Mission

Mission: To respond thoughtfully and responsibly to my experiences of drinking and dining at restaurants with regard to the quality, service, preparation, presentation and overall experience received thereat. The standpoint is one who respects the crafts of the chef and sommelier and who seeks to understand their choices in the kitchen and cellar and grow in knowledge. In this, I will seek to be fair, reasoned, direct and constructive and aim to keep my ego in check on our mutual journeys through the worlds of food and wine.

Friday, June 1, 2018

Cannes to Paris Avalon Cruise September 2017 - Day Eleven

Lenglui at Hospices de Beaune
Tuesday September 26th 2018

Early up and abluted and getting the packed and locked suitcases out into the gangway for lugging off the ship and on to the buses by the crew during breakfast. I opted for the usual oatmeal and honey with croissants and butter and jam to follow. We also made up some ham and cheese rolls for the trip just in case there was no sufficiently decent rolls to be scored en route. Jean Loup had advised that there were some sandwich places in Beaune where we could get something for lunch but experience says these can be variable in taste and expense. And so when it is free and available, then one is obliged to take advantage, n'est-ce pas? Oui. 

Today looked like it was going to be wet, and it indeed began to be so just as we started boarding the buses. The lounge area crowded up as we got called by colour of bus. We broke out the umbrellas as we stalked the Affinity gangplank for the last time and clambered aboard our designated bus. It all got done quite swiftly and, bar one or two cruisers who opted for a last minute toilet, we all got underway by 8.45am. It was a pretty grey drive and I half remember a tour guide talking about what we were passing and where we would be going. It brightened up slightly as we got into the Beaune bus park for a five minute walk in the rain to get to the town centre. We were all pretty sodden and wet by the time we met with our guide for the group tour of the Hospices de Beaune. Bloody French weather. 

The amazing roof of the Hospices
The Hotel Dieu We had not done the Hospices de Beaune (or Hotel-Dieu du Beaune) on our previous visits and were quite looking forward. For the standard tourist, an entry fee of near on Euro20 was required which I felt a bit on the stiff side notwithstanding the charitable aims of the place. Wikipedia says "The Hospices de Beaune or Hôtel-Dieu de Beaune is a former charitable almshouse in Beaune, France. It was founded in 1443 by Nicolas Rolin, chancellor of Burgundy, as a hospital for the poor. The original hospital building, the Hôtel-Dieu, one of the finest examples of French fifteenth-century architecture, is now a museum. Services for patients are now provided in modern hospital buildings."

From the Courtyard
Some more: "The Hospices de Beaune consists of a pair of two-storied buildings arranged around a stone courtyard. The building wings are well-preserved today; they contain half-timber galleries and ornate rooftops with dormer windows. The hospital is arranged so that the wings served the office, kitchen and apothecary functions. The nuns and patients were housed nearer the chapel, towards the center of the complex. This Catholic institution focused on healing both the body and spirit of its patients. Over the centuries, the hospital radiated outwards, grouping with similar establishments in the surrounding villages of Pommard, Nolay, Meursault. Many donations - farms, property, woods, works of art and of course vineyards - were made to it, by grateful families and generous benefactors. The institution is one of the best and oldest examples of historical, philanthropic, and wine-producing heritage, and has become linked with the economic and cultural life of Burgundy.

"An important charity wine auction is held in November each year (formerly in the great hall of the Hôtel-Dieu). The charity auction been arranged annually since 1859, taking place on the third Sunday in November amid a three-day festival devoted to the food and wines of Burgundy called Les Trois Glorieuses. The charity is preceded by a black tie dinner at the Clos de Vougeot on day one and followed by the lunch La Paulée de Meursault on day three. The Domaine des Hospices de Beaune is a non-profit organisation which owns around 61 hectares (150 acres) of donated vineyard land, much of this classified Grand and Premier cru.

The Hospice Museum - the beds are pretty much as they were when the Hospice was operating
"With bidding by professional and private buyers, the barrels, from 31 cuvées of red wine and 13 of white wine, attain prices usually well in excess of the current commercial values, although the results give some indication of the trend in expected bulk wine prices for the vintage from the rest of the region."

Nurse. And bedpan.
The spires and the roofing are the first things you notice - long racks and towers of coloured tiles in medieval patterns that even in the rain were glorious. Inside was a bit on the dark side and photos of the museum areas did not turn out too good, given the prohibition of flash. The working areas fared slightly better, but the slight nip in the wet air meant that the camera hand was not as steady as usual. so again, the photos were a bit naff. 

