The is the last day of our rebooted family vacation in Michigan. We are heading south back to Grand Rapids taking the longer route along Lake Michigan. We had driven around Manistee last night to find a place to eat. Everything was already closed up at 9 pm. The city did have a charming downtown. We finally found a A&W drive-through open and we took the food back and ate in the hotel lobby. We did another city drive by in the morning to see everything in the light of day.
Driving by the harbor we saw the unique looking SS City of Milwaukee. The Milwaukee is the last of six sister ships designed in the 1920s and built by the Manitowac Shipbuilding company out of Wisconsin. The SS City of Milwaukee was built in 1931 for the Grand Trunk Milwaukee Car Ferry Company. This Great Lakes railroad car ferry travelled primarily between Muskegon, Michigan and Milwaukee, Wisconsin. It is the only pre-1940s ship of this type to survive.
The SS city of Milwaukee is available for tours and facilities rental. It contains a bed and breakfast (May through early Sept.) and hosts the annual GhostShip Haunted House every Friday and Sat in October at 7:30 pm. If I had known about the B&B ahead of time, that is where we would have been staying. I already want to go back in October for the ghost ship tour.
Leaving Manistee behind, we were headed into farmland along the lake on our way to Ludington. I had lobbied for a beach stop. The real kind with chairs, swimsuits, towels, the on the sand getting in the water kind. I was outvoted, but it was agreed that we would make a stop at the beach in Ludington to take a look.
Arriving in Ludington, we went straight to the city’s most popular beach at Stearns Park and it did not disappoint. Mom just wanted to sit and look, so she and I found a bench in the shade and just soaked up the atmosphere. It was late morning and heat hadn’t set in, so it was exceptionally pleasant. Emma and Jack walked down to the lighthouse, which was a lot farther away than it appeared.
When Emma and Jack returned I could wait no longer. I went down to the water’s edge and put my feet in. Wonderful. If I had brought a swimsuit, I would have gone in. The lake water is cold, but in the heat of August I just felt refreshed. After I got in, Emma ventured in as well. I could come stay here for a week or so. If it was the summer, I would do the beach in the morning and then head to my lodgings for lunch and to wait out the heat of the afternoon. I would go out again in the evening. Mom liked that plan. She never learned to swim and won’t go in, but she does enjoy the beach.
Stearns Park Beach had excellent facilities. There lots of benches, many in the shade. There were ample and strategically placed trash cans near the parking lot and mid beach. They had a wonderful ramp installed so that the handicapped could go down to the water’s edge. The pathway could also be used for a cooler on wheels. There were volleyball nets, bathrooms, and a snack bar. All that was in the small section of the beach park that we were on. The park also features a playground, skate park, mini golf, and shuffleboard. Parking is free.
Mom had a magazine that outlined all the beaches in the area so we drove through town on our way to the next Ludington beach. There was a small one tucked away near the cliffs. The surf was rougher here and the sand rolled a bit, but it was more private and quiet. Another nice spot…a week in Ludington is looking like a greater likelihood.
Finally, we went up on the cliff to a camping spot in the trees which had beach access via a wooden staircase. Mom thought it looked pretty steep and she didn’t want to go near the edge. There were benches to rest on near the top and midway down. There was a metal bench a few steps away where you could just sit and look out over the water. We didn’t stay long because there really wasn’t a place to park and I think the area was designed for those overnighting in the park.
I have always known Ludington as the city where the car ferry that goes across the lake to Wisconsin leaves from. I had no idea that the city was so pretty and the beaches were so fabulous. The Stearns Park Beach has incredibly calm water, while the Ludington State Park has a more rugged beauty. I liked the quiet and cliff side seating of Buttersville Beach. So now I want to come stay here for the beaches and travel from here to cross the lake in style.
“Ludington is the home port of the largest carferry to sail the Great Lakes. The S.S. Badger carferry makes its voyage from Ludington to Manitowoc, Wisconsin mid-May to mid-October. This 410′ ship carries up to 620 passengers and 180 vehicles. Onboard you can play Badger Bingo, watch a movie, shop, or enjoy a meal in one of their two restaurants.” visitludington.com. There are also scheduled children’s activities. The crossing takes four hours and there are two roundtrips daily in season. One way pricing is $69 for adults with discounts for seniors, teens, and children. Take your car one way for $75.
Between Ludington and Pentwater, we hit a stretch of road where the fog was rolling heavy off the lake and moving inland. It was beautiful as it made its way across the farms and trees. At one point we crossed a bridge and I was glad there were other cars to follow, making it easier to see the road.
Just before coming into Pentwater, we passed a local fishery that has been there since 1898 (or so the sign says) They are open seasonally from early May to Labor Day. It was a popular place, the parking lot was full and cars were also parked along the roadway. The possibility of fried perch loomed, so we had to stop. Everyone else sat in the car while I went in for a 1/2 lb. of fish just so we could all try it. You could buy fresh or smoked, but it was about 12:30 and the “lunch crowd” was buying fried. They pulled it out of the fresh fish case and cooked to order. Outside on the posts they had pictures of family members from years past with their catch.
Many of my cousins like to camp at Pentwater. It is apparently a very hard park to get a reservation for and you have to know the sign up system and be quick about it (kind of like signing up for the Disney Princess Run, at least before COVID). It was a cute beach town. They must have flooding issues; there were lots of temporary barriers up.
Next we are going into Grand Haven. It is very close to Grand Rapids and we go often. I am going to stop into Jean Marie’s while Jack and Emma get something to eat. Mom tried the fried perch, but I ended up eating most of it.
We made one special stop in Grand Haven. Years ago we stayed at a Lodge with my grandmother, aunt, uncles, and cousins. We wanted to see if it was still there. We easily found the lodge. The Khardomah Lodge is a different color and a tepee and trampoline have been added to the yard, but it otherwise looks the same. Jack likes to tease about its “rustic charm of a bygone era”. Coming from Jack that is not a compliment.
Our last stop was a incredibly large garden center just outside of Grand Rapids. Mom picked up some flowers to fill in a space that Emma had cleared out for her in the front flower bed. I had been moved to the front seat today. For the last leg, I was alone in the front in the driver’s seat with the flowers beside me. Mom, Jack, and Emma got their selfie in the back seat.
Wow. What a trip. Our redo vacation in Michigan took us from Grand Rapids to Gaylord, the Soo Locks; Machinac Island; Indian River; Charlevoix; Ludington; Grand Haven; and back to Grand Rapids. There was also lots to see and do in between. Mom isn’t the only one that is tired. On to the next adventure…
Today we will make several stops as we leave Mackinac Island in the Straits of Mackinac in Lake Huron between the upper and lower peninsulas of the state. After a ferry ride, we will collect the car in St. Ignace and cross the Mackinac Bridge before heading south from Mackinac City. After a stop at the Indian River Shrine, we will wind our way along the shore of Lake Michigan.
We didn’t have any special plans for our second morning on Mackinac Island. We enjoyed the hot breakfast at the Inn. I really liked the daily special of peach French toast, but the rest left a lot to be desired. The eggs looked like pellets and didn’t taste like much either. Afterwards, Mom wanted to sit on the porch and I headed out to take pictures before the day got too hot. I wanted to snap a few things on and near our street, check out the boardwalk and take a look inside St. Ann’s before we caught the noon ferry back to St. Ignace. We have a couple of other stops to make today before we spend the night just north of Luddington on the shore of Lake Michigan.
We saw a few things on our carriage tour that I wanted a better picture of than I could snap in the moving carriage. We went back to Bluff Trail Lane and I saw the parsonage and the Little Stone Church. I am still considering that online clergy certification. This is the route up to the Grand Hotel and the way the hotel’s guests walk into town.
Jack and I also walked down to the boardwalk and a chance to walk along the lakeshore. On the way, I spotted a primitive fence and gate made from twigs. Along the shoreline, there were more colorful houses. These homes are smaller than those up on the bluffs.
Some of the houses had unobstructed views across a road to the water. A few people had space right on the water. Must have been some trespassing though; I saw an interesting sign designating some of the rocks as private. The island strives to prevent overdevelopment. You won’t see any major chains on the island and new construction is very limited. If a house burns on Mackinac Island, the home cannot be rebuilt unless there is at least one wall left standing. If there is not, the land is divided among the neighbors on either side.
This walk was the first time I saw homes made with cedar shakes on the island. Some had left them natural allowing them to turn gray, while on another home they were treated to retain the brown coloring. The detail work on the houses is really amazing. The residents also put a lot of effort into their beautiful landscaping. Another thing I thought particularly attractive was the beautiful fencing (often white) and gates (often with arbors).
Coming back around to the main street, I saw the Iroquois Hotel and the Carriage House patio where we had dinner last night. Jack headed back to the hotel to sit with Mom and I texted Emma to meet her in town where she was shopping. While I waited to catch up with her, I walked down Main Street and was reminded of the main ingredient in fudge and why it wasn’t a good idea to take some home. I did not hear from Emma, so I walked down to St. Ann’s in hopes of seeing the inside of the church.
I made it down to St. Ann’s. No Mass today; the ladies of the church were cleaning, including scraping wax off the candle stands. I loved the stained glass windows. Some of the lower panels were even operable. Outside, the stations of the cross were displayed in individual covered boxes in a side garden. Ste. Anne de Michilimackinac Catholic Church was established as a mission in 1695. The church maintains baptismal records back to that date.
From St. Ann’s, I took one more look at the beautiful homes and gardens across from the marina. I walked around Marquette Park and went back to the inn via Market Street to take one more look at the historic buildings there. Just before turning on Market, I saw one of the oldest wooden structures on the island and a reproduction of the housing favored by the native people when the colonists came here. I was reminded that some of the infamous Astor family made their fortune through fur trading headquartered here.
On Market Street, I passed the first traders building right on the corner. The hair salon was a cross the street in a beautiful purple home. I spotted the Post Office. Jack was planning on making several stops here today to pick up stamps and then return the completed and stamped postcards. Emma is buying the postcards in town for Mom to send. Mom has always loved postcards, a dying form of communication. Outside I spotted another one of those unique signs that is so Mackinac Island-“Private rocks, no saddled horses in cemetery”, etc. The parking sign at the Post Office referred not to cars, but the bicycle racks it sat behind.
Once back at the hotel, I checked out of the room and made arrangements to have our luggage transferred to the dock. He will have an easier time of it on the way back; its downhill. We are going to enjoy the porch and garden until it is time to make our way back down to the docks. The Metivier Inn back gardens are accessed off the third floor due to the slope of the yard as the house sits on a hillside. Ground level varies from the first to the third floor as you move back on the property.
Emma and I went up to the back gardens. It was already too hot to sit out for long, but it was a lovely spot that I am sure many of the guests enjoy in better weather. From the back fence you can see the Grand Hotel. Looking back toward the house, you can see the water just to the side of the house from this higher vantage point.
