Day 7 – Dinner with My Cousin Ventsi

If you’ve been on a cruise before, you’ll quickly understand that the crew lead lives very different from us. The majority of the people I’ve met have learned English as a second language. They work extremely hard to ensure that their passengers have a good time aboard their ship.

The crew on the AmaLyra is no exception. Most of them are from European bloc countries and have detectable accents. One thing that I found different about this crew is that they appear to have been trained on American idioms.

As an example, we would engage the staff with short conversation. My wife, said “how did you sleep”. He replied with a Bulgarian accent, “like a baby”.  We’ve experience other encounters with the staff like that. I find it humorous to hear an American idiom coming from someone with a strong accent.

Our server, Ventsi
Our server, Ventsi

Eating in the dining room has taken on a new experience. Our server Ventsi is from Bulgaria and is happy because he gets a three week vacation in a couple of weeks.

I’m not sure how we got into this conversation, but he admitted that he is extremely strong and used to be a weightlifter. He flexed his arm and said “feel this”. I thought was kidding, after all, how many guys would feel another guy’s muscle.

Ventsi loosened up further (no, he didn’t partake in having alcohol), and let us know that he was interested in one of his female co-workers. He added she has a boyfriend back home and “he’s there and I’m here” and that “I’ve tried everything to get her to go out with me”.  If you’ve read the book, Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus, you’ll know that men tend like to fix things.

According to the book, women tend to talk about problems and they often don’t want them solved; they simply want to discuss them verbally. On the other hand, guys don’t mind receiving tips on how to solve a problem. Recalling something from my single days I said, “have you tried complimenting her on her shoes?”

He said, “I’ve tried everything…. I complimented her on her hair and what she wears”. I responded back, many women really care about the shoes they wear. Then my wife looked at me and said that I’ve never complimented her on her shoes. I quickly realized that it was time to disengage with Ventsi and return to our normal table conversation.

Black Tiger Shrimp, Pineapple Chutney, Crab Meat Cake
Black Tiger Shrimp, Pineapple Chutney, Crab Meat Cake
Lamb Consommé with rice
Lamb Consommé with rice
Braised Duck Leg in an orange sauce
Braised Duck Leg in an orange sauce
Crème brûlée
Crème brûlée

That evening I went for our chef’s recommendations: crab meat cake and braised duck leg. Instead of broccoli cream soup, I substituted it for a lamb consommé and a classic crème brûlée for dessert.

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Day 7 – Day in Rouen

La Havre was the town furthest west on our river cruise. Unfortunately, the boat has turned around and we are now heading east back towards Paris.

This morning, we were led into town by another area expert. She pointed out various historical buildings of significance. We spent a fair amount of time at the Ossuary of Saint-Maclou, a cemetery.

In 1348, the town experienced a plague that decimated about three-fourths of the population. The cemetery of Saint Maclou quickly became too small to house the dead and large communal graves were built in the ossuary.

The Courthouse
The Courthouse

The town of Rouen is probably best known for shopping. In fact our tour guide told us that she likes to window shop because she can’t afford some of the shoes she likes in the store windows. She added that the French term for window shopping is lèche-vitrine, which actually translates in English to “window licking”.

Inside Eglise Sainte Jeanne d’Arc
Inside Eglise Sainte Jeanne d’Arc

We completed the morning’s tour at the Eglise Sainte Jeanne d’Arc (Church of Joan of Arc). She was burned at the stake and ashes were spread in the Seine. Many years later, she was declared to be officially innocent of all charges and designated a martyr. The stained glass windows from the church are the original windows from the 16th century Church of Saint Vincent.

After lunch, we took another tour into town, this time for a cider and cheese pairing and a stop to attend a chocolate workshop. It seemed like we were walking in circles around Rouen and we ended up at the Hôtel du Vieux Carré. We entered into their restaurant to experience a cider and cheese paring.

The climate in Normandy is much cooler than the rest of France. As a result, the area is better suited towards growing apples instead of grapes and the specialty here is apple cider and not wine.

