Last Touring Day in France: Arles, Olives, and an Artist Light Show

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Roman arena in Arles, France

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.

Photo ©Jean Janssen Arles, France

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.

Photo ©Jean Janssen
Along the Riverfront outside Arles, France where Van Gogh painted some of his famous works. This spot is the perspective for Starry Night Over the Rhone.

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.

Photo ©Jean Janssen A break in the city walls in Arles, France
Photo ©Jean Janssen Arles, France

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.

Photo ©Jean Janssen.
Around the city of Arles, France, you find Roman ruins incorporated into the local structures.

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.

Photo ©Jean Janssen Roman arena in Arles, France
Photo ©Jean Janssen Van Gogh painted the crowds entering the Roman arena in Arles, France

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.

Photo ©Jean Janssen Arches on the Roman arena in Arles, France
Photo ©Jean Janssen. Near the Roman arena, Arles, France

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.

Photo ©Jean Janssen Entrance to the Roman theater, Arles, France
Photo ©Jean Janssen Ruins of the Roman theater still in use in Arles, France
Photo ©Jean Janssen
Throughout the city of Arles, France, you find Roman ruins incorporated into the city structures.

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. 

Photo ©Jean Janssen. A ceiling to marvel at in Arles, France
Photo ©Jean Janssen. Arles, France

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.

Photo ©Jean Janssen At the Hotel Dieu, Arles, France
Photo ©Jean Janssen At the Hotel Dieu, Arles, France

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.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Shop sign in Arles, France
Photo ©Jean Janssen Spotting the Van Gogh perspective for Cafe Terrance at Night in Arles, France

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.

Photo ©Jean Janssen Place de la République, Arles, France
Photo ©Jean Janssen. Wonderful fountain in Place de la République in Arles, France. You will notice the spout in the foreground of the picture.

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.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Enjoying the fountain in Arles, France
Photo ©Jean Janssen. On the main square in Arles, France

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. 

Photo ©Jean Janssen Arles, France

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.

Photo ©Jean Janssen Arles, France

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.

Photo ©Jean Janssen Cezanne, The Master of Provence, Carrieres de Lumieres,
Les Baux de Provence, France

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.

Photo ©Jean Janssen Cezanne, The Master of Provence, Carrieres de Lumieres,
Les Baux de Provence, France

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.

Photo ©Jean Janssen Cezanne, The Master of Provence, Carrieres de Lumieres,
Les Baux de Provence, France

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.

Photo ©Jean Janssen Cezanne, The Master of Provence, Carrieres de Lumieres,
Les Baux de Provence, France

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.

Photo ©Jean Janssen Kandinsky, The Odyssey of Abstraction, Carrieres de Lumieres,
Les Baux de Provence, France

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.

Photo ©Jean Janssen Photo ©Jean Janssen The Quarry that is home to Carrieres de Lumieres,
Les Baux de Provence, France

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.

Photo ©Jean Janssen

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.

Photo ©Jean Janssen
Photo ©Jean Janssen

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.

Photo ©Jean Janssen

Just a fabulous day and a wonderful way to end our river cruise through Burgundy and Provence.  Safe travels to you all.  –Natasha

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Avignon in the Burgundy Region of France

Photo ©Jean Janssen. The walled city of Avignon, France

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.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Inside the Palace of the Popes, Avignon, France

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. 

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Palace of the Popes, Avignon, France. Fresco photo shot from a long distance-adjoining room-with a zoom lens and no flash.

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.

Photo ©Jean Janssen Avignon, France

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.

Photo ©Jean Janssen Avignon, France

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.

Photo ©Jean Janssen Palace of the Popes, Avignon, France

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.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Inside the Palace of the Popes, Avignon, France

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

Photo ©Jean Janssen The Palace of the Popes, Avignon, France

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.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. The Palace of the Popes. This room was later used as a military barracks. Looking at the wall you can see the architectural details that were filled in or altered over time.

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.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Les Halles, Avignon, France
Photo ©Jean Janssen. Inside Les Halles, Avignon, France

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).

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Palace of the Popes, Avignon, France

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”.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Enjoying a cold drink in Avignon, France

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.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Avignon, France

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.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Joining our ship enroute along the Rhone.

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.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Joining our ship enroute along the Rhone.

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.

Photo ©Jean Janssen Avignon, France

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.

Photo ©Jean Janssen Chateauneuf du Pape, France. Notice the papal reference on the glass of the bottle.

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.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Chateauneuf du Pape winery

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.

Photo ©Jean Janssen At the Chateauneuf du Pape winery

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.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. The Palace of the Popes, Avignon, France

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. 

Photo ©Jean Janssen Inside the Palace of the Popes, Avignon, France

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.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Inside the city walls, Avignon, France

Dinner and Dancing tonight and then one more day of touring in France tomorrow. 

–Natasha

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Viviers and Grignan, France, and a Truffle Dog

Photo ©Jean Janssen Viviers, France

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.

Photo ©Jean Janssen Viviers, France

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.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Viviers, France

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.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Medieval window in Viviers, France
Photo ©Jean Janssen Same location, stepping back
Photo ©Jean Janssen Location of the baking house, Viviers, France
Photo ©Jean Janssen. Jeanette showed us ancient windows, doors, and doorways. That is quite a “pet door” at the bottom.

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.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. I photographed this courtyard on the way to the upper city. On the way down, Jeanette stopped in the same courtyard at the Maison des Chevaliers.
Photo © Jean Janssen. The often photographed Maison des Chevaliers, Viviers, France

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.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Saint-Vincent Cathedral, Viviers, France
Photo ©Jean Janssen. Entrance to Saint-Vincent Cathedral, Viviers, France
Photo ©Jean Janssen Saint Vincent Cathedral, Viviers, France

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.

Photo ©Jean Janssen From the Belvedere of Cateauvieux we had wonderful views of the tiled rooftops of Viviers. The owner of the building with the red roof will be required to cover it in tiles.
Photo ©Jean Janssen Former Bishop’s Palace, now the town hall, in Viviers, France

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.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Roadway hooks used to haul materials up the hillside for the construction of the Cathedral and the surrounding buildings.
Photo ©Jean Janssen Viviers, France

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.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Passageway to and from the upper city, Viviers, France

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.

Photo ©Jean Janssen Vivers, France
Photo ©Jean Janssen. Medieval jail with a window view, Vivers, France
Photo ©Jean Janssen Viviers, France

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.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. The master at his craft in a Viviers pottery shop, France.
Photo ©Jean Janssen. The master at his craft in a Viviers pottery shop, France.
Photo ©Jean Janssen. Boris in line for drinks and appetizers at the Pottery Shop in Viviers, France

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.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Vivers’ boulodrome where local men taught the ship guests how to play petanque. 
Photo ©Jean Janssen. Vivers’ boulodrome where local men taught the ship guests how to play petanque. 

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.

Photo ©Jean Janssen Grignan, France
Photo ©Jean Janssen Grignan, France
Photo ©Jean Janssen Grignan, France

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.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Statue of Madame de Sévigné, Grignan, France
Photo ©Jean Janssen. The plume of Madame de Sévigné adorns the city’s bell tower in Grignan, France

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.

Photo ©Jean Janssen The castle at Grignan, France
Photo ©Jean Janssen. View from the top, Grignan, France

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.

Photo ©Jean Janssen The Saint-Sauveur College church, Grignan, France
Photo ©Jean Janssen The Saint-Sauveur College church, Grignan, France
Photo ©Jean Janssen The terrace outside Saint-Sauveur College church, Grignan, France

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.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. A beautiful rose in Grignan, France

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.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Two sisters live next door in Grignan and duel it out each year through their flower presentation

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.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. A successful truffle hunt.

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.

Photo ©Jean Janssen A truffle puppy
Photo ©Jean Janssen Grignan, France

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.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Lights along the Rhone as seen from the French Balcony in our cabin.
Photo ©Jean Janssen. Lights along the Rhone as seen from the French Balcony in our cabin.

–Natasha.

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The Twin Cities of Tain L’ Hermitage and Tournon, France along the Rhone River

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Tournon, France as seen from Tain L’ Hermitage, France
Photo ©Jean Janssen Leaving the Ship along the Rhone.

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.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Statue commemorating the marriage of Charles V of France to his cousin Joanna Bourbon in Tain L’ Hermitage, France
Photo ©Jean Janssen Site of our organ concert in Tain L’ Hermitage, France

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.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Hermitage Hill, Tain L’ Hermitage, France
Photo ©Jean Janssen. Top of Hermitage Hill.

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. 

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Tournon, France

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.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Pedestrian suspension bridge linking Tour L’ Hermitage and Tournon, France. This photo was taken from the Tournon side looking back at Hermitage Hill.
Photo ©Jean Janssen War Memorial, Tournon, France

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.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. This house is built right into the church in Tournon, France. Why not hang your wash line on the church?
Photo ©Jean Janssen. Upstairs home and ground level Pizza Parlor built into space that was formally a chapel of the Church of St. Julien in Tournon, France.

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.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Beautiful frescos inside St. Julian’s Church, Tournon, France
Photo ©Jean Janssen. St. Julien’s Church, Tournon, France
Photo ©Jean Janssen. Frescos in St. Julian’s Church, Tournon, France

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.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Tournon is beginning a revitalization.
Photo ©Jean Janssen Tournon, France
Photo ©Jean Janssen Tournon, France

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. 