The tour itself was quite interesting, especially the hospice area - beds, patients, nurses, all in exhibition and pretty much as things would have been in past centuries. Lenglui naturally resonated with the pharmacy - large bottles with old style labels depicting what would have been stored inside. I recall only one toilet in the place, which got used quite a bit - cold wet weather can do that to you. Well, me…

I thought about getting some bottles of the Hospice wine but figured I would be banjaxxed for weight on the upcoming Easyjet flight to Sicily so reluctantly decided against. Instead we found a Nicolas wine store just up the road and stocked up on some necessaries for our six night sojourn ahead in Paris. Lenglui found a baguette store and snagged some ham and cheese rolls for the train journey to Paris

Cruisers in Beaune Square
We had all been told to assemble in the town square to get escorted back to the bus, which seemed to happen slowly as some cruisers seemed a bit locked up trying to decide what sandwiches to buy. Thankfully, the rain had stopped by this time, so we hung around the desolate looking tourist centre - for some reason it had clearly been abandoned and looked quite forlorn. Still not sure why - perhaps a renovation. Eventually we got underway and back to the bus or an hour drive to Dijon railway station where the bags got unloaded and trundled toward the entrance. 

We had about forty minutes ahead of the train so figured to sit down with a coffee and munch on the sandwiches. Lenglui and I had actually been to the Paul Coffee shop at the Dijon Rail Station on our previous visit in 2014 and had sandwich and coffee prior to a train back to Beaune. Pleasant memory of ham and cheese and a chocolate croissant to finish. 

I found the Dijon station a bit confusing - you often only get about 15 minutes warning as to which platform your train will arrive at, and the directions as to how to get there are far from clear. We had to double back to get on the right direction. We passed one of the older cruisers who was quite slow in his walking and hoped he would make the platform in time. As memory served, the French trains don't hang about waiting too long - two to three minutes and off. 

On the platform (open air) ahead of a long trundle to the section "X" which had been designated as the coach section for us cruisers. We had been given the tickets at some time previous - I forget when at the moment. Must have been on the boat. The train pulled up but our doors refused to open. Joy. Someone figured out the train had stopped at the wrong spot so our coaches were further back along the platform. This was supported by many of the Frenchies walking back along the platform. Brilliant - dopey French train drivers. We got to the coach door and quickly parked the cases in the storage area - experience says is good to be first on because otherwise you're trying to hump them in the overhead or standing with them in the doorway. We got our seats and settled in for a swift and quite pleasant two hour ride on the TGV to Paris. I studied maps and articles on Paris whilst Lenglui read Time Magazines. Remember getting seated across from a West Ham fan and swapped a few stories about the old days of glory. 

The bar at Le Valois Restaurant
Not sure which Paris Gare we landed in, but we swiftly disembarked with the luggage and trooped to the meeting area where we got met by Avalon flag wielding young Frenchies who instructed us to "pliss stay 'ere" while they waved their flags to look to assemble the cruisers for the buses to the hotel. Once they seemed happy with everything, it was "allons" and we followed our new friend (name of Midi) to where the buses had been allowed to park. There seemed to be a problem with bodies - some people were not going to Paris, and instead directly joining another cruise heading for Normandy. The problem was that there seemed to be no separate list of these and the buses were naturally scared of leaving someone behind. Eventually it got sorted with a few phone calls and Jean Loup making an appearance on the bus for a final check and farewell and we were off into the Paris roads. 

The Steak at Le Valois. Very nice with the Frites
The sun was shining as we navigated our way past various landmarks. Notre Dame came up on our right which told us we were south of the river. We had great views of the Louvre and the various Jardins and buildings, but the traffic was hugely slow. This gave us a chance to get to know Midi a bit more and he turned us on to website La Fourchette for booking restaurants and recommended a place Le Sens Unique which was walkable from the hotel. He said it was the place to take a new girlfriend, which sounded good. I noted down the name. We eventually crossed Seine to make our slow way toward the Arc du Triomphe and arrived at our hotel (the Du Collectionneur, part of the Intercontinental Group) at about 5.15pm. We got our keys quite quickly and muscled through the logjam of bodies at the elevators. Seems there was a big football game happening on the morrow between Paris St Germain and Bayern Munich, and the entire Bayern Munich entourage were staying at the hotel. Joy. 

Lenglui's bag was already in the room, mine not so. So I wandered back down and saw it jammed onto a luggage trolley waiting to get escalated. Okay, at least it was here. I considered trying to release it from the trolley but decided against. Incurring the wrath of a Parisian bellhop seeing his pocket getting deprived of a Euro or two in tips was not worth the risk. So back upstairs I tootled to the dark, spacious but very pleasant room to wait the bag. Two large single beds, big window that opened out onto the street below, very pleasant chill evening air. 

Lighting along the Louvre
Took about thirty minutes for my bag to arrive, by which time we had cracked one of the Nicolas bottles and parked in one of our ice bags. Must have requested some ice from room service. Very pleasant to sip and chill and get ready for an out to find a restaurant. 

