Because our first Viking River Cruise (Paris to Normandy) was so enjoyable, we decided to try another one, and to see a part of France that we had driven through, but to see it more leisurely as we travel north on the Le Rhône River (See Viking River Cruises for more details).
Our goal was to see a different area of France, and hopefully have the same great river cruise experience we had on our River Seine Viking River Cruise.
As Viking had "sweetened their trip price offer" to the point where we could no longer ignore it, we decided to go for it. Perhaps because the airfare component of the trip was "free", it turned out to be a bit different than we were used to (see below). Go here to view Viking's information on this cruise.
The steps to get to the Viking Ship were as follows;
- Stage 1: we flew from Tampa International Airport to Cincinnati, OH.
- Stage 2: we flew from Cincinnati, OH to Paris, France. As you can no doubt imagine, due to the length of this leg, we upgraded our seats to the "larger seating area" option!
- Stage 3: we flew from Paris, France to Marseille, France.
Summary: We decided to "take" the Viking free air fare even though it placed us into economy seating. Yes, that is a very uncomfortable way to travel anywhere and we would never do this kind of thing again! If your tolerance level for uncomfortable airplane seating can be overcome by "no cost tickets", then perhaps your experience(s) might be different than ours.
Upon arrival in Marseilles, we collected our luggage and met the Viking River Cruises representative, who got us onto their bus, and took us to Avignon, France where we boarded the Viking Heimdal, our home for the next week.
This is a relatively new ship for Viking, it was built in Avignon and launched in March 2014. At 443 feet in length, it is longer than our first Viking trip (the Viking Spirit) in 2014 (that ship is 375 feet long).
Avignon & the Papal Palace
This is an interesting city, still surrounded by massive stone walls and containing the "home of the popes"
during the period 1309–77 when the popes took up residence here, instead of at Rome, primarily because
of the political conditions during that time.
Please click here to view our Avignon Page.
Day Trip to Arles
Click here to view our day trip tour to Arles.
Day Trip to Châteauneuf-du-Pape
Click here to view our day trip tour to Châteauneuf-du-Pape and read about our wine tasting experience.
Écluse de Caderousse Locks
These locks are located on the Rhône River (24 kilometers north of Avignon), and as you can
easily see, the limited height inside the lock is the primary reason why the
River Cruise Ships on the Rhône have to leave the sun deck in the collapsed position. On our River Seine
Viking Cruise the previous year, all of the locks were open at the top, so the ships could always leave
their sun decks in the upright position during the entire cruise.
Our ship passed through these locks on the way to Tournon-sur-Rhône. Click here for a really good Google Image of the River and the locks.
Celeste and I hiked around Tournon-sur-Rhône, to see as much of the village as we could. This castle was originally constructed starting in the tenth century, but what remains today dates from the 15th century and is now a Museum named "Chateau-Musee de Tournon-sur-Rhône".
Saint-Julien church of Tournon-sur-Rhône
Gives you some idea of the age of this village doesn't it? This church was initially constructed starting in 1300.
The Viking Heimdal arrived in Tournon at 1PM. This was the longest leg of the cruise, as it is approximately 150 kilometers from Avignon to Tournon.
There were two tours today, one to the Tain l'Hermitage for another wine tasting, and the second option was to take a steam train near Saint-Jean-de-Muzols (Train de l'Ardèche) into the Ardeche Mountains. We decided to take the train tour, as it is a very old steam locomotive, and the train would be going through the mountains, with steep gorges and beautiful views.
The steam locomotive was built in 1903, and the cars we rode in were from the same era, so it felt like we had entered a time machine! Seat comfort was not a "design goal" in that era, wooden bench seating with no pads.
The Chemin de fer du Vivarais (CFV) - often called Le Mastrou or Train de l'Ardèche - is a tourist railway in the Ardèche region of the South of France. The metre gauge line is 33 kilometres (21 mi) long. The railway is renowned for its historical steam locomotives in Mallet articulated locomotive style, as well as a collection of historic rolling stock and diesel railcars.
The line runs between Tournon, in the Rhône Valley, and Lamastre in the Doux valley. From Lamastre, the original line ran a further 19 kilometres (12 mi) to Le Cheylard. Originally opened on 12 July 1891, the line closed on 31 October 1968, and reopened as a heritage line the following year. In 2008, heritage services were suspended due to lack of funds to repair steam locomotives, among other issues. In 2013, steam returned to the Vivarais and services were resumed.
Train de l'Ardèche Steam Train
We had decided to take the 4 hour tour on the Steam Train, because it seemed as though it would be fun
and it was located in a very scenic part of the mountains near Tournon. Viking arranged it all, and took
everyone by bus to the train station where a sufficient number of train cars had to be positioned in order
to carry our large tour group.
