Paris to Tours: The Adventure Begins

Our tour bus

Paris to City of Tours

Our first day with Viking began Wednesday early in Paris after our overnight flight on Air France.. The highlight of the first day was getting to see our friends Chantal and Michel for dinner out. They are just now boarding a Princess Cruise.

The hotel in Paris was Le Meridien Hotel near the Arch de Triumph. Next day Thursday started at 5:30 am with a wonderful breakfast provided by Viking River Cruises. If you left hungry it was your fault.  While we were enjoying that, Viking was worked behind the scenes picking up our bags for transfer to the bus. Service from Viking has been 1st class so far.  We gathered with 14 other couples for a 3-day tour of the Loire Valley, visiting Chateaus and Cathedrals and then onto the River Cruise from Bordeaux next Saturday.

In Orleans: Cathedral of Sainte Croix (of the Holy Cross)

The route out of Paris took us along the Seine River and on to Auto-Route A10 to the city of Orleans. We said auvoir to Paris for now.  We were under God’s protection because the terrorist attack happened 12 hours after our departure at a location where we had been just the previous evening. Our prayers go out to all the police families affected.

The weather was a chilly 40 degrees and the sky was clear blue.  Our first new friends with Bill and Jordy from League City, Texas, both Christians and active in missions.

So we settled back and left the driving to Viking, arriving at Orleans along the Loire River about 10:45.  Our guide Vincent described the Loire as France’s wild and beautiful river.  The bus let us off near the old part of Orleans, the adopted home of Joan of Arc. Vincent began a detailed history of Orleans and Joan of Arc as well as a lot about the history of France. Everyone was issued a small receiver with ear piece so we could hear him.  He (and I) are very impressed with Mary Alice’s French. It’s clear all that money I’m spending on her lessons is paying off!

Joan of Arc

The tour of Orleans included the Cathedral of Saint Croix (of the Holy Cross).  The church is a prime example of Gothic architecture meaning it has huge spire and high walls and arched buttresses holding it all together. It began as a Chapel in the 8th Century. Side chapels were added in the 14th Century.  Joan of Arc came to pray shortly before she was killed in 1429.  During the wars of religion (Hundred Years War) the church was damaged by the Huguenots. It was rebuilt under Henry IV and Louis XIII.  MA remarked that the chairs in the cathedral were so uncomfortable that no one would fall asleep during the sermon.

The cathedral is currently undergoing a restoration of its exterior.

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We got back on the bus and headed to our first chateau, Chambord, pictured above.  Our tour lasted between 3-5pm and all I can tell you is it’s a huge place, a true castle surrounded by a moat with adjacent hunting grounds, which are definitely not a wildlife preserve.

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Chateau Belmont..our hotel

We headed toward the town of Tours where we are staying for two nights. Our hotel is the Chateau Belmont, a real chateau with an iron gate and beautiful grounds. The hotel staff was ready for our arrival and every couple was issued a preassigned room.  Dinner was again with compliments from Viking.   Mary Alice and I were so tired that when we were finished we quickly called it a night, not even turning on the TV!!

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IAH to Paris….long flight

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The day began early for us.  I was up early and finished packing. MA makes a check list for the house when we leave and I was checking things off. We elected to take a shuttle to the IAH this trip because the parking would have been $50 more than just having someone else drive.  That is an easy decision.  We finished packing and our driver showed up right on time at 11:30.  His name was Ty and from his accent I figured he was from Nigeria.  I was right.

We arrive at Terminal D, found an abandoned luggage cart in the parking lot.  We rolled into Terminal D and got checked into Air France.  Our flight was delayed an hour so we decided to walk over to Terminal C to the United Club and relax there for a couple of hours.  We were just in time for lunch, Tomato Bisque soup.  It was delicious or maybe I was just hungry.  The time whizzed by and we walked back to Terminal D and gate D11.  We boarded on time and MA and I had two seats to ourselves.  It was still a miserable nine hours of sitting in one position, unable to sleep. It’s the only part of travel that I hate, however, if you have to fly someplace to get started on your cruise, you have no other choice.

The cabin steward, Fredrico Silvitri, was excellent.  He always greeted us with a smile. He made sure we had water or something to drink. He made us feel like we were sitting in first class. Towards the end of the flight he gave MA a book on Bordeaux and then went around the cabin personally shaking hands and saying good bye to each passenger in his care.  MA says in all her years and years flying, she has NEVER seen that! The guy was just top notch. IMG_1122_Out-the-window

MA took this shot out of the window just as the sun was coming up…somewhere over North Atlantic bit approaching the west coast of France.

We arrived at Charles De Gaul Airport in Paris around 9:00 am local time. We gathered our stuff and made our way to French Customs.  We were among about 1000 people going through the passport control.  It took about an hour to get through the line and we met some fellow Viking passengers along the way.  After retrieving our luggage and exiting the doors to the ground level, there was the Viking reps waiting to check us in and arrange our transportation to the hotel.  We stayed at the Le Meridien Hotel which is near the Arch de Triumph.  The computer’s battery is running low so I’ll close for now. Thanks to Susan L. for taking care of our Tanner while we’er gone.

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Viking River Cruise….our next adventure

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It’s something I’ve wanted to do ever since I heard about river cruising, take a Viking River Cruise.  MA was not so interested because she enjoys the ocean and cruise days at sea. For me, there’s just not a lot of photo ops on the Atlantic Ocean and how many photos can you take of a Princess ship. We both compromised and decided to take a Viking River Cruise in France.  I get lots of photo ops and she gets to use her French.

