Viking Conquers The Rhone, Part Two

A whirlwind of christenings and celebrations took place last week with Viking Cruises at Avignon, France. This second dispatch includes an historic naming ceremony and its lavish aftermath.

Viking River Cruises

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All photos by and copyright Peter Knego 2014.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

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Window on the Rhone.

We were startled from sleep by the announcement for the 9:00 AM walking tour of Avignon. Somehow, our 8:00 AM wake up call never came through, so we threw on some clothes, gathered the cameras, dredged the bed hair and stumbled out of the cabin.

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VIKING HEIMDAL, Aquavit Lounge, facing port.
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VIKING HEIMDAL Aquavit Terrace, facing port.
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Continental spread in the Aquavit.

There was no time for a full breakfast but there was a handy Continental spread in the indoor/outdoor Aquavit where I grabbed a bowl of muesli and headed into the lobby.

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Caffeinated choices.

One of two machines hurriedly but efficiently dispensed a perfect cappuccino to go.

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Morning tour queues.

We made it outside just in time to join the longer of two walking tours, provided gratis in most ports the Viking River ships visit. After some adjusting, I was able to tune in my “quiet box” to the correct frequency so I could hear our guide clearly as we marched en masse into Avignon. These headphones are especially handy when multiple tour groups converge and it becomes difficult for guides to speak over each other.

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Theatre d’Avignon.

One of our first stops inside the old city was L’Opera Grand d’Avignon with its impressive Greco-Roman facade dating from 1847.

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Palais du Papes.

We continued into a wide city square, once the domain of guillotines during the French Revolution’s “reign of terror”, and up a series of steps to the medieval Gothic Palais des Papes (Popes’ palace), completed in the mid-14th Century. During a period of unrest in Rome, it was for a short time the official papal residence before falling into gradual decline over the next several centuries. It was largely sacked during the French Revolution and subsequently used as a fortress and prison.

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Under the arc.
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Papal panes.

Our visit included several fresco-domed halls and a large cathedral. Nearly all of the religious iconography was destroyed by the revolutionaries but the pastoral paintings that did remain were off-limits to our cameras.

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Forked gate.
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Holocaust memorial.
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Au-dessus le pont.

We continued onward and upward to the Rocher des Domes, a plateau and garden atop Avignon where we took in the view of the river and the stone-and-stucco-walled town.

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Olives and marinated garlic samplings.

Our last stop was a magical market brimming with spices, fruits, veggies and glorious gourmet offerings like spiced salt, artisanal cheeses, olives and, the piece de resistance, garlic marinated in white balsamic vinegar.

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Lunchtime salad buffet.

Back on board VIKING HEIMDAL for lunch, I bee-lined it to the Restaurant where the salad bar beckoned with some fresh and colorful ingredients.

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Caesar salad wrap with genuine French fries.

From the menu, I ordered a Caesar chicken wrap. Normally, I would have skipped the accompanying fries but they were crispy perfection.

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Knego and Storbratten.

Up on deck, festive white and red balloons lined the rails of both VIKING HEIMDAL and VIKING BURI. VIPs, including marine architect Bjorn Storbratten of Y&S, the Meyer brothers from Meyer Werft shipbuilders (the finest in the world) and a slew of Viking officers, corporate heads and godmothers mingled with the press group. No less than sixteen new Viking vessels would be christened in a 24-hour span, shattering Viking’s Guiness Book of Records fait accompli from 2013 for “most ships christened for the same owner in a day”.

A video of the naming of nine ships in Amsterdam the day prior was shown before the seven godmothers began their task — four to christen via remote a quartet of Longships at Meyer’s Neptun shipyard in Rostock and three to christen the trio of Longships in Avignon, all via panels festooned with big red buttons.

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Godmother Monica Petitpierre (VIKING KVASIR — in Rostock).
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Godmother Sarah Henshall christens VIKING LIF (Rostock).
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Godmother Laura Pfleumer (VIKING KARA — Rostock).
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Godmother Marion Krase (VIKING HLIN — Rostock).
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Godmother Mireille Mathieu, AKA “Marianne de France”.
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Godmother Mireille Mathieu christens VIKING BURI (Avignon).
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Godmothers Anne Willan (left — VIKING HERMOD) and Susie Barrie (right — VIKING HEIMDAL).
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Godmother Anne Willan christens VIKING HERMOD (Avignon).
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Streamers in the sky.

