River Cruising: Bienvenue a Arles

No longer lost in my laundry room, hidden in laundry, I’m quite missing the River Royale and the first class service we received. I’ve finally had a chance to sit down and pick through the gazillions (that is a real number) of photos I took and have a little look back over the trip, as well as write a few notes – wishing, all the while, that I had journaled more while on board. I meant to (just like I meant to post every day) but while I normally would tuck Pea into bed next to me and start writing, over the week of the trip, I found myself crashing when she did, happy, tired and will an embarrassingly full tummy.

We flew from Birmingham to Paris, then caught a connecting trip to Marseille. (That’s “Mar-Say” to my Ottawa friends, not “Marr-SALES”. snorts) It still amazes me that we can fly to the south of France in less time than it would have taken us to fly from Chicago to Orlando. We were met by a Uniworld representative at the Marseille airport and they drove us to Arles, where we boarded the boat. We were happy to meet up with Gmom Phyl and Marty, and we spent the first evening

 Arles is a beautiful little town, one that this former art-major-turned-finance-major was happy to visit as Van Gogh spent much time here and found inspiration for many of his paintings (300 over 15 months) including Sunflowers, The Yellow House (which we walked past), Starry Night over the Rhone (we could see the bridge featured in it from our boat) and my favorite, Cafe de Nuit, which we also passed on our tour.  We also saw the Roman Ampitheatre, which tickled my Roman’s-captivated Boo, and the ruins of the Roman theater.

 

 

 

The pace of the days was pleasant – a morning walking tour was offered for those interested, lasting no longer than two hours, leaving time for a little shopping, then back to the boat for a relaxing buffet lunch.  The afternoon could either be spent on your own exploring the town (read: shopping or stopping for a glass of rose or cup of coffee), lounging on the boat (or grabbing a nap, if you are of that ilk) or going on an optional tour.

For Arles, that meant a trip to the Moulin Saint Jean olive farm for a tour of the farm, followed by an olive and olive oil tasting (yes, a slurp, chew, swish and such, just like with wine, without the sniffing.) They also offered us a lovely glass of wine (or, in the case of the kidlings, a presse) to go along with the tapenade we were sampling. Yum.

Magali is one of two daughters who have taken over the olive farm operation from their father.  She is the Master “Moulinier” – basically, the olive master, in charge of all the olive oil production – a woman in such a role is apparently unusual. Speaking largely in French, translated by our lovely guide, she enthusiastically explained the growing process, how and when they pick the olives, and how they make them. It takes many, many olives to get a little bit of olive oil – dedication and love is what must keep them doing what they do. She was delightful!

Even Pea tried some olive oil on a spoon and pronounced it yummy – this from a girl that doesn’t like olives, which she proved, choking down one of the black olives but spitting out the green one. (I’ll give her points for trying!)  The brown stuff on the bread? Tapenade.

Heavenly.

(Pea did take a pass on that one, but Boo gobbled his down.)

Magali was spouting recipes to use their oil with faster (in English) than my brain would ever process, which is a shame, as she had some delicious recipes – and none of the ones she mentioned are listed on her website.

 

After we had our fill of olives and (of course) had a chance to pick up a can of olive oil and a jar of Tapenade to nosh on at home, we headed to Les Baux, a picturesque village high on a rocky plateau, which was nearly as impressive on the approach as it is in the actual village (which is really more a tourist destination than anything).  We had a little stroll through the winding cobblestone streets, stopped in the pretty church to light the first of many candles for Papa Dan (what the kids like to do, and have done, in churches all over Europe as we have travelled), and then stopped for ice cream – it was VERY hot. We could have hiked to the top to visit the chateau/fortress/ruins (but we didn’t.) The best part of Les Baux were the views. All my pictures don’t live up to the real thing. (Sorry)

As soon as we arrived back at the boat, we set sail – let me tell you, there is NOTHING in ocean cruising that compares to floating leisurely down the river, resting on the top deck (more on that later….)

That evening was the Captain’s Dinner, so we headed back to the boat, cleaned up and dressed in the fanciest clothes we could be bothered to bring, and headed to dinner.  Did I mention how amazing the dinners were? Tonight’s was a set menu (with a choice of entree): the starter was a cold appetizer of foie gras, followed by a mushroom “cappuccino” soup, then a tiger prawn on a potato pancake….I chose to follow that with the veal saddle (don’t hate me) and this was all capped by an amazing Grand Marnier souffle. I have to add – Gmom Phyl is lactose intolerant and so the kitchen prepared special dishes for her, and the assistant pastry chef prepared special desserts just for her. Phyllis didn’t have to skip on the souffle, as the chef prepared her one with soy milk, and it tasted just like mine. Incredible!

Pea was fascinated by the captain (who was seated at the table behind us), first waving at him (he was waving back) and soon blowing kisses. (Her father has MUCH to worry about with this one.)  Her efforts did not go unrewarded, as soon a special treat, complete with a chocolate angel, was delivered to our girl, compliments of the captain.

She is a little charmer when she wants to be. buries face in hands

So ends our first day in Provence!

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