In respect of which I decided to do a recce of the environs. The map and guides talked about a wine bar and a japanese salad bar, but there is nothing like eyes on the ground. I hopped across the road and saw some of the cruisers at a bar - my notes say "Rod and the Gang of Four" though I have no idea what this refers to. They directed me along the road to a large-ish establishment on a corner which they had decided they would later go to. I advised it would be better to reserve and offered to do so for them. They approved. On reaching the place, the menu indeed looked quite good so I booked for the two of us for 7.15pm and headed back to the hotel with the good news. 

En route back, I got cornered by one of the cruisers who latched himself and wife onto our dining group. I had shared on the ship my IWFS connection and presumably figured if I had decided a restaurant was good then it would save him the research and legwork. Which for some reason miffed me - I think it was the latching on without asking nicely first. But I did tell them better to go there and to book in their name - turn up and expect a seat is not always possible in Paris (but then neither is reserving). There was a small Tesco Extra on the way so I picked up a couple of bottles of Evian - big 1.5l jobboes at a Euro apiece. Bargain. 

Eiffel Tower at Night
I retrieved Lenglui and an extra wrap against the evening chill and we headed to the restaurant, name of (I think) Le Valois. Extensive French menu, very appealing bar with cocktails, wine and beer. We met the couple there and parked at the bar pending getting seated at a table I opted for a bottle of house red to go with the ordered steak, the others went for cocktails. They also ordered their own mains in addition to agreeing to share the steak. Hmmm…..   Steak was darn good, though largely went uneaten by the others since they had ordered separate mains though had agreed to share the steak. Eyes bigger than belly. I tried, but there was a lot left at the end. Dam sad when this happens. But we doggybagged and had some of it for supper the following night, so not all was wasted. Total bill for four was Euro200 including drinks. 

We had to get back to the Hotel to get the 8.45pm coach that would take us on a Paris At Night tour to see the son et lumiere of the night time. It was pretty, but I was too tired and belly full to take in much of it. Seem to remember doing the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower and two other places but pretty much stayed on the bus digesting dinner. Got back to the hotel about 10.30pm and fell into bed. Goodnight Paris…

Cannes to Paris Avalon Cruise September 2017 - Day Ten

Monday September 25 2017

Somewhere in the night we had seemingly docked at a place called Tournus to allow for the early risers to go off on an excursion to either Chateau Cormatin or a Chardonnay tasting at Chateau de Rully. The ship would then sail to the town of Chalon where the buses carrying the excursion seekers would rendezvous. Not the best of sleeps. Must have been all the singing the previous night. 

The Spanish Dancer
Charlie and Karen's CdP
We opted against the excursions and enjoyed a long and lazy breakfast which got followed by me going pack to nap and do some packing whilst Lenglui parked with a coffee and read the papers. After about an hour, Lenglui came back to pack so I trundled off for the same coffee and papers and make some notes. I also finally got my photo of the Spanish Dancer. 

The ship was pretty empty - most of the Cruisers had gone off on the tours so it was quite quiet and strangely peaceful. I also took the opportunity to leave one of my South of France tour books at the library in the Coffee Lounge - again conscious of weight on the upcoming Easyjet flight. I left my website addresses for Youtube and this Food Blog in hope that they may get a logon. 

It was quite a dull and grey day with pockets of blue trying to poke through. The scenery had become pretty flat and treeless for the most part. A few birds here and there but not much to grab the imagination. Though Beaune beckoned, and the promise of some decent wine purchases to be made. 

Cheese and Mustard Tasting - Cruisers waiting on Starter's Orders
We docked at Chalon to allow the excursioners back on board for lunch and straight off for our final destination of St Jean De Losne where the buses to take us all to Beaune and Dijon for the train to Paris on the morrow would pick everyone up. 

The Mustard
Can't remember lunch or the afternoon (probably sleep and final pack) but there was a Cheese and Mustard tasting in the Lounge which would prove quite tasty. Never had mustard with cheese before, and the ranges of taste would prove, er, tasty. Not sure I would do it again though; much prefer pickle and chutney with cheese. Didn't buy anything. 

Sundown over St Jean De Losne
It was quite a pleasant evening weatherwise by the time we docked at St Jean De Losne. 

Lenglui wrapped up against evening chill in St Jean De Losne
We all assembled for a final Captain's Cocktail and Disembarkation briefing for the morrow - basic detail about which bus to get because that would be where the bags would be and what time to be on them - and then dinner. It was quite a pleasant evening weatherwise by the time we docked at St Jean De Losne. As we had pretty much packed everything, and were still pretty full from the cheese tasting, we decided to go for a pre-dinner stroll around the town to see what was there. Not much, as it would turn out - big church on one corner, some shops and food places that were quiet and that was it. There was a birdge that led to another part of the town but we couldn't get up the energy nor the fire to want to go explore. After about thirty minutes we were back to the ship and supping the wines. 


