Cruising the Seine from Honfleur to ParisAuthor: Bob W. (More Trip Reviews by Bob W.)
Date of Trip: June 2009
Back on board the ship, we enjoyed a party on the upper deck where we sampled French cheeses, foie gras and various dried meats. In the evening we were treated to an excellent performance of French songs by an accordian player and singer.
Early the next morning, we sailed up the river through a series of canal locks (the first of which raised us about 20 feet). The Seine is a tidal waterway until the first lock. Beyond that lock, beautiful homes, safe from tidal floods. Along both banks were numerous swans and herons and a profusion of tall, purple and yellow flowering bushes. We passed under a succession of large, imposing bridges.
Early in the afternoon we reached the beautiful town of Les Andelys. Near where we docked were attractive, four-story residential buildings and riverside parks. Located at the southern end of town was a red brick and white marble town hall, decorated with flowering window boxes and gardens. Nearby was a small park, overlooking the Seine. We walked through the town, enjoying the many old homes, most three or four stories high and with half-timbered and stucco construction and slate roofs. Closer to the waterside, we discovered a few small homes, partly protected from view by a wall overgrown with ivy and fronted with a row of tall, red hollyhocks. While admiring the hollyhocks, we struck up a conversation with two British couples. Meanwhile, one of the women busied herself picking seed pods from the hollyhocks. Turns out she and her husband owned a home in Normandy and planned to plant their own hollyhocks. They said the Chunnel has made driving from England to a vacation home in France very manageable.
Before leaving Les Andelys, we walked to the town's historic stone church, complete with flying buttresses, gargoyles and large stained-glass windows. We had a more impressive view of the church, the town, and long views of the Seine River after we climbed up to a high peak overlooking the town. There, we explored the ruins of the Chateau Gaillard that once served as a defensive fort. Rounded stone towers and arches remain of the once impressive structure. From the chateau, one gets a panoramic view of the whole area and the town great for photography. The climb is well worth it.
Our next stop was Vernon (population 100,000) to access Giverny. We had dinner on board, then wandered through parts of Vernon nearest the harbor. Of course there was the inevitable large, historic stone church and many half-timbered houses dating back centuries. As darkness arrived, we had a stunning sunset from our top deck.
In the morning, we took a short bus trip to Giverny to visit the home and gardens of Claude Monet. Since it was still early in the morning, and hoping to beat the crowd, we went immediately to Monet's famous water garden. Although we had seen the bright water lilies and Japanese bridges in Monet's paintings of the water garden, we were still awestruck by the incredible peacefulness and enchanting beauty of the place. The setting is made idyllic by the red and white flowers of the water lilies and the profusion and great variety of colorful flowers that ring the pond. It is easy to feel the inspiration that led Monet to paint the beauty of the garden so often, as the changing light and seasons altered its appearance.
Crowds were pouring in to the water garden by the time we left. We approached through acres of flower gardens that frame Monet's home. There was a line to enter the house and a slow procession through its impressive rooms. Since we were visiting in mid-summer and peak tourist season, this was no surprise. Throughout the house are excellent full size reproductions of Monet's most famous paintings as well as his outstanding collection of Japanese paintings and prints. Each room was beautifully furnished. Perhaps most striking was the kitchen with its delft blue, yellow and white tiles and dozens of solid copper pots with cast iron handles. Viewing the house and grounds, there can be no doubt of Monet's financial success as a painter.
En route to our ship, we stopped at Vernon's open-air market. In block after block of stalls under canvas roofs, crowds of people were buying healthy looking fruits and vegetables, clothing, jewelry, kitchenware, cooked meats and cheeses. Of course, we made some purchases.
Later the same day, we returned to Giverny for a visit with a French family (the enjoyable, "home-hosted visit" feature of most Grand Circle trips). In this case, the "family" consisted of Alex, the congenial 19-year-old son of the owners who was practicing with his musical group when we arrived. He proved to be charming, entertaining and fluent in English. His father was a successful landscape architect who also enjoyed collecting the stuffed and mounted animals and birds displayed in the library. The father's landscaping skills were evident in the beautiful garden that fronted the house and the various smaller gardens rising in tiers up the hill behind the house. Originally, Claude Monet purchased this house for his daughter-in-law.