Photo ©Jean Janssen View from the castle terrance, Tournon, France
Photo ©Jean Janssen View from the castle terrance, Tournon, France
Photo ©Jean Janssen. Spotted growing along the wall of the castle museum, Tournon, France
Photo ©Jean Janssen View from the castle terrance, Tournon, France

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.

Photo ©Jean Janssen Approaching the Castle Museum, Tournon, France
Photo ©Jean Janssen View from the castle terrance, Tournon, France

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.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. All along the Rhone, there are houseboat that have been converted into restaurants, bars, shops, and in Tournon, even a movie theater.

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.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Leaving the dock at Tain L’ Hermitage

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.

Photo ©Jean Janssen Tournon, France

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Lyon, France

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Lyon, France
Photo ©Jean Janssen. Along the riverfront, Lyon, France

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.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Lyon’s Hotel Dieu
Photo ©Jean Janssen. The courtyard at the Hotel Dieu, Lyon, France

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.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Sampler platter at the market at Le Halles, Lyon’s 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.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Red Pralines, a local favorite in Lyon, France

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.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Basilica Notre Dame Of Fourviere, Lyon, France
Photo ©Jean Janssen. One of the Roman theaters as seen on the drive up to the Basilica, Lyon, France

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.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Tour Metallique de Fourviere, Lyon, France

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. 

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Basilica Notre Dame Of Fourviere, Lyon, France
Photo ©Jean Janssen. Exterior decoration on Basilica Notre Dame Of Fourviere, Lyon, France
Photo ©Jean Janssen. Door to the Basilica
Photo ©Jean Janssen. Exterior decoration on the Basilica Notre Dame Of Fourviere, Lyon, France

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.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. View from the basilica’s terrace with views on the peninsula, the Saone River in the foreground and the Rhone River at the tree line near the back of the photo
Photo ©Jean Janssen. Place Bellecour as seen from the Basilica’s terrance, Lyon, France
Photo ©Jean Janssen. Amazing architecture, including the city’s opera house, in Lyon, France as seen from the Basilica’s terrance.

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.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Lyon’s Croix Rousse District

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. 

Photo ©Jean Janssen. You now find markers on the Lyon’s traboules.
Photo ©Jean Janssen. Inside one of Lyon’s traboules in the Croix Rousse district
Photo ©Jean Janssen. Inside one of Lyon’s traboules in the Croix Rousse district
Photo ©Jean Janssen. This doorway led to one of Lyon’s private traboules in the Croix Rousse district

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.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. In Croix Rousse we sampled the red pralines baked into a cake.

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.

Photo ©Jean Janssen Along the Saone River in Lyon, France as seen from our French balcony
Photo ©Jean Janssen Along the Saone River in Lyon, France as seen from our French balcony
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Lunch with the Count de Rully at his Chateau in Burgundy, France

Photo ©Jean Janssen Chateau de Rully, France

Today our river cruise ship is docked in Macon, France in the Burgundy region.  The focus in this area is on wine and gastronomy.  There are small villages here with four-star restaurants and the fields are filled with vineyards as far as the eye can see. 

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Beaune, France

We started our day with breakfast at our assigned spot in the dining room with waiter service from the buffet.  In addition to the many buffet items, they also offer a daily breakfast special.  Today it was banana bread.  Boris and I decided to give it a try.  We were served was a thick wonderful bread, spread with fresh peanut butter, covered in fresh bananas, highlighted with honey, and topped with bacon crumbs.  That’s right!  It was an Elvis sandwich, the gourmet French variety of course.  Rocky would be so proud that we partook.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Courtyard of the Hotel Dieu, Beaune, France

Today you had the option of the ride to Beaune, France through the beautiful countryside, a tour of the famous Hotel Dieu, and free time in this charming town.  Lunch was on your own.  For something extra special, you could visit Beaune and then go on to Rully for a wine tasting, lunch, and châteaux tour at the local castle.  We chose to add the castle option.  Both of these tours required that you were vaccinated.  A new policy in France requires that you show proof of vaccination before you can enter most indoor public spaces.

Photo ©Jean Janssen Beaune, France

Any unvaccinated guests, could take a city tour of Macon with lunch on the boat.  Only twelve guests didn’t take one of the tours into Beaune.  I don’t know if they are vaccinated or not, but they missed a special day.  Beginning next week, Uniworld is requiring all guests to be fully vaccinated at least two weeks prior to their travel.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Beaune, France

We had an early departure time at 8:30 a.m. for the hour-long drive to Beaune.  The good news is that we were early for the Hotel Dieu tour.  A line was already forming, but our prior reservations meant we got to skip the line.  After just a brief stop at the Information Center for city maps, we went straight to the beautiful and famous Hotel Dieu des Hospices Civils de Beaune.  Hotel Dieu was the name given in the Middle Ages to hospitals for the poor that were located in urban centers.  This particular hospital was built in 1443 by Nicolas Rolin, chancellor to the Duke of Burgundy, and his wife, Guigone de Salins. 

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Beaune, France

“Beaune was coming out of the 100-year war, a period of unrest and plague that decimated the countryside. It was for the poor and the most disadvantaged that this masterpiece inspired by the most outstanding hôtels-Dieu of Flanders and Paris was built.”  Office of Tourisme of Beaune Pays Beaunois.   Nicolas’ pious wife Guigone urged him to do something to save his soul.  The chancellor was a wealthy man and already in his 60s, an old age in the 15th century.  The chosen outlet for his gift was a spectacularly beautiful hospital in the city of Beaune, a Palace for the Poor.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Beaune, France

Hotel Dieu was classified as a historic monument in 1862.  The building continued to serve as a hospital until 1971.  In a beautifully ironic twist, portions of the hospital are closed today and not available for touring as the space is being used to administer COVID vaccinations. 

Photo ©Jean Janssen Title roof of the Hotel Dieu in Beaune, France as seen from the courtyard.

The façade is impressive, but once inside the courtyard you see what Beaune’s Hotel Dieu is perhaps best known for, its beautiful and colorful varnished tile roof.  Oddly, the main building which is the oldest part of the structure has a slate roof in a uniform color.  At that time in history, great wealth could be demonstrated by the quality of your roof and slate was considered the most expensive and therefore the most desirable material.  We took some time to enjoy the courtyard and this wonderful setting.  The polychrome roofs made for wonderful photographs, probably even better later in the day when hit by the full sun.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. The Great Hall of the Poor, Hotel Dieu, Beaune, France.

Next, we went inside the main hall with its 28 curtained beds lining the two long sides of the room.  At the far end of The Great Hall of the Poor is the chapel.  If they couldn’t restore your health, at least they could address your soul.  The Great Hall is a huge space.  Because of the foul air associated with illness, a large open space with windows was deemed best.  Of course, this isolation was ruined by the fact that the beds were right next to each other and they put anywhere from 1-4 people in each bed.  The large room was also very difficult to heat and never got above 60 degrees Fahrenheit in the winter so the patients would huddle together (and even closer to one experiencing fever) and then close their curtains further confining the germs.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Some of the 28 beds in The Great Hall of the Poor, Hotel Dieu, Beaune, France.
Photo ©Jean Janssen. Busts of local dignitaries and the animals they looked like decorate the walls of
The Great Hall of the Poor, Hotel Dieu, Beaune, France

The main hall also has the carved heads and faces of local dignitaries next to a carving of an animal they resembled.  Who would want to be placed next to the carved pig?  The patients probably got a good laugh when they looked up.  The hall’s chapel is also very lovely.  The chancellor died first and was buried in the family crypt, but his wife, who found great joy and fulfillment at the hospital, asked to be buried in the Hotel Chapel.  The tile floor, added later, features individual tiles in a design intertwining the initials of the founding couple.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Final resting place of Guigone de Salins, one of the founders of the Hotel Dieu. The surrounding tiles are decorated with the entwined initials of the two founders, Nicholas Rolin and Guigone, of the Hotel
Photo ©Jean Janssen. One of the other patient spaces at the Hotel Dieu, Beaune, France.

The opulence of the Great Hall of the Poor is striking and the poor who came here probably never experienced such luxury before.  Outside of the hall, we toured more patient spaces, some richly decorated with fewer beds.  We visited the Saint-Anne Room and the Saint-Hugh Room.  The Saint-Nicolas Room where the straw model, medical objects, and costumes are displayed was closed to the public today.  When the Sun King, Louis XIV, visited Beaune’s hotel Dieu, he was horrified that the men and women slept in the same room.  He decreed they must be separated and thereafter the richly appointed spaces were reserved only for men.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Kitchen at the Hotel Dieu, Beaune, France
Photo ©Jean Janssen. Dragon’s Blood in the Pharmacy of the Hotel Dieu, Beaune, France
Photo ©Jean Janssen. Pharmacy at the Hotel Dieu, Beaune, France

We also made a stop in the hospital kitchen out of which not only the patients were served, but the community.  Free bread was handed out to all the citizens.  In the Middle Ages, the bread was used first as a plate or bowl and then as sustenance.  We made a stop in the laboratory where equipment used to produce the medicine was on display. The medicine was probably initially brought in, but over time the sisters who staffed the facility learned how to make the medicines and took over this responsibility.  The laboratory was connected to the pharmacy where the jar of Dragon’s Blood was the highlight.  As the guide suggested, it might have been right out of Harry Potter.  For the record, there is apparently a Dragon bush or tree in France that the substance comes from. 

