Bernadette and I celebrated our 40th Anniversary by traveling on an eight day/seven night Viking River Cruise in France. The cruise is named the Paris & Heart of Normandy cruise. We were extra happy that our son, Michael, and our daughter-in-law Emily could join us on the cruise.
After a three hour departure delay caused by the nearby hurricane, we flew from JFK International on an Air France A380 which is the two story jet with a curving staircase on it. We were seated in the economy section downstairs but it was a huge jet which could accommodate more than 500 passengers. We arrived in Paris around 11am and were shuttled to the ship named the Viking Rinda which was docked along the Seine River in Le Pecq. Two large stone figures adorned the bridge near our ship.
While Bernadette and I went on a guided leisurely walk to the nearby town of Saint-Germain-en-Laye, Mike and Emily discovered the train ride to Paris is only a half hour. They got an early jump on exploring Paris.
Day Two featured a full day, guided excursion with some stops for walking through Paris where we saw many of the world famous landmarks like the Arc-de-Triomphe, the Champs-Elysees, the Louvre and the Cathedral of Notre Dame. Here is one of the largest stain glassed windows in the Gothic styled Notre Dame.
We walked away from the touristy area near Notre Dame and Bernadette found a small local restaurant named Cave A Vins which according to the sign translates to Wine Cellar Restaurant. There was an attached store selling wine and the cashier would run back and forth between the register there and the kitchen to help the chef with lunches.
After lunch we regrouped with our tour guide in front of City Hall and then rode toward the park next to the Eiffel Tower. Along the way I noticed that some of the bridges that use to have the padlocks on the sides now had plexiglass to keep couples from fastening a padlock and throwing the key into the Seine River. We had seen several of these “padlocked” bridges on our prior cruise in Paris.
We arrived at the park surrounding the Eiffel Tower. I took the photo on the right to get a different perspective of the tower. There was a heightened sense of security and one of the entrances was closed to the public so that all persons trying to walk up the tower had to go through more enhanced security searches at a different entrance.
We returned to the ship for dinner and our Captain cast off for the city of Vernon.
The Viking staff always tried to care for our needs and did so in a friendly manner. Here are a couple of the chefs who agreed to pose with Super Squirrel who was a stow-a-way inside Emily’s pocketbook. I am going to miss my made to order omelet each morning.
After passing through some locks during breakfast, we arrived in Vernon around 8am. Today’s included morning tour was a easy three kilometer ride to Giverny which was the home village of Claude Monet. Monet was born in Paris in 1840, moved to England for a period of time, before returning to France and buying the large house and two acres of gardens in Giverny in 1883. This town became a mecca for impressionist painters. The tour included a wonderful walk through Monet’s Japanese-inspired pond and bamboo forest.
Our guide pointed out a large Copper Beech tree which happens to be the same kind of tree next to our house in our neighbors John and Joyce’s yard.
Next, we walked along Monet’s many flower beds which are immaculately maintained by gardeners hired by the Foundation which now supervises this property.
The end of the tour involved walking through Monet’s house and I took some photos out the upstairs window in Monet’s master bedroom.
This is the official day of our 40th Wedding Anniversary. We left Vernon at 3am on our trip to Rouen. Rouen is an important city in Normandy history as it is the site where Joan of Arc was tried for heresy and burned at the stake in the Old Market Square in 1431. There was a tall cross with an embedded sword and a statue of Joan of Arc outside a small chapel.
We entered the chapel where our guide provided us some more information about this time in history. Joan of Arc had been charged with witchcraft, heresy and dressing like a man. She was convicted after a lengthy trial and was burned at the stake in May 1431. Actually she suffocated to death after the first burning but her remains had to be burned in a couple of additional fires until everything was incinerated.
Joan of Arc was canonized in 1920 and has been considered one of history’s greatest saints and an enduring symbol of French unity and nationalism.
Across from the Joan of Arc site is the oldest restaurant in France. It is the La Courrone which was established 1345. Our guide on the walking tour explained that Julia Childs ate at this very restaurant which led to her decision to bring French cuisine to America. She had reportedly returned to the same restaurant many times. Patrons today can order what Julia Childs first ordered. I think you would be served Chicken Cordon Bleu.
While walking through Rouen’s streets there was a group of peaceful protestors, dressed in similar one piece outfits, who were holding up signs protesting something involving chickens.
One of the famous landmark’s in Rouen is the two sided clock located on an arch across the Rue du Gros-Horloge. All the cobblestone streets add to the charm of walking in this town.
The mechanism for this clock was made in 1389. If I understood the guide correctly, there is just one hand and the other moving parts on the face of the clock indicate times of the day, etc. It is also an astronomical clock as well.
To celebrate our 40th anniversary, we decided to make reservations for La Courrone. We were lucky that our new friends, Sandy and Jamie, could join Mike and Emily so that the six of us could enjoy this unique restaurant.
When we got back to our ship, our cabin staff person had fashioned towels into swans for us.
