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“Last August I embarked on a luxurious French Avalon Waterways river cruise. One week of glorious waterways, fine wine and French dining.”
Saturday 30 July: Paris embarkation
Avalon's ‘Paris to Normandy’s Landing Beaches’ is a deluxe seven night cruise which weaves along the Seine, past pretty French villages characterised by famous painters and pock¬marked with WWII scars. Today we depart Paris on-board The Tapestry II. A ship that gleams with glass, brass and golden service.
For now, I am content to do nothing more than wrap myself up in Egyptian cotton sheets, kill the lights and watch Paris dissolve into the distance from my bed. It’s 10pm and with dinner done, dusk is only just upon us. With floor-to-ceiling patio doors in every Stateroom, my curtains are ajar and the laps of water serenade me to sleep.
Sunday 31 July: Giverny & Monet’s Garden
Monet’s Garden. You can imagine how busy this oasis gets in the height of a European summer. So it is with relief that utters of ‘skip the queue’ privileges float down the coach aisle, as we travel from the town of Les Andeleys (where the ship’s now docked) to Giverny. We arrive early, another tactic deployed by Avalon to avoid the hordes, and one that also benefits the eldest lady in our group; a woman enjoy¬ing her 88th birthday in the presence of Monet's garden. So inspiring is this botanical enclave, it would influence even the most lack-lustre artists to fold out an easel and paint. As for Avalon guests, we have members as young as 10 and as well-versed as 88, and we are all perfectly catered for.
Monday 1st August: Caudebec & The Abbey Road Tour
We’ve embraced the ‘Avalonian’ culture to treat all staff like friends and found ourselves Sailor Man Ben. Having absconded to the upper deck the night prior, we came across the bridge, the Captain and his dashing right-hand man. Cordially invited inside we marvel at the ship’s state-of-the-art equipment. And let’s be honest, at Benjamin too.
Sailors aside, we spend Monday morning soaking up the rich tapestry of Jumieges Abbey, a former Benedictine church. Founded in 654, its ruins provide a fascinating insight into France’s past. Tales are brought gloriously to life by our French guide, who regales us with history through our headsets, and we conclude the excur¬sion with a visit to a fully-operational Benedictine monastery.
Tuesday 2nd August: Normandy D Day Landing Beaches
On a cruise titled ‘Paris to Normandy’s Landing Beaches’, we all know at least one sobering excur¬sion is in the midst.
Today we visit the Normandy D-Day Beaches and the weather is appropriately drizzly; not dissimilar to the conditions 72 years earlier. It presents a harrow¬ing vision into one of WWII’s bloodiest assaults: the storming of Normandy’s beaches. An experience that resonates with all those whose relatives fought for the Western Allies. A day earlier Avalon invited guest speaker, Nigel Stewart, to deliver an on-board WWII lecture and now we are all moved by the plight of our soldiers - ancestral or otherwise. Later, the American War Cemetery of Colleville-sur-Mer leaves me with a particularly large lump in my throat. Avalon provide a fresh rose to lay at the foot of a gravestone, but when faced with almost ten thousand of them - poignantly adjacent to Omaha Beach – choosing one proves difficult.
Wednesday 3rd August: Rouen lit up
Last night, on the recommendation of our Cruise Director, Tony, we jumped ship and walked into the centre of Rouen to watch the ‘Cathedrale de Lumiere’. I’m still revelling in its magic today. Free through¬out summer, Rouen’s already formidable cathedral is illuminated every night at 11pm by an incredible display of animation. Knights scale the towering
pillars; snakes weave in and out of the windows; chil¬dren’s doodles adorn the façade and a myriad of rainbow colours cascade like waterfalls from the bell tower. The creativity is astounding, and by midnight, I’m still picking my jaw off the floor.
Thursday 4th August: Vincent van Gogh in Auvers-sur-Oise
Standing before Vincent van Gogh’s ivy shroud gravestone, we, the audience, are totally enthralled. The weather is bleak and the ambience pensive; a combination our tour guide is using to brilliant effect. We’re told of Vincent’s blighted childhood, his crippling fear of failure and of course, his tragic death in the town of Auvers-sur-Oise. We then visit Van Gogh’s infamous ‘room number 5’ in the Auberge Ravoux. Unchanged since he bled out in 1890, it’s dark, desolate and nota¬bly lonely. My heart breaks for the second time in two days. Time for cake.
Auvers-sur-Oise is one of the quaintest villages we’ve explored, with a bonnie French patisserie to boot. While tucking into a raspberry tart I wonder how, after last night’s seven-course degustation dinner in the bistro lounge, I even have the space to devour another pastry. Alas, down it goes.
Friday 5th August: Montmartre’s Moulin Rouge
Back in Paris, the ‘Illumination Tour’ treats guests to an evening circuit of the capital. Enjoyed from the comfort of the coach, it’s the perfect way to see Paris without tourists and touts tapping at your elbows. As for today, we’ve climbed the steps of Montmartre in Paris’ most colourful neighbourhood. Home to Sacré-Coeur and The Moulin Rouge. It's easy to lose yourself in the steep streets of a quartier awash with painters, creperies and shabby chic cafés. Some guests are returning this evening for the Moulin Rouge dinner and show, but not me, I’m off to find Sailor Man Ben. I’m going to impress him with my own rendition of the Can-Can.
Saturday 6th August: disembarkation & au revoir
I have an uneasy feeling in my stomach and it’s called disappointment. It’s home time. I don’t want to leave my beautiful stateroom, or L’OCCITANE products and floor-to-ceiling patio door. What do you mean I have to return home to the view of my neighbour’s dirty weatherboard? I’m now lingering at the coffee machine, pretending to make a latte. It’s 9.10am and I should’ve disembarked ten minutes ago. Never. I’ll die before I have to leave this sanctuary of scenery, service and Sailor Man Ben.
A revolutionary I am not. By 9.11am I’m sat on the coach bound for Charles de Gaulle airport. Au revoir Avalon, you’ve been spectacular.
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