Photo ©Jean Janssen Altar Screen by Rogier Van de Weyden in the Hotel Dieu, Beaune, France

Our final stop in the Hotel Dieu was through the Saint-Louis Room to see the altar screen that the chancellor and his wife commissioned from Flemish artist Rogier Van der Weyden to adorn the chapel.  The polyptych of the Last Judgement is housed in a separate, temperature-controlled room.  In the closed position, the screen is mostly in black and white, but when opened (as it was on Sundays) a very colorful scene of the Last Judgment was revealed.  As a judged soul, you definitely wanted to be headed to the left side and the beautiful golden castle, rather than the fiery right side.

Photo ©Jean Janssen Cathedral of Notre Dame de Beaune
Photo ©Jean Janssen. Interior frescos in the Cathedral of Notre Dame de Beaune
Photo ©Jean Janssen Exterior decoration, Cathedral Notre Dame de Beaune

After the tour we were given free time to explore the town.  Boris and I first found an ATM machine to get cash in Euros.  We have found the best exchange rates through ATMs rather than the exchange shops and kiosks in major cities or airports.  We wandered through the town and made a stop at the Romanesque Church, the Cathedral of Notre Dame de Beaune. “Despite its relatively modest size, [the cathedral] is one of the last great Romanesque churches in Burgundy.”  Trip Advisor.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Village carousel, Beaune, France

Knowing we were going to a tasting and lunch directly after our visit in Beaune, we didn’t bother with a café.  It was Monday morning and most of the shops were closed, which is typical.  It is also August and many French shop owners close during this month to take their own vacation.  We found ourself at the square near our meeting point and sat down and watched the children enjoying the carousel.  We have seen carousels in many French villages and towns on this trip and well as on other visits to France.  I got a kick out of hearing songs from Disney’s The Jungle Book movie being sung in French as the carousel made its rounds.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Beaune, France

Beaune is also famous for its annual wine auction held annually on the third Sunday in November.  85% of the premier crus and grand crus sold at this auction come from the 60 hectares of wine estate associated with the Hotel Dieu.  Gifts of vineyards to support the Hospices de Beaune were being made as early as 1457.   Christie’s auction house now organizes and runs the sale, considered the “most famous wine charity auction in the world.”  Proceeds support the Hotel Dieu.  Office of Tourisme of Beaune Pays Beaunois.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Sunflower fields in Burgundy.
Photo ©Jean Janssen. Vineyards, Rully, France

From Beaune, we made our way through the countryside passing field after field of vineyards and the occasional restorative sunflower field.  Our destination was the hamlet of Rully for our lunch and castle visit.  The Count de Rully welcomed us into his home and wine estate.  We made a photo stop just before our arrival so we could take pictures of the castle, as it appeared from this vantage point.  A castle is a military structure.  Many were later converted into residences, as this one was.  In France, a structure of this type used as a residence is called a chateau.  The structure at Rully was at one time a castle and is now a chateau. Rully also has the distinction of being a wine estate.  I asked the Count and he shared that Rully Castle has never been attacked.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Outer courtyard, Chateau de Rully
Photo ©Jean Janssen. Inside the Chateau is a portrait of the Count’s grandfather who removed the drawbridge and filled in the moat after he almost fell into it.

The castle once had a ten-foot dry moat surrounding the perimeter and a drawbridge.  You could still see the hinges for the drawbridge that was removed by the Count’s great grandfather.  Once inside the courtyard, we were greeted by the rather young and unassuming Count de Rully, Raoul de Ternary.  He is very personable.   He is married with three young sons.  His eleven-year-old is slated to be the next count.  He struck me as rather impoverished.  The French government gives no assistance for the upkeep of the estate, so the Count offers meals, tours, and receptions to maintain the structure which dates from the 1190s. 

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Wine Cellar, Chateau de Rully, France
Photo ©Jean Janssen. The Chateau’s best.

His estate includes vineyards and we went first to the wine cellar where we sampled two of his chardonnay wines.  The first is produced by a collective whether the local growers share their good, but not the top-rated grapes.  About 10% of the grapes in this wine came from his estate.  It was a light, fruity, and rather drinkable wine.  These grapes were often machine picked and fermented in metal containers.  The second sample was of his grand cru.  These grapes are hand-picked from a small plot on his estate just behind the chateaux.  Regionally, they do not want a very oaky chardonnay, so the aging is done in second- or third-year-old oak barrels.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. The “front door” of the Chateau Rully

The wine tasting was followed by lunch in the converted former stables, still sporting some of the estate’s old carriages and family portraits.  It was a very tasty lunch of beef bourguignon, a potato casserole, fresh bread, and the estate’s pinot noir.  I did not care for the wine, but the food was excellent.  Dessert was a beautiful apple tart.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. The Count de Rully takes us into the inner courtyard of the Chateau.
Photo ©Jean Janssen. Inside the inner courtyard of the Chateau. The oldest part of the castle is the tower in the center background.

We finished our estate visit with a tour of some of the historic family rooms.  The castle was started back in the 12th century, beginning with the towers.  The towers were originally the only portions of the castle where anyone lived.  The castle eventually expanded to four towers and two courtyards.  The ramparts are still in place.  The chateau has 40 rooms, including 20 bedrooms.  However, heating is an expensive exercise, so the count only maintains a portion of the rooms.  On the tour you won’t see the spaces the family currently lives in. Instead, you tour the ground floors rooms including the main sitting room or salon, the large dining room, the billiards room (designed to be used only by the men), a small library which served as the family chapel, the ladies’ boudoir (or gossip room for the ladies), and the oldest section of the chateau which housed the original kitchen.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. The portrait of Marie Fernand de Vaudrey in the Chateau de Rully.
Photo ©Jean Janssen. View through an interior window of the Chateau de Rully.
Photo ©Jean Janssen. The billiard table in the Chateau de Rully covered in the family’s coat of arms.
Photo ©Jean Janssen. The lady’s boudoir in Chateau de Rully

In each room, there are many family portraits and paintings by family members.  The Count can trace his lineage back for 46 generations.  The family’s last name has changed over the years.  If there was no male heir, the female heiress married and took on her husband’s name.  The current family name is De Ternary as it has been for the last three generations.  In one room the Count pointed out the portrait of the chateau’s lady, Marie Fernand de Vaudrey.  The Count de Rully described her as “the most important woman in the family’s history other than his wife”.  She was the mother of 14 children.  Already a widow at the time of the French Revolution, she was beloved by the community.  As nobility, she was imprisoned only briefly during the revolution.  It was the local community that petitioned for her release.  Because the family was able to survive through this period, the title is preserved to this day.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. In the dining room, the Count de Rully showed us this unique family heirloom, a highchair that converted into a child’s scooter.
Photo ©Jean Janssen. Ceiling decoration in the dining room of the Chateau de Rully.

The last stop on the tour was the chateau’s kitchen that was part of the original structure.  The kitchen was last renovated in the 1800s when a new tile floor was installed and an oven made its first appearance.  This was still the only kitchen in use when the Count was a boy.  Today they have a modern kitchen.  The Count said the castle does have a cellar, but he has no idea where to access it.  He suspects that the trapdoor is under the kitchen’s tile floor.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. The chateau’s kitchen in the oldest part of the castle.

You could purchase postcards with the castle’s recipes printed on them.  The Count also sold his estate wine.  I got a bottle of the grand cru chardonnay.  The Count de Rully signed the bottle for me.  I enjoyed the visit, mostly for the reality check on what surviving nobility live like.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. The Count de Rully signs a bottle of his wine for me.
Photo ©Jean Janssen. Everyone at the Chateau de Rully employs safe practices during the COVID pandemic.

We drove back to Macon through the lovely vineyards.  The ship sails tonight from Macon and returns to Lyon for some touring there when we will be more rested than on our arrival day in Lyon.  Just before arriving at the ship, the guide made a few announcements including that my suitcase had arrived at the ship.  I gave out a cry of joy.  Natasha will be dressing in style for the Captain’s Welcome Reception tonight.  Never have I ever been so happy to forgo a nap in order to unpack my suitcase.  More adventures in Burgundy and Provence (in clean clothes) to come.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Vineyards at the Chateau de Rully
Photo ©Jean Janssen. The priority tag ended up not meaning much, but at least my bag made it to the ship.
Photo ©Jean Janssen. Probably the seat I would have chosen on Beaune’s carousel.
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An International Traveler Again

Photo ©Jean Janssen. The Uniworld’s SS Catherine

There has been a long drought, but Natasha is once again an international traveler.  Boris and I left today for France to take a river cruise through Burgundy and Provence.  The rules continue to change-including a change in COVID testing that happened just this week.  Fully vaccinated and staying on a river ship that is smaller than most hotels, we feel as safe as it is going to be for a while.  France also instituted policies that go into effect the day after our arrival that require that you must be vaccinated to go into most buildings.  While that will mean we have to carry around our vaccination cards, it will also make the indoor spaces safer.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Cathedral Norte Dame de Beaune

Check in to your flight(s) with an international destination also necessitates another level of requirements.  We got multiple emails in the days prior to departure to ensure that we were “travel ready”.  You have to check the requirements for countries where you will be in transit as well as those for your final destination.  Sometimes your COVID test has to be done no more than 48 hours before departure, sometimes 72.  Sometimes you fit an exemption; sometimes you do not.  Sometimes you can upload the paperwork 48 hours prior to departure, sometimes 12.  Residents of certain countries can travel to others, some cannot.  As of this writing, having been fully vaccinated for at least two weeks prior to travel, we will able to enter Germany (in transit) and then France with an uploaded vaccination card.  You must also carry the original with you.  We uploaded our information through the airline website.  The EU authorities had it in their system when we crossed passport control in Germany.