Quite tasty. Forgot what it was....
Dinner again was by now forgettable, as was the entertainment. The bills had been settled, with the result that there was kind of "the holiday is over" feel about the evening and all we wanted to do was get back to the cabin and sleep. Which we did. It would be a long day tomorrow - early bus to Beaune, bus to Dijon, TGV to Paris, bus to the hotel. Good night everyone.  

Cheese Plate on Avalon Affinity

One more of the Spanish Dancer ;D


Cannes to Paris Avalon Cruise September 2017 - Day Nine

Basilica on the Hill
Sunday September 24 2017

Awoke to sunshine outside the window and a bigass building we had gotten docked next to in Lyon. We had slightly overslept so a need for a swift ablute and breakfast to get out and onto an 8.30am bus that was going to take us around Lyon town. For some reason we got the wrong radio pack which would mean that we would not be able to tune into our guide for the city tour. Might have been a blessing; she had such a monotone voice that just listening to her on the bus set us dozing… 

The area where the ship had docked looked quite modern, all steel and glass building and lots of space for lounging at coffee bars. It was a bit early and a Sunday to boot so it was all a bit quiet at this breakfast time. Seems there was a cable car system that could get you both in and out of Lyon in about 15 minutes, so anyone who wanted to stay a bit longer in town could do this to get back. In principle, anyway - the instructions on the handout were not crystal clear as to where the thing stopped in town nor quite at which stop we would have to disembark. Never mind, figure it out when we got there.

Overlooking Lyon - bit hazy...
It had earlier been decided not to come back for lunch but to try somewhere in town. I had unearthed a Paul Bocuse backed Bistro named Le Nord. There was not enough time to go to the main restaurant (nor could I establish whether it was open for Sunday lunch) so we figured this was the next best thing.  I had figured we did not need a reservation since the French rarely take them anyway, and was quite looking forward to it. 

More Lyon - slightly brighter...
We dozed as our guide told us we were going up a hill to visit the Basilica which on a perfect day would give us a fabulous view across Lyon. Today was not a perfect day - there was a haze covering the city so the most we got was a shadowy dust brick view of buildings poking through it. The photos were predictably grim. Still, there was a toilet at the top allowing for a free pee which was quite welcome. We lurked about the car park for a while in the eye watering sunlight and slowly ambled back to where the buses were parked. The ride up had been a bit close to the side on a couple of occasions and we hoped the return would not be as narrow.  There was a disabled chap parked at the church entrance craving alms from the faithful walking in for the service and not proving too successful. I just grabbed whatever small change was in the pocket and gave it to him. You can turn the eye in the town but not outside a church. He had stumps for hands and seemed most grateful and shook my arm with much merci Monsieur. Mon brave I called him. There but for the grace of God... 

Lyon Old Town - narrow cobblestone affairs
Back on the bus for more monotone commentary as the town rushed past. It looked very quaint and unmistakeably French with shutter windows and rail verandahs. Which suggested we were coming to the Old Town (correct!) and quite soon we were dismounting and cutting down a street to get to the heart of the city. This would prove an ankle wrenching wander through cobblestone streets and through some of the secret tunnels of the town. The buildings were quite tall so the streets were pretty shaded. I got a large sense of "tourist" at many of the places we stopped at, though some of the shops looked authentic old and dedicated to the Lyonaisse. 

Somewhere along the way we managed to lose the guide and hence we did not receive instruction as to where to meet the bus. But the Old Town is a small town and we came across Big John from the cruise who shared the detail. There was an Artist market going on along the bank which made for more diversions.

Delightful Riverbank Market
The bus came to pick up the Cruisers returning to the ship and parked up on the narrow roadside. We had earlier been told there were only very small windows for parking and if one was not at the appointed spot then one would be walking back. I swiftly retrieved the bags from the bus and Lenglui and I left on foot for our lunch, though not before getting delayed by the rest of the market and Lenglui stopping to buy little bits. Naturally. Though in fairness there were some delightful little souvenir bits that were way too pretty to pass up. 

We had a map of Lyon from the ship and I had marked the restaurant on it. It was on the other side of the river and appearing not too far to walk. Which indeed proved so. Le Nord was scheduled to open at noon and, notwithstanding a couple of stops along the way from the Old town, we were still a shade early. 'Yoo 'ave ze reservation?" I explained no. "Nevair maind," said the Maitresse D', "yoo sit zere whaile ai get zee staff ready, Oui?"  So Lenglui sat "zere" whilst I went up zee stairs for the toilet. I should have known they would have wanted a reservation… bloody French…   

Maitresse came back with the menu and we ordered quickly. Lenglui had been tasting the Bresse chicken since Cannes and quickly went for it along with some Escargots. I opted for Plat du Jour figuring Lenglui would share. Of course. We also opted for a carafe of the house red. 

