FEB
2019
   LOG CABIN CHRONICLES    UPDATED
DAILY

Frank Bernheisel: The View From Here
Frank Bernheisel
spacer
spacer
Frank Bernheisel
Posted 07.22.15
Just Outside Washington

FRANK BERNHEISEL
All photos by author and Kathy Cavanaugh

The Final Day

The Viking Pride got underway as we were eating breakfast on Day 6 of our trip. For a change of pace, I had my first Eggs Benedict of the trip; they were delicious.

That morning the Pride was going upstream, back the way we came. It was a little anticlimactic traveling the same stretch of the Seine River we had traveled just three days ago. However, the scenery was still beautiful and because the weather and the light changed, it looked new. Those impressionists had made that point about light; Monet, for one, painted the same scene multiple times to illustrate the point.

landscape

The water level of the river was still high and the nice houses with river frontage had water in their front yards. The Seine had some very narrow spots in this stretch where the channel was very close to the shore and when two ships passed there was not a lot of room.

The Pride went through the Amfreville Locks again; these are the first of the six locks on the Seine below Paris. The lift was about 10 feet and the locks mark the end of the tidal portion of the Seine. Much of the bank along this stretch rose up as the white chalk cliffs to a height of as much as 500 feet. Great for castles, which could extract tribute from passing boats.

landscape

The first objective of the day was Les Andelys, a town of about 9,000 people, right on the river. It has Richard the Lionheart's Chateau Gaillard ("Saucy Castle") located above it. Construction of the town and castle began in 1196 and was completed in only two years; the castle was very expensive. The Pride docked right in the town, and we had free time for a couple of hours before lunch. My camera battery had died and there were none on the ship. So, Kathy and I went ashore to find some, walked around the Gothic Church of St. Sauveur, which was built at the same time as the castle and finished in four years; it took 3,000 workers.

We did not go in because of our mission and found a nearby gift shop. I dusted off my disused French and inquired about batteries. I was told that I had to go to the "le supermarché" and was provided with directions. We found the Avenue de la République and followed it to the Carrefour Market, which was very much like a U.S. supermarket, but smaller. They had the right batteries.

Then, we were surprised; right on the avenue and in a residential area was a small factory occupying about 6 acres. It blended in very well. We had a delightful stroll through the very picturesque town with its half-timbered houses, stone buildings, and narrow streets. Many of the streets were one way with a bike lane and sometimes parking. We met some of our fellow travelers and headed back to the ship; it was time for lunch.

landscape

landscape

After lunch, there was an optional tour of Richard's castle. Kathy elected to go, and I stayed on the ship. The Chateau Gaillard was advanced design for its time, and used principles of concentric fortification with three enclosures separated by dry moats. The keep or the inner enclosure is about all that is left.

At the end of the Hundred Years War, in 1449, the French captured Chateau Gaillard from the English for the last time. Henry IV of France ordered it demolished in 1599; although it was in ruins at the time. The view from the castle is spectacular and shows how narrow the channel of the Seine is at Les Andelys; the ship is obscured by the houses in the picture.

While Kathy toured the castle, I struck up a conversation with the Captain of the Pride to ask him a couple of questions about the ship. He was gracious enough to invite me to visit the bridge later, when we were under way. When the group returned from the castle, the Pride got under way.

landscape

landscape

We had a fine afternoon of scenic cruising. One of the major sites was the beautiful Chateau La Roche Guyon. The chateau was originally built in the 12th century, controlling a river crossing of the Seine. In the mid-13th century, a fortified manor house was added below and expanded in the 18th Century.

The domain of La Roche-Guyon came to the La Rochefoucauld family in 1669 and still belongs to the family. Duke de La Rochefoucauld was a French peerage, one of the most famous families of French nobility. At the onset to the Battle of Normandy in WWII the Chateau was headquarters of Erwin Rommel's Army Group B.