Photo ©Jean Janssen

It also didn’t help that they had completely changed the airline check-in and TSA security checkpoints at IAH while the airport is under major renovation.  Oh, and did I mention that the luggage belts were not working?  We were relieved when we got to the gate and very glad that we had gotten to the airport an hour earlier than we normally would have. 

Photo ©Jean Janssen. I (almost) had a row to myself on our international flight to Frankfurt. United has replaced the complimentary rectangular pillows with ones shaped like a neck pillow.

We had a quick turnaround in Dulles (Washington DC) with no time for lunch.  I am not big on airline food, but I had to partake on the flight to Frankfurt.  Before boarding, there was an extra check-in at the gate counter and we were glad all our information was already uploaded in the system.  While the flight to Dulles was completely full, I had a row to myself (until someone moved over to the end of my row at mealtime) on the flight to Frankfurt.  I ended up starting an HBO series that had been highly rated and watched the whole series.  I never slept.  Prior to takeoff from Washington DC, we had pulled away from the gate and then sat on the apron for about an hour. 

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Courtyard of the Hotel Dieu, Beaune, France

I would have used the term tarmac (instead of apron) here because that it what I thought the hard areas that the planes traveled and parked on were.  However, I learned when preparing this post that tarmac is really a trademarked term for the materials used to create the roadways at airports.  The proper terms for the different areas used by the plane are the apron-where they park and load/unload passengers and luggage; the taxiway-surfaces the airplanes move along to position for takeoff (and to the gates after landing); and the runways-that the planes use to take off and land.

Photo ©Jean Janssen Color in concrete

Anyway, the point is that we left very late and weren’t able to make up all the time in the air.  We landed in Frankfurt 20 minutes late.  That might not seem like much, but when you have to clear customs-as Germany was our EU point of entry-and only have an hour and 10-minute layover to begin with, you are in trouble.  Rather than having a gate assignment (maybe because we were late), the plane was parked out on the apron and buses took us on what seemed like a rather long ride to the terminal.  Of course, that ate up even more of our short layover time.  Then we crossed through passport control.  Fortunately, we were in the first bus and near the front of the line.  Also, since our vaccination information was pre-loaded, we got through quicker.  Our connected flight was on the other end, but at least in the same terminal as the arriving flight.  We ran.

Photo ©Jean Janssen Viviers, France

Although I am still not sure how Boris and I made it with 10 minutes to spare before takeoff, fortunately the gate agents were still letting passengers aboard the flight from Frankfurt to Lyon.  It was a short flight to Lyon, France where our river boat, the SS Catherine, is berthed.  We are meeting the transfer agent just past baggage claim.  Boris’ suitcase came off with the first group.  Yes, you guessed it.  Mine never showed up.  There is no lost luggage office or luggage officials in Lyon.  If you have missing luggage, you have to fill out a form at a kiosk in baggage claim.  Unfortunately, if your lodging is on a river ship it makes it a little more difficult to fill out the form.  Even with one employee trying to help, I was still not able to complete the kiosk questionnaire.  Boris went out to let the transfer agent know what was going on.

Photo ©Jean Janssen Beaune, France

One of the benefits of a small airport was that they let both Boris and the agent come back inside the secured baggage claim area.  Speaking French to the employee, the agent was able to assist me in completing the form.   We are hopeful the bag is in Frankfurt and will come over on the afternoon flight.  Our ship leaves its berth in Lyon at 6 pm.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. The TGV train station connects to the airport terminal in Lyon. We walked through on our way to the bus.

We had a bit of a walk out to the coach park and during that time we learned that the next flight to Lyon leaves Frankfurt at 6:30 pm and arrives at 7:45.   After getting us on the bus, the transfer agent let me know that she would go back and update the information to let them know that the bag would have to be sent to Macon, France.  We won’t arrive in Macon until 1:30 am, so no chance I will get the bag today.  Hopefully, it made it to Frankfurt.

Photo ©Jean Janssen Beaune, France

This trip I had done something I normally don’t do.   Aware of our tight layovers, I had packed an extra set of clothes in my carry-on bag.  It is always a good idea, but I don’t always have room in the carry-on for it.  I had also had lunch with a friend the week before I left who mentioned that she always added a nightgown to her carry-on bag to sleep in that first night.  I put that in too.  I won’t have everything I need, but thank goodness I packed a few extras.  These weren’t our original flights, but an airline cancellation resulted in us having to change our outbound flights.  We normally would have given ourself a little more time (and chosen fewer layovers).  However, we were just happy to find a way to get there.

Photo ©Jean Janssen Avignon, France

There were only 5 of us on a large bus headed from the airport to the ship. We learned later that there were only 55 passengers on the cruise for this itinerary, so our bus was actually carrying almost 10% of the ship’s passengers.  Our cruise line Uniworld has been running cruises since early July with capacity ranging from 30-100 guests per sailing.  The ship can accommodate 120 passengers.  The waiters tell us they love it with fewer guests; they can give more personal service and it is easier to accommodate social distancing.  The staff is so happy to be back at work.  Not everyone received “unemployment benefits” during the closure.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. As we walked across the gangplank from shore to ship, there were lovely swans floating in the water.

Shortly after our arrival, lunch started.  Uniworld offers extensive, elegant buffets for breakfast and lunch.  Currently, in line with heath regulations, you are accompanied through the buffet line by an employee who serves the food onto your plate.  They also get your drinks and any additional items you might want.  It was open seating at lunch, but that evening we were told that whatever seat we selected that night would be our seat through the cruise.  The tables are set up so that only family or friends traveling together sit together in the dining room.  This is a change of the usual pattern of sharing your table with other guests during meals.  It is a wonderful way to get to know your fellow passengers and we enjoy that aspect of the Uniworld cruises.  I am sure the practice will come back after pandemic restrictions are lifted.  We are hopeful that we will meet some other people traveling with us during the cruise excursions.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. View from our (closed and tinted) stateroom French Balcony. We are docked in Lyon, France on Saone River. You can see all the houseboats docked along the opposite site of the River.

The day ended with a welcome from the captain and the hotel director, followed by a briefing by the cruise director.  She stopped by and greeted me personally to let me know she knew about my bag situation.  She was in communication with the transfer agent and had recommended the bag be delivered sometime the next day while we are docked in Macon from 1:30 am to 4:30 pm.  Fingers crossed.  It is so nice that they are taking the time to give the issue their personal attention.

Photo ©Jean Janssen There is a waterfall behind the horse statue in the lobby of Uniworld’s SS Catherine. Behind the waterfall is a glass elevator. Standing inside the elevator looking toward the backside of the waterfall, I took this photograph. It almost looks like a painting.

We had a wonderful dinner with drinks and in spite of an afternoon nap, decided to go to bed early and try to get over our jet lag.  Tomorrow our exploration of this region of France begins.  Stay with me as the following posts will cover our travel in Burgundy and Provence.

Photo ©Jean Janssen Beaune, France
.Photo ©Jean Janssen. Chateau de Rully, France

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More Michigan with Mom

Photo ©Jean Janssen. The weeping willows in Riverside Park in Grand Rapids, Michigan

It is not unusual for us just to do regular stuff while I am in Grand Rapids, Michigan with my mom. We run errands, do doctor appointment, shop, and, well, eat. It is significantly cooler here than at home where temperatures are already reaching 99 degrees Fahrenheit. It is early for it to be that hot in Texas; usually we don’t get to those temperatures in June. In contrast, being outside here in Michigan is so pleasant, especially in the evening when it cools down.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. My Uncle Father Jim and cousins Mary Beth and Jim joined mom and I in the backyard of my grandparents’ home. This is where my mother lived as a child and where she is currently living. To the left, is my great-grandparents’ house. When I visit in the summer, I often set up an outside office in this space. Cool evenings meant we could enjoy meals outside in Grand Rapids, Michigan

Between errands, we did sneak in a few other outings. Seems I have spent a lot of time on the edge of the West Side just where Michigan Street crosses the bridge over the Grand River and becomes Bridge street. The corner of Bridge and Stocking is apparently my corner. Lots of wonderful restaurants and bars here, some old, some new. They have even taken concrete barriers and blocked off part of the busy street to create outdoor dining. More restrictions are being lifted here in a few days, but already vaccinated residents are embracing the summer outside.

