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Saturday, 31 December 2016

AMA Cruise and Land Tour in Provence - November 30th/15

After my big breakfast, I dressed very warmly and went on a guided one-hour walking tour of Tournon.  We walked to the Chateau de Tournon, which offered a fine view of the town and river from the Chateau's terraces. 

We then entered the Crozes-Hermitage Winery for a special pairing of wine and chocolate tasting.  The winery made home-made chocolates to be tasted with each of the three wines served - this wine tasting was different than any other that I have been on.  Everyone seemed to enjoy it - wine and chocolate can go together. 
After the tour we could have walked around the town on our own, but it was too cold so I hurried back to the ship.  For lunch, I had macaroni and grape tomatoes in a parmesan sauce with a mixed green salad.  They also served baked marinated chicken legs, which were very tasty.  For dessert, I had a Napoleon pastry, and also a few espressos.

When  everyone returned to the ship, it departed at about 1:15 pm from Tournon for Viviers.
After lunch, there was another lecture on wine and a wine tasting.

For dinner, I selected the foie gras pate and fig chutney with raspberry sauce - this was excellent.  For the soup, French onion soup and for the main course, the herb crusted lamb rack and lamb stew with ratatouille and potato gratin.  Serving lamb stew with the rack of lamb was unusual, but it turned out to be a very good combination.  The red wine, as one would expect from this area, was excellent.  For dessert,  I chose a variation of three items:  crème caramel, a pear tart, and homemade raspberry sorbet.  Needless to say, another excellent meal.

After dinner, at about 9:15 pm, we went on a “ghost walk” of the amazing medieval town of Viviers .  The AMADAGIO was able to dock right alongside Viviers, an small walled city located in the French department of Ardeche.  There is an extensive maze of narrow streets with some buildings having been renovated and others deserted and dilapidated.

To enter Viviers, we walked from the ship and proceeded down a long tree-lined road - this is a mysterious and eerie place to walk through at night with just a flashlight.  People still live here but at night, except for an occasional light inside a house and Christmas decorations outside, one would think the town has been deserted.  The streets are very narrow and either poorly lit or not lit at all.  One would expect ghosts to appear at night; and sure enough, one did materialize—with the help of AMA, of course, who hired an actor to give a few dramatic performances at selected locations.

Photos belong to Phil Bianco 

AMA Cruise and Land Tour in Provence - November 29th/15

The very cold weather continued, and I had my big breakfast on the ship.  Just 32 km south of Lyon is the attractive Roman town of Vienne.  The first stop on the guided tour was St Maurice Cathedral, and the second stop was the imperial Temple of Augustus and Livia.   The temple was turned into a church around the 4th century. 

Next, we were driven to the top of Mt. Pipet for an impressive view of Vienne.  Also seen from Mt. Pipet are the remains of the Roman Theater, capable of seating over 13000 spectators.  It was restored in 1938, and is now used for a variety of musical festivals and entertainment events.   Also located at the top is the Chapel of Notre-Dame-de-la-Salette, erected in the 19th century.

Next we went to  the town’s city hall in a tourist train trolley.  We walked around the farmers market  on the way back to the ship.  Near the docks was a memorial to all the French who died in all of France's wars.

After the tour of Vienne, we departed on the AMADAGIO for Tournon.

For lunch, I had creamed vegetable soup, gnocchi with small tomatoes in a pesto sauce and mixed green salad with artichokes, asparagus, olives, peppers and green beans.  For dessert, there was a cheese and cherry pastry.  I had the iced tea and a few espressos.  


 Then we went into Tournon for a wine tasting.  The wines were all from the 300 acres of “Hermitage” vineyards that grow on the almost treeless, granite slopes of Tournon’s prominent hill.  Terrace upon terrace of vines face the south, thus benefitting from the full force of the sun’s rays.   The “Hermitage” red is one of the world’s longest-lived wines and a fine vintage will last for a good forty years.

For dinner,  I had the peach cocktail and for the soup, the poultry consommé with rice and green beans.  For the main course, the braised beef in a red wine sauce with roasted potato wedges and for dessert, the lemon tart.  The braised beef was excellent, and I had the red wine.  After dinner, I went up to the lounge for some espressos.  

We had the best entertainment of the cruise tonight.  The group was called La Strada, and was comprised of two violins and one guitar.  Mostly classical pieces were played - a nice evening.

Photos belong to Phil Bianco

AMA Cruise and Land Tour in Provence - November 28th/15

After my usual big breakfast, this morning’s tour took us through the Beaujolais wine region, the Pays d’Or (land of the golden stones) named for the ochre limestone of the houses and castles.  The region is famed for its fruity red wines.   