I made my visit to the ship's bridge and watched the ship being guided through the narrow channel; there were two radars, a depth sounder, and a GPS and chart system. The control was by joy stick with separate controls for the thruster system. It was interesting for me; my conversation with the Captain indicated that it was pretty boring, until it was exciting. I spent the rest of the day until the Captain's Farewell Reception and Dinner, reading in the lounge and Kathy wrote post cards. After dinner the ship continued up river toward Conflans.

landscape

landscape

We woke in the morning in Conflans. After breakfast we boarded our motor coach for the optional tour of the Palace of Versailles. We were fortunate to be in the group led by our favorite guide, Thierry. We did not have far to go; it is 18 miles from Conflans to Versailles. We had gotten an early start because Thierry wanted to be first in line to obtain the group pass needed; he was. Even so, it was clear by the number of buses -- (sorry, motor coaches) -- that the palace was a major tourist attraction. The picture shows the non-group line waiting to enter the main gate into the inner courtyard from the Place de Armes.

landscape

landscape

Part of the façade was undergoing repairs and was covered by the large canvases on the scaffolding. The gate was very bright because it had just been re-gilded. Thierry said it would look much better after the gold had weathered a bit. We entered by a side door. Kathy and I had visited Versailles with friends from Brussels in 2002 but had not gone inside.

The groups are supposed to move through the rooms at a proscribed pace. We were a little slow because Thierry had a lot to tell us; he got prompted by the staff to move on, which fortunately he ignored. We were in Group 1B, and we could always see Thierry in the crowd when he held up the "lollipop". We could hear his narration through the little radios we carried, which were tuned to Thierry's transmitter.

The decoration of the rooms all depicted the "heroic actions of the king", which were represented in allegorical form by the actions of historical figures: Alexander the Great, Augustus, Cyrus, various Greek gods, etc. This was intended to reflect the king's status as absolute ruler.

The Queen's bedroom had a large space, 2/3rds of the room, at the foot of the bed. This space was for the official observers that were present when the queen gave birth; they had to know they had the right kid. The King's bedrooms was configured the same way and served as the throne room as well. King Louis XIV did not actually sleep there but in his private chambers. Every morning he would sneak into the official bed through a secret door. The officials would pull back the curtains and the Sun King rose and all was well in the Realm.

The next order of business, according to Thierry, was to determine the state of the king's health by focusing on his bowels. They wanted to know how things were going; hence "comment ça va" or just ça va. Needless to say, the Hall of Mirrors was a highlight. Just to think we may have been standing on the very spot where Kim and Kanye stood at their pre-wedding bash in Versailles; they paid $5 million for the use of the hall. We completed our guided tour of the interior and were released to tour the gardens on our own.

landscape

We had a glorious sunny day with blue sky to walk the gardens. The gardens are terraced down and run northwest from the palace; they occupy 800 acres. And we were just in time, 11:00 AM, to see the display when all the fountains were turned on. I counted 15 but that is not all of them; there are 50 total.

landscape

landscape

The Apollo Fountain, Bassin d'Apollon, is the most elaborate fountain depicting the sun god driving his chariot to light the sky, pulled by four horses and surrounded by other figures; it was constructed about 1670. The Apollo Fountain forms a focal point in the garden and serves as a transitional element between the gardens of the Petit Parc (upper portion) and the Grand Canal, seen behind the fountain. The close up shows the fountain's three spouts and maybe the gilded statues grouped around the central spout. The picture also shows the ongoing maintenance; new pipes and pumps to keep the water flowing. One fountain, the Bassin de Latone, which was half way down to the Apollo was undergoing a total rebuild and was not working. As with the interior of the palace, there is statuary everywhere all with allusions to mythology and allegorical figures.

We were scheduled to be back at the motor coach at noon for our trip back to the ship and lunch. The parking lot was full, not only with buses and tourists, but with souvenir vendors. They carried their wares: T-shirts, miniature Eifel Towers, Statues of Liberty, scarves, etc, etc. We had to have two gilded Eifel Towers. The vendors all appeared to have come from France's former colonies in Africa: Ivory Coast, Niger, Guinea, etc.

Back in Conflans, we had lunch on the Pride. Our original itinerary would have taken us back to Paris but the water in the Seine River was still high so the Pride and another river cruise ship, and several barges stayed in Conflans waiting for the water to recede. We had a relaxing afternoon walking around Conflans visiting the Montjoie Tower and what appeared to be a small villa, now a public building. We enjoyed our last dinner aboard the Viking Pride. Also, we had to prepare our bags for our flight home. In the morning, after one last excellent breakfast, the ship's staff picked up our bags from outside our cabin and made sure they were on the bus with us Paris Charles De Gaulle Airport.

Kathy

Thus, concluded our spur of the moment trip to Paris and Normandy. It was a truly excellent adventure.

HOME   COLUMNS   FEATURES   FICTION   OPINION   POETRY   PHOTOGRAPHY