Photo ©Jean Janssen Blue Dog Tavern, Grand Rapids Michigan, Note that a bank was the original tenant of this historic building at 638 Stocklng Avenue

My cousin Tom met me at The Blue Dog Tavern, just around the corner on Stocking and a bit away from all the activity on Bridge Street. The bar is reviving after the worst of the pandemic. This historic building was at one time a bank and they still have the vault to prove it. Outside, the building still bears the bank’s name. Look for the traditional pub sign and the banner featuring the blue dog at this corner establishment.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. The Blue Dog Tavern, Grand Rapids, Michigan
Photo ©Jean Janssen. The bank vault is still in place at the historic building where The Blue Dog Tavern is located. In spite of how it may look in the picture, the restrooms are not located inside the vault. 🙂

We were there after work on a weekday and it was pretty full. The area around Bridge is home to students and lots of young singles, but Blue Dog is removed enough that tonight’s patrons were slightly older than the college crowd. There is a good pub menu and several options if you want a burger, hot dog, or craft beer. Tom recommends the tater tots which come in many varieties.

Photo ©Jean Janssen The Blue Dog Tavern, Grand Rapids, Michigan

Today, Mom is going for a eye doctor’s appointment and then she wants to stop by the post office on Michigan and cross the bridge over the Grand River for a return to the Bridge Street Market. The appointment took long enough that we were ready for lunch before buying our groceries. We ate at Maggie’s Kitchen at 636 Bridge Street at the light at Stocking. Parking is in the back. This is a truly authentic Mexican food eatery, complete with specialty beverages from Mexico. Yes, I came all the way from Texas to eat Mexican food.

Maggie herself. Her authentic Mexican recipes are the backbone of Maggie’s Kitchen on Bridge Street in Grand Rapids, Michigan

We love Maggie’s. The restaurant celebrated its 38th birthday on May 5. The date is no accident; Cinco de Mayo (May 5) is Mexican Independence Day Maggie (who I have met several times) is retired now, but she still comes in two days a week to check on things. The tacos and burritos are probably the most popular, but I love the the enchiladas. I always add a Jarrito fruit beverage too.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Maggie’s son now manages Maggie’s Kitchen. He moved here with his family from Laredo, Texas 40 years ago. He told us his mom is doing well and still comes in two days a week to see how things are going. Of course, she cooks when she is in. My mom is still wearing her dark glasses post eye appointment.

Afterwards it was the return visit to Bridge Street Market. Michigan takes a 10 cent deposit on plastic, can, and glass beverage containers, but you have to return the containers to a store that sells that particular beverage. So before going inside, we put the bottles in the machines (kinda fun it you don’t have to do it all the time) and got our receipts. Some of the people at the recycling station have made a business of collecting the items that others just threw away instead of recycling. They are doing it for the money, but I was just glad to see the containers being recycled. Michigan has had this policy for decades and the return stations at the stores are well established.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. A proud shopper leaving The Bridge Street Market in Grand Rapids, Michigan after successfully navigating the automated check-out machine.

My readers will share in my success. Mom and I safely navigated the checkout station, even utilizing a coupon and redeeming our recycling receipts. Mom was particularly excited that we snagged some of the manager’s specials but still made it to the required total to use the coupon; more Topo Chico helped. It is the little victories that can mean so much.

Photo @Jean Janssen. Mom likes to celebrate her Polish heritage. Here she is with her apron from Poland, a gift from Emma. My cousin Mary Beth models the matching gloves. Emma and I actually buy wonderful items from Poland from the largest distributer of Polish pottery in the world, Polmedia Polish Pottery and Boleslawiec Stoneware. Polmedia is ironically located in Seguin, Texas, about a two-hour drive from where we live in Houston.

I am doing some cooking while we are here, but I also wanted to have another lunch of Lake Perch before heading home. There is a seafood market on Plainfield Ave less than 8 miles from the house that also does wonderful fried fish. On another visit years ago, the spot was briefly held by a family wanted to make a go of the venture when the established owners were ready to move on. The food was so bad (and the proprietors so completely overwhelmed) that we didn’t go back. Sanitary Fish is just so close and our other perch experience in Wyoming was not what we hoped for, so we decided to give it another try.

Sanitary Fish at 2468 Plainfield Ave NE, Grand Rapids, Michigan

We are happy to report that Sanitary Fish and Marketplace is under experienced ownership and that the perch was terrific. Their health protocols are also top notch. They have thick screens and a mask policy is still in place for all customers. I called ahead and they asked us to come in 30 minutes, so allow time for the preparation. Since I am trying to eek out every possible moment of comfortable weather, we headed over to Riverside Park to enjoy our fish and fries.

Photo ©Jean Janssen Tree trunk in Riverside Park, Grand Rapids, Michigan

This beautiful park, also known as Comstock Riverside Park, sits along the Grand River. It is a long, narrow urban park with historic bridges, baseball fields, pavilions, boat ramps for fishermen, and lots of picnic tables. My grandmother loved this park and I have been coming here for decades. My uncle chose a spot where we were bordered on one side by the river and the other by the park’s lovely ponds. We were near the children’s playground.

Photo ©Jean Janssen Canadian Geese along the pond in Riverside Park in Grand Rapids, Michigan

Riverside Park is located at 2001 Monroe. There is a bike lane on Monroe and at least three roundabouts near the park. It is across the street from the Veterans Retirement Home. Our view to one side was the weeping willows which lined the pond. Canadian Geese swam on the pond and meandered in the grass on the other side. With a cool breeze, we enjoyed the view and our wonderful lunch of fried lake perch.

Photo ©Jean Janssen The surface of the picnic table shows the decades of use (and the varieties of paint colors) that have graced the Riverside Park’s picnic tables over the decades.

Next it was time for Mom’s haircut. It was the end of the day on Friday and I thought the salon would be packed, but it was thinning out. Most of their patrons are elderly so they come earlier in the day. The stylists were very friendly and I asked about their COVID experience. They were completely closed for three months and Julie said she didn’t dare do any work in people’s homes. She knew of stylists that were fined $1,000 and lost their license for violating the prohibition during the worst of the pandemic. Of course that is the only way to protect the public health, especially in an elderly population. They did mention that many of their clients have limited strength and dexterity and come to them each week. The shutdown was particularly hard of them; many of their clients were unable to wash their hair for three months.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Mom shows off her new haircut.

The next morning Mom slept in while I headed out to the Meijer Sports Complex in Rockford to see one of my nephews (yes a second cousin again, but I explained that) pitch in the 15 and 16 year old division of a summer baseball league tournament. Kyle is really a good pitcher and I hope to lure him to Texas to play college ball. It has been two years since I have seen him pitch (COVID again) and his skills have massively improved. Plus, he now towers over me, is finished with the braces, and speaks in a deepened voice. Even with a few sprinkles and cooler temperatures, I loved being outside to start off the day. The rest of the day is work around the house and visiting with more of my cousins.

Kyle and I at the field, post game. I can say I knew him when…when he becomes a famous player.

Sunday is Father’s Day and my uncle is busy. As a Roman Catholic Priest, this is his busiest day of the week. Mom and I are on our own so I suggested we go for brunch after mass. We decided on The Old Goat in the transitioning neighborhood of Alger Heights. The Old Goat is part of a restaurant family in Grand Rapids that includes The Electric Cheetah, another favorite. The Cheetah is closed on Sundays, but The Old Goat has a fabulous brunch menu. I opted for the steak and eggs. Mom, who likes more sweet than savory, choose the French Toast.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. The Old Goat in Alger Heights in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

We drove through ever changing neighborhoods as we headed south of Eastern Ave to reach the transitional Alger Heights area where The Old Goat is located. According to Niche.com, “Alger Heights is a neighborhood…with a population of 7,106… and is one of the best places to live in Michigan. Living in Alger Heights offers residents a dense suburban feel and most residents own their homes. In Alger Heights there are a lot of parks. Many families and young professionals live in Alger Heights and residents tend to have moderate political views.” The site rates the neighborhood as an A- and named it the 7th best neighborhood to buy a house in Grand Rapids; the 9th most diverse neighborhood; and the 5th best in terms of a low cost of living. The site rated 31 desirable neighborhoods in the Grand Rapids area. Alger Heights posted pretty impressive statistics for the second largest city in Michigan.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. The Old Goat in Alger Heights in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

The Old Goat has pleasant outdoor seating along Eastern Avenue, although we chose to sit inside under the alternating lighting of retired church lights and oil barrel overhead fixtures. Parking for The Old Goat is around the back. There was a steady and diverse crowd of patrons and we did have a bit of a wait for a table. It was well worth it. I highly recommend their food. We enjoyed our food and drinks while listening to the jazz quartet performing during the brunch.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Of course we finished that bottle of sparkling wine.

I have to say one of the highlights for me was the mimosas. You can get a single for $5 or a pitcher for $24. I thought that pricing was off so I asked how many mimosas came in the pitcher. Glad I asked. If you order the “pitcher” they actually bring you a bottle of Michigan champagne-yes, I know there is really no such thing, but it is on the bottle-and a carafe of orange juice and you mix to your desired potency. What a deal! Yes, I ordered the pitcher. For the record, a sparkling wine can only be champagne if produced in the Champagne region of France. Apparently this Michigan winery is flying under the radar.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Yes, they really call it Michigan Champagne.