Mom and Emma decided to take their time and walk down to the dock early. Jack and I stayed behind to make sure the luggage got picked up. Emma texted us later to say the noon departure had been cancelled because two of the Star Line boats had problems. The next departure was at 12:30 pm. Jack and I stayed around a little longer, enjoying the front porch and watching the horseback riders come and go from the stables across the street. Once the porter came for the luggage, we walked down to the dock.
While waiting for the boat, I noticed there were two lines. One was for commuters and residents and the other line was for visitors. Courtney had let us know on the tour that the city/island government subsidizes annual passes for the residents. There contract is with the Star Line ferries. Commuters like Courtney who work on the island can buy a seasonal pass. The residents and commuters were allowed to board first. This departure was too full; I was not surprised. If we hadn’t had other destinations on today’s agenda we might have stayed longer. The last ferry is at 9:00 pm.
For the return trip, they did scan our tickets and collect them. The ride back to St. Ignace was direct and pleasant. As we left the dock, we saw the umbrellas and flowers of the Carriage House patio where we had cocktails the other night. Emma saw a weasel in the bushes there while we waited for our table, although none of the rest of us saw it so who knows. I told her it was probably a wolverine. This is Michigan after all.
From the ferry, I got another look at the shoreline road. We did not make it down there on this trip. Would have been fun with a bicycle. I did see one of the handicap tour carriages (or maybe it was a taxi) making its way down this road. As we approached St. Ignace, I saw the hotel we stayed at the other night and “s’mores beach”.
Jack got the car. No special help from the porters this time. We all just had to pull our own bags off the cart. At least I saved the tip money. We loaded up and were off. Emma has decided to conquer her fears and will be driving us back across the Mackinac Bridge. She probably wouldn’t have done that if she had known ahead of time that portions of the bridge were under construction. She did a great job. Just as we got to the end, I saw Colonial Michilimackinac off to the side.
Our next stop will be the Indian River Shrine that we visited as children. The Cross in the Woods National Shrine (the official name) features Calvary Hill and the world’s largest crucifix. The figure of Jesus is made of bronze; the cross is made of redwood. The Cross in the Woods is celebrating its 75th birthday this year. I was last here over 40 years ago as a child. It is a place of great peace and beauty.
For the 50th anniversary, a church was also built on the site and it is the parish church for the Catholics who live in Indian River. Originally only outdoor services were held which meant usage was seasonal. The church has a lovely setting looking out on the cross. If you look back at the church from outside, the cross is reflected in the glass.
We entered the shrine through the church entrance so that Mom could use the elevator. In spite of being there during the heat of the day, in the shade of the trees it was a comfortable and comforting setting. We spent some time outside sitting, looking at the cross, and reflecting. While I sat with Mom, Emma toured the stations of the Cross that you follow from a path through the woods. The appropriate station has you stop at the foot of the large crucifix.
The shrine also features additional monuments, most notably that of Saint Kateri Tekakwitha. Her image at the shrine was placed in direct line with the crucifix and within the congregational seating. Saint Kateri’s mother was a member of the Algonquin tribe; her father was the Chief of the Mohawk Tribe. As the nearby marker noted, she converted to Christianity at age 18 and suffered many hardships “because of her wish to live a celibate and Christian lifestyle.” Saint Kateri was known as the “Lily of the Mohawks” and her image is often shown with turtles as her father was Chief of the Turtle Clan. She died at age 24 and was declared a Saint by Pope Benedict XVI in October of 2012. Saint Kateri is the fourth Native American to be venerated in the Catholic Church and the first to be canonized.
There was one more stop to make at the shrine before our departure, well besides the gift shop. The shrine has a doll museum. My sister remembers it from our earlier visit. Orders of Sisters from around the world have sent in a doll with the (traditional and/or modern) clothing of their Order. While there are some with the dress of male religious orders, the majority of the representations are of nuns. It is “the largest collection of dolls dressed in traditional habits of men and women religious communities in the United States.” The Cross in the Woods.com.
I located the doll with the clothing of the order which taught at the Catholic School I attended in Victoria, Texas. The representation was exactly as I remember the clothing that the older sisters wore when I was growing up. Most of the dolls were of a normal size, but the Hall of Sisters contained life-size dolls which made Emma uncomfortable.
Leaving Indian River and the shrine, we headed toward the coast. Mom wanted to drive through Petosky and Charlevoix. In an older section of Charlevoix along the water, we decided to drive in a little and were charmed by some unique houses we found. They were shaped like mushrooms and looked like little hobbit houses. It was only later that we saw the historical marker for this special district of the city with a collection of houses by designer Earl Young.
Earl Young was a master builder who worked without blueprints. His goal was to design a structure that would fit the site, rather than designing a home and working the land to accommodate a design. Over a 50-year career, he designed 26 residential properties and 4 commercial ones. Most of the privately owned structures are composed of limestone, fieldstone, and boulders from northern Michigan. “Earl Young’s houses feature his signature designs, along with wide, wavy eaves, exposed rafter tails; cedar-shake roofs; and a horizontal emphasis in design. These buildings are creatively known as Gnome Homes, Mushroom Houses, or Hobbit Houses.” VisitCharlevoix.com
What a fun find. Most of the houses were not large. One looked like it may be a rental for vacationers. They also sit near the water, so a perfect setting. Driving out of the park on the edge of the neighborhood, Emma spotted a bronze dragon statue on top of one of the houses in the neighborhood. It totally fit right in. That picture immediately got texted to Rocky.
We hadn’t had much for lunch, just a quick bite before the shrine, so we stopped at a local ice cream stand for a treat. Dairy Grill looked like a much-loved neighborhood hangout. My go-to for evaluating an ice cream shop is to test the pineapple malts. This was a good one. After her excellent dragon spot, Emma out-ordered us all with a “to die for” strawberry sundae.
Leaving Charlevoix, we headed to Manistee, Michigan where we are spending the night. Tomorrow is our last day on the road; we will be back in Grand Rapids by the evening. Still more to come on our rebooted family trip.
While my mom was most looking forward to the Soo Locks, today’s visit to Mackinac Island was at the top of my list. The island sits in the Straits of Mackinac in Lake Huron and embraces the romantic notions of a by-gone era. While there are some motorized emergency and utility vehicles on the island, transportation is primarily by horse and buggy, cart, or bicycle. 80% of the island is a protected forest and the island boasts some of the most beautiful Victorian architecture in the United States. The fact that my favorite romantic film from 1980-Somewhere in Time-is set on the island adds to its charm. My movie tastes are a little more sophisticated now.
To reach the island you can take a ferry from Mackinac City on Michigan’s lower peninsula or St. Ignace on the state’s upper peninsula. We chose the 9:30 ferry from St. Ignace because it is one of the few that makes a loop under the Mackinac Bridge before heading over to the island. It will make the trip a little longer, 30 minutes instead of 18. Coming from Mackinac City it takes about the same amount of time, but you avoid the time and toll of the bridge if you are already on the lower peninsula.
The Shepler’s Line is the larger ferry company; the Star Line is the older one. We are taking the Star Line because of price and schedule. There are no reservations, so we arrived early. After checking in our luggage and parking the car in the overnight lot across the street, we waited for the departure. Bags and bikes were loaded first and then passengers were allowed aboard. They just looked at our tickets but didn’t scan or take them. They also serve for our return trip. There is downstairs enclosed seating and upstairs outside seating. Given I wanted to take pictures and we were passing under the bridge, we all went for the upstairs seats.
We brought jackets, but it was already so hot that I didn’t even put it on. Mom wears a hearing aid and wore her hood to protect against wind and spray. It was a clear day and we had beautiful views of the Mackinac Bridge. It was a pleasant ride to the island. The ferry company’s porter had tagged our luggage for our specific hotel. When we arrived, all the luggage was taken to the city-side end of the pier. We simply identified it there and a porter from our inn/B&B (his logo shirt identified him) loaded all our bags in the basket of his bicycle and took them to the hotel for a tip. Since we didn’t want to leave anything in the car overnight, each of us had two smaller bags. I couldn’t believe he got all 8 bags at the same time. The ferry company must have alerted the porter; we hadn’t called ahead to let them know about our morning arrival.
Heading onto the main street, we were surprised at how crowded it was given the boat was not full. We decided the day-trippers all took earlier boats to maximize their time on the island. The bike rental places were flooded with people trying on helmets, deciding if they wanted a single or tandem, adding child or luggage carriers, or negotiating a price. In spite of how many people were there, the bike businesses looked well stocked. Apparently unlike the car rental agencies on the mainland, they didn’t sell off their stock during the pandemic.
The line for the horse-drawn carriage tours was also very long (and out in the sun) and we were glad we had secured a private tour for the four of us. The group tour is considerably cheaper, $42/person for an hour and 45-minute tour plus entrance to The Wings of Mackinac where you make a stop versus $160 an hour for a private tour for up to 4 people. The price of the group tour goes down to $34 for an adult or $14 for children age 5-12 if you eliminate The Wings of Mackinac. A child under 5 who sits on a lap is not charged. Group Touring is available through Mackinac Island Carriage Tours which was established in 1948. If you take the morning tour, they pack them in. They put four adults in a row and on some of the tours we saw people who looked pretty uncomfortable. You cannot make a reservation for a public tour. The one exception is booking for the handicapped tour. However, with Mom’s limited mobility and comfort in mind, the private tour where we could structure the time ourselves made more sense. We could have arranged to have the carriage meet us at our hotel, but we had an hour and a half before it started and decided to walk around in town a bit first.
Given the number of tourists there, it was actually rather hard for Mom to maneuver down the sidewalk. If you step into the street, you took your life in your own hands. The danger wasn’t from a horse-drawn vehicle-plenty of warning on those-but from the bicycles. They are everywhere and some of the riders looked like they haven’t ridden in a while or ever. Jack said that even though it didn’t look like there were more people on the island than on our last visit, the bicycles took away from the atmosphere and really ruined the feel for him. We saw a lot of crashes.
I had been assigned the task of securing us a place to stay. We had ruled out the Grand Hotel, which is fabulous but considerably more expensive (and the rooms throughout the island are already pretty expensive). To really enjoy the full Grand Hotel experience, you also want to book one of more of their special dining venues and that means dressing up. Jack said early, “no coat and tie”. In fact, after 6 pm, even hotel guests not in evening wear are directed to side entrances when they return to the hotel.
We decided we were all going to stay in a single room like we did as kids, so that further limited options to places that could provide two queen beds. However, even with our limitations, we still had plenty of choices. Ultimately I selected the Metivier Inn on Market Street, one block behind Main Street, quieter, but still very close to all the main attractions. The Metivier hosts serve a hot breakfast, rather than just a continental one, and the inn is known for its beautiful gardens. It also has wonderful front and side porches that I knew Mom would love.
