We drove to Saintes Maries de la Mer for another cooking session with Chef Merlin. This time he had a much more extensive menu planned and we would have all the facilities of his cooking school. Oh the pressure!

I was too busy slicing, chopping and stirring to take pictures, but we all worked together to produce a multi-course meal for lunch. It was delicious!

In the afternoon we had a tour of the Camargue with a "local" guide, who hailed from East Texas! The famous black bulls are supposed to be the major attraction, but of course I was much more interested in the white horses.

Following the tour we visited the regional nature park -- home to many different seabirds including flamingoes. We then joined our riverboat near the Marseilles airport where we had begun our adventure almost a week before.

Papal Palace, Avignon

The boat's first stop was in Avignon. Its schedule had changed since it was originally published and Agathe had to make some last-minute plans to allow us enough time to get our full tour of Avignon. We had not originally planned to need Mouhi and his van on this day, but we are thankful that he was available to support the changed schedule.

Our main stop in Avignon was the Palace of the Popes, which dates from the time of the Avignon papacy in the 14th century. As with anything else that old, it has been much altered since it was originally built.

It was a sober reminder that "the church" in those days was more about temporal power than showing God's love for His people. Church and state must remain separate otherwise it isn't good for either the church or the state.


The following day found us traveling to La Garde Adhémar, a fortified village at the top of a rocky outcrop. The village would have been charming, I'm sure, but it was raining and the said-to-be magnificent views were masked by clouds.

We did our best to soldier on in the downpour, but after finding that the said-to-be lovely village church was locked, and after touring a bedraggled herb garden that was said-to-be glorious in sunny weather, we squished into a local grocery shop for hot drinks and cookies to discuss Plan B.

Agathe and our resourceful local guide put together an alternative, which was to visit the nearby Château de Grignan, also associated with the Counts of Adhémar. It had a romantic history of development from a medieval fortress into a Renaissance château, destruction during the French Revolution, and eventual restoration by Marie Fontaine in the early 20th century. It was quite interesting, and most importantly, out of the rain.

After our visit we returned to the ship to change into dry clothes and enjoy a lecture on truffles, the "black diamond" of Provence. That was followed by a walk into town for a wine tasting at Gilles Bied winery.

Duck Mosaic - Vienne

The next morning we awoke in Vienne. It is an ancient town dating to before the first century BC.

Although it also has extensive areas remaining from the medieval times, we were focused on the Roman heritage. The high point of our stay there was a visit to the Musée Gallo-Romain (scroll down to find the English text).

Some years ago the city planned to build a school on a site near the Rhone. Builders uncovered a mosaic tile floor when prepping the site. Further excavation determined that it was the site of a large and elaborate villa with adjoining structures dating back to the Roman times.

The town constructed the school elsewhere and built a museum around the Roman remains. It displays not only the actual mosaics, but also showcases models and other information on Roman home design. This duck mosaic was one of the exhibits.

Every year there is a festival of Roman life with enactors coming from as far as Italy to participate. Vienne has joined our list of places we would like to revisit.

Château Montmelas

Most of the next day was spent touring the Beaujolais region. It is very beautiful -- not unlike Virginia. We toured the Château Montmelas, which has been in the same family since the 16th century, visited the winery where the harvest was just being processed, and enjoyed a tasting of their delicious wines.

After the château we lunched in Oingt (can't tell you how to pronounce it), which has been designated one of the most beautiful villages in France.

Upon our return to Lyon, we visited the atelier of a local silk producer who demonstrated the traditional Jacquard loom and its capabilities. The day was capped by dinner in a Lyonnais bouchon, Le Garet, where I learned that tripe can actually be very tasty.


The following day we began our run-up to the cooking lesson at the Bocuse Institute by visiting Les Halles de Lyon, an indoor market established by Paul Bocuse. In addition to stalls selling produce, cheese, meat & fish, there were a number of eateries.

Agathe selected some goodies for our appetizer before our meal. She selected a hard goat cheese, which is something that we don't normally find in the US, a cow cheese, some small sausages and bread for us to nibble on while waiting in one of the market's restaurants. She also bought a typical Lyonnais pastry for us to try and a traditional pillow sweet.

After lunch we had a free afternoon and dinner on our own for a change. Jim & I elected to visit a local botanical garden, but in spite of adventurous plans for dinner, we ended up at a small Italian place near the hotel for a light meal.

Bocuse Institute

The program for our final day was a cooking class at the Paul Bocuse Institut. Under the direction of our instructor, Chef Philippe Jousse, we made an appetizer of fish mousse with mushrooms, rack of lamb with artichokes and other vegetables, and a dessert of fresh strawberries with tomato jam.

It was not an easy meal. All of the recipes were marked with two chef's hats (but I don't know out of how many).

All of the dishes were good, but this fish mousse was truly an out-of-body experience. I'll never look at a mushroom in the same way again!

Of all the wonderful Road Scholar trips we have taken, this one was the most amazing.

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