The weather was very cold today.  Our first stop this morning was the small  medieval town of Oingt - it was interesting just walking through the medieval French town and taking photos. 

Then we went to the La Logere Winery for a tour  - we entered a rustic house for the tasting.  The winery owner explained some of tools used in pruning vines and inside the winery.  Small baskets of bread, goat cheese, and sliced spicy sausage were passed out.  We sampled a white wine, and both a new and a regular Beaujolais.  After the wine tasting, we returned to the ship.

For lunch, I had vegetable soup and pasta with a mushroom sauce and mixed green salad.  For dessert, cake with custard and cherry filing.  I had iced tea and also had a few espressos. 

After lunch in the afternoon, there was a wine lecture and tasting and also a lecture and display of silk and silk products.  The silk industry made Lyon famous throughout Europe.

AMA Waterways is the only river cruise line inducted into the La Chaine des Rotisseurs, one of the world’s most prestigious culinary organizations and the oldest international gastronomic society.  This evening’s dinner had a special Chaine des Rotisseurs menu - it was also a wine pairing dinner during which four different wines were served.  This was one of the best dinners served during the cruise.  

 The first wine served was a chardonnay.  For the appetizer, I had the marinated black tiger shrimp with caviar and a salad bouquet.  For the soup, I had the cream of spinach with Chantilly cream and roasted almonds.  The next wine was a zinfandel.  Then we had a small serving of duck with gravy with mashed green peas, turnip, cauliflower, and carrots.  The next wine was an excellent pinot noir which went perfectly with the main course of roasted beef tenderloin, grilled foie gras, Hollandaise and Bordeaux sauce, carved vegetables, and a potato mousse.  The last wine was a sparkling wine with the dessert of a warm upside apple cake.  It was a wonderful meal.

About 1:15 pm, the AMADAGIO departed Belleville and arrived in Vienne at about 8:30 pm.

Photos belong to Phil Bianco 

Friday, 30 December 2016

AMA Cruise and Land Tour in Provence - November 27th/15

After a big breakfast, we went on a guided tour of Lyon, which mainly covered the Vieux Lyon or the Old Quarter.  This included the cobbled streets, covered passageways (traboules), area around the Basilica Notre Dame of Fourviere, Renaissance palaces, quaint restaurants and bistros.

Next, we went to view the Frescoes of Lyon, which.are painted on the outside of various buildings. These are famous frescoes of historic persons from Lyon - this includes the Roman Emperor Claudius, who was born here.  

The local tour guide told us about the two famous Lyonnais puppets - Guignol and Bouchon  - restaurants which display the symbols of the two puppets officially meet the standards of the city, and these two French puppets are similar to the British “Punch and Judy” puppets. 

For lunch, we returned to the ship and I had one of my favorite dishes - escargots in the shell.  AMA put out a large self-serve container filled with escargots - I had more than a dozen with white wine.  Then chicken consommé with noodles and green beans, and marinated cod with mashed potatoes and vegetables.  For dessert, I had a small raspberry tart and small chocolate mousse.  I ate much more for lunch than usual, but everything was very good.

We didn’t have anything else scheduled for the rest of the day.  At 6:00 pm the AMADAGIO departed Lyon for Belleville on the Saone River.  

For dinner, the amuse bouche was mozzarella pearls, tomato coulis, and basil cream.  For the appetizer, I had the crabmeat cake with pineapple salsa and for the soup, cream of artichoke.  For the main course I had the grilled fillet of dorade with saffron risotto and vegetables.  For the dessert, the chocolate mousse was the riches one that I have ever had, and I had the red wine. 

I was having trouble with the heating in my cabin.  The Tour Manager offered me an upgraded cabin with a patio door/window at no additional charge, and I accepted.  The heating in the upgraded cabin worked fine - it was an improvement over the other one.

Photos belong to Phil Bianco 

Thursday, 29 December 2016

AMA Cruise and Land Tour in Provence - November 26th/15

I had a big breakfast from the hotel buffet.  We left the hotel about 8:30 am and drove to the Lyon train station.  We were required to put our bags outside our rooms very early; and  AMA took care of our bags except for carry-ons.  I am uncertain how our bags reached Lyon - maybe transported in a truck.

We boarded a high-speed TGV train at 9:30 am  - the trains travel at just under 200 mph. so it took us about two hours to reach Lyon.  These trains are very comfortable and a much more pleasant way to travel than by bus. 

We arrived in Lyon too early to board the AMADAGIO cruise ship, so we were driven to Place Bellecour, the central square in Lyon.  At one end of the square is a Ferris Wheel and there is a statue of King Louis XIV.  At the base of the statue, people had put tributes and memorials to the victims of the massacre in Paris.  There is a view of Basilique Notre-Dame de Fourviere and Tour Metallique, modeled after the Eiffel Tower in Paris.