The Old Goat is at 2434 Eastern Ave near Ken’s Fruit Market. Ken’s is a small traditional grocery store serving the Alger Heights community since 2010. They have a wonderful meat market and fresh fruits and vegetables. However, in my mother’s eyes their claim to fame is the hard candies and salt water taffy that is sold by the pound. The mix and match collection means you put them all in the same bag and have to sort them out at home. Of course, we popped into Ken’s after brunch. Ken’s has another, larger location on Plainfield Avenue which opened in 2012. They also recently opened Ken’s Farm Market in Ionia, Michigan where Ken got his start in the grocery business.

Parking lot entrance to Ken’s Fruit Market in the Alger Heights neighborhood, Grand Rapids, MIchigan

After a big brunch and that “pitcher” of mimosas, we decided a bit of walking was in order, so we stopped at the Fulton Street Market on the way home. The best, but most crowded, time to visit the market is on Saturdays when the farmers bring in their produce. Don’t expect cheaper prices than the food store chains, but everything is fresh picked for the market. On Sunday, it becomes a craft market; not all the stalls are used. Today is Father’s Day so it wasn’t crowded at all.

The Fulton Street Farmer’s Market was founded in 1922 and my mother has been going their her whole life. Although the current structure dates from this century, the market has been operating at this same location and in this same configuration for 99 years. During the growing season, May-October, produce is available at markets held on Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday, Saturdays only during the off season. The number of booths occupied varies with the season and day of the week.

Photo ©Jean Janssen Mom with her mother’s lilies

One of the things often found at the market is fresh flowers. When we got home from the market, we took a few pictures of the lilies that border the garage which were originally planted by my grandmother.

The garage has been around for a while. This is my mom and uncle in front of the garage in the 1940s. Different door, but the same structure.

“My trip is winding down, but there are always new things to try. This evening it is Pietro’s on 28th Street. The address is actually 2780 Birchcrest Dr., but it runs parallel to 28th with just a grassy strip in between.  The restaurant serves familiar Americanized Italian food, but it is far better than the chain restaurants. Pietro’s mades their own pasta. The also have a banquet facility in the back.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Pietros, Grand Rapids, Michigan

We didn’t get off to such a good start. We arrived right on time, but there was no handicapped parking available (only two spaces for a large restaurant and banquet space?) so I drove around until I thought I better just drop Mom off at the door. She got to the hostess at 6:03 for 6 p.m. reservations. I walked in a few minutes later after parking and the hostess’s first words were “you are late”. She had found the reservation, but said we would have to wait 30 minutes. Another couple came in after us and were seated promptly. The group of 4 that arrived before us and had a reservation were still waiting when we were finally seated. The table where we were seated could have accommodated them.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Mom checks out the menu at Pietros, Grand Rapids, Michigan

The restaurant was originally recommended to Mom because of their Sunday Brunch. They are no longer hosting that as of the COVID closure. They do still have their Mystery Dinners. One of the things that really surprised me was that they gave us each an electronic menu on a tablet. Innovative, but during a pandemic? I promptly pull out a sanitized cloth and wiped them both down. Once you turned them on and figured out how to use them, you were rewarded with lots of information. They even have pictures of all the food they serve. Mom struggled a little with it.

Photo @Jean Janssen. Loved the wood accents, tiled-edged tables, and the fabulous floor at Pietros in Grand Rapids, Michigan

As I said, the food was uncomplicated but tasty. The portions were generous. We had rosemary chicken with potatoes and veggies and a pasta trio combination. I think the restaurant is still staffing up after COVID and like a lot of the country is having to deal with a worker storage. On the way out, the hostess told me she had only been working there for two weeks and this was her first night alone. I am going to give them the benefit of the doubt on service. Emma had a good experience on a previous visit.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Part of the small interior of the Choo Choo Grill, Grand Rapids, Michigan

The next morning my uncle and I sorted and taste-tested the candies from Ken’s Fruit Market. Candy for breakfast is not recommended; we did our testing after the nice breakfast Mom made us. It is my last day here, so Father Jim is staying around for the day. I had a Zoom meeting and packing to do, but we still had a great day. We wanted to squeeze in one more picnic and food from one of mom’s favorites, so late afternoon we ordered burgers, steak fries, onion rings, and malts from Choo Choo Grill.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. The Choo Choo Grill, Grand Rapids, Michigan

The Grill in on Plainfield just off the intersection with Leonard and sits right along the train tracks. It is open 7 a.m.-4 p.m. weekdays and 7 a.m.-2 p.m. on Saturdays and serves breakfast and lunch options. Choo Choo Grill has been here since 1946 and is family-run; the names of some of breakfast plates reflect their historic clientele. “The building was built in 1924 as the yard office for Shipman Coal Company.” The space is very small so it is often hard to find a seat inside. The family is friendly, greeting those they know by name. I would say this is one of Mom’s favorite places because her dad worked for the railroad, but it might just be the food. Perhaps the words on the door say it all, “The best burgers on earth or anywhere else.”

Photo ©Jean Janssen Friendly staff and patrons at the Choo Choo Grill in Grand Rapids, MIchigan

Still hoping they bring back the direct flights to Grand Rapids soon. The Chicago O’Hare Airport was packed and I practically had to run to make my connection. I was going from a gate in the F concourse in terminal 2 to a gate in the C concourse in terminal 1. This hike includes transferring to C through the tunnel under the tarmac. Fortunately my flight from Grand Rapids landed early. Everyone is clearly traveling again (at least in the U.S.A.). There were so many people, it was hard to move through the terminals. I did discover a cool map on the United App which showed the map on how travel from one gate to another. Another feature on the app was to show luggage status. Despite the tight connection, I was able to see when the luggage made it and even when it was about to appear on the carousel in Houston.

Mom took this picture of me just before I went into the Grand Rapids Airport on departure day.

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The Most Important Trip of the Year: A Visit with Mom in Michigan

Photo ©Jean Janssen. This is what utter bliss looks like. My arrival at the Grand Rapids airport for my first visit with mom in a year and a half

This is the most important trip I will make all year. I haven’t see my mom in a year and half as COVID-19 raged and I isolated in Texas and she in Michigan. In the past year and a half, I have had to cancel more trips to Michigan than I care to count. The last cancellation was in April when I planned to visit with her on her birthday, but we had to move out of our home instead because of extensive damage caused by Texas Freeze Uri.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. The Found Cottage in Hudsonville, Michigan

Well I made it anyway. And what a day to travel. TSA screened over 2 million people at airport security checkpoints. It was the first time topping 2 million since the start of the pandemic. The same day a disgruntled Delta Employee threatened to take down a plane en route from Los Angeles to Atlanta before being subdued by an off-duty pilot and fellow passengers. Fortunately I was on a different route, traveling Houston to Chicago and Chicago to Grand Rapids on United. The direct flights are still unavailable, although the demand is clearly there. Lots of my fellow passengers and even one of the on-duty flight attendants was making the trip from Houston to GR.

Photo ©Jean Janssen Mom started her day with hot chocolate at The Cherie Inn.

At my mom’s age, a year and a half can make a major difference. With visits from all three of her children within the last month, her spirits have definitely picked up. After my arrival, mom and I didn’t wait long before getting started with errands she needed help with. We were out the door the next morning to shop for heavy items that are hard for her to lift. We also went to a favorite Polish Meat Market, Lewandoski’s, on the city’s west side. They have cleared the shelves of their stock of staples, but added a bitcoin machine.

The placement of the machine shocked me. I asked the young man who helped me at this family-run business about the machine and he said that the company approached them. The supplier’s research showed that this was an area of town where potential investment was likely. The meat market gets a percentage. When I asked him if it had been successful, his answer was “surprisingly, yes”. He said there was a lot of traffic with the machine and that several members of the staff had also invested. Mom and I chose to invest in bacon, pork chops, and hamburger instead.

Photo ©Jean Janssen Mom with our purchases at Lewandoski’s Market in Grand Rapids, Michigan

We also went to The Bridge Street Market, an upscale version of the Meijer’s grocery stores that dominate the city. (It is a lot like the Central Markets are to the HEB grocery chain at home in Houston.) This market caters to young, and often single, shoppers. There are lots of unique meals for one person, plenty of vegan options, and items like my beloved Topo Chico (highly carbonated bottled water from Mexico). I even spotted another reminder from home-selections from The Texas Tamale Company.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Spotted at the Bridge Street Market in Grand Rapids, Michigan

The Bridge Street Market has no staffed checkout lanes. You have to go the automated route. What I really need is a picture of mom and I trying to navigate the unfamiliar machine. Near the end, we were rescued by the employee manning the coffee bar. It was probably painful for him to watch us try to check out. Mom has come several times. The store was on a free bus route that was eliminated with the onset of the pandemic. I should have known when she said she wanted to bag the items that I was being set up. Mom has a way of getting people to help her and probably has always found a helpful soul to assist her through the process.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. The Cherie Inn in Grand Rapids Michigan’s Fairmont Square. Note the original tin ceilings

Of course, we had to be fortified for all this shopping, so we had started the day at The Cherie Inn for breakfast. Having opened its doors in 1924, the establishment claims to be the longest-running restaurant in the city. “It is housed in a 100 year old building featuring the original tin ceilings, vintage art and Stickley furniture of Grand Rapids dating back to the 1940’s. [sic]” The variety of egg Benedict options got my attention-I went with the crab cake Benedict-but mom chose the lumberperson breakfast. You know, like ordering the kitchen sink. She started with a hot chocolate. Mom hasn’t gotten out yet much and wanted to take advantage of going out for a meal.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Mom went for the full lumberperson’s breakfast at The Cherie Inn.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. My more modest Crab Cake Benedict at The Cherie Inn.