Breakfast was served a little earlier for those passengers who wished to take one of the included tours to either Omaha Beach and the American cemetery in Normandy or to Juno Beach and the Commonwealth cemeteries (Canadian and British). Since I had already been to the American cemetery on a prior trip, I chose the Commonwealth option.
During the one and a half hour trip toward the Normandy beaches, we made a stop at a museum which housed historical tapestries from the Middle Ages. The hand painted scenes depicted historical events across many years.
We then had an arranged lunch at the 6th of June Restaurant in Arromanches-les-Bains, Normandy. Next stop was the Canadian Museum located at Juno Beach which is the site of the Canadian soldiers landing on D-day. The museum was very informative and I had time to walk down and onto Juno Beach. Juno Beach sits between Gold and Sword beaches which were the British landing sites. These beaches are just a little east of Omaha and Utah beaches used by the American soldiers on D-day.
We boarded our bus for the trip to the Canadian Cemetery in Beny-sur-Mer, Normany. The tour guide provided roses to Canadian citizens on this tour so they could leave a rose at the marker of their choice.
All of the grave markers for the Canadian soldiers had a rounded top but there was a lone marker in the shape of a cross. The cross marked the grave of a French resistance fighter who fought and died with the Canadian soldiers.
Our next destination was the Pegasus Bridge and museum which was in recognition of the British 6th Airborne Division who used wooden glider planes to land quietly near certain bridges during the night just before the early morning D-day invasion. Although the current Pegasus Bridge is not the same as the one during WWII, we walked a short way to the museum where the original bridge was located as an outdoor exhibit. Anyone who has seen the movie “The Longest Day” can recall the scenes where the British land in these wooden gliders and capture strategic bridges from German control in the hours shortly before the main D-day landing. The Pegasus Bridge is one of the strategic bridges and the original bridge was still in place when the movie was made. There were only two German soldiers on guard at the bridge which was captured quickly by the British paratroopers.
Also at the museum is a full size wooden glider plane like the ones used by the soldiers. Three planes, each holding 30 paratroopers, landed to secure Pegasus Bridge and another three gliders filled with 90 paratroopers landed nearby to capture another bridge.
Our final stop was a short visit to the British Cemetery in Ranville, Normandy. Our guide pointed out some distinctive things at this cemetery. One was the marker for a 16 year old soldier who was the youngest soldier in this cemetery.
Further, there was a section of this cemetery which had different shaped head stones. These marked the graves of German soldiers who were buried nearby. This particular one did not bear a name. The inscription, translated into English, means simply “A German Soldier”.
During dinner on the ship the staff prepared special desserts which were served with bright sparklers to each table. Emily and Sandy are sampling the desserts.
We cast off from Rouen bound for Les Andelys. The ride on these Viking ships is so smooth while we enjoyed beautiful views of nearby towns and houses along the Seine.
Jamie introduced me to a retired Air Force pilot who came up to see our daytime passage through a lock.
We were given access for a short tour of the the Viking Rinda’s Bridge and were able to ask questions of the captain. Bernadette took our photo as we all fit inside the bridge.
After lunch, we did the guided walking tour in Les Andelys. Emily and I posed behind wooden figures of King Richard I better known as Richard the Lionhearted and his Queen. Mike took our photo, Bernadette was shopping.
Patrick, our guide, stopped at a statue of Jean Pierre Blanchard located in a square next to a church. Patrick explained that most French people, if asked who Jean Pierre Blanchard is, would not know the significance of this person. Blanchard was a French inventor and a pioneer in balloon flight. He was born in Les Andelys and that is why his statue is placed here.
Blanchard, along with an American physician, made the first aerial crossing of the English Channel in 1785. When Blanchard made the first crossing, the balloon kept losing altitude so Blanchard threw some ballast out of the basket. He threw out the anchor too. The balloon rose again but later began to descend prematurely so the only thing that Blanchard had to get rid of were his clothing. He took everything off, the balloon rose long enough to make it to land. Blanchard was naked when persons came to congratulate him. Blanchard would later pilot balloon flights in different countries around the world.
The second half of this afternoon tour was a hike up to the Chateau Gaillard which was a fort built in the 12th Century by King Richard I. The view down to the river was beautiful. Here I am standing by some of the remains of the nearly 1,000 year old castle which featured a series of dry moats to keep intruders from storming the castle.
Following King Richard’s death, a French King and his soldiers ultimately figured out a way to enter the castle after surrounding the castle’s inhabitants for many months.
After a short walk back downhill into Les Andelys, we had dinner while our ship cast off for a return to Le Pecq, which was our starting point near Paris.
Our final day was spent relaxing on the ship’s upper deck reading and we enjoyed the final dinner with our new friends, Sandy and Jamie.
Mike and Emily were able to tour the Opera House in Paris and then later returned to Paris to see the Eiffel Tower lit up at night. Here is a photo taken by Emily. This was way past our bedtime.
After breakfast, we finished packing and Emily took our last photo on the ship.
Bernadette said this was her BEST VACATION EVER. Bernadette and I have shared 40 years worth adventures together and these trips are great ways to enjoy our retirement. I love you Bernadette.