We were escorted as a group into a shop which was a combination of restaurant, cuisine store, and book shop; it was called In Cuisine.  We were divided into three groups and given cooking lessons with some of us preparing the dishes.  For the good of the group, I just took photos.  The recipes involved using Beaujolais wine.  Lyon is within the Beaujolais wine area and considers itself the gastronomic capital of France.  After the cooking lessons we had some time to walk around and, after a big breakfast, I skipped lunch.

Tonight was our first night on board the ship.  We had a welcome drink in the lounge; it was a choice of champagne, wine, or orange juice.  I and seven others received an invitation to have dinner at the captain’s table.  November 26th was Thanksgiving Day in the US; so there was a traditional Thanksgiving-day meal.  For the appetizer, I had the tomato carpaccio, goat cheese mousse, pesto arugula and for the soup, the cream of pumpkin topped with whipped cream.  The lemon sorbet in sparkling wine cleared the palate. For the main course, I had the sliced turkey with carrots, peas, apricot-raisin stuffing, and mashed pumpkin.  For the dessert, I had samples of three desserts:  pumpkin cheesecake, a chocolate-caramel almond tart, and cranberry-orange sorbet.  Of course, I had a nice French red wine. A pleasant evening on the ship,  and after dinner, I went up to the lounge and had a few espressos.

Photos belong to Phil Bianco  

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

AMA Cruise and Land Tour in Provence - November 25th/15....

For breakfast, a big breakfast from the Pullman Montparnasse buffet.

Today was an open day to do whatever we wished, and I decided to spend the whole day at the Louvre Museum.  I purchased an entry ticket for the Louvre at the hotel - this costs a few Euros more than that purchased at the Museum, but I did not have to wait in line of at least 100 people. 

I decided to use the subway, which was only about two blocks from the hotel.  In past years, there was always an attendant from whom one could buy subway tickets but now buying tickets is completely automated.  The subway was crowded during the rush hour, but trains run every few minutes so it did not take me long to arrive at the Louvre subway stop.   

I arrived at the museum early and then took some photos outside of the pyramid,  the Arch of Triumph, and the Ferris Wheel.

In past years, one entered through the pyramid entrance and immediately went through the security scans.  Now there is a temporary structure outside the pyramid with the security scans.  There were about six military personnel armed with automatic rifles around the courtyard and entrance to the Louvre.

I began touring the museum at 9:00 am. and, after the big breakfast, I skipped lunch.  At the Louvre, I saw the Mona Lisa, the Statue of Winged Victory, and Venus de Milo, and some of my other favorite works.  No matter how much time one spends at the Museum, it is impossible to see everything in a day.

At 5 o'clock, my feet surrendered and I took the subway back to the hotel.  It was raining hard again so I decided to eat at the hotel.  I had a broiled tuna steak with rice pilaf and green beans - hearty Italian bread and seasoned butter were included.  I also had a chardonnay wine, but no dessert.  

Photos belong to Phil Bianco

Tuesday, 27 December 2016

AMA Cruise and Land Tour in Provence - November 24th/15....

 The Pullman Hotel had a nice buffet breakfast - I had granola cereal, pancakes with syrup and sausages, fresh pineapple, orange juice and hot chocolate.

 AMA scheduled a city bus tour of Paris today - the weather continued to be rainy and inclement.   The one location where we had a guided tour was at Notre Dame Cathedral.  The south rose window in Notre Dame has a diameter of thirteen meters and is an extraordinary work of art.


The other locations included the Eiffel Tower; the Arc de Triomphe; the Champs Elysees; the Place de la Concorde; and the Opera.  After the city tour, we returned to the hotel.  The weather was miserable and it was raining hard.  After such a big breakfast, for lunch, I  went to a convenience store near the hotel and bought some nuts, chocolate and a coke.

Montmarte and Illuminations was the optional excursion, with an extra charge of €56.  We drove around Paris at night and viewed some of the major sites.  Montmarte is the hilly part of Paris - the crowning glory of Montmarte is the famous Sacre Coeur Cathedral perched at the top of the highest hill.  We were able to enter the cathedral for a short visit.  

Montmarte is also famous for its artists, cafes, and nightlife.  The Moulin Rouge is here as well as the red-light district.   Montmarte is notorious for its steep steps - a lot of them.  Fortunately, we took a funicular railway to Sacre Coeur and, after the visit, we were on our own to find a café for dinner. 