Ham Brioche
Ultimately the food at Le Nord felt a bit ordinary and not up to expectations of somewhere with a Bocuse name attached to it. My starter came quickly, a chunk of ham in some brioche with (I think) wasabi and a side salad. Not bad. Can't remember what my main was and I don't seem to have a photo of it. The Escargots were delightful - poached in little porcelain pots in a stew of herbs and butter garlic and topped with garlic butter croutons. Lenglui's Bresse disappointed - it came in some gravy and the meat was a bit on the dry side. I had a taste and was also disappointed - not a patch on the Hotel du Ville in Beaune. My dessert of Fig Tart was…  missing something. It was fresh figs on custard basted sponge with raspberry coulis and whipped cream on pastry. The coulis dominated and needed a counterpoint to its tongue stinging acidity. But then it was a Sunday lunch - we would need to go back for dinner to give a fair review. 

Le Nord Escargots - wicked!
We got chatting to our table neighbour Frank, from Cork, who was having the Fish. Turns out he was (still is) a Chef who ran a place called the Wild Goose in Long Island USA for a while along with a few places beside (some club in Wardour Street in the early 80s got mentioned). He had landed that morning from somewhere in the US and was having problems finding where his cruise ship was docked. We eventually helped him find it via a roundabout taxi ride as a result of Frank's taxi driver who managed to get himself spectacularly lost. The problem was that the ship was not answering Frank's phone and the restaurant would not let me use their phone to find where it was. Bloody French. Nay, bastard French on this occasion. We eventually found the Affinity where Jean Loup did the necessary. Frank promised to travel Avalon next time rather than the one that had been booked. He also gave us some suggestions for restaurants to try in Paris. I would give our last bottle from Arles to Jean Loup as a thank you and early Xmas present the next day. Should really have given chocolates I suppose - didn't have any. 

Fig Tart
We boarded the Affinity to sleep off lunch and showered and surfaced for a 6pm talk on "The French" by a guest speaker which was quite entertaining. Then it was back to change for dinner whilst the sun shone over Lyon. Got to the lounge and we set sail and enjoyed the passing riverside and wildlife in a great feeling of tranquillity.

Lyon centre
From the verandah window I observed a couple of yob types on the Lyon riverbank in their rebel black jeans and jackets, and one shouting some sort of odds and seeming to lob a rock at the ship. I might have misperceived this, though some gestures were certainly involved. Got me thinking how some people feel they didn't somehow get a chance, and consequently feel justified in their rage against whom they perceive as the better off. Reminded me of me. Wasn't the exact reason I ran off the rails in 1983 but it was contributory. Rage against the rich and the establishment and wanting to stick it to the man. But when you get some education then you begin to understand the man and the machine and the reality that there isn't any real escape. We all need to earn and turn a buck but it is true that sometimes you get so far down through circumstance or birth defect that the chances to make something of life dry up quicker than they do for the able bodied and the strong and the strategic. I know I got thrown a second chance when my train derailed and I was fortunate that I had not yet been trapped by the welfare system nor the society of the underground. I got an education which the state effectively paid for and was able to come back from scrounging around for dog ends to roll into a smoke to cruising the world on the Avalon Affinity. And here was this black jeans and jacket kid in Lyon cursing at me in French for selling out and becoming a comparatively rich bastard. Perhaps he is not wrong. Perhaps I have sold out. Middle class and comfortable. I remember the rebel, but now I know you sometimes have to choose your causes. 

Lenglui rocking the house!
But perhaps there is also an undercurrent of resentment here that the rest of us are missing. The poor in Europe continue to swell and line the river banks of the towns in their cardboard shanties. Maybe better than where they came from but still shitty conditions. So all one sometimes can do to get attention is to throw a brick. But the sense is that the (we) Cruisers are all too old to care or want to do anything about it. We are happy and distracted and just want our cocktails and wine with dinner. We have made it, we have built our fortunes and are enjoying them whilst we plod on to our singular oblivions. Angry young men? They have no place in the cruising community. Though the rock thrower did stir a strange pang of guilt and perhaps a need to shake the complacency… maybe time to rock the boat?

This evening was to be our farewell dinner and everyone had dressed up in their best and finest. Can't remember much about the food. I do recall giving a book on French Wine by Keith Floyd that I had picked up in the UK to Charlie and Karen as souvenir and thank you for sharing their CdP. They seemed quite happy, though I had a little pang of regret in letting it go. Never mind - good to see them happy and it would mean slightly less weight to check in on our upcoming Easyjet to Catania in Sicily. 


Look what I found!!
Dinner was followed by the March of All the Staff around the tables. I was sucking down some delightful red Beaujolais and ended up in the lounge singing with pianist Mitko whilst the assembled got jiggy with some standards - I recall singing Teddy Bear, Rock around the Clock, and Eight Days a Week in harmony with him. Quite fun. Lenglui also sang a couple of songs (Only You and Hello Dolly) and tried some German brandy whilst I socked down a Grand Marnier. Excellent ways to end a good fun evening.