Getting the overview of Normandy's cheeses
Getting the overview of Normandy’s cheeses
Camembert and French apple cider.
Camembert and French apple cider.

We were able to taste three different soft cheeses from the Normandy area: camembert, pont-l’évêque and liverot. The camembert was milky and buttery in taste and that paired quite nicely with the acidic nature of the apple cider. Unlike American cider, this was not overly sweet and had a really nice finish.

The pont-l’évêque was definitely the mildest cheese of the three. I think many didn’t care for liverot because it was the most aromatic and the most pungent cheese of the group. Eating this by itself was definitely not as interesting as when I paired that with the cider.

Tempering the chocolate.
Tempering the chocolate.

Our last stop was the L’Atelier du Chocolat shop. This shop is actually based in Bayonne France with outlets in various French towns. A pastry chef demonstrated how to temper liquid chocolate and how it has to be a 26C degrees in order to have the right color and finish.

Day 6 – Chaîne des Rôtisseurs Dinner

Day 6 – Chaîne des Rôtisseurs Dinner

Chaîne des What?

From our cruise director, we learned that AMA Waterways is the only river cruise line that is part of a prestigious culinary organization founded in Paris. This organization is called the Chaîne des Rôtisseurs and membership is considered to be an achievement of world-class culinary acumen.

Hearing this news, I felt that I should give the chef’s recommendations for dinner a chance instead of selecting items on the menu something more familar to me.

The Chef’s Recommendations were:

A thick slice of French goose liver was served on a place with an apple slice topped with field greens and surrounded by current sauce and a walnut brioche bun. Melted butter accompanied the goose liver. I enjoyed the taste and the exterior was extremely delicate.

Soup a l’oignon or better known as French Onion Soup. It was served hot and it had a tasty broth with the right amount of salt and a cheese crouton that absorbed a lot of broth. I was happy that there wasn’t a thick layer of molten cheese on the top because this ends up burning the roof of my mouth.

My entree was the lamb duo consisting of Lamb Medallion and Lamb Navarin, with Thyme jus. A small side of ratatouille and potatoes gratin accompanied the lamb duo. I found the Lamb Navarin to be interesting; it was a serving of lamb stew served in a small cup made out of phylo dough.

Dessert consisted of a chocolate tart topped with a raspberry fruit jelly. A small scoop of Amarena ice cream was served alongside it. I enjoyed scraping the dark chocolate from my plate and mixing it with the ice cream.

After dinner, our ship left La Havre and went east to Rouen. Thanks to the good weather, we have been enjoying some beautiful evenings.

Day 6 – Storming Normandy Beach

Day 6 – Storming Normandy Beach

My wife and I had an 8:00 a.m. departure to Normandy Beach from our ship. Fortunately, my wife remembered this and woke me up in time. As a result, we didn’t miss breakfast and more importantly, our bus.

The Pont de Normandie is a cable-stayed road bridge that spans the river Seine linking Le Havre to Honfleur in Normandy
The Pont de Normandie is a cable-stayed road bridge that spans the river Seine linking Le Havre to Honfleur in Normandy

Three buses departed from our port in La Havre. Fortunately, our bus was only half full and so we spread out and use the seats around us. Since I had my loaded backpack, this was a nice luxury.

Our excursion was named “D-Day Remembered” and was a full day trip featuring sites from an American (versus German) perspective. As an example, we stopped at Omaha Beach instead of the cliffs above the beach.

The seawall at Omaha Beach
The seawall at Omaha Beach
A tribute to soldiers that landed here
A tribute to soldiers that landed here
Les Braves is a war memorial that is located on the shores of Omaha Beach in the village of St. Laurent-sur-Mer
Les Braves is a war memorial that is located on the shores of Omaha Beach in the village of St. Laurent-sur-Mer

Seeing it in person was quite an experience. I could see ships on the distant horizon without binoculars and thought that the Allies were sitting ducks for the German soldiers that were hunkered down.

We took a short ride to the cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer, Omaha Beach. Seeing the cemetery, I didn’t think we had enough things to do in that amount of time, but I was pleasantly surprised.