After the seven ships were christened (there would be two more christenings in Porto, Portugal, later in the week, bringing the final tally to eighteen), streamers were fired into the air.

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Flowers for the Godmothers.

Their duties accomplished, the Godmothers were presented with flowers before…

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Gathering of Godmothers, CEO and captains on the grand descent.

…joining the captains of their respective ships and Viking CEO Torstein Hagen for a photo on the grand staircase of the VIKING HEIMDAL.

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An hour or so later, we were all filing onto coaches bound for the Pont du Gard where a remarkable celebration and dinner awaited.

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Gatwey to the Gard.

There was so much to take in, from the delicious, artful hors d’oeuvres to the lush, rocky setting and, of course, the 1,900-year-old Roman aqueduct, a marvel of engineering for any age.

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Reflections du Gard.

After a few sips and nibbles, we took the opportunity to explore. We first crossed the bridge to the other side of the Gardon River where its golden reflection hung over the mirror like waters.

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Pont du Gard.

The 160-foot-tall structure is composed of three tiers of arches and is part of the 31-mile-long Nimes Aqueduct built by the Romans to carry water from a spring at Uzes to their colony of Nimes. What is even more remarkable than the scope of the bridge is the precision with which it was designed, descending a mere inch from one end to the other so that water would flow gradually along its course.

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Viking River’s grotto glow.

But the aqueduct wasn’t the only star in the realm. The adjacent grottoes, now fiber-optically bathed in Viking’s distinctive livery, were first occupied by humans some 50,000 years ago.

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Mireille Mathieu, AKA Marianne de France.

Soon, VIPs, press and top travel agents were gathered for dinner in the Pavilion as Viking CEO Torstein Hagen and Meyer Werft’s Bernard Meyer addressed the crowd.  VIKIING BURI Godmother Mireille Mathieu next took the stage. The multi-million-record-selling chanteuse earned her standing ovation for a set that included everything from “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” to Piaf’s “La Vie En Rose” and “Je Ne Regrette Rien”.

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The evening dawns.

At twilight, we were privy to a grand finale that no one in attendance will ever forget.

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Projections du Gard.

The Pont du Gard and its surrounds were bathed in an otherworldly light show.

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Flower Power finale.

And so ended one of the most spectacular christening events in cruising history and a record-setting day for Viking, which now has a fleet of 50 ships with many more on the horizon.

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Vikings in the night.

From the Pont du Gard, it was a short ride back to Avignon, where our Longships awaited.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

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Omelet to order on the HEIMDAL.

Once again, the wake up call never materialized but this time, I had my i-Phone as a back up. We emerged at 8:00 for breakfast in the main restaurant and enjoyed cooked-to-order omelets and a nice selection of treats from the buffet.

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VIKING HEIMDAL Forward Deck Four, facing aft.

With her top deck emptied of revelers, I gathered the cameras and began documenting VIKING HEIMDAL’s exterior spaces. Unfortunately, the mistrals were in full swing, so most of the furniture was laid flat.

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VIKING HEIMDAL games area.
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VIKING HEIMDAL, Aft Deck Four, facing forward.

The Longships have a vast amount of sheltered and open deck space, including a walking track, shuffleboard courts, putting greens and their signature spice gardens.

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There was just enough time to visit and document the equally if not identically beautiful VIKING BURI and VIKING HERMOD before lunch. It was then time to bid adieu to Avignon’s Viking trio. Bordeaux and the VIKING FORSETI awaited.

End of Viking Conquers The Rhone, Part Two

Much More To Come…

Special thanks: Sara Conley, Martin Cox, Ian Jeffries

Peter Knego

Peter Knego

Having documented over 400 passenger ships and taken more than 200 cruises, MaritimeMatters’ co-editor Peter Knego is a leading freelance cruise writer, a respected ocean liner historian and frequent maritime lecturer both on land and at sea.  With his work regularly featured in cruise industry trades and consumer publications.  Knego also runs the website which offers MidCentury cruise ship furniture, artwork and fittings rescued from the shipbreaking yards of Alang, India.  He has produced several videos on the subject, including his latest, The Sands Of Alang and the best-selling On The Road To Alang."
Peter Knego

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