We chose April on the Garonne and Dordogne Rivers leaving from Bordeaux.  We have also dreamed of visiting the Loire River valley, home of the aristocratic French chateaus. So, we arranged a three day scenic tour which will take us through the Loire Valley chateaus before getting on the Viking boat.  So, come aboard and join us on this journey through the heart of the French wine country, Bordeaux. We depart in a few weeks.

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Fogged In/Out….Not a Good Beginning

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3:00pm We were supposed to be on this ship in the Port of Galveston at the Cruise Terminal, instead we are still home waiting for Carnival to tell us what time to board.  The ship is still off the Galveston jetties waiting for the fog to lift so they can get into the port. Oh well, such is cruising out of Galveston this time of year.  We are taking a week cruise to the Caribbean with stops in the Jamaica, Cozumel and the Cayman Islands.  We are excited about getting packed and going, except we haven’t left home yet.

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See you later……Wayne

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Punt Delgado, Azores (Portugal)

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Punta Delgado, Azores (Portugal)

Sailing from Barcelona, we arrived in Punta Delgado in the Azores in three days. Mary Alice and I have been to these beautiful islands on two prior cruises, so we passed on the ship’s tours.  We elected to walk off the ship and explore the capital city, Punta Delgado, on foot.  The weather was mild and there was plenty of sunshine.

We walked the pedestrian sidewalk around the moored boats to the end and turned around and started back.  We were propositioned by a carriage driver for a ride in his horse drawn “buggy”.  The price was 10 Euros so we said yes.  After adding four more passengers we were off on the ride around Punta Delgado.  The driver took us through narrow streets, by a park and returned to his parking spot. I handed the driver a 10 Euro bill and he said “ten each.” I felt like we just got flim-famed but both of us enjoyed the ride and I took some photos I would not have taken.

We walked back to the ship, got aboard and I watched and photographed some wind surfers on the starboard side of the Royal Princess.  We sailed away about 5pm after all the passengers boarded.punta_delgado_azores_wind_surfer_d75_0473_resize

We set sail for Fort Lauderdale and will arrive next Saturday after crossing the Atlantic.

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Hola from Sitges, Spain

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Sitges, Spain………..from Barcelona

We arrived in Barcelona early this morning. We both slept really well. I guess this touring and dining can be very tiring.  Our room service coffee arrived followed later with breakfast in the dining room.  Then we got our act together and met our tour group in the Princess Theater.

The brochure said that Sitges was an old fishing village.  Wrong.  There was nothing old about it except the church and half the people on our bus!  But we still had a great time walking along the seawall, watching the many surfers and sizing up the many apartments and hotels for future reference, that is until we found out a small studio went for $450,000 Euros, and up!

When we got to the old church we came across a lively group of Spanish teenagers on a school outing.  They posed for my camera after I told them I might be a National Geographic photographer! Then they applauded us as we made our way up the many steps to the church.

We walked around and found a sidewalk café where we both enjoyed coffees and grilled cheese sandwiches.  While we were there, I noticed a windsurfer, grabbed my camera and mounted my 70-210 lens and headed to the rock pier.  It was a lesson in action photography.  You tell me how I did.

 

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Catholic Church in Stiges

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MA and a skinny street

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Skinny Hotel in Stiges

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Narrow street in Stiges

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Old Boat

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Hotel & Cafes along the Beach

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Spanish teenagers on the church steps

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Old medival seal of Spain

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This is a masoleum near the port in Barcelona.  Expensive cryps face the ocean.  The others are on the othe side of the mountain.

 

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Bonjour…we’re in Toulon, France

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We’re in Toulon, France today and we were up and at it by 6:30 am to be ready for our tour to the French Village of Le Castellet.  The ticket says “extensive walking over uneven cobblestones, not for guests with limited mobility.”  I think we’ll be ok.  After all, yesterday MA and I racked up over 12,000 steps each on her Fitbit watch.

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We ordered breakfast from room service again and it arrived right on time.  We gathered our stuff and were off to the Symphony Dining room to get checked in and meet our group to board the bus by 8:30 am.  Our French guide today is Sylvia and the bus driver is Sebastian.  Sylvia spoke at length about the French history of the region but after a while I realized I had dozed off.

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After about an hour we arrived in the perched village of Le Castellet.  It is very typical of other perched villages in Provence with a wall surrounding the entire compound. There are usually only one or two entrances into the village and these were protected by massive doors.  The doors were gone and the gates only allow one vehicle to pass through at a time.  Like other perched villages the Catholic Church is in the middle of town.  You will usually find an exposed church bell in a wrought iron frame. We wandered around town with me taking some photos of the village and MA doing a little shopping.

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Why did the French (Italians & Spanish) build their villages like fortifications?  Muslims of the 11th, 12th and 13th Centuries raided Europe looting towns and taking slaves back to northern Africa and Turkey with them. Seems Muslims are once again a European problem.  This time it’s invasion and domination.

We hooked back up with our group at 11:15 and left for a working Provence winery-olive oil farm named Domanie Souviou in the Bandol region.  Most of the grapes had been harvested, however, the olive trees were full of olives. What we learned from our guide is that the olive trees in the oldest part of the farm are 800-1000 years old.  The picture of the olive tree you see is called “The King” because it produced 800 kilos of olives last year. It takes 30 kilos of olives for just one bottle of olive oil! “The King” was full this year again and may ever break its own record.

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The return to the ship was uneventful other than taking longer than I thought it should. On arrival there was only one guy to screen all the returning passengers until one of the guides went inside and complained and the line sped up with more help. We got back on board the Royal Princess, ready for another evening at sea.

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