Viking River Cruise
Portraits of Southern France Trip Report
Our next door neighbor Fran and I had been talking about trying to do this for several years. Everything finally came together for September of 2012 including getting Paul and John interested. It wasn’t very hard in my case since Paul worked for a French company before he retired. We’d both been to Paris several times and wanted to see more of France.
We booked our trip in June of 2011 knowing that we needed to book well in advance because these cruises fill up so fast. Travel insurance is a must. Because of the way my birthday fell, I was actually, number wise, 2 years younger when we bought the insurance than when we actually traveled. That was a considerable savings.
We all had a hard time deciding whether or not we wanted to do the post cruise Marseille extension or not. Initially we decided not to do it. Then we decided we would, but by then it was completely booked.
Our neighbor and very good friend, Lois, taught high school French for 25 years. With her help, Fran and I planned our own post cruise excursion. Then a few days later, we sat down with our husbands for their input (They were watching the World Series during our initial planning session). They pretty much agreed with what we had planned
During the planning session with Lois, I brought up the question of having her tutor us. She said she would be happy to. (More on that later).
We had planned to stay in Aix en Provençe and explore from there. Our travel agent, Gretchen, told us she was having a hard time finding any hotels that had rooms available in Aix on the dates we needed. This communication was via e-mail and phone. (We found out why hotels were so booked the day we were actually in Aix.)
When we arrived at Gretchen’s office, to book hotels, etc. for our extension, she was on the phone with Viking. They had just had 2 openings (2 couples) for the Marseille extension. Would we like to book it? We gave her an immediate yes.
Lois and Frank go to Florida for the winter. The last thing Lois said to me before they left was, “We’ll start your tutoring as soon as we get back.”
Paul has a pretty good command of French because of his pre-retirement job. I can get around, and understand much more than I speak. Fran told us she dropped French in high school because she couldn’t stand the pronunciation and took Spanish instead.
Fran insisted that she was not going to participate in the tutoring sessions. She was just going to audit. Knowing Lois, we knew that was not going to happen.
We had 6 total immersion sessions in French. Nothing but French was spoken from the time we walked in the door until we needed to schedule our next session. Lois really made it fun even with lots of review and drills. I suspect her students loved her.
All four of us laughed a lot because there was 1 over 65 and 2 over 70 attempting to remember French even though much of it was review for Paul and me. (John chose not to participate).
The running joke was that at our ages we sometimes having trouble coming up with a word we want in English. How in the world were we going to be able to come up with the French? (We did)!
Paul and I both felt very comfortable with the good review and practice of our French.
Viking always gives you a link to a recommended reading list before your trip.
Fran and I both read A Pig in Provençe: Good Food and Simple Pleasures of Southern France by Georgeanne Brennan. Reading this book would make you think twice about eating in France if you didn’t know how good French food is. However, the types of food she discusses do give you give you background on the bouchon (not sure what the English translation is) that are common in the Lyon area. Some of the food descriptions are absolutely disgusting.
She also provides some interesting insight into the traditions of the more rural areas of France.
The other book that we both read was The Road from the Past by Ina Caro. It was very helpful in understanding the development of France and the French culture. The author starts in Marseille, which was first settled by the Greeks, then the Romans. France developed northward and that is the sequence of the book. She also has some interesting and sometimes very funny comments about various tourist sites and the French culture. This book was painless, entertaining history.
Gretchen said that she guarantees the 2 worst days of the trip will be the flight over and the flight back. She certainly was right about the flight over. The flight back wasn’t too bad.
Our air was arranged through Viking. Gretchen is really good about finding better fares closer to the trip. This time Viking’s were the best available.
Viking originally scheduled us on Delta from Philadelphia to Charles de Gaulle with a 45 minute layover between connecting flights. Paul and I have been in this airport several times and knew there was no way we would ever make the connecting flight to Lyon.
We started investigating other flights even for the next day, trains, etc. to get from Paris to Lyon where we were to be met by a Viking representative and then be bused to Chalon-sur-Soane.
Our daughter-in-law, who travels extensively for business, told us DeGaulle airport was under construction and was a mess.
Delta cancelled their flights to De Gaulle, and our flights were changed to US Airways from Philadelphia to Frankfurt, then Lufthansa to Lyon with a 2 hour layover.