Cannes to Paris Avalon Cruise September 2017 - Day Eight

Sunrise over the Rhone in Tournon
Saturday September 23 2017

Quite a restless sleep tonight for some reason, getting up a few times to pee and then back into bed and fitfully rolling around waiting for drop off to dreamland which never quite came. You end up dozing and fitful and ultimately waiting for the sunrise. My response now is to fire up the Ipad and see what lyrics might come. I can jot down a few lines and rhymes and then start to doze at which point the lines seem to arrive in swathes and I have to get back up to catch them before they vanish into the ether. At least it is productive. Lenglui snores oblivious through all of this, though is occasionally also known to get up for a pee. 

The massive daily honeycomb - spoon a chunk into the oatmeal for a breakfast of champions
The Affinity was already docked in Tournon at sunrise. After about an hour lolling around I got dressed and abluted at about 7.30am and went off to get some coffee for us both from the bar at the Stern end of the ship. Also snagged a nice sunrise photo from the back of the ship. Jean Loup was also getting his coffee, both of us noting it to be a bit cooler this morning. Funny how talking about weather is always a conversation starter, eh?

Stinky hard cheese - heaven
I grabbed croissants and other bits for Lenglui, then scarfed down a quick breakfast and coffee before heading out into the town. We would only be here for the morning so I figured an early start to do Tournon and get back way ahead of the off. After some consideration, and being told that it was frisky cool outside, Lenglui opted to stay onboard and under the covers. There was a guided walk scheduled for 8.30am but I couldn't wait and decided to strike out alone. I was on solid ground at 8.15am. 

Miele et Confitures et huiles - yum!
The boat was docked next to a large carpark on which vans and cars had set up a market selling shoes and towels and other bits. All of this was under a blazing blue sky but by crikey it was cold on the dock. I was well wrapped up in scarf, gloves and hat but could still feel the sting of the cold on the cheeks. Crisp, with a nip of Jack Frost in the air (or should that be Jacques Frost?) - winter was a-coming. 

Porky bits of ham salami
There was a market getting started on the dockside carpark, with lots of vans setting up tables with bits and clothes and boots and bags, most of it not really of standard, and some of which had seen way better days. Slightly better than boot sale quality, but not enough to justify the prices being asked. It was too cold to bargain too. So off I trotted following the Avalon town map and wound my way to the market. The town itself looked pretty, but desperately in need of the heat of sunshine; in this dawning light the shadow of the buildings just made the empty Grande Rue along which I was walking seem cold and desolate.

Roast Chicken and roast potatoes off the van
En route, I felt a need for reassurance that I was on the right road and so checked with a young lady en route if I indeed was - I asked and pointed "S'il vous plait, mamselle, la Marchee?" and a delightful smile replied "Oui, le Marchee." "Ah, c'est bon. Merci Mamselle," said I with an toothy grin. I can be charming, even at cold and ungodly hours such as this was. 

Give us this day our daily bread...
And indeed, within twenty yards of this exchange of Entente Cordiale warmth and smiles the bustling market revealed itself, bathed in the light and warmth of the growing sun. Notwithstanding that the morning chill had still yet to be fully warmed off, compared to the crisp and chill air all the way from off the boat this little oasis of heat warmed both the body and soul. And it was good to see all the life going on here - the bustle of the buyers, the noise of the sellers, the live chickens, all styles of cheese and porky products, and loads of colourful vegetables. Can't remember much in the way of fruit though. With the light and the colours, there were lots of great opps for photos everywhere. This was a fun thirty minutes. I recall a massive tall hill backdrop rising up behind the town, and a church at the top which might have explained the cold at the bottom -  not sure, have to check this one.

Looking back on Tournon from the dock in sunshine
Then it was back into the cold streets for a wander past some pretty buildings and the still closed shops to come out near a long bridge across a river and a vicious chill walk along the bank back to the boat. The wind was whipping like a cold lash across the cheeks. From my side of the bank I could see large signs on vast green vineyard fields on the opposite side of the river which read "Jaboulet" and later "Chapoutier" - difficult to miss, and consequently some excellent marketing; anyone coming upriver could not miss the logo signs. It was also perfect elevation and prospect for sun and rain to massage the grapes to harvest fruition. 

Tournon dockside morning - beautiful sky...
It was getting a bit too chill on the riverside, so I veered off the bank and back through the car park market. This would turn out to be a gentle and pleasant wander through some tree shaded paths and also a chance to see if I had missed any treasures earlier. I hadn't. Took a couple of photos because of some decent light and then back on the boat to quickly divest and get straight back into the warm bed. Lenglui was still undercover. I did some FB posts and then dozed till an hour before lunch. Sky TV was on in the background repeating news stories. It made for good snoozing wallpaper. 