Walking down Main Street I was really glad I didn’t chose one of the hotels along this street. There was just a little too much chaos and I suspect the noice starts early in the morning. If you like to sit on your balcony and look down at crowds or just love the smell of fudge, you might prefer one of these rooms.
Even with Mom taking breaks on strategically placed benches and her morning ice cream indulgence break, we still made it to the Tourist Office across from Marquette Park, our meeting point, with 45 minutes to spare. It was pretty hot if you were in the sun. Mom found a shaded bench and we took turns sitting with her. Jack and I walked down past the marina toward the Mission District where the crowds thinned out, but the beautiful lake view homes were still plentiful. We also passed St. Ann’s church. Morning mass is at 11 am and was currently ongoing, so we were unable to go inside.
We passed one home with a burned-out copula and I made a note to ask our tour driver about it. Marquette Park sits between Fort Mackinac and Main Street. Jack and I returned to the park to meet Mom and Emma for our private tour. We booked our private tour through Gough Livery Carriage Inc. which takes early reservations. Mackinac Island Carriage Tours also offers private tours for the same price, but you can only call two hours prior to when you want to start and see if they have availability. Our noon tour set out right on time. We had settled on an hour and a half timeline. Courtney took us down Market Street where many of the historic buildings are situated-the courthouse, the post office, the art museum, the Biddle House (the oldest house on the island), and the city hall. We also passed our hotel so we got our first look at where we would be staying. This was a great orientation to the city and now I know that I can just walk down the street and get some pictures when I am ready.
As we rounded the corner and turned onto the street leading up to the Grand Hotel, Courtney pointed out the Mayor’s house. The family has had a home on the island for many generations. We passed the vicarage for the Stone Church and the thought of an on-line clergy license occurred to me as a way to have a summer stay on the island. The Stone Church is itself was on the right further up the road, while the Grand Hotel and its grounds were to the left.
Though hilly, you could walk to most of the main attractions if it weren’t so hot. I think a fall visit might be perfect, although I would miss all the beautiful flowers. We drove right by the front doors to the Grand Hotel and then made our way up a steep street with more beautiful homes in the $2 million+ range. One was for sale and Mom quickly revised her housing choice. Not so sure she would like it much in the winter months though. Regular ferry service stops and becomes more sporadic and many things close at the end of the season in late October.
With spectacular views, Courtney rested the horses at the top of the ridge after their long climb. When we went forward, we were venturing off into areas where you need a ride of some sort. In fact, it would have been pretty tough to reach with a bicycle. Our next stop was one of the carriage yards so our horses could get a drink.
This is the part of the wooded area of the Island. Forest covers about 80% of Mackinac. The homes here (without a water view) are more modest. Courtney told us that if we saw a house with lots of bicycles it was probably staff housing. Because of the time many of these homes were built, along with the fact that most motorized vehicles are prohibited, most of the homes have a stable and grassy yard for the horses. Many have been renovated for other purposes, but some retain their original function.
We passed the Skull Cave-nothing much to see now. It has caved in. We also passed an area I don’t remember from our last visit with three beautiful cemeteries. The largest is St. Ann’s; it is the Catholic cemetery and is affiliated with the church I walked by earlier before the carriage tour. We saw a sign that I have never seen at a cemetery before-NO SADDLE HORSES. Apparently it is a problem. St. Ann’s Cemetery has charming metal gates at its various entrances along with beautiful stone arches and stone fencing. Very picturesque.
There is also an “everyone else” cemetery for the non-Catholics. The third and smallest cemetery is a military one with neat rows and uniform white markers. As a lover of history, I enjoy going to cemeteries and reading the inscriptions; they can also be wonderful places to take pictures. Mom can’t walk easily on the uneven ground and it is hot, so we told Courtney that we wanted our tour to be more riding than stops with walking. Otherwise, I would probably have spent more time in this area.
There is a small fort in the main part of town to mirror its counterpart in Mackinac City. A steep ramp from Marquette Park takes you to Fort Mackinac. For a great visiting experience, I recommend the one in Mackinac City, Fort Michilimackinac. It is part of the Colonial Michilimackinac Complex They do reenactments there; I still remember the experience from my childhood. We won’t be visiting this time, but I do recommend looking into it.
Established in 1715, this 18th-century fort and fur trading village has been “reconstructed based on historic maps and more than 60 years of archaeological excavations. As you walk through the site, you are stepping back in time to 1778, when rumors of war and peace swirled around Michilimackinac…you will see and hear how soldiers, civilians, and Native people responded to threats real and imagined as they attempted to maintain their livelihood, the fur trade. Historical interpreters representing voyageurs, British soldiers, and French-Canadian merchant families are stationed throughout the fort to answer your questions and perform demonstrations.” State Historic Parks: Mackinac I highly recommend the experience if you are traveling with children or history lovers.
When I was looking for things to visit on Mackinac Island, I also noticed that there was a Fort Holmes. On our carriage tour I saw a sign and wooden staircase and asked Courtney about it wondering if it was worth returning to later. She said there was little there now and it is more visited for the views. There is some suggestion that the fort may be rebuilt at a later date. “Fort Holmes is a small, wood and earthen fort on the southern end of the highest ridge on Mackinac Island. The fort was constructed by British soldiers in 1814 during the War of 1812…When United States soldiers peacefully reoccupied the island after the War of 1812 the fort was renamed Fort Holmes in honor of American Major Andrew Hunter Holmes who was killed in the 1814 battle of Mackinac Island.” State Historic Parks: Mackinac
We also passed by the military practice range on the island. You could still see the deep ruts. We were en route to one of the most viewed sites on the island, the Arch Rock. Courtney rested the horses just by the entrance while we went for a look. She warned us to look down at the ground and reminded us that the trails of liquid were probably not water. Fortunately for Mom, you could walk right up to Arch Rock. You just needed to wait your turn for a photo. You can also go up a few stairs and enjoy the view out across the lake.
The Arch sits 146 feet above the water level and is more than 50 feet wide. The naturally occurring arch is formed of limestone. The Native Americans had many legends regarding the Rock; Courtney shared one about a maiden in love with a mythical creature her father forbid her to wed on the ride back into town.
Just before we headed back down the hill, Courtney rested the horses at another beautiful spot overlooking the water. A few houses away, the children had set up a lemonade stand to capture the tourists-very smart. As we went down, I saw the staircase the locals use when they don’t want to have to go around the curving road. I imagine you would be in pretty good shape after a summer season here.
We had seen groups of horses out and about and one of the stable offices is just across the street from our B & B. On the way down the hill, we passed a children’s riding school. As we came around we were on the straightaway back to Marquette Park. I think the horses could sense it was almost time for a break. We passed the large white Island House Hotel and Courtney shared that it was established in 1852 and is the oldest hotel on the island. It is family-operated and the only hotel located within the boundaries of the Mackinac Island State Park. The simple center section had been added to several times and the hotel is now rather large and has perhaps one of the best flower displays on the island.
I also asked her about the burned out copula and she said the fire had happened a few months ago and started in one of the old chimneys. The fire had taken out the entire third floor of the house. The home immediately had to be protected from further damage to the lower floors and they were taking advantage of the warm weather to get as much of the repair work done as possible before the end of the season.
We said goodbye to Courtney at Marquette Park and went in search of lunch; we debated whether we wanted waterside dining or a recommended place near our hotel. The thought of a quick walk to check in after lunch meant the Yankee Rebel Tavern won out. We all enjoyed more comfort food for lunch today. I think I out-ordered everyone with the roast beef sliders.
After lunch, we had a short walk to Market Street and our hotel. We received a warm welcome at the hotel. They have done an excellent job of keeping the original charm of the house while adding on additional spacious accommodations. Our room with two queens was around the corner and looked out over the beautiful sloping backyard. Our bags had been taken directly to our room by the dockside porter. There was also a lovely side porch just outside our room.
We arrived just before 3 pm which is cookie time at the inn. It was clear that the regulars or those staying a few days knew the drill and people were there right at 3 to grab the warm delights. They are out until they are gone. I recommend the molasses cookies. They must be the favorite; they were gone first.
Jack stayed with mom on the porch and Emma and I went and checked out the dining options for the evening. We wanted a relatively nice dinner. We narrowed it down to two options, The 1852 Grill Room at the Island House Hotel or waterside dining at the Carriage House at the Iroquois Hotel on the beach. We had seen both spots having passed the Grill Room on the carriage tour and having seen the Carriage House from the ferry. The Carriage House is also where mom had sat in the pretty arbor seat.
The available time at the Carriage House was better and we would be right on the water so that ended up being our choice. Both restaurants had wonderful menus. We spoke with an couple staying at the inn after dinner that had gone to the 1852 Grill Room. They said the food and service was excellent but you were removed from the water and there isn’t much of a view after dark anyway. I would still like to try it on another visit.
Having had the chance to walk around on my own and take pictures before lunch, I stayed in the room with mom and cooled off while Emma went shopping and Jack took a walk and enjoyed the inn’s front porch. That evening we dressed up a bit for dinner and headed down early to give mom plenty of time and to perhaps have a drink before dinner.
While we waited for a table, we enjoyed cocktails (I went with the French 75) on the outdoor patio right at the water’s edge. We had a wonderful view of the lighthouse from this vantage point. When our table was ready, we transferred over to a side patio for dinner. The sun had gone down just enough that it was comfortable to be outside. From the side patio, we had a better view of the rock beach and the sunset opposite the water.
It was a fabulous menu. I started with the crab meat “tower”, followed by the scallops, rounding out with a daily special-a caramel sundae with caramel made homemade in their kitchen. Given the good fudge makers on the island, I just knew the caramel would not disappoint. It was fabulous. In fact, all the food was excellent and we enjoyed wonderful service.
The only down spot was when a engaged couple and their parents who were on the island for the wedding spotted some of their wedding guests on our small patio of just six tables. They were all loud and obnoxious and acted like they were the only ones there. Fortunately, they eventually left and the volume subsided. People can be so thoughtless.
It was dark by the time we left the restaurant, but we had a very short walk back to the Metivier Inn. The main street was almost deserted. We walked down French Lane and Jack spotted a “hidden Mickey” on a fence post. When we arrived back at the inn, we sat on the front porch for a while. A large portion of the porch was roped off. We found out later that that section was closed at 9 pm, respecting the guests whose rooms faced onto the porch.
