Category Archives: 2017

Lyon and Environs (a.m., Day 1)

The Musée des Confluences is a science center and anthropology museum — it was our wake up call.

Lugdunum may have been musical to Roman ears, but Lyon sounded much better to us — regardless of intonation. You see, France has many, many flavors of French, and as soon as you speak French learned in a non-local home or classroom, they shift, either to formal French or English (in our case). It became a game.


We would use French, and they would answer in English. We would speak English, and they would answer in local French. But Bonjour Madame ou Monsieur was guaranteed to get a sincere and friendly effort to communicate. With 30% of English being French in direct or derivative origin, it’s actually fun if one lets it be.

So far, we and the French we have spoken with, have all walked away with a smile. One thing throughout the trip was we never had to point to a menu item. Our French was always good enough to get us what we expected. Magali, like all our French guides, was more than willing to assist us with pronunciation and word selection and gender. Some of the glottals required a six year old’s throat.

Since we would be in Lyon for more than a day, we chose our cool first morning tour to focus on the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière. The less than fully religious here refer to it as the upside down elephant*. Its design  dates to the mid 1800s, but its traditional elements make it feel older. Unlike just about everything we’ve seen so far, it wasn’t wrapped in controversy beyond the usual secular-religious tug of war. It was built in thanks for the sparing of Lyon in the Franco-Prussian War.

After crossing a lane of bike traffic moving at breakneck speed with the help of all the crew including the Captain, we loaded ourselves in another coach to cross the river and climb the hill.

Lyon is the third largest city in France. It’s a foodie city, and the foodies get their Euro working in banking, as well as for the chemical, pharmaceutical, and biotech industries — and bistros, cafes, restaurants and brasserie…  A word about that, Bistros** mean fast, Cafe means coffee. Restaurants mean at least two course meals. Brasseries are where one gets beer. In practice, it’s not so tightly defined, but that’s the etymology. There are said to be 2500 eateries of some description in the city center alone, and the tourists make up a very small portion of the business. This is a working city with an appetite and always has been.

One of its unique attributes are Traboules. These are hidden, street-level tunnels that were cut between businesses and townhouses to facilitate the silk trade — IT geeks would call it a sneaker-net — a network hidden within and beneath the acknowledged infrastructure. These were neither dark nor dank. People lived in houses that fronted them. They were just an extensive array of short cuts designed to reduce the number of Francs it took to make more Francs.

The first part of the gallery is a traboule that underruns a townhouse. The second is a traboule that runs behind a business and apartments.

Did we say Lyon is a foodie city? The following gallery encompasses a single block. There are hundreds of blocks.

On our return to the ship, our Maitre’d, Manuel, and the dining staff awaited us with a presentation of the “Taste of Provence,” a melange of culinary specialties from the area. Ou, La, La!

* Upside Down Elephant





**The word bistro derived from the Russian bystro (быстро), “quickly”. It entered the French language during the Battle of Paris (1814). Russian officers or cossacks who wanted to be served quickly would shout “bystro. “The French turned it from an irritant to an attribute. OBTW, Bistro = Bistrot

Vienne, France

Vienne, the Romans said Vienna, was another place favored by Julius Caesar. Compared to Avignon and Arles, Vienne was the big time. It was designated a Roman city, not an outpost. However, the imposed upon Gauls were not impressed and managed to expel the Romans who went north to found the city of Lyon (aka Lugdunum, then). And so “king-of-the-hill” played on with the Romans returning, and it was here Herod was exiled in 6 CE. It’s odd that in all the study I’d done on the Gallic wars, somehow the larger politics and economics of the Gallic peace (pseudo) never came up. There was no shortage of authors. Humph.

With our arrival here, we had a clear sense the Rhone segment of our trip was over the hump. We were also glad we had packed for warm weather as well as damp and cool. Some folks had to go back to the ship because of the heat. Our reaction was it was cooler than Vero Beach, and we stood in the shade while Phillipe (yes, The Phillipe) delivered his pearls.

This trip is shaping up to be the best cultural trip we have ever taken (Our Med trip included) — the guides are SUPERB, and France’s official standards of performance for licensure are a big part of that. Would that we had had more professors as committed to creating understanding.

Chemin de fer du Vivarais

The Train de l’Ardèche (also aka Le Mastrou) is a remnant of a larger system opened in 1891 and closed in 1968. The following year it reopened as a heritage line, and funding became the primary issue. The operators managed to keep it open until 2008.

It reopened in 2013, and from what we saw, it now seems to be pretty well funded. It was always a small operation never exceeding a network of meter gauge track of ~200 kilometers, and today it is only 33. The small gauge — it looks pretty tippy — allows for the tighter turns the sinuous gorge required.