The ship was scheduled to set sail at ten thirty but we missed this due to not everyone seemingly being back on board. There was an announcement for two rooms who had not apparently returned the deck passes (NB these are identity cards which get given out when you get off the boat and which you are supposed to return at reception when you get back on board). It was quickly resolved and we were soon back out on the water. Our cabin was on the right side of the ship which meant we had views of the seemingly endless vine planted slopes of Rhone river varietals. At this time of year (late September) they must be getting ready for the harvest, if not being already underway. Given the area that we could see from the ship, they must need armies to bring all the grapes in. Vast acres of vines. Felt like heaven.

Rolling on the river....
Eventually resurfaced to shower and dress and get to the restaurant for a good solid lunch of beef stew with Provençal rice and chocolate ice cream dessert. There was a most pleasant sweet dry wine being served, very light and fragrant and so, so easy to sip and chug and quaff and guzzle. A perfect luncheon wine which went hugely well with the food. The slopes had now disappeared and it was most pleasant to sit and watch the charming countryside of the Rhone valley slipping by - lots of bird life, herons, ducks, cormorants, and seagulls. And there seemed to be a village every five minutes on one side of the bank or the other, all waking up to the weekend and all of them hugely pretty. Though all very similar in terms of a steeple rising up in the middle of surrounding low rise houses. I can now understand the artist with the easel setting up on one bank to paint what is seen on the other. Every lunch should be like this. 

After lunch, we all repaired to the lounge via reception for to pay Jean Loup for our future excursions in Paris. He also facilitated my request for all the dining and wines lists of the cruise for this series of blog posts. He also promised to pass some Paris restaurant recommendations that we could try during our time there (NB he would not be joining us in Paris, he needing to continue an Avalon cruise to Normandy). 

Rolling on the river....
It would prove to be a massively lazy afternoon spent doing NY Times puzzles, making notes on the iPad mini and enjoying the countryside. Totally chilled and warm on the sun lounge observation deck. Odd dozes, got a cup of decaf black tea for me and green tea for Lenglui from the back. It was once again wine fields all the way, and all with southern aspects (and occasional impossible slopes) to catch the sun. Delightful.

4pm was to be a coffee and chocolate talk, and the lounge filled quite quickly with most of the Cruisers coming off a tour of the ship's galley. As a supposed foodie and wine writer, I suppose I should really have gone along to see how the galley crew managed to prepare all the food and get it to the tables. Seriously, I couldn't be arsed. I have done them before and it is a lot of standing around looking at storage and stoves and when you have a lot of people then the questions and answers just lengthen the amount of time spent on the hindleg. Given a choice of sitting or standing, I take the comfy chair every time. 

The gunky lead lined Valrhona chocolates
Walking back to the cabin for a pre chocolate talk pee and again passing my delightful Latin dancer on the wall. I want to photograph her, but the lighting is such that a decent photo is impossible. Should I take it anyway? Yes. A number of times. Hope to get one decent shot. 

At the talk, Jean Loup said that we were not to touch the chocolate until he gave the go ahead. He then explained about how chocolate is made and that in France one should bring chocolate to a house gathering rather than wine or flowers. Reason is that the wines have usually been pre-selected and so anything brought will not be opened. With regard to flowers, some people are allergic and some can offend - Jean Loup gave the example of chrysanthemums which are usually are for funerals. I always understood lilies are for funerals, but they are used in masses at weddings in Malaysia. Must be a culture thing. With regards to chocolate, he says Valrhona is the good stuff and which will impress the most. He also shared that some peopll who bring Valrhona sometimes eat the content of the box and replace them with cheap ones!  

Vienne
Jean Loup shared his technique for tasting and eating. He said we should first smell the chocolate, noting the absence of any sugar smell and thus indicating quality - the one we were having was 75% cocoa with garnache. We should then put the chocolate with the top side on the tongue and not to bite; just close the eyes and let the chocolate work its magic. It works! But these managed to hit the gut like a lead brick and bloated beyond belief. They would also coat the throat with some icky gunk that clung to the sides and tonsils like some alien slime. Total need for some liquid to cleanse the throat. Which is where the coffee comes in - perfect throat declogger - like Drain-O. But it didn't help the iron and metal in the belly. I recall not being able to move for five minutes until the bloat disappeared. Memo to self - never eat rich dark chocolates given to you by a Frenchman. 

The Steel Cow of Vienne. Oui.
As the chocolate talk came to an end, the boat was docking in the town of Vienne. We would not be here too long so we swiftly grabbed the bits from the cabin and made to get off the ship. Though not before Lenglui had scored some ice from the machine near the stairs to chill the Rose we had bought in Arles as aperitif for dinner. 