What a fabulous day on the island! More to enjoy on Mackinac Island tomorrow before our midday departure. One of the things that happens when you are the photographer is that there are not many pictures of you. Just so you know I was really there, I am sharing a selfie I took at Arch Rock. Until tomorrow…
This summer with us all fully vaccinated, my mom suggested that we recreate a trip that we took as children. My brother, sister, and I all met in Grand Rapids, Michigan for a four-day road trip “up north” with Mom. Early Monday morning we set out for the Soo Locks in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.
Emma did an early stop at Van’s bakery. My brother Jack had already done the oil change and filled up the car with gas the day before. After loading mom’s three pillows-neck, seat belt cushion, and footrest, the bakery goodies, and the rest of our luggage, we set off. We are going to take a bit of a scenic route, hoping to arrive in Sault Ste. Marie in time for the 3:30 pm tour. On this tour, you actually pass through the locks. After living in Texas, the driving distances just didn’t seem that far to me.
Mom had four things on her travel bucket list: A ride on Route 66, another trip to Hawaii, the Panama Canal, and Morocco. Given COVID concerns and her age, we have modified things a bit. She wanted to travel in the continental United State, but thought route 66 might be too tiring. That is when we hit on retracing a trip we took as children in 1978. We’ll drive through her home state instead. It is not the Panama Canal, but today’s visit to the Soo Locks does attempt to stay with the theme.
When we were children, my mom would take a large scrapbook and draw lines to create 4 squares on a page for each day of our trip. We then each drew a picture of something we did that day. We hated it at the time and often had to go back and fill in a couple of days in one sitting. However, now those drawings are treasured memories. We won’t be employing our sketching talents on this trip-extremely limited in my case. Rather, with Emma as our scribe, we are writing down our favorite part of each day, the biggest surprise of each day, and one thing we didn’t like.
Emma’s surprise came early in the day. While passing through farm land, we spotted a training facility. We didn’t know it was a training facility at first. We just saw lots of guys going up and down on poles. I told Emma I would be happy to record pole dancing as her favorite activity of the day.
We stopped in Gaylord, Michigan for a drink and what the tour guides always refer to as a “necessary stop”. A local brewery offered a highway icon so you can’t miss it while heading north. We all noted the ski lodge look to the town and mom said she had come her once with a friend from school. The friend’s father was the manager of the local resort at the time when the wealthy would fly in for golf and skiing in the area. The locals think of their town as an “Alpine Village”. More recently, the area has acquired a reputation for its many cycling trails. It was a charming city and I asked Jack to drive down a few streets so I could get pictures. I don’t always bring my better camera when I come to visit Mom, but I had on this trip.
At one point we drove down a street and passed a beautiful traditional church and my mom announced that that had been her friend’s church and that they had gone there decades ago on her visit. We weren’t looking for it, but somehow for me that was a wonderful start to this trip knowing the connection the city and this church had with my mother’s past.
The upper and lower peninsulas of Michigan are joining by the Mackinac Bridge, a long beautiful structure that is sometimes shown as the symbol for the state. My sister Emma hates crossing bridges, especially when driving or sitting on the side facing the open area outside the bridge. Since my mother had decided to “nest” in the seat behind the driver, my brother Jack, Emma was in the outside position sitting next to the driver. She decided to film the bridge crossing as a distraction. There are multiple lanes crossing in each direction but the inner lanes have annoying ridges that can cause you to slide a little. (This is rather ironic given the purpose of the grooves is to assist in poor weather.) We were traveling in the outside lane, with Emma and I closest to the water.
My brother kept up a running commentary the entire way across the bridge, pointing out how far we had gotten, the continued possibility of plunging to our death, and the icy temperature of the water. The result is a hilarious video with Jack and Emma’s voices, his as a monotone narrator, and hers fluctuating between fear and laughter. I did not share with Emma that one car, a 1987 Yugo, had been blown off the bridge. “The Life and Death of Ugly: No, You Go”, Los Angeles Magazine.
The Mackinac Bridge is the 5th longest suspension bridge in the world and the longest in the western hemisphere. Like all suspension bridges, “it is designed to move to accommodate wind, change in temperature, and weight…the deck at center span could move as much as 35 feet (east or west) due to high winds. This would only happen under severe wind conditions. The deck would not swing or ‘sway’ but rather move slowly in one direction based on the force and direction of the wind. After the wind subsides, the weight of the vehicles crossing would slowly move it back into center position.” Mackinac Bridge Authority
The Straits of Mackinac (between the upper and lower peninsulas) in Lake Huron historically had been crossed by boat, but that was only a seasonal option. Ideas for a bridge or tunnel were floated for over 75 years. In 1923, the highway department began operating a ferry service, but within 5 years that service was overwhelmed. The bridge opened to traffic on November 1, 1957.
There is a toll charge (currently $4.00) each way. The bridge is open 24 hours a day and only closes occasionally for falling ice or on Labor Day from 6:30 am to noon for the annual Bridge Walk. The Bridge had been closed just 5 weeks before our visit because of a bomb threat. MLive. For current conditions including weather and traffic, you can log into the Mackinac Bridge Authority’s website or tune into their radio channels. There is also a bridge cam for a visual view.
After we crossed, we went to a lookout point featuring a statue dedicated to the five men who lost their lives while building the bridge. Mom had known a girl who was engaged to one of them. The views from the park were spectacular. We also loved the wonderful flowers that were showcased at the park. It is far too hot at home for this sort of floral display. One of things I love about Michigan in the summer is the beautiful gardens.
Back on the road, we realized that we may not have enough gas to make it the additional 50 miles it will take us to get to Sault Ste. Marie where the Soo Locks are located. The three of us distracted Mom so she wouldn’t get nervous while we looked for a gas station on this stretch of the upper peninsula highway that is rather barren. Of course we had just crossed the straits, but I guess I had anticipated a wild and beautiful landscape. Perhaps that lies a little farther north.
We found the gas and made it to Sault Ste. Marie-sometimes called Michigan’s First City-without having to ride in on fumes. The Ojibway people that first lived in this area called it Bahweting, the gathering place. When a French colony was established in 1668, it was called Le Sault de Sainte Marie, the rapids of St. Mary. Today is sometimes referred to as the Twin Saults for the American city of Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan and the Canadian city of Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, just across the St. Mary’s River. Growing up we just called it “The Soo” as the locals do today. Sault and Soo are pronounced like the girl’s name “Sue” and not like the table spice “salt”.
When we arrived in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, we went to find the boat launch. We did make a few stops so I could get pictures. Afterwards, we went back into town for lunch at the Lock View Restaurant. The Lock View opened in 1945 with only about a quarter of the space it occupies now. We got a table near the window with a narrow view of the locks. A viewing platform had been built since our last visit over 40 years ago and it was right in our line of sight. That said, the viewing platform does offer an nice alternative for anyone wanting to see the locks in action.
Mom and I got fried lake perch. This is one of her favorites and not something I can get back home in Texas. Emma and Jack got hot turkey sandwiches. After lunch we had just enough time to go back to the docks and board our boat for the 3:30 pm tour. It was a steep climb for mom, but we went to the boat’s upper deck for a better view. Many of the Michigan schools are back in session, so the crowd was lighter. Of course it was a weekday too. Our server at the cafe said that Sunday is the busiest day and Friday is the lightest. For the cafe, on Friday the locals clear out for the weekend before the tourists come in and the tourists have not yet arrived.
We are on the St. Mary’s River between the United States and Canada and the middle of this channel is the international border. The Ojibway Indians used canoes to travel the rapids on the river to reach Lake Superior. The name of city comes from the French word sault meaning rapids. You can still still some evidence of the original rapids which spread the length of the River. Later, it was the Northwest Fur Company that constructed a navigation lock on the Canadian side of the river. This lock, built in 1797, was destroyed during the war of 1812. In 1852, the State of Michigan was granted compensation to built a lock to allow for commerce to flow through the Great Lakes. Construction on this first chamber State Lock was completed in 1855.
There was originally a toll to pass through the locks. In 1881, control was passed to the Federal Government and assigned to the Army Corps of Engineers. Since that time, no toll has been charged. Sault Ste. Marie, Pure Michigan Today, there are four locks on the American side and one Canadian lock. The Canadian lock is for smaller, recreational boats and is currently closed due to COVID. The mostly commonly used American Lock is #3, the Poe Lock, which was originally built in 1896 and rebuilt in 1968 to accommodate larger and more modern boats. It is 1200 feet long. It uses 22 million gallons of water to lift or lower a boat. Most ships that pass through it have only about 2.5 ft clearance on each side.
The smaller MacArthur Lock, lock #4, is 800 feet long and was built in 1943; we will pass through it twice today. The Soo Locks do not use pumps. They are 100% gravity fed. When on the viewing platform of the Visitors Center we saw from the restaurant, you look down into the MacArthur lock. The large ships in the Poe Lock are also visible. Locks #1 and #2, the Davis Lock built in 1914 and the Sabin Lock, built in 1918 were the first locks to utilize concrete walls and electricity to open and close the gate. Both gates are currently out of service. The Sabin Lock has been inactive since 1989 and was officially decommissioned in 2020. The Davis Lock was used by the Soo Area Offical Vessels.
Both of the Davis and Sabin locks are currently being dismantled to make way for a new, larger, single lock that will be able to accommodate ships of a larger size. We saw the dredging for the new lock. Completion is expected in 2023. A rendering of the new look for the Soo Locks is on the webpage for the Army Corps of Engineers. The importance of the locks cannot be overstated. 90% of the country’s iron ore passes through the Soo Locks. The existence of the locks means transport ships can travel from Duluth, Minnesota to the Atlantic Ocean. The trip takes 7 days.
Traveling toward the locks from the tour boat dock, the State of Michigan is to your left; Canada is to your right. Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan is the smaller city with about 15,000 residents to its Canadian sister’s 80,000. Most of the landscape along the water’s edge on the American side is marine support and utility services. The city on the Canadian side bears the same name and is located in the Canadian Provence of Ontario. The two were once a single city until the treaty that ended the War of 1812 divided them. Today they are joined by the Soo Locks International Bridge.
I have to admit that the Canadian side of the river was prettier. There was a manicured shoreline and a welcoming structure that reminded me of a circus tent. We also saw the Bushplane Museum. On the American side near our tour boat dock, we saw a bunker used to lift ships out of the water and facilitate repairs. There are also Coast Guard vessels and ships that assisted with the retrieval of the Edmund Fitzgerald of pop music fame.
The “SS Edmund Fitzgerald was an American Great Lakes freighter that sank in Lake Superior during a storm on November 10, 1975, with the loss of the entire crew of 29 men. When launched on June 7, 1958, she was the largest ship on North America’s Great Lakes, and she remains the largest to have sunk there. She was located in deep water on November 14, 1975, by a U.S. Navy aircraft detecting magnetic anomalies, and found soon afterwards to be in two large pieces.” Wikipedia.