The Cherie Inn sits in a charming area of the East side where Cherry Street and Diamond Ave cross, just up the street from my mom’s childhood home where she currently lives. The brick buildings house cute restaurants, shops, and bars. Just across the street is the Pickwick Tavern which famously only accepts cash; this dark, neighborhood bar and its staff have been described as having an “ornery charm”. Unfortunately a lot of the buildings have gone empty, most likely from the fallout from COVID. I am hoping for a revitalization of the area. It was helpful, but surprisingly disappointing, that we easily found a parking place. I was encouraged that the Cherie Inn is currently investing in facade of their building.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Looking out at the brick facades of the buildings in Fairmont Square from the Cherie Inn, Grand Rapids, Michigan

Another morning called for a visit to Van’s Pastry Shop on Fulton on the city’s north side just down the street from the Fulton Farmer’s Market (always crowded and worth a visit). I was disappointed to hear that the bakery had been sold after being in the same Dutch family for generations. Fortunately, it was sold to some of the long-time employees who have the recipes and the fabulous cookie jar collection that lines the wall. Everyone in our family has their favorites. My uncle loves the lunch sticks, mom the cherry muffins; Emma, Rocky, and I like the cherry turnovers; and I also have a soft spot for the fat balls with raisins. The employees know my sister and I, especially Emma. She was in a few weeks ago and they knew she was headed back to Texas when she ordered and stocked up on cherry turnovers.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Van’s Pastry Shop on Fulton in Grand Rapids, Michigan

Today was the clothing and accessories shopping day. We are going to drive to a couple of my favorite stores in the the area. En route we stopped for a lunch of fried lake perch (much preferred to ocean perch). This is a favorite in the area, but not as easy to find on the menu as it once was. We loved the perch at Tillman’s Bar on Monroe, but sadly the bar has closed its doors. We ended up stopping at The Grand Rapids Fishery, which ironically is in Wyoming, Michigan not Grand Rapids. Appropriately, the sign above the door only says “The Fishery”.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Fresh seafood at The (Grand Rapids) Fishery. The offerings were different from what I find at home along the Gulf Coast.

What we didn’t know was that is was $2 Tuesday and all lunch baskets were $2 off. The place was packed. Inside it is really just a fish market-no tables-but the place was filled with a steady steam of customers. The smart ones knew the drill and had called ahead. When you order, they just pull your fish out of the case and it goes in the line to be fried. There were a few tables outside, so mom and I enjoyed our fish there. (Perhaps the tables were inside pre-COVID?) It was obviously very fresh, but unfortunately a little overcooked. This was the only place we have been that still had a sign requiring patrons to wear a mask. There was no enforcement of the rule though and a few customers were without one.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. The Found Cottage, Hudsonville, Michigan

Our first post lunch stop was The Found Cottage. Emma “found the cottage” a few years ago when it was new and we have watched it change over the years. For one thing, the checkout is in its third location. I mostly buy home decor items here. Emma has always added a few clothing items and gifts. The current format is in transition. The space has expanded and they have added several stalls where outside vendors can show their things. The concept must be working; new stalls are currently under construction. Normally I find more items I am interested in. The Found Cottage is on Chicago Drive in Hudsonville, Michigan.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. The Found Cottage in Hudsonville, Michigan

Photo ©Jean Janssen. The Found Cottage in Hudsonville, Michigan

From there it was on to Holland, Michigan to Jean Marie’s; the chain is celebrating their 6th year in business. Mom actually read about the store shortly after they opened their new branch in Grand Haven Michigan, a charming beach town along the lake not far from Grand Rapids. One year when I was a child our families rented a lodge in Grand Haven for a family reunion. I remember the stay fondly, but my brother says no more renting lodging that bills itself as having “rustic charm of a by-gone era”. We still make day trips to Grand Haven on most of our extended stays in GR.

Photo ©Jean Janssen Grand Haven State Park, Grand Haven, Michigan, May 2019

The Grand Haven Jean Marie’s is still my favorite, maybe because I went there first, but most likely because the street it sits on and the store itself is so charming. I noticed that this #2 location was not listed on the website so I don’t know its status. It is smaller than the original on Chicago Drive in Holland.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Jean Marie’s, Chicago Ave., Holland, Michigan. The last time we were there was just before Halloween in October 2019.

Today I wanted to go to a close location with a larger selection. I did very well there, enjoying the “fill your tote bag at a discount” anniversary promotion. Mom gravitates to the jewelry. They even told us about an additional location that had opened in November in Wyoming, Michigan and mom and I drove by there on the way back to Grand Rapids. Obviously when you live in Houston driving to these various stops didn’t feel that far to me. Jean Marie’s is promoting their app with daily live shows, so I guess I will need to check that out too. All their stores offer a wide range of sizes, XS-3XL. I am not the only one who likes Jean Marie’s. The store has been voted the favorite Women’s clothing store in Holland 5 years running and the store is only 6 years old.

Photo ©Jean Janssen Mom and Emma on a previous shopping trip to Grand Haven, Michigan. As evidenced by the striped bags, there was a stop at Jean Marie’s. The matching “Love” Brighton bags were a gift from Natasha. May 2018

More Michigan adventures to come…

–Natasha

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A Stop in Gettysburg on the way Home

Photo ©Jean Janssen Cyclorama, Gettysburg National Military Park

We are checking out of the Hershey Lodge today and driving to Gettysburg, PA on the way to Baltimore. Our morning began with packing and then the farewell wedding breakfast. It was one last chance to see the family and visit with the couple. They are off to Jamaica tomorrow. It is tough to find a safe honeymoon location at a destination that is open to American/foreign visitors. As US citizens, we are fortunate to have ready access to vaccines. Other countries are not so lucky and are far behind us in vaccination rates and control of Covid-19. Even within the US, things are different. A cabbie a week ago told me he had been driving lots of DC and New York visitors in from the airport. They were visiting Houston since things are so “open”.

Photo ©Jean Janssen Gettysburg National Military Park Pennsylvania

When we knew we were making this wedding trip, I took a look at what was in the area knowing we would have some free time. We decided to fly out early Monday morning rather than leave on Sunday and miss the breakfast. This way we have time for an afternoon outing. Knowing we would be in the area, the two things that immediately caught my attention were a trip to Amish Country and Gettysburg. Today we are seeing my first choice, Gettysburg.

Chapel at the Lutheran Cemetery, Cemetery Ridge, Gettysburg PA

Boris had already arranged a tour before we left and we found that several other wedding guests had visited the historic site on this trip before the wedding. All were impressed with their visit and highly recommended a tour. Gettysburg is about halfway to the airport car rental drop off from Hershey.

Gettysburg PA

Gettysburg PA

We first took a tour through the town of Gettysburg itself. It is very charming and historic with nice inns, bed and breakfasts, and dining spots. I loved the landscape and buildings connected with the Lutheran Seminary. We even saw a few log cabins in town. We came in York Road through town, along Seminary Ridge, past Gettysburg College and back out York. We were actually covering part of the battlefield; I just didn’t know it. Two of the significant tour sites are in town, the Gettysburg Train Station and David Willis’ House.

Lutheran Seminary at Seminary Ridge, Gettysburg PA

I would have liked to eat in town, but Boris had his eye on a Perkins we saw when we got off the freeway, so we headed back out York. There were lots of places to grab something to eat at the York exit. It was only a short distance to make the trip into town and out again so it really wasn’t out of the way to return to the Perkins and then use Highway 15 to go to the Visitors’ Center. We had also been warned that there were ticks in the field so I wanted to get some spray for my legs before we crossed the battlefields. After lunch and the bug spray stop, we went around Highway 15 to Baltimore Pike, the recommended exit to reach the Visitors Center.

Log Cabin, Gettysburg, PA

Photo ©Jean Janssen Tickets and complimentary brochure from Gettysburg National Military Park

We went inside, checked in, toured the museum, saw the film, and visited the cyclorama. The complex is part of Gettysburg National Military Park and is run by the National Park Service. I knew the private tour came at a fee, but I was shocked we had to buy tickets to enter the other areas of the building. I have never paid for the offerings for sites managed by the National Park Service. Adults cost $15, so we paid $30 plus they asked us to make a donation to the foundation. It would make it pretty expensive for a family. With all the online resources available and if you are on a budget, I would recommend you do some web research, check out the CNN Lincoln series that came out this summer, and pick up one of the free park guides available at the welcome center for background and skip the cost of the building exhibits. (I am sure Boris will disagree.) There is a nice gift shop with more detailed guides; that might be a better investment. As you will read later, a private or bus tour is definitely worth the price of the ticket. I admit I love history and do read a lot, but there was no new information in the twenty-minute film.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Inside the Visitors Center, Gettysburg National Military Park

A bit of background on the cyclorama from the National Park Service: “Cycloramas were a very popular form of entertainment in the late 1800s, both in America and Europe. These massive, oil-on-canvas paintings were displayed in special auditoriums and enhanced with landscaped foregrounds sometimes featuring trees, grasses, fences and even life-sized figures. The result was a three-dimensional effect that surrounded viewers who stood on a central platform, literally placing them in the center of the great historic scene. Most cycloramas depicted dramatic events such as great battles, religious epics, or scenes from great works of literature. Hundreds were painted and exhibited in Europe and America during the 1800s, yet most were lost or destroyed as their popularity died out with the introduction of a more entertaining art form, motion pictures.”