Bar opposite the Steel Cow. No time to stop for a beer. Next time. If there is one...
Vienne was a very pretty and hugely quaint town with lots of small one person operation shops (think old style ironmongers and tailoresses) with large windows to display the inside wares. It felt like a total step back in time, as if Vienne had been forever trapped in the 1950s. This was underlined by old style signages and typefaces on doors and windows. Amazing feel. Which also made for great photo opps, from Roman Temples to a modern steel constructed cow around which children played whilst the townsfolk did their evening passage at the bars. We had to walk across a steel bridge and over a main road to be greeted by a massive cathedral at which a wedding was going on. We hung around for a bit hoping to see the couple, but after five minutes and no show we trooped off to do a pleasant stroll around the town. This involved taking in all four pharmacies in the town at which nothing got bought - prices were way more expensive than those in the big towns. Mais bien sur…  anything coming to the small towns incurs costs in transport, so the profit margins need to be higher to offset. 

Lenglui and Roman Ruins in Vienne
We got back to the cabin, and cracked the Rimauresque 2016. The label of which declared it to be a Cru Classe Rose. Okay…  It would prove most pleasant, bit of grape on the nose, light strawberry mouth and crisp acidity on the throat. Good length on the finish, chewy and nice bite on the teeth, clean and frisky. Well tasty, and a perfect aperitif sip ahead of dinner.

Of which I have no memory of either during or after. This might have been the Cabaret singer, all French songs and hugely entertaining as only the French know how, teasing the men and stooges and rousing singing and partying. Only later did I realise our chanteuse was actually a chanteur as a result of Jean Loup quietly advising our singing friend to indeed be a gentleman. As a veteran of the Malaysian stage, I should have known. He/she was very, very convincing. I seem to recall the boat was sailing for the night to dock up at Lyon ready for an early off. Can't remember. Fell into bed and slept through. Lyon promised to be a good long day. Though not quite as we might have imagined it!

Lunch Menu
Salads
Seasonal lettuce and condiments
Avalon House vinaigrette, Parsley Yoghurt dressing, Walnut dressing
Chicory salad withapple, Carrot salad with raisins, Potato and gherkin salad

Soups
Creamy carrot soup with almonds
Viccisoisse, chilled potato and leek soup

Carving Station
Pink roasted leg of lamb marinated with herbs, served with natural gravy

Daily Live Cooking with Head Chef
Pasta aux fruits de mer - fusilli with shrimps, garlic, tomatoes and fresh basil

Main Course
Daube Provencal - Provencale style beef stew with red wine, onions, garlic and fresh herbs
Filet de plie Parisienne - pan fried fillet of plaice with parmesan coating
Caesar Sandwich - Slices of chicken breast with Romaine lettuce and parmesan dip
Greek Orza pasta stwe - sauteed with spring vegetables, fresh herbs and tomatoes

Sides - Broccoli, basmati rice, ssauteed corn and peppers, eggplant ragout

Sweet Temptations
Sour Cherry Cake - with chocolate sauce
Strawberry and chocolate ice ceam with chocolate and furit sauce, whipped cream and cones
Fresh seasonal fruit

Wines
Bourgogne Chardonnay Buissonier - Vignerons de Buxy, France, 12.5%
This aromatic wine had a clean, lively bite. Yellow pale gold in color and clear, its nose had a floral touch, recalling hawthorn and acacia.

Gris Blanc - Gerard Bertrand, France, 12.5%
The colour of this Rose is crystalline. The nose and the palate show fruity flavours. The wine is very tasty and has an acidulous finish

Bailli de Provence Rouge - Gilardi, France, 13%
Warm wine with characteristic notes of vanilla and candied red fruits. Very round in the mouth, the tannins are melted and give a feeling of smoothness. 


Dinner Menu
Bread and Dips - Freshly Baked Bread with butter and our dip of the day

Appetizer
Apple Cocktail - flavoured with vanilla and raisins
Feta Cheese and artichoke strudel - with red pepper sauce
Salade verte du jour a l'Arlesienne - French bacon salad with seasonal greens,olives, marinated garlic and corutons

Soups
Bouillon et pasta - beef broth with beans and noodles
Veloute de Potiron - Creamy Auvergne pumpkin soup with cinnamon croutons

Main Course
Sauteed potato gnocchi - with fresh spinace and tossed in white wine sauce
Broiled fillet of John Dory - with rosemary butter, young spinach and sepia noodles
Roasteed breast of chicken supreme - on Marsala sauce with romanesco broccoli and Chardonnay risotto
Vegetarian lasagne - with tomato sauce

Wines
Reserve Speciale Sauvignon - Gerard Bertrand, France, 12%
This 100% Sauvignon Blanc comes from carefully selected cool climate vineyards and displays citrus and exotic fruit notes

Gris Blanc - Gerard Bertrand, France, 12.5%
The colour of this Rose is crystalline. The nose and the palate show fruity flavours. The wine is very tasty and has an acidulous finish.

Reserve Speciale Syrah - Gerard Bertrand, France, 13.5%

This 100% Syrah has a dark red colour with purple hints. Peppery, soft spices aromas. Rich and full bodied with spices and wild herb flavours.