The Edmund Fitzgerald was sailing under the American flag, but sank in Canadian waters. “The disaster is one of the best-known in the history of Great Lakes shipping. Gordon Lightfoot made it the subject of his 1976 hit song “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald“. The sinking led to changes in Great Lakes shipping regulations and practices that included mandatory survival suits, depth finders, positioning systems, increased freeboard, and more frequent inspection of vessels.” Wikipedia.
This side of the St. Mary’s River is the lower level so we entered the lock at a depth of 33 feet. The crew threw anchor lines up to the shore to attach us to the side. Hooks to tie off on were also visible on the concrete sides of the lock. I thought the locks were smooth, but you could see the ridges in the concrete as we entered. There was also a large freighter in the Poe Lock next to us. The water rose so smoothly if you weren’t watching the sides you wouldn’t even notice you were going up. The locks do not use pumps, but are activated by gravity.
When we were high enough, the gates opened on the opposite end and we headed out to pass underneath the International Bridge. Due to ongoing repairs, a cover had been removed and we were able to get a look at some of the gears that work the locks. We could also see the decay that betrays the age of these long-working structures. As we passed by the opening to the Poe Lock next to us, we could see the freighter inside. On the walkway between the Poe and the MacArthur, supports that will be used to secured the locks during the winter months had already been set out. The Soo Locks are closed from January 15 to March 25 for repairs.
One of the most fascinating things I saw while passing under the Soo Locks International Bridge, was the railway line. Through one channel, the rail line splits and raises up on both sides to let ships pass. For the other channel, the railway line is lifted up instead. Even in inclement weather, an individual must climb up the outdoor ladder to the top to operate the controls to raise or lower the structure.
As we sailed out on the upper St. Mary’s River, we saw the dredging operations for the new deeper lock. Construction on the new lock is advancing, although I am not sure if the weather will halt work in the winter months or not.
Traveling a little farther on the river, we were able to see operations at a large iron ore production facility. Our captain’s brother-in-law works there and the captain has had the opportunity to tour the facility. He shared that it is quite impressive. We also could see the Canadian lock used mostly for recreational watercraft which is currently not in operation. The tour operator is looking forward to its reopening and I wondered if perhaps the tours often go through that lock on one leg of the journey.
It was late afternoon and a nice time to be on the water. It was not yet cool, in fact it was rather hot for being this far north. I had expected colder temperatures. The light played nicely off the water and we listened to the captain’s stories about animals that got caught in the lock. Given the number of visitors and the places they come from, I was surprised he assumed that everyone had seen a moose. Rounding the last bend for our return trip through the lock, he pointed out rocks that still had the holes where dynamite had be inserted from back when the older locks had been constructed.
We made a return trip through the MacArthur Lock. Beside us in the Poe Lock was the Rt. Honorable Paul J Martin, the large Canadian freighter we saw waiting its turn to pass through the lock when we were on the lower part of the River. There were fewer people on the viewing platform this late in the day.
We passed out of the locks and I spotted a few birds making their home on the lock gates. We got another lock at the Rt. Honorable Paul J Martin in the Poe Lock before making our way back down the lower St. Mary’s River toward the boat dock.
When we passed through Sault Ste. Marie earlier in the day one of the most intriguing things I saw was a long building so large I couldn’t photograph the whole thing except at an angle. I thought it was an old warehouse at first until I saw the sign. The older sign said Edison. The more modern one read the Cloverland Hydro Plant listing an original operation date of 1902. It is an impressive and beautiful brick building with wonderful glass windows from the Sault Ste. Marie side. At the end of the boat tour, I got a chance to see it from the water. It was even more beautiful from this vantage point. The captain pointed out that the arches were formed to resemble lighthouses, but only from the water side.
“At the time of completion, the plant was the second largest hydro facility next to Niagara Falls.” Contrary to my original thought, the plant is constructed of steel and red sandstone. The stone was excavated from the power canal which runs 2.25 miles under the city of Sault Ste. Marie. The plant itself is a quarter-mile long. There are actually 74, 3-phase generators in the plant operated by a team of 12 employees. It supplies 20% of the power for Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Sault Ste. Marie, Pure Michigan
After disembarking, we drove back to St. Ignace. We will spend the night here in order to catch a ferry over to Mackinac Island in the morning. The island sits in the Straits of Mackinac and can be reached by ferry from St. Ignace on the upper peninsula and Mackinac City on the lower peninsula. Our plan is to ride the 9:30 ferry which goes under the Mackinac Bridge before going to the island. We have tickets, but the ride is first come, first served and there are no reservations taken.
Our hotel in St. Ignace was close to the ferry launch and sat on the water. We had a partial view of the lake from our balcony. At 8 pm, Jack, Emma, and I went down to the rock beach for s’mores and the view. Mom was tired. It was a nice evening and a good end to a full day. Off on another Michigan adventure in the morning…
Our last night on board, we had to do our packing. Luckily breakfast started at 6:15 am, so we were able to enjoy one last scrumptious meal before our 6:45 am disembarkation from the ship. If you arrive and depart the same day as the cruise, Uniworld provides free transfers to the airport even if you are a city or two away.
We had a really long wait at check-in, but fortunately with Gold status on Star Alliance we had a shorter line and our early arrival meant we were at the front of the line. Uniworld gave us additional paperwork with a QR code related to our COVID testing and with that document and what I had uploaded, we had no problem checking into our flight at the airport. The lines were rather ridiculous by the time they finally started checking in luggage for our flight. There are lots of passengers making connections. Although boarding started on time, we sat and sat on the plane while people kept coming on long after our departure time. We left 40 minutes late. Again, we only had a 1 hour and 10-minute layover in Frankfurt.
This time in Frankfurt it was not to be. We had to cross three terminals to get to our second flight and were near the back of the passport line. Time was ticking away. One ridiculous man was trying to cut the line saying “I am going to miss my flight”. We were all going to miss our flights and we were not going to have it. All along the line passengers refused to let him cut. He had to wait like everyone else. We arrived at the gate 7 minutes before the flight was set to take off, but they had already closed the flight. Since we came in on Lufthansa and were connecting to a United flight, they didn’t hold the plane for us even though we booked everything through United.
Boris was furious and let them know it. The gate agent booked us for the same flight on the next day. There were no other connections to the states that day even though it was just after noon. Because the fault was with Lufthansa, we then had to go stand in a long line at their service center for compensation. Luckily our negative COVID tests will still be within the appropriate window for entry and we can use those tests on the rebooked flight tomorrow.
We were given two meal vouchers and a hotel stay at an airport hotel. There was another long wait for the hotel shuttle-about an hour. The hotel appears to serve all the Lufthansa passengers who miss connections. Frankfurt is their hub, but something is wrong if you need a whole hotel to house passengers you displaced.
We were given a room with a double bed, a duvet cover which wasn’t wide enough to cover the double bed, a single bath towel, and a single hand towel. We turned the duvet the opposite direction so at least we could cover our complete upper bodies. There were no toiletries except for a hand soap dispenser attached to the wall. Our bags had been retained at the airport.
Don’t get me started on the food. It was barely edible. I broke into the olive oil cookies I bought yesterday as a backup.
The next morning, I dried off as best I could and put back on my dirty clothes. I never thought to bring extra for the way home. With shuttle reservations, we went back to the airport as early as we could. We hit the lounge there for the wait. Of course, we both had a lot of rescheduling to do since we missed a day. Fortunately, the plane took off on time.
We arrived in Houston late because bad weather in the area meant we had to circle. There were super long lines at immigration. Unfortunately, at some point during COVID my global entry had expired, so I ended up standing in two lines. The customs officer asked a lot of questions, but mostly seemed interested in what the health conditions were in France and what measures they were taking.
Since so many flights were held in the air due to weather, everyone landed at the same time. I have never seen the international luggage claim area so crowded. We waited 45 minutes after clearing immigration (which had already taken a while) for the luggage to start coming down. Finally, Boris’ bag showed up; the dirty clothes duffle showed up; and of course, my bag did not. We filed the luggage claim and was told it would come in the next day. The bag was in Frankfurt. This was the same bag that spent an extra 36 hours in Frankfurt on the way to France. I am beginning to think the bag just likes it better there.
Just when we thought we were through the worst, we went outside. The weather had also delayed traffic and airport construction had compounded the problem. It took Rocky forever to reach us. In the end, we didn’t leave the airport until 2 hours and 35 minutes after our plane had landed.
My bag did arrive in Houston the next day, but wasn’t delivered until the day after that. Luckily, there were no dirty clothes inside. One of our Uniworld perks was free laundry service on board the ship so I had come home with mostly clean clothes. Our to and from travel on this trip was the pits. Fortunately, the cruise was fabulous.
Hope you enjoy these additional pictures from our French river cruise. I am off on some domestic travel to Michigan in 4 days so stayed tuned for more adventures.
Today is our last touring day in France. We will visit Van Gogh’s Arles, an olive farm, and see an artist’s light show that is touring internationally in its birthplace. Normally we would take the morning tour and pack in the afternoon, but this time I was really intrigued by the optional afternoon tour so we are adding that one.
This is also our last day with Jeanette as a tour guide (after a day off yesterday). They are offering a “gentle walkers” group and Boris is going to do that, but he is fine with me going with Jeanette instead. Boris and I rode in the same bus to Arles. One of the city’s claims to fame is Van Gogh’s tribute to the city in more than 200 paintings. The city also boasts some wonderful Roman Ruins. We will tour the ancient, the medieval, and the modern in a city behind gates that date from the 13th century.
As we left the bus and made our way toward the city, we immediately noticed signs that pinpoint the vantage points Van Gogh used to paint some of this most famous works. With a marker and a picture of the painting, you can see the current state of these “landmarks”. Before even passing through the city walls, we stopped at a marker along the river.
Entering through a break in the city walls, we spotted a mural adorning a building in the middle of the city’s first major intersection. A local artist had offered the mural to the city, but was refused. When the strategically positioned building came on the market, the artist’s son purchased the building and installed the mural making sure all that entered saw his father’s work and “thumbing his nose” at the city fathers who had refused the gift.
Coming to a popular square, Jeanette pointed out that many of the cities in France are strongly aligned with certain political parties, but that the affiliation varies widely even among nearby towns. Arles’ Communist Party dominated signage on this square. The city’s popular and highly progressive mayor was affiliated with the party, although he was currently not in office.
Leaving the square, we walked down an unassuming street that dead-ended at a magnificent arena, reminiscent of the Colosseum in Rome. The gates were closed, but tours are available. The structure is still used; during this time of year bull flights are held in the arena. There are a variety of competitions. One is a coming-of-age ritual where young men jump over the length of the bull. Jeanette had witnessed it and said it was very exciting. There are also “fight to the death” competitions. Interestingly, Van Gogh had painted the arena, but not the picturesque columns or the interior of the structure. His painting was of the crowds entering the arena through one of the many openings.