The bus ride was brief, as the train station is only 5 kilometers from Tournon-sur-Rhône.
Waiting for the Train
And so we hung out for a few minutes, until the train cars were ready for us. Did I mention that it was cold that day?
Overlooking the Gorges du Doux
As the train went up the mountain, it looped back and forth over the River Doux below. The entire area the train traversed was geographically interesting. The Doux Valley, is a conservation area where panoramic views appear around every turn!
There were a lot of Bridges
Some additional views of the many bridges that were built to carry
the train up the mountain.
There are no roads in this entire area because it is a conservation zone, so all of these bridges were for the railroad.
Everyone off the Train!
Everyone had to get off the train, so that the engine could move onto the turnstile to prepare for the return trip. Did I mention that it was cold that day?
Some Videos of the Locomotive Positioning
Click the "Play Button" on any video & then once the video has started, you can make it "full screen" by clicking the square in the lower right corner of any video.
The turnstile operation drew everyone's attention! The locomotive was repositioned much quicker than I would have thought possible.
Once at the top of the gorge, everyone got off the train, the locomotive was decoupled from the cars and driven onto a turnstile, where the engineer swung the engine around and then he drove it back to the front of the passenger cars and re-coupled for the drive back down the gorge.
City of Vienne
The ship departed Tournon at 7PM on day 4, set to arrive in Vienne at midnight. It is Easter Sunday,
and it is not only chilly outside this morning, but most things are closed here in Vienne. The ship is
docked on the west side of the River Rhône, and to get to the other side, we hiked over a pedestrian
Click here to view our Vienne Page.
The ship arrives in Lyon at 3PM, and we initially tied up at the Quai Claude Bernard - the eastern side of the Rhône River. This is a very scenic location, adjacent to the Université Lumière Lyon and only 2.2 kilometers from the Place des Terreaux.
The Rhône River splits away from the Saône River at the southern tip of the Lyon City Peninsula and swings east on the north side of Lyon. The Saône River continues it's northward march to Vioménil, France. We were told by Viking personnel, that the Saône River was too high to allow the Viking Heimdal to proceed to it's usual location.
Since the city tour we are interested in takes place on day 7 (Tuesday), we decided to go ahead and do our "own" walking tour and so we head off to Place Bellecour, and tramp around the Rue de Victor Hugo and Rue de la Charite. The goal was to see some of the city, walk off some of the good food being served on the Heimdal, and to earn our next meal!
Perouges is another of those
amazing medieval walled & cobblestoned little villages that are all
over Europe, but each is just different enough, to where it is always interesting to visit them. It is a medieval walled town 19 miles
northeast of Lyon and is perched on a small hill that overlooks the plain of the Ain River.
Please click here to view our Perouges Page.
Last Day of the Trip & the Last Tour
OK, last day of the cruise and today is the more interesting Lyon city tour. There is another tour
departing for Cluny, France - but that one required a two hour bus ride in each direction. So we make the easy decision that we'd rather see the city in more detail.
The Lyon City tour first stop is at La Basilique Notre Dame de Fourvière (main entrance shown in this image), which is another amazing example of a Gothic Church. Built with private funds in 1872 to 1884, on the site of what was once the Roman forum of Trajan.
Although you cannot see it in this picture, the rear area of this church is next to a wall that overlooks the city of Lyon below the ridge that the church is located on. The view is fantastic - the church grounds are approximately 928 feet above sea level, while the majority of Lyon is at 550 feet above sea level. Gives you some idea of the height of the ridge eh?
These images were taken from the inside of La Basilique Notre Dame de Fourvière, however we had to be cautious
as the tour guide requested that no "flash photography" take place.
NOTE: Click here to see a Google Images set of pictures.
On the way up to the Basilique Notre Dame, we passed by more Roman Ruins, most of which were associated
with the Amphitheater for the Roman Forum of Trajan. Image 1 and 2 are of those ruins, and image 3
and 4 were taken from the back-side of the church, looking down into the Lyon River Valley.
NOTE: Click here to see a Google Images set of pics for the ruins.
On the way back to the ship from the tour, the bus driver was kind enough to make several stops at some of the interesting Lyon city sites. Image 1 and 2 above, are of a building near the Saone River, that has no windows on the city side of the building, instead, all of the "window scenes" were painted onto the building by local artists. Image 3 is the Lyon Opera House, and image 4 is a pieton alley on the old city side of the La Saone River.
