A Travellerspoint blog

Avalon Cruising - An Overview

We are on the Avalon Poetry II which has a capacity of 128 passengers with 37 crew, it is 110 mtrs long and just under 12 mtrs wide. On this voyage there are 48 of us, including 5 Kiwis and 15 Aussies as such, we are pretty well looked after! The standard of the finishing in the staterooms (bedrooms) is first class with most things thought of. Our staterooms have huge sliding doors allowing us to be in our room and watch the world go by if we wish (and we have at times). The upkeep of the boat is meticulous with everything looking brand new, even though its not (the vessel is about three years old). It has three accommodation decks with a huge upper deck with lounge chairs & a Jacuzzi. There is a lounge at the back on the third floor where one can have continuous cappuccinos and bickies and in the front section there is the restaurant on the 1st floor, reception and lounge on the second floor (where you can also help yourself to coffees). There is a fitness centre on the 1st floor also. Ship Stats: Holds Passengers 128, Crew: 37
The day starts around 6:30 am for the early risers and runs through until 10 am for the stragglers (normally including us :-) ) . There are then normally morning excursions for those who want to do them and also a guided tour of the local village. Lunch on board for those who want it is 12 pm to 1:30 pm and more off-boat activities in the afternoon. There is normally a cruise briefing at 6:45pm and dinner from 7 pm till around 9 pm. On some evenings there is 'special' entertainment (such as last night when we had three Flamenco/Spanish guitarists and a Flamenco dancer). Gino is the on board entertainment and plays the piano during the happy hour (5:45 - 6:45) and after dinner.
The food has been first class. Breakfast has an array as good as any 5 star hotel, and lunch has far too much to offer and showing restraint is definitely an issue! Dinners are deliciously good and you also have the opportunity to do a'bistro night' also, which is effectively a degustation and is excellent.
Most cruising is done at night but there is also some morning cruising as well. This allows us to see how these boats manouvre through the locks - up to 23 metres on this river which requires some pretty good work by the skipper.
The boat has a few bikes on board which you can use and we have taken advantage of these and its a great way to see the countryside which we would miss a lot of otherwise.
Overall we have decided its a great way to travel!

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We ended up berthing in Roquemaere which is about 10ks up the river from Avignon because of the number of boats already berthed at Avignon. This resulted in a 15 km bus trip to get there in the morning. We had two objectives: to see the palace of the Popes and the Pont du Gard. The first was easy and knocked off in no time. Popes Palace is a incredible huge structure, empty now and only used for exhibitions. We really enjoyed the varied exhibition that we saw. The second was a little more intrepid as we had decided not to pay 40 euros each to go on the bus with Avalon but to do it ourselves using the local commuter bus. It was 30 minutes each way and the bus didn't leave until 11:45 but we figured we had an hour there (as the later bus would have been too late getting back) which we reckoned was enough. We caught a bus to the Pont du Gard, its some way out from Avignon and then its a 1km walk in the heat to get to the actual site but it was very much worth it. Unfortunately the bus ran 15 minutes late and there was a 5 minute walk to the site and then a 10 minute queue! Whats more it was 40 degrees celcius! Accordingly it was a hit and run mission - we got back to the bus stop with 5 minutes to spare and of course the bloody bus was at least 15 minutes late so we could have taken more time. This incredible well preserved Roman Aquaduct is the highest one the Romans built and is now a world heritage site. It crosses the Gardon River where hundreds of people were kayaking, picnicking and swimming - a beautiful spot and we wish we had time for a swim but due to how far out we've had to come we had to make this a quick visit as the boat is due to move on and it doesn't wait for any late comers!! As it turned out the organised group complained they spent too long there so we were comfortable with our choice. After another first class dinner we were treated to performance by The Gypsy Kings - three flamenco/Spanish guitarists and a dancer. They were fantastic and got a good number of the guests up on their feet dancing. A great way to end the day.

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We transited to Arles by coach from Monte Carlo which took about 4 hours. We were welcomed by the Captain and crew and given an intro to life on board the Poetry II and had a safety drill. This was followed by dinner at 7pm as we cruised down through the Camargue and back to Arles again for the night. The food and service was superb. There only 48 on a boat built for 160 so we should not be short of attention! The attention to detail on the boat is amazing with everything spic and span. Most of the crew appear to be mostly Eastern European - Romanians, Lithuanians with a few Belgians and Germans etc - but all very nice.
Day 2
Breakfast was pretty amazing - Julie managed to show some restraint, Patrick and John less so. John has committed to showing some in the future! We were last out of breakfast (and last to get there, mind). Many of the guests were joining tours of partaking of the guided walk. We did our own thing. Purchased a ticket that gave us access to all the main attractions and this proved to be a good move as we would have spent much more paying at each one. The mini Roman coliseum (amphitheatre) and old Roman theatre were the stars as well as the cryptoportiques (underground arched foundations for Roman Forum that once existed above ground). All are around 2000 years old and show a pretty advanced society. Apparently the Catholics when they took over some 500 years later allowed them to fall into disuse and actually demolished most of them to use the building materials elsewhere - it was tantamount to vandalism! Arles itself is really old with a maze of interlinked streets and alleys dotted with shops and cafes - quaint in its own way. Dog poo everywhere though. We spent about 3 hours mooching around before going back to the boat for lunch and there also demonstrating a modicum of restraint (but still eating much more than we would normally) at this rate we will be as fat as pigs in two weeks! We spent the rest of the afternoon on the upper deck relaxing, Julie doing Facebook, John doing this blog and reading , Patrick doing ... nothing... :-) John spent 45 minutes in the gym which whilst not fully-equipped will suffice...
Dinner was again superb. We finished once again by sitting on the back balcony watching the world go by and the night draw in whilst supping a cappuccino or two...