Rounding a corner, we found the ruins of a Roman theater that was set up with modern lighting and sound and used for concerts. The seating was intact, as well as some of the columns and stage. There were also pieces of ruins scattered in the surrounding lawn. We ran into Boris’ tour group. It was small and he felt like he was getting a lot of personal interaction with an excellent guide. The cruise director said they were doing fewer and fewer days with the “gentle walking” groups. I asked if it was because of an increase in the “go active” type touring and she said it was really about the availability of guides to lead the gentle walking groups.
Walking through the city, we saw Roman ruins incorporated into many of the local buildings. The government buildings and arches were architectural marvels when you consider when they were constructed. I love the simple preservation of the ancient, medieval, and 17th, 18th, and 19th century construction. On one square we saw a pair of wonderful, intact Roman columns. The owners on each side argued that the set belonged to them. The dispute was settled when the governing body stepped in and awarded one to each owner. Arles is a beautiful city and rich in history and legend.
We came upon the Hotel Dieu. If you have been reading the posts in this series, you already know that these facilities were in most cities in France and were where medical services were provided to the poor. Arles’ Hotel Dieu is where Van Gogh went after he cut off his ear and he spent many months there recovering and painting. The hospital’s courtyard was a subject of one of his more famous paintings and they have made an effort to preserve the look as it was in Van Gogh’s time.
What a wonderful city to people watch, roam around and look for the perspective of Van Gogh paintings, explore Roman ruins, or just enjoy the architecture. There was lots of fabulous shopping available in Arles and you could see the group become excited about our free time. Some of the shops even had those old medal signs used to describe the business in the days before most of the citizens were able to read. From the “picture signs” they knew what kind of business it was.
It was also market day in Arles, so with a warning to stay on the lookout for pickpockets we were encouraged to take a look there as well. European town markets are always a treat to visit whether you are on the lookout for quality items, local food specialties, cheap goods, or just people watching. I once had a bag go missing in Italy and I stocked up on cheap clothing at a local market to fill in until my bag arrived. Most of those items have long since “moved on” but I have one blouse I rediscovered recently and have worn several times this summer.
We ended the formal tour at the city’s gorgeous main square, Place de la République, and I started my break time just sitting at the wonderful fountain that graced the middle of the square. It was another hot day. Temperatures reached 105 degrees Fahrenheit (41 degrees Celsius), a record high for the city. At one point there was a man standing very close to me. I couldn’t figure out what he was doing until I realized there was a fresh water spout next to me. Several dogs enjoyed the water too.
I had hoped Boris might turn up, but I never spotted him on the square. I was going to talk him into taking me to a café. While I sat, I enjoyed watching a young man teach a young boy how to skate board. I was never sure if it was a formal or informal lesson, but the boy improved while I was watching. After a while I got tired of waiting for Boris so I headed off in the direction of the market. I wasn’t into cheap goods or food products I couldn’t take home the next day, so I didn’t stay long.
I did run into Boris who was just leaving a café and was headed to the market. He wasn’t interested in sitting down again, so I went shopping at a Christian Lacroix store instead. The café would have been cheaper for Boris. The shop owner is a friend of Christian Lacroix’s wife. Arles is his home; he was also born here. The French designer is now 70, but he is still working. This is his only shop in France and it sells his original designs. I had fun picking out a special scarf.
Boris and I caught up with one another again on the square. After the tour groups walked out of the city and to the buses together, we went back to ship to cool off and have lunch before our afternoon tour. Unfortunately, we probably will not have any time to pack before the next tour. The great news was that our COVID test results were waiting for us when we got back to the room. We were both negative.
After lunch, we set out on our last excursion of the trip. It was another hot day, so I skipped the shopping in Avignon again. We are ending the day at an olive farm, but our first stop is near the medieval village of Les Baux de Provence in the heart of the Alpilles mountain range in France. We are here to see Carrieres de Lumieres, literally “Quarries of Lights” in English. This is total immersion through a multimedia show of pictures set to music. The projections cover the surfaces of the limestone rock and even the ground of this former quarry.
The facility opened its doors in 2012 with Gauguin – Van Gogh, painters of colour. That year there were 239,000 visitors. Today the the visitor count has risen to 770,000 annually. The parking lots were full and there was a queue to get in. They have now produced several different shows and the presentations travel internationally. The Van Gogh show will be at the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston where I live this fall.
The current productions are Cezanne, The Master of Provence and Kandinsky, The Odyssey of Abstraction. Jeanette’s presentation on Cezanne earlier this week really enhanced the experience for me. These two shows through January 2, 2022. There is a longer (about 40 minutes) primary show, followed by a second shorter presentation. The ticket covers both presentations. You can see both in just over an hour (although if I was on my own, I would have stayed for a second round). There is very limited seating around the perimeter. At this time, everyone must wear a mask and you must show proof of vaccination or recent negative test results.
The production surfaces rise 23 feet (7000 mm) from floor to ceiling. The music is also not to be discounted and adds immensely to the quality and enjoyment of the production. “In 2017, [the producer] and the Commune des Baux received the ‘Thea Awards’, a prize awarded by an international committee: the Carrières de Lumières was awarded the prize for the best immersive production.” Culturespaces: Culture for Everyone.
I loved it and it met with universal approval among the guests on our excursion. Of course, it made me want to make reservations for the Van Gogh presentation in Houston. However, it was very special to have seen a presentation of the birthplace of these multimedia productions. I highly recommend a trip out to the quarry and catching these presentations in your own hometown when they come to visit.
The final segment to our afternoon touring was a visit to a local olive farm. The farm and the production facility have been in the same family for ten generations. The current owner only has two daughters, but they run the production with precision and their olive oil has won international prizes. The grandfather was very upset when the girls were put in charge, but after they won the prize, he was the one to step in front of the camera when the television crews arrived to interview the winners.
The grandfather was also thrilled when one of the great-grandchildren was a boy. Each time a child is born in the family, 100 new olive trees are planted. When his great-grandson was born, he planted 700.
After touring the production facilities, we sat out under the trees and enjoyed local Rose wine and sampled olives and olive spreads. Afterwards, we stopped in their giftshop and purchased some jars and olive cookies to take home.
Just a fabulous day and a wonderful way to end our river cruise through Burgundy and Provence. Safe travels to you all. –Natasha
Today we are in the beautiful French city of Avignon in Burgundy. This is one of the few remaining cities that has all its city walls still in place; the walls stretch for over three miles. At our berth along the Rhone, the SS Catherine sits in view of the old city walls. Only a small percentage of the citizens live within the walls. Although it is possible to drive within the walled old city, parking is scarce so most of the residents park outside and large parking lots sit between our ship and the city walls.
We will visit the UNESCO designated district after breakfast today. After records highs of 102 in Grignan yesterday, it is expected to be 105 degrees Fahrenheit (41 Celsius) in Avignon today. We hope to get our outside touring done in the morning and then relax. I might do a little shopping in the afternoon. Boris came off the ship with me, realized how hot it already was at 9 am and that the whole tour was walking, and turned around and went back on the ship. Our primary destination in the city is the Palace of the Popes which has a lot of steps and Boris had hoped for a bus to get us there to conserve his energy. The heat is really draining for him.
The cruise director had offered Boris the opportunity to join the bus tour to the Roman aqueduct, but he has been there before. I would have loved to have seen it. The Pont du Gard is a 2000-year-old tri-level aqueduct which spans the entirety of the Gardon River for a total of 31 miles. It was built in 19 BC and is a UNESCO designated site.
Following our Avignon guide, I crossed the subway (under street), passed the parking lots, and entered through one of the eight city gates. Avignon is a fortified city rich in medieval history; its buildings, 39 towers, 8 gates, walls, and bastions were built between 1350 and 1368 and restored in the 19th century.
We stopped first at one of the main squares and noted the Theater. The plaza had been completely filled with art installations, a carousel, and restaurants with outside seating that oozed into the central spaces. It might have been charming had it not been so crowded. Watch that you don’t trip over one of the many electrical cables taped to the ground.
Once we made it to the huge square sitting in front of the Palace of the Popes, our guide went off to purchase the tickets giving us a chance to photograph the impressive façade. The Palace is actually two buildings which were joined together, the older palace of Benedict XII, the east and northeast wings, and the “new” palace of Clement VI, the west wing. Clement VI is considered the most extravagant of the Avignon popes and the difference is obvious when touring the structures, perhaps most directly obvious when you tour the private chambers of these two popes, viewed one after the other on the tour. Later popes made only minor additions or changes to the Palace.
Palsis des Papes, Palace of the Popes in English, “is one of the largest and most important medieval Gothic buildings in Europe. Once a fortress and palace, the papal residence was the seat of Western Christianity during the 14th century. Six papal conclaves were held in the Palais, leading to the elections of Benedict XII in 1334, Clement VI in 1342, Innocent VI in 1352, Urban V in 1362, Gregory XI in 1370 and Benedict XIII in 1394.” Wikipedia
The Papal Curio was moved to Avalon in 1309 when violence broke out over the election to Clement V in 1305. The Palace is huge and does require that the visitor is able to navigate a number of stairs. It is incredibly hot and Boris would have been exhausted before we even made it inside. There is major construction going on in the courtyard and the navigation wasn’t direct.
The Palace is empty. It was stripped of all its decoration during the French Revolution. It was later used as a military barracks. Some of the frescoed chapels can still be seen, as well as the decoration in the bedrooms of the popes. Photographs are allowed, but you are not permitted to photograph or videotape the frescos.
After our Palace tour, we ventured a little farther into the walled city. There are some wonderful shops and the city is quite charming, but the day had grown incredibly hot. I was happy when I realized our next destination, Les Halles, was air conditioned. Les Halles is a wonderful enclosed market with meat and seafood vendors, vegetable and fruit stands, cheese shops, and so much more. Our guide recommended the oyster bar at the far end, but it was closed today (the proprietors were probably on their own annual holiday).
Given the bar was closed, after I looked around Les Halles I decided to go over to one of the cafes just outside the market and enjoy a cool drink for the balance of our free time. I was surprised when they asked to see my COVID vaccination card, even when I was sitting outside. Not a problem for me, I was excited and felt fortunate to receive my vaccinations (2 shots of Pizer) in March. Just a few days ago, France began requiring vaccinations for those entering indoor spaces. (They had checked our cards at the palace.) Apparently, the regulation applied to café patrons whether seated inside or outside. I had my vaccination card; we had wisely carried them every day when we were off the ship. In France, they referred to it as a “pass”.
I love sitting at French cafes, especially outside. You get to experience a bit of French culture and you can’t beat the people watching. I enjoyed a sparkling water in one of my favorite pink bottles that I collect and a cold Coke. With the breeze and an umbrella overhead, sitting, watching, and enjoying a cold beverage felt like a little bit of heaven.