The local tour guide pointed out a few cafes and restaurants, but I just followed the tour guide to the Cenis Café.  I was at a table with the local tour guide and one other solo traveler, a chemist from South Carolina - there was a generous supply of good French bread and we shared a bottle of red wine. I had the French onion soup and beef Bourguignon with steak fries,fried foie gras, candied sweet potato and green beans. For dessert, I had the crepes suzette. Everything tasted very good, especially on a cold and rainy night.  My share of the total bill was about €25, a reasonable amount. 

After dinner, we took the funicular railway down, and we boarded the bus to continue seeing Paris at night.  We made our way to a good viewing point to see the Eiffel Tower, which is lit at night.  Possibly because of the recent massacre, there was no flashing light show - instead, the tower was lit in the colors of the French flag:  red, white, and blue. There were about ten military personnel armed with automatic rifles around Notre Dame Cathedral and also three military personnel armed with automatic rifles around Sacre Coeur Cathedral.

We returned back to the hotel at about 11:00 pm.

 Photos belong to Phil Bianco

Monday, 26 December 2016

AMA Cruise and Land Tour in Provence - November 23rd/15....

About noon,  a hotel clerk came to the room and handed me an envelope with instructions from AMA.  The Tour Manager was scheduled to be at the AMA desk in the lobby from 2 to 5 pm.  We were requested to advise him by 5 if we intended to go on the optional excursion, Montmarte and Illuminations, on the 24th and I decided to go. 

Also, when I looked out the window, it was raining hard; consequently, I became lazy.  So I decided to stay at the hotel, attend the introductory meeting and drinks at 5 pm.  

The Tour Manager was with us for both the land portions (Paris and Barcelona) and also the cruise on the AMADAGIO.  It was a fortuitous coincidence that the Tour Manager was the same one who was on the AMA Christmas cruise in 2014; he was excellent on both trips.  He reviewed the trip over drinks; then we were on our own for dinner. 

Usually, on past trips to Paris, I like to walk around to find an inviting café for dinner.  However, it continued to rain hard - if the weather had not been so bad, I would have taken the subway to the heart of Paris to visit some sites.

I decided to eat dinner at the hotel.  I had a club sandwich - there were two slices of thick bacon draped over the four sections.  Included were a small mixed green salad and gourmet style potato chips with tiny holes in them.  It was very good - only the French can turn a club sandwich into a gourmet meal.  They also included some tasty Italian bread with three types of flavored butter on the table.  I had a large-sized, white Belgian beer to drink.  I noticed that persons at other tables were having the same club sandwich.

The Pullman Montparnasse is a very nice hotel, and well located for cafes and restaurants.  There is a bar and restaurant in the lobby.  I had dinner two out of the three evenings at the restaurant.  The rooms were modern, clean, and comfortable.  The hotel was only a few blocks from a subway station which I used to go to, and return from, the Louvre.

 Photos belong to Phil Bianco

Sunday, 25 December 2016

AMA Cruise and Land Tour in Provence - November 22nd/15....

We followed this cruiser on his Christmas Cruise down the Danube River, then in Portugal in July/15, and now we are going to follow him on his Cruise and Land Tour in Province with extensions in Paris and Barcelona.  Here is his Blog...

Cost of Provence land/cruise trip Nov/Dec 2015:
Airfare:  $1107
Cruise:  $3267 (after solo promo discount of $1599)
Paris/Barcelona Extensions:  $2640                              Total:  $7014 US dollars

AMA Waterways offered a good airfare with Delta Airlines (DAL) so I decided to use AMA's fare and add to my DAL mileage.  I paid extra for an upgrade going to Paris that entailed better food and alcohol.  My first flight was from Jacksonville to Atlanta -  layover was about two hours.  The flight from Atlanta departed for Paris at 3:20 pm and lasted just about nine hours. They offered a good selection of movies and other shows.

For dinner, I selected the grilled shrimp and green salad with a pretzel-type roll, a fruit salad and chocolate brownie.  Alcoholic drinks were included so I had red wine with dinner and a cognac.  For breakfast, I had a mini-croissant with strawberry jam, Greek strawberry yogurt, orange juice and coffee. 

DAL conducts a much better travel experience than other American airlines, like United, that I have used.  We arrived a little earlier than scheduled in Paris—before 6:00 am on Nov 23rd.

AMA met me at Charles De Gaulle Airport and arranged a transfer to the Pullman Montparnasse Hotel by private car, and  I was the only person in the private car.  The weather was rainy and inclement.  I arrived at the hotel at about 7:00 am, checked in and was given a room immediately.  As usual, I did not sleep on the plane and felt very tired, so went to sleep. 

This was about a week after the Paris massacre, but I did not notice any additional security at the Charles De Gaulle Airport relative to a few years ago.  At the Pullman Montparnasse Hotel, they examined all bags, including suitcases and camera cases, when entering the hotel; also, it was required to walk through a metal detector.
 Photos belong to Phil Bianco