Sunday Sept 11, 2016

I’m sitting at a small table on the sundeck of the Amadeus Symphony – the long, slender, stylish cruiseship that’s been our floating hotel for the past three-and-a-bit days. Sometime during the night we docked in Lyon, France’s third-largest city. Across the river from where we’re tied up is the charming Old Quarter, the waterfront lined with ancient trees and elegant old buildings (white with orange roofs, most of them) and a skyline that’s riddled with chimneys and spires, turrets and towers.

It’s been way too long since I last reported in, and I’m sorry about that. But it’s been a busy few days. (We’re not just sitting around twiddling our thumbs, you know – this touring-business is really hard work!) And some of us, including moi, have been functioning a little below par. A dratted ‘kennel-cough’ (that’s what we’ve called it) has gone through our Kiwi group like the dreaded Black Plague in the Middle Ages. Not sure why. It’s not for want of good food – that’s for sure! And we certainly can’t blame the weather – we’ve had sunshine every day and temps up in the mid-30s. By today’s count we’ve still got a group of 31 … and, last time I checked, “Is everybody happy?” the answer came back, “You bet your life we are!” But it’s easier to count the people that haven’t been barking, honking and sneezing than those who have.

Ahh, yes, the joys of travel!

La Belle France has, of course, continued to woo us, bewitch us and beguile us. And this luxury cruise on the country’s great waterways (with wall-to-wall pampering and well-appointed cabins, plus non-stop vistas of French countryside/villages/campers/fishermen scrolling past our big picture-windows) has gotta be one of the nicest ways to explore the place.

Anyway, let me retrace our steps …

Leaving the Loire Valley (where you last heard from us), we spent a day driving through the endless croplands and woodlands of France’s Central Plateau – with a lunch-break in Vichy en route. Then, entering Lyon, we overnighted in the oldest and arguably the most atmospheric/mysterious hotel we’ve encountered on this tour: the five-star (of course) Cour des Loges – comprising four restored Renaissance buildings, narrow 15th century stone staircases and archways, gorgeous antique furnishings, and (in our room, at least) a spacious olde-worlde four-poster bed!

The Amadeus Symphony cast off next day with us Mad Midlifers on board. And, if you check out our map, you’ll see that we’ve so far ventured north on the scenic River Saone (pronounced ‘Sawn’) – into the world-famous Burgundy region, epicentre of France’s vast wine-trade, where vineyards stretch to the horizon in every direction.

We woke up on Friday in Chalon-sur-Saone … and promptly headed off on a grape-escape to the city of Beaune, where we visited the Hotel Dieu (originally a 15th century almshouse or hospice) before going underground into the Cellier de la Cabiote – to get to the bottom of viniculture and sample the highly-rated results.

Recharged by a yummy shipboard lunch, we then drove to the medieval villages of Brancion and Cormatin to explore the ancient streets, stretch our ancient legs, check out an ancient castle or two, and take some ancient photos.

Saturday was more of the same … with a guided tour that took us along roads that wound past more castles, vineyards and romantic Beaujolais scenery to a dedicated ‘weinmuseum’ (tasting included, of course). And on our afternoon agenda? A countryside drive to Cluny Abbey, Europe’s most influential monastery during the early Middle Ages, and the world’s largest Christian structure until the Pope-of-the-day decided to go one better, and had St Peter’s built in Rome. Most of the Abbey’s 12th century stonework was wrecked and carted away following the French Revolution, when most of its priests got the chop (courtesy of the brutal guillotine) – and, today, only one towering section of Cluny’s magnificence survives …

STILL TO COME: We tie-up overnight in Avignon – which may bring to mind that old folksong about an even older stone bridge which has made this city’s name familiar for people all over the world. Wanna know more? Of course you do! Just stay on this channel …

PEOPLE-NEWS: It took a bit of chasing around, but another quacky Yellow Duck has changed hands …

  • Wayne scored our first-ever Gone Walkabout’ Award – for wandering off into the French never-never and getting himself not-quite-lost but several-times-late.
  • Robyn nominated herself for the ‘Looking Glass’ Award – by spotting two identical women at another table during dinner tonight and asking, “Hey, those two women over there with the short hair – are they twins, or something?” Except there weren’t two women at all. There was only one, and behind her was a mirror, and … well … you can work it out from there. Right?

Yours bloggedly – JOHN

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