Photo ©Jean Janssen Cyclorama, Gettysburg National Military Park

The Gettysburg cyclorama depicts the third and final day of fighting at Gettysburg on July 3, 1863. The painting was completed in one year by a team led by French artist Paul who interviewed many veterans of the battle. It opened for public viewing in Chicago in 1883, 20 years after the battle took place. It has been moved several times and and was purchased by the National Park Service in the late 1940s. The painting was installed in the newly constructed park visitor center in 1962 where it underwent a massive restoration. The painting underwent another restoration, this time at a cost of 13 million, beginning in 2003 and was rededicated in its own theater at its current location in 2008.

Photo ©Jean Janssen Cyclorama, Gettysburg National Military Park

After you leave the theater where the film is shown, you take escalators up to view the painting from a multi-level platform. The platform allows you to move around and get a full 360 degree view. There is a light and sound show that accompanies the narration. Particularly impressive are the artifacts and props at the bottom of the display which often make it hard to distinguish the edge of the painting where art blends with reality.

Photo ©Jean Janssen Our Foundation Guide at Gettysburg

After our interior visit, we met our guide Mike for a two-hour private guided tour of the battlefields. Mike will drive our car and make multiple stops along the way as well as give us background information as we are driving around the complex and the city of Gettysburg. The tour roughly follows the battles which occurred over a three-day period, July 1-3, 1863. At times we did a bit of backtracking to make it work. He started out by stopping at Cemetery Ridge, near the Visitors Center. George Meade who led the Union forces had a reputation for moving troops slowing. On this occasion Union Troops surprised Confederate Commander Robert E. Lee by arriving at the area first and establishing the most strategic stronghold at Cemetery Hill.

Photo ©Jean Janssen Cemetery Hill Gettysburg National Military Park

Up to this point in the war, it was Lee who most often found victory in the battles in the southern Confederate States. He was ready to push forward and gain a significant military victory on northern soil. Gettysburg was not a random location; it was the crossroads of several major roads. Union troops won morning skirmishes on July 1, but afternoon fighting saw the Union troops defeated and retreating through Gettysburg to Cemetery and Culps Hills.

Photo ©Jean Janssen Gettysburg National Military Park

One of the fascinating and impressive things about the military park is that they have worked hard to present the buildings and landscape as it appeared in 1863. This was only possible because shortly after the battles the citizens of Gettysburg, appreciating the significance of these events, began buying up the land. Veterans returned to tell their stories and join in the preservation efforts. Eventually, the area was controlled by the War Department and later the National Parks Service under the US Department of the Interior. Even today, they continue to buy up property and restore fencing and farm buildings to their 1863 look. Sometimes that even means demolishing modern improvements.

Photo ©Jean Janssen Gettysburg National Military Park

Photo ©Jean Janssen Gettysburg National Military Park

I know a lot about history, but not military history. Boris really let me take the lead on questions. He has visited Gettysburg many times and knows just about everything there is know about American (and most international) military history. (and he thought Mike was doing a great job…) Having the background and strategic thinking about the staging of the battles and well as the reminders of conditions in the 1860s provided by Mike really put the history in a whole new light. At one point he stopped and pointed out the types of cannons and artillery used. When I think cannons, I think cannon balls. That is what the bronze ones fired, but we saw more of the ridged type cannons which utilized three different types of shot depending on the distance and conditions. Fascinating. Even seeing the mechanisms used to move the cannons put everything in a new light. When he made a reference to the type of shot used at the end of the third day and I got it, everything came all together. As you have probably figured out by now. I loved the tour. It was worth every penny of the $75 cost.

Photo ©Jean Janssen Boris stands beside a Confederate cannon as he looks toward the Union position at Gettysburg National Military Park

Photo ©Jean Janssen The markings on this cannon with its ridged interior tell us the the cannon could be used for three different types of shot, its manufacturer, the year it was manufactured-1862, and its weight. Gettysburg National Military Park

On July 2, 1863, Lee attacked the Union forces on multiple fronts. By this point, both armies were almost at full strength. The attempt was made to squeeze the Union troops. Federal political appointee Sickles, who had no military experience, complained of rough terrain and failed to follow Meade’s order. Sickles pulled the line out too far leaving open portions of the ridge. During the fighting Sickles was injured and returned to Washington to tell his side of the story to President Lincoln who visited his bedside. Sickles’ version that he was the mastermind behind Union success was accepted by many, perverting military history at the time.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. The location of the North Carolina Memorial is where the Confederate army positioned itself in the morning hours of July 2, 1863.

One of the benefits of taking a private tour was that at the beginning Mike asked if there was anything we wanted him to particularly focus on. The tour is usually an outline of the three days that made up the Battle of Gettysburg. I asked Mike if people often make special requests. He mentioned that one guest wanted to focus specifically on the three days of fighting around Culps Hill. Boris told him that he had 4 uncles that had served and we wanted to know where the Texas regiments would have been concentrated. I also mentioned that I had a Southern father (Texas) and a Union mother (Michigan) and he told me there was a place where the two collided. When we got to the southern end where the Texas regiments were lined up, Mike took a picture of us by the Texas monument. In the photo, we are both showing the effects of the 95 degree (Fahrenheit) temperature.

I learned that at this time in our history, regiments were recruited from geographic areas and kept together. While their leadership might change, the men fighting together were neighbors and family, often multiple generations of the same family. They already had a bond. Fighting together brought them even closer.

Photo ©Jean Janssen View of Devil’s Den from Little Round Top, Gettysburg National Military Park

Photo ©Jean Janssen Little Round Top, Gettysburg National Military Park

Still focused on day 2, we drove by the Peach Orchard (there is still an orchard there), the Wheatfield, and up the ridge on Little Round Top. This is where Sickles’ line was out too far. The terrain varies so much here, even though it is a relatively short distance between fields of battle. Fighting here stopped between 5 and 6 pm on day two. With no daylights saving time, it would have been dark by 8 pm. Little Round Top was also the spot where Michigan regiments retreated allowing the Texans to come in. Boris and I nominated Mike to be the one to tell my mom that particular piece of information.

Photo ©Jean Janssen Gettysburg National Military Park

Union Troops had lost ground on July 2, but had held. Confederate Troops had even made it onto Culps Hill and a Georgia regiment had almost broken the line along Cemetery Ridge. Lee was ready to squeeze the Union troops, encouraged by the day’s progress. Because the flanks had held, Meade was determined to stay and fight.

Photo ©Jean Janssen Facing the Union lines on Cemetery Ridge, Gettysburg National Military Park

When the tour focused on day 3, July 3, 1863, that early education on artillery by Mike came in helpful. Southern states had a different economy based on agriculture with slave labor. They had fewer men of fighting age. They also didn’t have the factories and manufacturing capacities of the northern states. Their artillery was often faulty. The 12,000-man Pickett’s charge would take place this day, but not before the field was partially cleared by cannon fire. The field was thick with smoke. Meade ordered some of the cannons rested and fitted with artillery for close contact. With no long-range visibility, this reduction in cannon fire was interpreted by Lee as success in damaging Union cannons. Actually, Confederate shot was faulty. The charge against the Union center was unsuccessful. On July 4, the Confederate army retreated, Lee immediately accepting full blame for the campaign’s failure.

Photo ©Jean Janssen The final field of battle, location of Pickett’s Charge on July 3, 1863 Gettysburg National Military Park

As stated in the park brochure, “[more] men fell during the Battle of Gettysburg than in any other battle on American soil before or since…Total casualties…for the three days of fighting were 23,000 for the Union army and as many as 28,000 for the confederate [sic] army.” It is important to note that casualties include killed, wounded, captured, or missing men. There were not over 50,000 dead at Gettysburg as is often mistakenly stated. However the number of dead was staggering; the Gettysburg community was left to deal with the fields littered with bodies and wounded in almost every building in the community.

Local Gettysburg Attorney David Willis was called upon to buy land for a proper burial ground. The cemetery was dedicated on November 19, 1863. The principal speaker was Edward Everett. He was the draw that day and he spoke for over two hours. However, many will not even remember that Everett spoke or what he said. What is truly remembered in American history are the “few appropriate remarks” made by President Lincoln. Known now as the Gettysburg address, many students and lovers of history can recite his remarks from memory.

Lutheran Seminary, Seminary Ridge, Gettysburg PA

It was a fabulous tour. We paid for 2 hours; Mike was with us for 2 hours and 45 minutes. As a Foundation-not a federal-employee, he was able to accept tips. Mike had gotten wonderful training. Leaving Gettysburg, we headed back to the Baltimore car rental center and turned in the car. It was much easier than the pick up. We took an Uber to the hotel where we had dinner. The hotel chains are still struggling to get enough employees as tourism picks up. Morning flight back to Houston. Wonderful end to a wonderful trip.

–Natasha

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