Provence & Paris

In July 2021, we made our first post-COVID trip with Viking Cruises, sailing the Rhone River from Avignon to Lyon with an extra three days in Paris.

Here is our travel diary...


Boarding the Viking Heimdal in Avignon

Boarding the Viking Heimdal in Avignon

DAY 1: Avignon

When I was learning French in school, one of the tunes that stuck in my head was “Sur le pont d’Avignon.” Today I sang the chorus while looking out at the ruins of the old bridge. My French teacher should be proud!

Even though Dennis and I have had almost no sleep in nearly 36 hours, we joined a late afternoon walking tour into the old fortressed city of Avignon. We will explore more tomorrow.

With only 33 passengers on the Viking Heimdal, this feels like a private yacht tour of Provence. Both passengers and crew do daily Covid tests and wear masks in public spaces.

So far, Viking is taking great care of us. In fact, when we arrived (without our luggage), we were upgraded to a room with a French balcony. Viking also sent a bottle of champagne when they heard of our travel troubles.

DAY 2: Avignon

Our new routine began today: spit in a tube for a daily Covid test, grab breakfast, tap our room key on a small device to check out for the morning, and join a three-hour guided walking tour. All before 9 am. I’m glad we got a good night’s sleep last night!

Our Viking tour focused on the 14th Century walled city of Avignon, including a visit to the Palais du Papes, where popes once ruled the Catholic Church. We were warned about a lot of steps so I counted: more than 300 interior steps, broken up into a flight or two at a time. The Palace is a must-see if you’re in Avignon, but travel light and wear good shoes. Also prepare for variable weather. It was cool and rainy at 9 am but quite warm and sunny when we ended the tour at noon.

We went back into the city on our own this afternoon and picked up a couple of small items in the shops. (It’s the end of the semiannual sale in France.) After dinner, we went up to the top deck as we sailed past Pont d’Avignon at dusk, signing the song and dancing “ tout en round.” As we left, Dennis said to a waiter, “How many people get to do that?” To which the waiter replied, “Actually, I do it every week.”

Tarascon & Arles



The Viking Heimdal is docked in Tarascon, France, but we took a bus to Arles for our morning walking tour. We saw where Vincent Van Gogh lived and painted (yes, the light is beautiful) and toured a 2000-year-old Roman coliseum.




When I heard thunder at 7 am, I wasn’t sure we’d get to do the walking tour through Viviers, a small town (pop 3700) on the Rhône River. But the sun alternated with light rain, and our tour guide Ginnet gave us a lovely look at her hometown.

The narrow cobblestone streets twist their way up to the Cathedral of St. Vincent, which was consecrated in 1119 and today is the seat of the Bishop of Viviers. Everywhere we turned there was a scene more beautiful than the last. I only wish we had more time to visit, but our Viking ship departs at 1 pm to continue this charming journey through Provence and Lyon.

Tournon & Vienne



We started the day riding a steam-engine train through the granite mountains of the L’Ardeche. Then the engine turned around on the roundabout and took us back downhill to Tournon.

After returning to the ship, we sailed to Vienne, which became a Roman colony in 47 BC. We saw the remarkable Roman Temple of Augustus, ruins of a Roman theater and a former cathedral. Then as we walked through the rain, we were suddenly alongside hundreds of marchers shouting, “Liberte. No pass,” protesting the French Pass Sanitaire, and “Macron, get out” in French. It was a lively end to the day.




Our tour today took us to Fourviere Hill high above Lyon and the Basilica Notre Dame de Fourviere. Then our bus brought us back to charming Vieux Lyon for a quick tour of the shops and traboules passageways.

During our spare time, we visited Brochier Soierie, a fourth-generation Lyon silk manufacturer. Saleswoman Eliza took us to a back room to show us silk weaving and painting, with live examples of the life cycle of silk worms. It was easily the highlight of the day.

This afternoon, we walked back into the old city but it was ridiculously crowded and almost no one wore a mask. Also, it’s Sunday, so many shops were closed. We stopped into a studio for art-glass jewelry and then quickly got out of Vieux Lyon for a much less crowded walk along the banks of the Rhone. It reminded us of walking along the Thames in Vauxhall.

Beaujolais Region



On our last day aboard the Viking Heimdal, we took a bus tour of the Beaujolais wine region, including a stop in the small village of Beaujeu and wine tasting at the Chateau de Ravatys. It was a lovely way to end our Provence and Lyon tour. Now back to the ship to pack and prepare for our three-day Paris extension beginning tomorrow.



DAYS 8-10

After disembarking the Viking Heimdal, we took the high-speed train from Lyon and arrived in Paris for a three-day extension to our river cruise.

On our first full day, we joined eight other Viking passengers for a tour of Paris, driving past the Tour Eiffel and Arc de Triomphe, getting out to marvel at the courtyards of the Louvre, and spending a little time in the shadow of Notre Dame, which is still under reconstruction.  In the afternoon, we walked to the Eiffel Tower, crossed the bridge over the Seine (two wedding portraits in progress), and discovered Cite de la Architecture, a museum devoted to architectural art. A special exhibit honors Notre Dame with sculptures of the apostles that were removed for cleaning just before the fire.

On our second day, we prebooked tickets online for the breathtaking Sainte-Chappelle and Musee d’Orsay. After returning to our hotel, I checked in online for the flight home. We were promised Covid certificates from our last test on the Viking Heimdal, but as of 4:30 pm they had not arrived. No problem. We just followed the lead of others in our group and went to a pharmacy around the corner. The pharmacist conducted the nasal swab tests, had results in 15 minutes, emailed us and printed our certificates. International travel these days demands flexibility!

I’ve learned a lot — and not just about history, culture and people. Post-Covid, international travel is a mess. Airports are crowded with no chance of social distancing. Country-by-country information isn't always clear or readily available. This is the first time I've traveled with my phone (with an international data plan) and boy did we need it to access emails, QR codes and country forms.

Traveling smart has never been more important. Take the essentials: comfortable walking shoes, layers of clothing, a rain hat/umbrella/light jacket. Pack a change of clothing and your medications in your carry-on bag because with all of the Covid delays, your luggage may not get there when you do.

When in country, be careful with purses and wallets — pickpockets are still out there. Most of all, if you want to travel, please make sure you’re vaccinated, boosted and appropriately masked. If you won’t do it for yourself, please do it for other travelers.

All in all, we had a wonderful time. I'm very glad we made this trip, and I hope traveling becomes both easier and safer in the months to come.


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