By Elaine Bloom
For a teacher, summer is considered a time to recharge the batteries by learning something new, doing something out of the ordinary. This summer I learned new things by immersing myself in the history of France during a two-week river cruise on the Seine and the Rhone.
The first week featured aspects of the changing relationship between France and England. At Rouen the English burned Joan of Arc as a witch who dared defeat their army, but the heart of Richard the Lionhearted, one of England’s most famous kings, is entombed in the Rouen cathedral. At Bayeux we saw the tapestry which records the Norman Invasion of Britain in 1066, and later that same day we walked the Normandy beaches where their descendants led the D-Day Invasion of 1944.
The week concluded with us back in Paris on the 14th of July and docked very close to the Eiffel Tower. We had one of the best seats in the city to celebrate Bastille Day. We enjoyed an amazing display of fireworks, while being served champagne and snacks on the sundeck of our cruise ship.
The second half of the trip was down the Rhone River and the recurring theme was the influence of the ancient Romans on southern France. We saw marvelous mosaics in Vienne, an amphitheater in Arles still used for concerts, and the Pont du Gard aqueduct in all its glory. The French should really be more appreciative that the Romans brought their language and their vineyards into the territory beyond the Alps. Otherwise, the French would be speaking German and drinking beer!
There are many advantages to river cruising, not least being the “hotel” travels with you. The food is good and highlights regional specialties: frogs’ legs, escargots, mushrooms, and oysters on this trip. Offboat excursions are included for each town, and docking is often close to the town center providing options for individual investigations. Just watching the countryside glide by while sipping a cafe latte gives you a better idea of the land you are so comfortably visiting. I would heartily recommend a river cruise; since this was my fifth, I obviously enjoy them. Though, I must admit, the rivers of France cannot compare to the beauty of the Rhine.
Coincidently, WISE is sponsoring a cruise on the Rhine for the fall of 2016. You should check it out! (see “Special Events” below.)