The gallery gives a sense of the operation. It’s out and back, with a turntable that one person can spin with the locomotive on it. At the turntable, there’s a market stand. It was a beautiful day, and the wind was perfect for blowing the smoke and steam away from us. Still, we think we might have enjoyed the Rhone more.

Cruising to Tournon and Beyond

We left Viviers at 1300 headed north for Tournon. Our feet got a rest, and the focus shifted more onboard the Heimdal. A cooking demonstration (a bit of Abbott and Costello thrown in), French lessons (just enough to get one in trouble), a nautical presentation by the Captain (superb) intermixed with restful views of a rising landscape and more walls and round towers — some of them belonging to nuclear power plants. Through here we began to encounter more locks as the terrain embracing the river climbed toward Lyon.

Locking was something to behold. The locks were essentially automatic. The ship had multiple, rotatable, two-propeller steering pods at bow and stern. We seldom touched, and when we did it was usually from a crosswind inside the lock which meant the Captain’s propulsion options were a bit limited. This never got boring!

The weather was exquisite, and the scenery was beautiful… It was a lazy afternoon followed by a similar evening. We sorta let the camera rest in preparation for tomorrow.


Tournon-sur-Rhone Toward Vienne

Guide Phillipe seeks our attention!

This was a different day. It started in Tournon which was bustling by Viviers standards. We saw eight locals and two cars moving — or roughly double Viviers (if you don’t count the small marina). We moved on to a steam train ride which, well, it was a bit theme parky, although the gorge it ran up (and back) was inviting given it wasn’t flash flood season. Then we were on to a coach to chase the Heimdal into Andance, where we rejoined in time for lunch. Then it was on to Vienne where we foot toured a bit more. In retrospect, we likely would have done better taking in the view from the river at 12 knots between Tournon and Vienne. [The train and Vienne will be covered in separate posts.]

Tournon’s population has tripled since 1793! Yes, since 1793. It’s now right around 10,000. Florida adds about 1000 people per day. We are talking a seriously different outlook on change here. The biggest house in town is the same one as then (and a lot further back). We’re reminded of Fiddler on the Roof.

In the center of town, Tournon has quite a public high school with roughly 1000 students. Formerly the Collège de Tournon, it now bears the name of the writer Gabriel Faure (1877-1962), a native of Tournon. Diplomas are offered in: economic and social, literary, scientific, health and social, disciplines. Classes are taught in German, English, Spanish, Ancient Greek, Italian, and Latin. Founded in 1536 by Cardinal Francis II of Tournon, in 1548, it became a university of Philosophy and the seven Liberal Arts. Rydell High this is not.

Tournon can also (and does) boast of the inventor of the twisted cable suspension bridge ala the Golden Gate, Marc Seguin. He also invented the multi-tubular steam engine boiler which in the early 1800s was comparable to inventing jet engines in their day. His design allowed steam locomotives to run at 25 mph vs the 4 mph common then. Given the materials of the time, a six-fold increase in anything was close to magic.



Viviers & Pierre

One has to remember a tour guide might not always have been a tour guide nor might not be only a tour guide. Pierre (and his wife) were ranked #5 in France in Latin Ballroom Dance competition. Then night shift nursing hours for her ended that, and Pierre took on morning tour guiding to have time to spend with her. Pierre was a hoot.



Viviers got its name from the Roman vivarium that was here. The vivarium was a dammed off section of the river in which fish were kept alive and cultivated to feed the Legions stationed in this part of Gaul. Because it was mostly earthen, very, very little of it can be identified since this part of the Rhone used to flood tens of meters deep before the river was canalized. Even since then it has flooded badly as you can see from the picture. Click to read the water levels. This pillar is about 100 meters from the normal river bank.

The calm before the calm.

Viviers is on the list of towns one cannot change without government approval. So, walking through this town is a form of time travel. And a lot of its story is the same king-of-the-hill saga that pretty much scopes history. This “hill” was larger than it looks because of the fertility of the land involved, and its strategic position on this narrow turn in the Rhone (la défilé). Viviers is the center of the Ardeche region known as Vivarais. It had the misfortune to be on the path of the German retreat and Allied advance at the end of WWII. The place wasn’t much damaged, but the Nazis took out their frustration on the people, murdering citizens right up to the moment of Allied arrival. Pierre’s uncle was one.

The gallery that follows conveys a sense of durability. Most of these buildings are over 500 years old. Single family mansions have become apartment buildings, and apartments house more than one generation. The day we were there people were having to drive to another town for bread — the baker had taken a vacation at a different time than the rest of the town — GASP! Or is it Zut Alors!?

As noted, Pierre was a hoot. Bon chance, Mon Ami.