz music.

Wines Of The Rhône

Nobody should spend time visiting this region of France without sampling French wine. Some of the more widely recognized names include Côtes du Rhône, Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Beaujolais.

Côtes du Rhône  are the basic AOC (Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée) wines of the Rhône region, and exist as red, white and rosé wines, generally dominated by Grenache for reds and rosés, or Grenache blanc for whites.

Châteauneuf-du-Pape Not far from Avignon is a region famous for the production of red wine classified as Châteauneuf-du-Pape Appellation d’origine contrôlée which is produced from grapes grown in the commune of Châteauneuf-du-Pape and in portions of four adjoining communes. The name comes from the designation of the wine of the Pope. A ruined medieval castle sits above the village and was built in the 14th century for Pope John XXII, the second of the Popes to reside in Avignon. None of the subsequent Avignon Popes stayed in Châteauneuf but after the schism in the church in 1378 the antipope Clement VII sought refuge in the castle.

Beaujolais Our trip included time visiting the Beaujolais wine region to the north of Lyon along with a number of quaint Provençal villages. Today the region is known world wide for the popular Beaujolais nouveau. It is the most popular vin de primeur, fermented for just a few weeks before being released for sale on the third Thursday of November. This ‘Beaujolais Nouveau Day’ is recognized everywhere, with races to get the first bottles to different markets around the globe.

The village of Beaujeu

The village of Beaujeu is the heart of the region and where Beaujolais gets its name. The French tradition is to name a region after a central town. This region is famous for its growing conditions with lots of sunshine and its granite-based soils lending a unique character to their wines. The Gamay grape is used to make all Beaujolais wines with the exception of white Beaujolais, or Beaujolais blanc, which is made of Chardonnay grapes. Most of the harvesting is made manually in the Beaujolais region. Handpicking means entire bunches are vatted to allow a specific sort of maceration. This winemaking is specific to the Beaujolais region.

The Chateau de Varennes
Wine regions of the Rhône
Wine regions of the Rhône

Traveling through the hilly Beaujolais we were struck by the shear number of acres devoted to vineyards. From whole hillsides down to small backyard vineyards, grapes are growing everywhere and most everything seems to involve wine. We visited the Chateau de Varennes for a wine tasting. It’s an estate that is listed as a “VMF Historic Heritage” site and has been in the same family since 1809 with buildings dating back to the 11th Century. The Château itself is a beautiful period castle from the 16th century located in the heart of vineyards and overlooking the Samson valley. It’s a beautiful location with panoramic terrace views and an impressive Renaissance entry court.

We recommend putting the Rhône Region on you list of places to visit and the trip can be combined with a river cruise on a longboat. A great way to get an overview of the area.

1965 And The 4 Minute Louvre

Shortly after graduating high school the summer of 1965 found me in Paris visiting a Parisian exchange student, Jean Paul that had spent some time with my family the year before. At the same time a classmate of mine was also in Paris with her parents. For a few days Jean Paul, Beth and I hung out together racing around Paris in Jean Paul’s Citron 3.

Evenings usually found us in the park that cascades down the hill in front of Sacre Coeur. It was a gathering place for young people that included British rockers all decked out in their Union Jack clothing and spiked hair, American hippies, Algerian revolutionaries and Parisian rebels. It was full of guitar music, discussions about the Algerian freedom fight, the Vietnam war, art and our future. Often conversations travelled through three or four languages to include everyone and American and British rock songs were sung with a multitude of accents. The evenings broke up when the Gendarmes swept down the hillside with batons swinging to clear the park.

After that was bar hopping through Montmartre and Pigalle often stopping at street vendors selling french fries and mustard.

We slept late every day but did fit in some sightseeing here and there. Around that time Art Buchwald, an American humorist was in Paris and wrote a column in the American Times of Paris titled Breaking The Four Minute Louvre. It was shortly after American Jim Ryun was the first high school student to break the four minute mile and in the Spring of 1965 running the mile was in the news.

 

Tongue in cheek, Buchwald claimed that the worlds largest art collection actually contained only four pieces really worth seeing. Of course they included Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, but also Botticelli’s Birth of Venus (often called Venus on the Half Shell), the Winged Victory (a masterpiece of Greek sculpture, called the Winged Victory of Samothrace) and the Venus di Milo (an ancient Greek statue and one of the most famous works of ancient Greek sculpture). They were each in different galleries in the Louvre and Buchwald’s column claimed that nobody had yet entered the Louvre, looked at each piece and exited the museum in under four minutes, but the new record was near. It was a funny image offered up to American tourists visiting Paris but it had unintended consequences.

What red-blooded American youth visiting Paris could walk away from that challenge? The three of us accepted and while we were slightly hindered by being chased by museum guards we finished in a little over seven minutes. Getting lost could easily double your time and it was easy to do. I understand that the Louvre had to put up with crazy, running young people for most of that summer.

I actually met Art Buchwald in 1972 at a meeting of college newspapers in D.C. and asked him about that column. He laughed and said the French really have no sense of humor at all and he may still be persona non grata in Paris. Their loss.