Image five is a view of Lyon from the area in back of the Cathedral. Images six & seven, were taken of Lyon street scenes near the La Saone River. Image eight is where we found a seafood restaurant, and had lunch there.
The Place des Terreaux is a square located in the center of Lyon, France on the Presqu'île
between the Rhône and the Saône rivers, at the foot of the hill of La Croix-Rousse in the 1st
arrondissement. The square belongs to the zone classified as a World Heritage Site
NOTE: Click here to see a Google Images set of pictures for the square.
Celeste and I decided to have our last meal ashore, rather than sit through another "formal" meal onboard the Viking Heimdal. This was not a comment on the ship's food (it was good), but more of a "we are not truly hungry, and we wanted to have something local" before we leave Lyon. We found a small restaurant in the La Confluence Mall, and we had gallettes - if you have never had one, do a Google Search, because they are fantastic!
Although I came back to the ship to let my back and leg nerves get a break, Celeste went on a walk and
discovered some interesting architecture. Images 1 and 4 are of the "Orange Cube" building on the Saône
River near the La Confluence Mall. This six-story building is separated into a double-height showroom
on the ground floor and offices on the upper levels, with a roof terrace surrounding offices on the sixth
floor. Image 2 is of the La Confluence Mall, and as you can see, it is very distinctive architecture. When
the Viking Heimdal moved to the Saône River, we were docked immediately next to this mall. Image
3 is another cube building, similar to the Orange building.
NOTE: Click here to view a Google Images set of pictures for this area of Lyon.
This was our "departure day" and we woke up that morning to discover that not only had the French Air Traffic Controllers gone on strike sometime during the night, we also found to our horror, that the strike had caused many domestic flights to be cancelled. Including our Lyon to Paris flight, that was due to depart Lyon at 1PM.
I'm not going to fully describe this part of the trip, suffice it to say that we eventually were able to get a semblance of normality restored, and we finally got back to Sarasota at 1:45AM. If it had not been for some very, very nice Air France personnel at the Lyon Airport, we would probably still be in Lyon today!
This was our second Viking River Cruise, and it is difficult to compare it to our 2014 River Seine cruise. The stops we made on this cruise were very good, however, the River locks are frequent and are quite low compared to the River Seine lock systems. The River bridges are also quite low, which meant that the sun-deck area was never open throughout the entire cruise. Considering how chilly it frequently was, the sun-deck would probably have not been utilized often. As just an example, average temperatures for Lyon, France are in the mid to lower 50's (farenheit).
The wine on this ship was as good as the River Seine cruise, but the food was not quite as good. It is difficult to put the food into perspective, it was well prepared, it was good quality, but it was not as enjoyable as what we had on the previous cruise. Bear in mind that it was not "bad", it was just not as good when you compare the two ships, perhaps due to the chef?
Viking changes various parameters of this cruise from time to time, so you should Click here to go the Viking Site and read about this cruise in more detail.
- The Viking Lyon & Provence Cruise Overview & Guide Our Viking River Cruise from Marseilles to Lyon, north on the Rhône River with various ports of call, click here to read more.
- Avignon, France The first stop as we head up the Rhône River, click here to read more.
- Arles, France The town of Arles is a community situated in the region of Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur in the south eastern area of France. click here to read more.
- Châteauneuf-du-Pape, France While docked in Avignon, Viking organized an afternoon tour to the Châteauneuf-du-Pape wine region, known in France as one of the appellation d'origine contrôlée (AOC) regions. click here to read more.
- Tournon-sur-Rhône, France The Viking Heimdal cast off at 4AM to continue north on the River Rhône, to Tournon - set to arrive at 1PM. This was the longest leg of the cruise, it is approximately 150 kilometers from Avignon to Tournon. click here to read more.
- Vienne, France Vienne is a commune in southeastern France, located 35 kilometres (22 mi) south of Lyon, on the river Rhône. It is only the fourth largest city in the Isère department, of which it is a sub-prefecture, but was a major center of the Roman Empire. click here to read more.
- Lyon, France The ship arrives in Lyon at 3PM, and we initially tied up at the Quai Claude Bernard - the eastern side of the Rhône River. This is a very scenic location, adjacent to the Université Lumière Lyon and only 2.2 kilometers from the Place des Terreaux. click here to read more.
- Perouges, France The optional free bus tour to Perouges departs at 2PM today, and we drive through some really beautiful countryside on the way there. The La Dombes district is where fish are raised in a series of 1,200 ponds. Click here to read more.
- Our Thoughts on Viking River Cruises Our perspective on Viking River Cruises, plus a few pros & cons to consider. Click here to read more.
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