Stepping Back In Time In Blaye
“I cook with wine. Sometimes I even add it to the food.”
– C. Fields
November 24, 2014
Today, Viking River Cruises’ Viking Forseti sailed into the sleepy little town of Blaye, France. Though there are two berthing locations in Blaye, we lucked out today, with a prime docking location right next to Blaye’s historic Citadel.
In the early morning hours, the only thing quieter than the town of Blaye was the good ship Viking Forseti, whose inhabitants were sleeping in after a long and wonderful night of wine, food, dancing, more wine, and good cheer. In fact, the guests onboard the Viking Forseti participated in the most active nightlife I’ve ever seen on a river cruise ship. I won’t say who shut the bar down (certainly not the Canadians!), but the fact that I know the time of this exit – around 1:30 a.m. – should provide a clue.
The Lounge was busy until well past one in the morning. People twice my age were up there on the dance floor, dancing five times better than I could. Drinks were flowing, the crew were having a good time, and Sylvia – Viking Forseti’s talented onboard pianist and vocalist – kept us all musically entertained well into the night.
It’s perhaps no surprise, then, that Viking planned for this to be a lazy morning. We departed Pauillac at 6:30 AM, and tied up in Blaye at 8:00 AM, with the first organized excursion to visit the Blaye Citadel starting at 9:30 AM on-the-dot. I like and appreciate that Viking has their excursions depart on-time; announcements are made ten or fifteen minutes prior to the tour’s departure, and the responsibility to be on the coaches or pierside is left up to the guests.
One of the best aspects of river cruising is that you have the ability to participate in the inclusive tours or the optional (additional-cost) tours – but only if you want. In my case, with the Blaye Citadel so close at hand, I joined some fantastic fellow Canadians that I had become friends with and together, we set out to create our very own walking tour of Blaye and the Citadel.
But before we get to that, here’s what’s happening onboard Viking Forseti today:
- 6:00 – 11:00 AM. Café Breakfast. Coffee, juice and pastries are available at the coffee station in front of The Lounge.
- 6:30 AM. Cast Off! Viking Forseti leaves Pauillac for Blaye.
- 6:30 – 9:30 AM. Continental Breakfast. A selection of beverages and breakfast items are available on the Aquavit Terrace.
- 7:00 – 9:30 AM. Enjoy a buffet breakfast and a choice of dishes cooked to order in The Restaurant.
- 8:00 AM. Viking Forseti arrives in Blaye.
- 9:30 – 11:00 AM. Shore Excursion: Blaye Citadel. Join us for a walk around this historic citadel followed by free time.
- 12:00 PM. Lunch. Join us for lunch in the Restaurant.
- 12:00 PM. Café Lunch. If you prefer, enjoy a lighter, buffet-style lunch in the Lounge.
- 1:00 – 7:00 PM. Optional Excursion: Cognac masterclass blending with Camus. We will welcome you back in Libourne.
- 2:30 PM. Cast off! Viking Forseti leaves Blaye for Libourne.
- 3:15 PM. Afternoon Tea. Join us in the Lounge for French tea time. Accompanied by the Live Cooking Demonstration – Learn all about how to make traditional French Macaroons in the Lounge with your Pastry Chef George.
- 5:30 PM. Viking Forseti arrives in Libourne.
- 6:00 PM. French Lesson. Join your Program Director Mieke for a casual French lesson in the Viking Lounge.
- 7:00 PM. Daily Briefing. Program Director Mieke invites you to the Lounge to find out about tomorrow’s excursions and events.
- 7:15 PM. Dinner. We invite you to join us for dinner in the Restaurant.
- 7:15 PM. Bar Menu. Enjoy a casual meal on the Aquavit Terrace.
- 9:15 PM. Presentation: Food & Wine Pairing. Join us in the Lounge for a presentation about the art of food and wine pairing.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Blaye’s 17th-century Citadel is one of the most unexpected surprises of this trip so far. It was originally built by Vauban to protect Blaye against attacks by thirsty would-be murderers, but the only person to ever attack Blaye Citadel was Napoleon Bonaparte, who likely did so because it was a Wednesday afternoon and he was bored.
Inside the Citadel is an amazing array of shops that, in contrast to the town of Blaye, are actually open. These sell wine (no surprises there), but also some very unique hand-made crafts. My favorite souvenir of the day was a bottle of red wine produced and bottled mais en chateau – or ‘on-site’ – that had a label crafted entirely of tin and inset into the bottle. It’s a fabulous souvenir in its own right, and I am sure the wine is decent, too. Moreover, I purchased the entire bottle for less than €10.
On the lower-level of the Citadel, on a part far removed from guests and observers – four men were firing guns at targets on one of the walls. Three of them had modern pistols; the last man had what looked like a cross between a shotgun and a musket. No one knew why, and every time the musket would discharge, people felt less inclined to ask.
A quick hike up to the top of the east side of the Citadel provides some fabulous views of Viking Forseti at her berth, as well as a look at some of the remaining cannons that used to guard the Eastern wall.
Now, for those who prefer to have guided commentary, Viking’s tour makes complete and total sense. All you have to do is wear good walking shoes and bring your QuietVox radio receiver system so that the guide can speak to you digitally without having to yell. However, if you’re looking for something a little more independent, you can always opt to do your own thing.
Our Live Voyage Report aboard Viking River Cruises’ Viking Forseti continues tomorrow with our journey to Saint-Emilion and a look at truffle hunting in the French countryside! Be sure to follow along on twitter by following @deckchairblog or the hashtag #LiveVoyageReport.