Saturday, September 14, 2013


Is there anything more relaxing than an ocean voyage? Practically the only source of anxiety on our APHC Mediterranean cruise was deciding which shipboard entertainers to see: Heather Masse by the pool on the Lido Deck, Butch Thompson at Mix piano bar, the DiGiallonardo Sisters in the Ocean Bar, or Robin and Linda Williams in the Crow's Nest.

Well, there was one other source of anxiety: the toilet in our cabin. Sometimes it flushed when it was supposed to flush; most of the time it flushed five or ten minutes after pressing the button. The evening of our second day at sea, it didn't flush at all. The engineer (which, we discovered, is what they call the plumber on a ship) finally got it to flush, but there was still no telling when it would happen.

Our first stop was Marseille—or "Marseilles," if you prefer the English spelling, as Mark Twain did. He wrote, "In Marseilles they make half the toilet soap we consume in America, but the Marseillaise only have a vague theoretical idea of its use, which they have obtained from books of travel." I suspect this is no longer true, but I can't say for sure, as we never saw Marseille(s). Instead we chose to take a bus excursion to Avignon and Châteauneuf-du-Pape, a region known for its wine.

We chose many of our excursions based on whether or not they included wine.

Our tour guide was Olivier; our bus driver was Martine. Olivier informed us that Avignon was not far—"only an hour ago from here." It is a city with an ancient history, dating back to before the Roman Empire. There is a famous song about its bridge:
Sur le Pont d’Avignon
L'on y danse, l'on y danse
Sur le Pont d’Avignon
L'on y danse tous en rond
Technically, it's no longer a bridge. You could say it's half a bridge, or maybe a pier. In any case, if you try to cross it, you will end up in the Rhône River. We took pictures of it, but we did not dance on it.

Pont Saint-Bénezet (Pont d'Avignon)

The pope had a palace in Avignon. He moved there in the 14th century, when things got too hot for him in Rome. Some members of our group toured the palace with Olivier. Others explored the town on their own. We did a little shopping—at least Loretta and Susan did. Kevin and I found a comfortable bench in the shade. We later met up with Olivier and the rest of the group and walked through Avignon to the restaurant where we were to have lunch.

Olivier's Little Joke

No, we did not eat at McDonald's. Olivier stopped there to allow stragglers to catch up and also, I suspect, as a little joke. After a delightful Provençal meal (including wine, of course), we boarded our bus, and Martine drove us to Domaine Mousset Winery in nearby Châteauneuf-du-Pape for wine tasting.

The wine was exceptionally good. As one member of our tour group remarked, the only thing wrong with it was that the portions were too small. (Alors—it was, after all, a tasting.)

I was curious about the appearance of cicadas in the winery's decor, including the cicada-patterned tablecloth. Olivier explained that the cicada is considered good luck by vintners—a harbinger of the grape harvest.

That evening in MS Ryndam's Showroom, Garrison Keillor led the audience in a sing-along to the tune of On the Road to Mandalay:
Come you back to old Marseilles
Where they serve us crème brulee
Can't you hear the glasses clinking
As they pour the Cabernet
Cote du Rhone and Chardonnay
With some Brie, what do you say
Won't you cut the cheese with me someday
Back in Old Marseilles
(If you're an APHC fan, or if you'd like to hear the sort of entertainment we enjoyed on MS Ryndam, don't miss tonight's first A Prairie Home Companion broadcast of the season—live from The Fitzgerald Theater in Saint Paul, Minnesota.)

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