Sites along the Shore

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Before disembarking in Viviers, we were told that there was a little church high on the hill that was famous as being the oldest cathedral still in use…so we climbed up the highest hill only to find a statue and not much of a church at all, but one can see it in the next photo taken from that spot!

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Avignon is a delightful medieval center almost totally intact and surrounded by a wall that the popes built in the 14th century. It was easy to be mesmerized by the beautiful gardens and a bridge to nowhere. The palace, cathedral and said bridge are all part of UNESCO’s World Heritage site.

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Arles  is “Gaul’s Little Rome”  another of UNESCO’s  world cultural heritage sites, particularly the amphitheater.The landscape around here was also captured by  Van Gogh in many of his paintings.

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Aix-en-Provence, via bus trip with the Germans…history was not translated but we enjoyed the views.

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Tournon is a lovely quiet remnant of life centuries ago.

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And Lyon was the start and the end of our week on the Rhone.  We did the new city before and the old city after.  I’d say that Lyon served well as travel bookends for this trip.

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Even the Dream Vacation has its Challenges!

Okay, I think I owe my daughter an apology.  Although she was the one who suggested a river cruise I’m thinking she wishes she didn’t leave the actual planning up to me. The week and the route were okay but spending so much time with your mother is another thing entirely. We were both aware of our differences: our sleep clocks are opposite….I’m an early riser and early to bed, she is not; and those little rooms, while charming, are not sound proof.

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I was assured by the young man who booked our trip that this boat was usually a younger crowd and mostly English-speaking.  Wrong.  At 69 I was one of the younger ones if you didn’t count the grand-kids accompanying their grandparents and it took me almost the full week before I identified the two other people on board who spoke English as their first language. Unfortunately that meant I was heavily relying on my daughter to be my playmate as well as my bunk-mate.  However, she paid her own way and hoped to enjoy a different sort of VACATION…which to her meant lying by the pool, reading a book and not having to socialize with me or anyone else.

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Not me. I was waiting for the boat to dock so I could get off and explore.  The excursions were set up for either the German travelers (79%) or the special group from Spain (20%) who had their own guide. We were told that we could go along with the German group and only pay half since we would not understand anything other than a few words. Consequently I did many solo trips through the towns, but was able to convince her to join me in taking the bus to Aix-en-Provence assuring her we could go off on our own.  We laughed when the French guide confided in us that the Germans were quite concerned that the Americans would not make it back to the bus in time….we were there first!

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Then there was the bicycle tour to the Mediterranean since the Rhone wasn’t deep enough for the boat to go the entire way.   The sign up session was in German but I asked for a briefing at the end in English. We pedaled for only  20 minutes before we arrived at the beach and the group started locking up their bikes.  I asked what was going on and was told that we now had 3 hours to swim and tan before heading back! My daughter had her suit under her clothes but not me.  Neither of us had towels, sunscreen, or an understanding of what just transpired.  So much for the exciting bicycle jaunt! We convinced the guide that we could find our own way back.

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And lastly, the food, which was delicious and bountiful but not so for my companion, the vegetarian.  I asked the tour booking agency about this and he confirmed there would be no problem. Unfortunately the chef mistakenly thought a vegetarian still eats fish….guess I should have been more specific.  She ate enough cheese and eggs (thank goodness she’s not a vegan!) that toward the end of the week she stuck with a simple salad.

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Lessons learned: Just because a trip is all-inclusive does not mean that changes can’t be made and I’m lucky she was my daughter and didn’t ask for a refund.  I’m guessing her next couple of trips will exclude me!

 

 

 

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River-boating Down the Rhone

I’m back and so well rested that I can barely complete my daily chores.  I read a couple of books, caught up with my daughter and managed to gain only a few pounds.

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The boat we took flew the German flag on back and the French in front.  Called A-Rosa Stella, it was well staffed, very efficient and quite clean.  With 200 aboard I was expecting a few more Americans but there were only the two of us. Consequently we relied on the printed daily schedule as we often misunderstood both the Spanish and German announcements.