In the evening, at dinner, the wait staff marched out with American flags and a large cake decorated with red, white and blue icing to celebrate the fourth of July! After dinner, the crew of the Bizet entertained us royally with songs, dance and comedy routines. Throughout the cruise, every staff member demonstrated great courtesy, helpfulness and a desire to make life pleasant for passengers.
Conflans / Auvers-sur-Oise
The next day we resumed our cruise, this time headed to Conflans, at the confluence of the Seine and Oise rivers. The terrain around this part of the river consists of steep hills and cliffs. We passed by and photographed the wartime headquarters of General Rommel from which he directed construction of fortifications against the inevitable allied invasion. This massive complex was built against a Cliffside, directly below a large cylindrical chateau that served as a fort in the middle ages. Nearby, openings had been cut into the limestone cliffs as storage and living areas.
We passed through a number of canal locks as we moved northward. Meanwhile, small groups of us were able to visit the captain's wheelhouse where the captain and first mate explained the mechanics, controls, river charts, and radar on the ship. Because of the shallow depth of some sections of the river, the ship had no rudder. Instead, two screws, right and left, control direction. As we cruised, we passed the giant Renault factory, the largest car assembly plant in France, and the large plant where Arian rockets are produced for the European Space Agency.
Our docking in Conflans was to access Auvers-sur-Oise to visit the town where Vincent Van Gogh lived and painted. Led by a local guide, we viewed the apartment that Van Gogh rented and many of the sites he painted. Prints of Van Gogh's paintings were posted by many of the sites he had painted. If you are familiar with Van Gogh's troubled life, you may remember that, at age 37, he shot himself in the wheat field immortalized in his painting "Wheat field and crows." Wheat still grows there. We walked around the field and visited the nearby grave sites where Vincent Van Gogh and his brother are buried. Being aware of the many museums that exhibit Van Gogh's paintings, it is sad to recall that Van Gogh sold only one of his many paintings during his lifetime (although he gifted and bartered some paintings).
One of the most memorable experiences of this trip was sailing into Paris. On the outskirts, we passed buildings of modern design and many boats (that had been converted to housing) that lined both banks of the Seine. As we entered the historic center of the city, the Eiffel Tower came into view beside a reduced-scale Statue of Liberty situated on a pedestal in the river. We docked and spent the night within view of the Eiffel Tower. We spent two nights in Paris on board our ship. Those of us who elected an optional three-night extension in Paris spent the following three nights at the Quality Hotel Paris Orleans, a small hotel in the southern part of the city.
The following morning, we took a bus trip to the Palace of Versailles. I had visited this massive and imposing palace many years before but my wife had never done so. Completed in 1618, Versailles represents all of the opulence, excess and glitter of the age of all-powerful kings. In July, it is packed wall-to-wall with tourists. Behind the palace is an incredible expanse of well-tended formal flower gardens, elaborate fountains and walkways that stretch far into the distance. This less-crowded expanse is impressive and relatively free of crowds, even in July.
In the afternoon we took a 3-hour guided bus trip that gave us a drive-by of most major highlights of the city. Although that was a good introduction to the city, we didn't stop at any attraction and, at times, had to make our observations through brief showers.
After our return to the ship, we sailed, round trip, from our dock to the great Notre Dame cathedral on the Isle of the City. Although we again experienced some showers, this was a wonderful way to see striking water views of the city. The many bridges mesmerized us with their unique designs and elaborate decorations. Under the arch of each bridge, you can see the next three or four bridges. After the excursion we enjoyed our final dinner on board the ship.
The next morning, those of who chose the three-day Paris extension were bused to our hotel. A walking tour familiarized us with the metro, trolley and bus systems located near our hotel. Wanting to travel above ground to see as much as possible of the city, my wife and I decided to travel by bus. We purchased tickets (about 11 euros worth) to last us through three days of travel. We grabbed a quick lunch near the hotel and headed to the Louvre to view at least part of its huge art collection.
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