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Monte Carlo

Our visit to Monte Carlo started well enough on 1st class coach train ride from Avignon to Nice. However the wheels fell off in the second class trip to Monaco when John's bumbag was pick-pocketed by a group of young women who created a kerfuffle over where our bags should be and in the ensuing chaos managed to rip him off whilst pretending to help - scumbags. The worst thing was that the theft was seen by someone who only let us know after the women had a chance to get off the train. An expensive learning curve!

Monte Carlo proved to be just what we expected. We have never seen so many Bentleys, Ferraris, Maseratis, Mercs, Porches and Lamborghinis in one place. Talk about a playground for the rich and famous. Our hotel was littered with posers and would be's and no doubt plenty of well-to-dos as well. Anyway its all very plastic and not a place we would want to stay in for too long. Our hotel (The Fairmont) was well-located right on the waterfront and our room 3425 actually faces directly onto the famous Fairmont Hairpin in the Monaco F1 race. It would be a fantastic vantage point to watch the race. We found an Irish pub close by and had three decent meals which was a welcome change! There was an added bonus of a spectacular fireworks display around 11pm that night.

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Provence/French Riviera

Day 1,
Our flight from Rome to Marseille arrived about 5pm so by the time we got to our hotel there wasn't much of the day left. It's surprisingly very windy here but warm. Unfortunately our 4star hotel was lucky to be a 2star and none of us were very impressed. Very small rooms, filthy carpets, broken showers, hundred year old towels, no safe, no wardrobe - you get the picture! It had one thing going for it - the beautiful views over the marina port but that wasn't enough to make us want to stay there for 3 nights!!! As it was late evening and not able to get in anywhere else that looked much better we decided we'd put up with it for this one night and train out to Avignon instead the morning. We walked around the marina and had a couple of nice pizzas and wine for dinner. So not a lot of pics of Marseille but we can say we've been here 😂
Day 2
After an early morning bail-out , explaining that the place was not up to our standards, to a receptionist who appeared to have heard it all before, we caught an uber to the station and after breakfast just missed one train but eventually caught the fast one to Avignon (only 45 minutes). We caught a taxi to the hotel, driven by a really nice cheery guy who had spent his honeymoon in NZ so the conversation was a laugh. The Bristol Hotel was a breath of fresh air - nice rooms, lovely reception staff. Avignon is in the final week of its arts festival - its a buzz! We have fallen in love with Avignon, its an old walled city centre from which has grown a city of 90,000 plus people. The River Rhone runs next to it. It has a lovely vibe. We took the hop on hop off bus and went around the whole route before getting off and walking through the old town back to the hotel's street where we had some lovely quiches for a late lunch. Took another two hour 'refresher' before going across the road to Tosta - they make salads, fresh fruit smoothies and toasted sandwiches (imagine Subway but with toasted sandwiches) - they were huge! Wandered around and then went back to Tosta for a capuccino, then back to the hotel around 11pm.
Day 3
A big day. We had decided the previous night to hire three bikes from the stands. Unfortunately the instructions were a bit complex for us english speakers and it was only luck that the serviceman turned up in his van. He spoke passable English and once working out that a NZ mobile number would accept the confirmation we were away. (it was still quite a complicated process)! We cycled around the city wall to the river then across the bridge and along the promenade on the other side with a coffee break along the way. We cycled back and visited the 'Pont d'Avignon' (St Benezet Bridge) which is all that remains of a spectacular curved, meandering bridge built in the 14th century, but which was largely destroyed over the next 200 years by weather conditions. There was a fascinating video of how the bridge was built (effectively using the same construction techniques still used today) , and how archaeologists and engineers have worked out where it was and how it must have been destroyed (by the effects of the mini ice-age in the middle ages 14th to 17th centuries).
At 2:30 the Provence Reservation driver Jean-Paul picked us up to take us out to the Provence countryside to see lavender fields and other sights. We were joined on the trip by two people from istanbul. The trip took 5 hours and took us deep into lavender growing areas and over a large range where we got to over 700 mtrs. There were some spectacular views of Mont Ventoux which at 1219 mtrs is regularly used in the Tour de France. We stopped in the amazingly beautiful hillside village of Gordes and then the Abbey of Notre Dame de Senanque. Finally the village of Sault after getting close up and personal with some lavender fields. We were lucky to get to do this because the lavender harvest is almost complete and there were not many fields left with their blooms on. Jean-Paul was a knowledgeable and friendly guy and he went out of his way to ensure we all got to see what we wanted. On our return to our hotel we showered and had a very late dinner across the road at a restaurant where staff understood little English and it turned into a real circus - Julie ordered chicken and John ordered duck but both got served up beef!!! The waiter insisted it was poultry but Julie returned hers (john just ate his boeuf) and finally after a 1.5 hrs sitting in the place she got her chicken dish - just as well we had a bottle of french red to keep us occupied!!

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