After the tour group gathered again, we headed back to the ship. While many of the guests peeled off to do a little shopping, I wanted to check on Boris so I went back to the ship. Once outside the walls, we asked the guide about the city’s famous bridge. The Pont Benezet was built between 1177 and 1185 to span the Rhone River. After a flood in 1668 destroyed portions of the bridge, only 4 of the 22 arches remain. It is considered the most famous bridge in France and children even learn a nursery rhyme about the bridge, “Sur le Pont d’ Aviglon”. The bridge is only one over from where we are docked.
Boris had a relaxing morning and joined me for lunch. It has gotten so hot, over 100 degrees Farenheit, that I am not sure I want to walk around town shopping. Boris and I decided to join the Chateauneuf du Pape wine tasting this afternoon. We will go by bus to that wine producing region and stop at one of the new winery tasting room for a presentation and tasting. Ironically, Chateauneuf du Pape is where we rejoined the boat after our tour yesterday as it sailed down the Rhone toward Avignon.
Another alternative tour is a kayak tour down the Gardon River. They will pass under the aqueduct. I would have loved to go if it wasn’t so hot. We talked some of the guests that did go after they got back and they said there were so many people swimming in the river to cool off that they were constantly dodging bodies.
The bus drive out provided beautiful scenery, but the tour guide was a little off. She liked singing “Sur le Pont d’ Aviglon” and led the bus in song several times; I opted out. We passed so many wonderful castles and vineyards, but there were no photo stops.
It was the Avignon popes who promoted the wines of this region and John XXII who built the castle that is the symbol of the area. Chateauneuf du Pape literally translates as “the Pope’s new castle”. The wines of this region are very popular in France, mostly bold reds but there are some whites. The whites can be hard to find since only 7% of fields are planted with the white grapes. Several people on the tour really love the wine. These are blended wines, officially using several of 13 grape varieties (although there are 20 varieties in the region). The most used grape variety in Chateauneuf du Pape is Grenache.
After the educational presentation on the region and the grapes, we were ready for the tasting. The winery representative did a nice job on the basics of tasting. The wines were offered with infused chocolate-one lavender, one thyme-as an example of how the right food combination can enhance the flavor of the wine. Neither Boris or I liked any of the offerings enough to buy the wine, but plenty of the guests did.
The guide made one more stop so we could take pictures of a hotel made to look like a castle. With all the wonderful authentic castles, it was a poor choice. She also led us in more singing on the way back. She was the only bad tour guide we had on our River Cruise. I was glad that Boris had an opportunity to get off the boat and they offered an excursion option that didn’t require us to spend much time outside.
Once back on the ship, we dressed for the Captain’s Dinner and then went to the Leopard Lounge for our COVID testing. To return to the United States, citizens and visitors must present a negative COVID test taken within the last 72 hours regardless of your vaccination status. Uniworld provided on-board testing at a cost of $40; they let us know that local pharmacies charged $25. The convenience was worth the slight additional cost which was paid to a pharmacist who came to our ship after his regular work day ended. Written results were sent to our stateroom and later we received formal paperwork with a QR code we could present at the airport.
We talked to some people who were staying on after the cruise and had to wait an additional day and do their testing at a local pharmacy. The results were supposed to be emailed, but they were still waiting for the results of their rapid test more than 8 hours later. I think we made the right call testing on board. The poor pharmacist that came over was exhausted. With the regulation change in France, he was overwhelmed with 20 someodds who wanted to go out on the weekend and were not yet vaccinated so they went through testing.
Dinner and Dancing tonight and then one more day of touring in France tomorrow.
If a town could ooze charm, this is it. Today we are in Viviers, France right on the Rhone. This well-preserved medieval town thrived in both the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Some writers call it an “architectural open-air museum”. It boasts France’s smallest active Cathedral, two surrounding city walls, and vaulted passageways, including one that separates the lower from the upper town.
This is Jeannette’s adopted home town and she will once again be our guide today (our choice). I flat out asked her if it was her husband she fell in love with or this town. The city is a photographer’s dream and it was no surprise that my camera battery ran out near the end of the tour. We are going to visit the town, have an undisclosed experience depending on the guide, and then see the boulodrome where local men will teach the ship guests how to play petanque, a game like horseshoes but played with steel balls.
There is a bit of an uphill trek associated with our tour of Viviers and I can already see Boris starting to consider opting out. He is having to use a cane on this trip and between the heat and the incline (which we are not used to coming from flat Houston, Texas) it has been a struggle for him. Viviers is also mostly cobblestones. At some point, Boris decided to rest in a square with a charmingly painted home beside him.
Jeanette showed us window archways that marked the age of the buildings. Some had been lovingly preserved or simply incorporated into a new structure. She also stopped at a building which had once been an oven house. Rather than all the residents have there own ovens, they took the dough to a specific location where the baking was done and then picked it up later. That was probably a much safer option in these crowded quarters.
In the lower city, Jeanette also pointed out the Maison des Chevaliers. The property was first owned by salt merchant and art lover, Noel Albert. He used his wealth to renovate the property in the 16th century with ancient Roman decorations. “The different floors are decorated by mullioned windows framed by pilasters, Ionic, Doric columns and composites and busts in medaillion.” Du Rhone aux Gorges de Ardeche.
We made our way to the upper city and France’s smallest active Cathedral, Saint Vincent’s. From the Belvedere of Chateauvieux we had wonderful (almost) 360 degree views of the area, including the beautiful tiled rooftops. Jeanette pointed out one eyesore that just had a red roof. She said the owner, like everyone else who lived in the medieval city, would be required to cover the red surface and replace the tiles to match the other buildings.
From the top you can also see the former Bishop’s palace built in the Italian style with a reception room covered in mural paintings. When the large, opulent building, built in the style of 18th century private mansions, proved too large for church purposes it was swapped with the nearby city building and in 1986 became the town hall.
We passed through the opening that was made to haul materials up to the Cathedral and the ecclesiastical buildings. Along the narrow curved roadway were large hooks fixed into the wall and ground that were used to pull materials up. The road is essentially one way and Jeanette told us she had witnessed an incident of road rage on the spot. The car coming down from top can really not back up, so the other vehicle heading up the hill has to back down. The driver of the second car refused and simply got out of her car and walked away blocking the roadway. The incident occurred between two “little old ladies” of the village. Makes me wonder if there was more to it.
Making our way back down into the lower city, we picked up Boris and headed to our personalized activities. Two of the groups are going into the homes of their guides who live in medieval Vivers. Since Jeanette lives outside the city, our group is going to see a local potter in action. He made both a salad bowl and vase while we observed him at his wheel. He starts with a red clay.
Afterwards, we enjoyed wine and appetizers on the patio of the potter’s shop. Natasha loves her pottery, so of course I did a little shopping keeping in mind that I had to be able to get the pretties home.
After the pottery shop, we headed back down the linden-tree lined lane toward the ship. We had passed the boulodrome where petanque is played on our way into town. It is so popular that the town has a dedicated space with at least a dozen terrains where the game could be played. One of the benefits of petanque is that it doesn’t require a dedicated space like basketball would. We watched for a while, but it was hot and we were tired, so Boris and I headed back to our nearby ship to cool off and for lunch.
This afternoon we are taking a special excursion to another French city, Grignan. The castle sits perched on a rocky promontory that has been occupied since the iron age. In the 5th and 6th centuries, Romans occupied this land. We had a wonderful view of the city as we approached. Departing the bus, we found a wonderful domed washing station. This communal washhouse was a city hub. Today, we saw several dogs enjoy the cool water, including a West Highland White Terrier (like our Peabody) named Igloo.
Much of what we know of Grignan and life in this remote castle come from the writings of one of the first French female intellectuals, Madame de Sévigné She chose the older twice-married Count de Grignan, not particularly attractive, but utterly charming, as her daughter’s husband. The daughter, having given her husband two children, was relived of further duty in the eyes of her mother and could return to Paris and the court life her mother loved. However, the Countess de Grignan made the mistake of falling in love with her husband and (unlike her mother) enjoyed her marital sex life. As a result she wanted to stay in Grignan and it fell to her mother to visit her in the country. Madame de Sévigné corresponded with her daughter over many years and from her writings we have a clear picture of court life and the aristocratic attitudes that prevailed during the 17th century. She visited Grignan three times and died her on her third visit.
Boris chose to stay in the lower town and enjoy the scenery from a local cafe; this is actually one of the best way to spend a day in France. I walked up the hill to the castle, the beautiful church, and the amazing views.
Saint-Sauveur College church is built into the cliff wall at the top of the hill. One of the things that make the church unique is that a terrace was built on top of the church instead of a bell tower with a cross. The church was built in 1535 by the Baron Adhémar and was consecrated by Pope Paul III in 1539. Madame de Sévigné is buried in Saint-Sauveur.
The city is also known for the many varieties of roses that are grown there. I didn’t know this aspect of the city’s notoriety until later. I just snapped some pictures because I thought the flowers were exceptionally beautiful.
Walking back down, there was time for a little shopping; Boris had found the ATM. I bought some lavender oil. We just missed the seeing lavender in the fields; it is cut in July.
Our last stop of the day is at a Truffle Farm that has been in the same family for generations. The methods and training are passed down from generation to generation and are well guarded secrets. He asked if anyone in our group was from California (where they grow truffles). I think he was trying to sniff out the spies. Jeanette translated for our host while he showed us the tools of the trade and petted his sweet truffle dog. They used pigs prior to 2000. However the pigs tended to eat the truffles when they found them and after a few years had to been retired. The pigs found the truffles instinctively, but the dogs have to be trained. This sweet dog had just had puppies but was anxious to get out to the trees.
We were in white truffle season. The black, more valuable, truffles have a different season. She quickly found several truffles. (Boris is convinced it was fixed; it was surprising that she found truffles in the oldest part of the farm which the owner told us doesn’t produce much.) Afterwards, we sampled some of the local wine and of course, truffles. They were wonderful. I bought wine, truffle slices, truffle butter, and truffle spread. Then, when asked, the owner brought out the adorable puppy that he has chosen to keep from the liter. She was a cutie. He quickly announced that she would not be going to America.
Another fabulous day on the Rhone. While we were touring in the afternoon, the boat moved to Avignon where it will stay for the balance of our trip. We will tour the city in the morning.
After sailing all night on the Rhone, we are docked at Tain L’ Hermitage, France for a visit to the twin cities of Tain L’ Hermitage and Tournon. After breakfast, we walked over to the historic Romanesque church built on the site where King Charles V of France and his cousin Joanna of Bourdon were married on April 8, 1350. A statue outside commemorates the event. I remarked to Boris that I thought the statue was of two children and he told me that Charles V was 12 at the time of the marriage. I guess I was right.