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As I had never taken a cruise before I was befuddled about the entire operation from what to pack, how much money to bring along, expectations of meals and ports of call activities. While not an expert now, I will be more confident if I ever venture forth on another week of luxury.

 

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Cruising down the Rhone

I’m taking a river boat down the Rhone in a couple of weeks. I’ll be floating with one of my daughters for seven nights! I am afraid that my instinctive need for physical activity might be a threat to our well-being. Thank goodness, my travel companion is charming, socially adept and willing to overcompensate for my behavior.  I’m trying to figure out how to get to the bikes before anyone else and imagine I’ll be that person who wants to be the first off and then on again.

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I hate lines. I like wine and food however. And I downloaded 6 new books.  Besides packing light (is that possible on a cruise?), I’m thinking I need a new stylish haircut to fit in.  Actually planning for my next trip is one of my favorite things.

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Check the Weather

When you go to the ticket window at the famous Christ the Redeemer ( O Cristo Redentor) in Rio, they show you a live stream of the statue so that you won’t be disappointed when you can’t see it or the views below.  I went on one of those days.

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I spent much more time in the Santa Teresa neighborhood. By taking the metro to Lapa, I was able to climb the famous Escadaria Selaron to reach this delightful neighborhood. Chilean-born artist Jorge Selarón used over 2000 colorful tiles on the 250 steps.  He worked on this project from 1990 until 2013 when he died rather mysteriously on this very staircase.  I identified with him when I discovered he was born the same year as me and was a world traveler.  And while he was an artist I do have an affinity for street art….and you can’t get more “street” than this.

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While the area is charming it does lack the convenience and perhaps safety offered by the more famous beach communities, although Airbnb is making a presence here.

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Due to the weather the views from Santa Teresa were better than from Corcovado.

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Similar to San Diego

Rio de Janeiro’s weather and beaches reminded me of home…as did the casual dress of the people. However, there are some pronounced differences.  First of all, the bathing attire is decidedly skimpier.  I was prepared to wear a two piece in order not to announce “tourist” but didn’t realize that 3 bikinis could have been made from my suit.

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Then you have the miles of sand that look cleaner, feel softer and are occupied by incredible athletes playing volleyball without using their hands! But June gloom is a phenomena there too.  Note the difference later in the day!

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All large cities seem to have specialized their scamming of unsuspecting visitors and many travel sites will tell you of these ahead of time, so that you are somewhat more aware when you tread on the danger zones.  However, beauty combined with excitement can lead even a seasoned traveler astray.

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My friend was strolling behind me on the Avenue next to the beach after dinner, having just shared leftovers with a few homeless men when he was approached by a young woman screaming something and trying to show him her cell phone. His confusion was multiplied when her accomplices (two more young women) saddled up to him.  He thought he was being propositioned and tried to tell them he was not interested.  Later he discovered that his pockets had been successfully picked!

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Are You Going to the 2016 Olympics?

Rio de Janeiro  has been on my list for a long time, but their visa process has been a detriment in that they could hold up your passport longer than I’ve  been willing to part with it. When I heard that they waived the requirements for this summer I was on my way to Rio. Since I already had August travel plans I decided to do a reconnaissance mission last week.

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The downsides to a trip that far South meant that I had to take red-eye flights both ways and wear deet for protection from the zika virus along with the sunscreen.  Other than that, it was a great trip!

The preparations are in full swing with people seemingly working around the clock.  The airport is in great shape but I think transportation to the various sites of the games could be problematic. The metro has some new cars and you constantly hear instructions to locals reminding them to treat visitors nicely in at least 3 languages.

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If you do go and have some free time on a Sunday, take in the hippie fair at the largest square in Ipanema.  The local artists exhibit and sell some incredible art and crafts.

Beach volleyball would definitely be the best ticket if you can get it!  And head up to Sugarloaf and Corcovado  on a clear day!

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