Some of the passengers slept in, but those that got up were treated to an organ concert featuring Bach, Mendelssohn, and Handel and performed by a guest artist Alexis Platz from Strasbourg. The church was simple, but I just closed my eyes and enjoyed the music. The organ is considered one of the best in the area and the concerts have been organized to draw in visitors. This morning concert was exclusive to the ship’s passengers.
The city is at the base of the Hermitage Hill. The hillside is covered in vineyards and at the top of the hill is a small chapel. It is said that a hermit left society behind and went to the top of the hill where he lived out his life, hence the name of the hill and the town. It was a lovely view looking up. The city is also known as the home of the Valrhona Chocolate Factory and many passengers indicated a desire to walk over. Some days you can smell the chocolate from the dock. After the concert we walked back to the ship for a brief recharge and to collect our listening devices which we use for most excursions. Our cruise director affectionally calls them gizmos.
This afternoon our walking tour is being led by Jeanette who is originally from The Cotswolds in England. She fell in love and followed a French man home. The relationship didn’t work out, but she embraced her life and the people of France. Years later when she needed an electrician for repairs to her tiny apartment, she met her future husband. She has lived in France for 30 years and she and her French husband have a daughter. Jeanette had retained her British citizenship, but given Brexit, she is now in the process of becoming a French citizen. According to Jeanette, the British ex-pats, about 20% of British citizens, were not allowed to vote in the Brexit referendum.
Jeanette led us across the attractive, wooden-floored, pedestrian bridge that links the towns of Tain and Tournon. Tain L’ Hermitage is on the more affluent side of the river which has the benefit of the hill and vineyards. Tournon, our destination, is on the other side of the Rhone in one of the poorest counties in France. We started our Tournon tour with the stop along the river with a marker recognizing the engineer Marc Sequin who constructed the first suspension bridge over the Rhone in 1825. Across the street at the base of rock is an impressive war memorial. It was not unusual for poorer counties to see many more of their boys sent to the front lines, and the losses were often heavy. The memorial is set against the stone mount upon which the Castle Museum set in the tower ruins sits.
Winding through town we stopped at a unique church built into the rock. It has been heavily damaged. The rose window frame is in place, but it is empty and behind the façade the church is shaped like a box. At one point the church was so in debt that it sold off its chapels. Along one street, a house and the church share a wall and the owner has a washing line hung attached to the church. On the side street, the spaces where there would have been chapels are now businesses that open to the exterior, rather than the interior of the church. One was a pizza place. Inside the church, the ceiling has been replaced with one made from the local chestnut wood, so the whole interior is very dark. On the right side is an alcove adorned in candles, on the left is a remaining side chapel which is decorated with wonderful medieval frescos. The rest of the left side wall is smooth due to the sold off chapels.
The “Gothic…church of St Julien [was] [p]robably built on the site of a Roman temple and certainly in the place of a Romanesque church…[the church] is dedicated to St Julien, a Roman centurion beheaded in Brioude (Auvergne) during the reign of Emperor Diocletian (245-313). Erected as a collegiate church between 1316 and 1348, the church of St Julien constitutes a rather surprising architectural ensemble: the offset bell tower, the chapels replaced by houses, the Italian-style ceiling give it an atypical character.” Religiana.
The city is rather charming and coming into its own. Jeanette said that just years ago all the shops were closed and now (and in spite of COVID), new shops are opening and the town is seeing a revival. I found it very attractive. Regular Travel by Natasha readers know I love to photograph windows and doors, and Tournon was a treasure trove to me. Boris was struggling with the heat and the hills and he cut his tour short and headed back to the boat. I pressed on if for no other reason than to take some interesting photographs.
After winding through the picturesque streets, we found ourselves at the city’s administrative building. To the side was the entrance to the tower ruins. We are having a reception on the Castle Museum terrace and enjoying some of the wines from a regional producer. There was a white and two reds to sample. Syrah grapes are the ones used to produce the more plentiful red wines in the region. None of the selections overly impressed me, but I loved the fabulous views of the twin cities, the Rhone and the Hermitage Hill on the opposite side of the river. It was very hot and luckily there was some shade. Some of the ship’s guests hiked through the vineyards on Hermitage Hill as an alternate excursion. A select few chose the masterpiece tour and had a tasting at a local winery.
I headed back to the boat and found Boris cool and rested. This afternoon the boat will cruise the Rhone towards our next stop Viviers. In addition to the views, there is a chocolate and wine pairing to enjoy. Natasha, as one of only about five people in the world who does not like chocolate, will pass on that option; Boris did indulge. I actually did a little writing for the blog and emailed Rocky who is back at home with Peabody as I sat next to our French Balcony. After his wine and chocolate, Boris napped. When I realized the time, I headed to the Lounge for a presentation on Cezanne who spent some time and painted areas we will be visiting later in the week. Jeanette is the featured lecturer. She is both knowledgeable and entertaining.
Tonight is the reception for returning guests, River Heritage members. It is a nice opportunity for a few private words with the Captain, Hotel Director, Housekeeping Director, Chef, and Restaurant and Bar Manager. I did learn that Uniworld will be introducing mystery cruises where all is arranged by the cruise line and you only find out where you are going three days before departure. They will be starting in 2022 or 2023.
We are now past the halfway point in the cruise. Hard to believe there are only three more days of touring. Natasha will be back tomorrow from Viviers, France, further south along the Rhone.
Our ship has returned to Lyon for a day in the city. We will not leave until midnight tonight. Lyon is the third largest city in France behind Paris and Marseille. There were a variety of tour options presented for today. You could take a bike tour around the peninsula (with a warning that 20% would be in traffic); the second option was a five-hour walking tour (on cobblestones) through the city’s old town. The third option, the one recommended for first time visitors, was the gastronomy tour which included a bus tour of the city and walking portions around the basilica and old town. There were also several stops to sample the city’s goodies.
The city of Lyon has the benefit of two rivers, the Rhone and the Saone. We are docked on the Rhone on the peninsula that sits between the two rivers. Facing the river is Lyon’s Hotel Dieu. (Like yesterday’s Hotel Dieu in Beaune, it offered hospital services to the poor.) The local Hotel Dieu has the largest façade of any building in the city. It is now the site of the Intercontinental Hotel and many shops and restaurants. The courtyard is set up with chairs, tables, and canopies for people to enjoy the fresh air and sunshine. Our first stop is the city market inside the Hotel Dieu.
The two-story market is very popular, so we have arrived early to beat the crowds. Early August is a time many Europeans do their own vacationing, so some of the stalls were closed. We stopped at the end of the upper section to enjoy samples of the meat, although our guide mentioned that the French do not eat meat in the morning. That is probably why the tables are available to us. There was a lovely sausage stuffed with pork, pistachios, and other goodies. We also learned that apparently it is never too early to enjoy wine with your snacks.
The guide also told us the background of the red pralines, a local favorite. We’ll sample some later. They are also referred to as pink pralines or praline roses. I learned later that there are many origin stories. Some date the treat back to the 18th century; others say the 19th. Some say it was the color that was the inspiration; others say the roses. Whatever the history, they are now eaten as treats or baked into pies and cakes and can be found all over the city.
After leaving Hotel Dieu, we wound our way up to the basilica, past the Cathedral and Place Bellecour. the largest pedestrian square in Europe. To me it just looked like a large open and very hot space with no shade. There are no trees of other greenery whatsoever. It is a former parade ground with an equestrian statute of Louis XIV in the middle. Most of the surrounding buildings are from the 1800s. The most exciting thing we saw on the drive up were the two Roman theaters. They sit side by side. I wasn’t able to get a good picture, but on another trip I think they would definitely be worth a visit.
We parked and walked over to the square just in front of the Basilica. From the square you got a great view of the Tour metallique de Fourviere, a replica of the upper third of its Paris cousin. This metallic tower was built three years after Paris’ Eiffel Tower, but was not overseen by Eiffel. Although it once had a restaurant and observation platform, today it is used for television transmission and is not open to the public. It is the highest point in Lyon.
The basilica Notre Dame of Fourviere is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It sits on the spot which was once the Roman Forum of Trajan in a dominant position overlooking the city. The church was built to thank the Virgin Mary for having spared the city from invasion during the Franco-Prussian war. Our guide was not allowed to share information inside the church. Additionally, Mass was going on so pictures were not permitted. We could just take a quick peak inside. The 19th century church has some beautiful mosaics lining the interior side walls. It would definitely be worth a return visit.
The guide did encourage us to take in the amazing views of Lyon from the basilica’s beautiful terrace. Place Bellecour was more impressive from this vantage point. You could see far enough to see both rivers that are part of the city and view the perimeter of the peninsula in between the Rhone and the Saone. The long façade of Hotel Dieu was perhaps even more striking from above. We saw the Opera House and more of the city’s amazing architecture.
After leaving the panoramic esplanade, we made our way down to the city’s Croix Rousse area built on the slopes of the hill of the same name. This cobblestoned historic sector just behind the columned Palace of Justice was slated to be torn down when a Councilman stepped in and gave the area historic status. The silk weavers made their home in this area of the city.
The most fascinating thing about the Croix Rousse is the traboules, covered passageways that function as public hallways through the quarters of private houses. They were used frequently by The Resistance during the war when they needed to hide someone or as a shortcut to make an escape. Most of the traboules are now private. Although there are estimated to be 300-500 traboules in Lyon, most in the old town, there are only five that are public. Those residents willing to give public access to their traboules during limited hours enjoy free utilities and other added benefits. The one we visited showed the Italian influence in its architecture.
While in the Croix Rousse, our guide pointed out a sign for Bouchons Lyonnais. It is a type of restaurant that serves the traditional cruise of the city. The food originated as a way to use the products that would have otherwise been wasted at the end of the day. This type of menu started in the Croix Rousse where the restaurants catered to the silk weavers.
We sampled cake made from the red pralines and had little bit of time to wander around Croix Rousse before we made our way back to the bus and our return to the ship for lunch. We will have free time this afternoon and although I have lots of ideas about places to go-the Roman theaters, an inside visit to the basilica, or getting lost in the Vieux Lyon-I suspect I will end up taking a nap and trying to get caught up on my sleep. I keep waking up in the middle of the night, as I have not adjusted well to the time change. The days are also very warm. When we landed in Frankfurt on Sunday morning it was 57 degrees Fahrenheit, but that was the last time we saw cool weather. While the first morning was pleasant at 74 F, the afternoons have climbed to almost 90 F. We are heading south and they are experiencing record high temperatures and the afternoons may be particularly brutal. We move again tonight and I will catch up with you tomorrow as Boris and Natasha head south along the Rhone River.