Reflection Pool

Our tour leader gave us an overview of the cemetery. She pointed out some interesting facts about the site and some of the famous people that were buried there.

The visitor’s center had a wealth of information and was set up much like a museum. It had many exhibits filled with stories about individual heroes. They also had videos playing and a short movie inside their theater.

AMA Waterways arranged a ceremony for us. We joined a group next to the bronze statue in the center of the cemetary. They began the processing with the Star Spangled Banner. Two passengers from our cruiseship carried a wreath and laid it down at the base of the statue.  Taps was played and we observed a moment of silence.

We later found out that the passengers were a son and his father. The son’s grandfather landed in Normandy Beach during D-Day on June 6, 1944. The pair was visibly moved and it was difficult for all of us to maintain our composure.

The bus took a short drive to the artillery battery at Longues-sur-Mer. There we were able to see the German constructed bunkers with cannons. Some of the bunkers were left intact and one was fairly decimated.

The next stop was Arromanches-les-Bains which is a small beach town approximately 23 km east of Omaha Beach. While this town has a nunber of gift shops for tourists, it isn’t overdeveloped with expensive restaurants and hotels.

The British built huge concrete walls and piers forming and defining the artificial port called the Mulberry harbour. This artificial harbor was used to facilitate the unloading of supply ships off the coast of Normandy.

We found an ice cream shop and we both indulged in double scoop cones.  Thanks to everyone returning to the bus in a timely fashion, we actually arrived back to the ship 30 minutes ahead of schedule.

 

Day 5 – Afternoon in Honfleur

Day 5 – Afternoon in Honfleur

Most of us left the ship for the 1:00 p.m. excursion to nearby Honfleur. The cruise director warned us that if we did not go on this outing, that it was important to remain on the ship. Otherwise, we would be left in Caudebec-en-Caux.

Louis XVI is attributed to creating the inner harbor in Honfleur. It is lined with restaurants, bars and art galleries. This attraction created a desire to build high-rise homes next to the port.

AmaLyra Green Tour Leader
AmaLyra Green Tour Leader
Instead of receiving commercial ships or fishing boats, the Vieux Bassin attracts yachts and restaurants. Commercial boats are kept out of the center in larger docks.

We were on the green tour led by the lady in the blue jacket (see photo above) with the green “lollipop”.  She was a reference encyclopedia on Honfleur, easily reciting its history and today’s news and events.

This is Vieux Bassin, a port not for commercial boats, but for luxury yachts. This area became immortalized through works by Claude Monet and Gustave Courbet.

It is difficult to tell from this picture, but is leading up to a drawbridge. Since commercial boats aren’t parked in the inner harbor, the drawbridge doesn’t go up very often.

This building was built in the late 1400’s. The foundation is stone to protect it from the elements and the top of it is wood. To preserve the top portion of this building, shingles were added. The top portion of the building actually extends slightly outward. This was an architectural style that was abandoned in the 1700’s.

 

View from our restaurant in Vieux Bassin
View from our restaurant in Vieux Bassin

Moules-frites (mussels and fries)
Moules-frites (mussels and fries)
I was determined to eat some local food. Despite the warning from our tour guide, we ate in touristy Vieux Bassin mostly to enjoy the view. I ordered curry mussels and frites and she had a glass of white wine. We enjoyed people watching the entire time.

While we spent the day in Honfleur, our ship traveled to La Havre.  Instead of our bus returning us to this morning’s dock, we arrived in La Havre. There we would spend the night and use that as our port for Normandy Beach.

Day 5 – Caudebec-en-Caux, France

AMA Waterways is piloting an exercise program with the passengers aboard our ship. Selina Wank, a certified sports scientist, has designed the program and we are some of the first recipients. She explained that the program will eventually be rolled out to all of the ships within their fleet.

The choice this morning was a leisurely walk to the local farmers market led by the cruise director. The other option to get into town was to take the “power walk” with Selina.

The beginning of our "power walk"
The beginning of our “power walk”

It’s a bit intimidating to know that Selina participates in “Iron Man” competitions. What has the pendulum swinging my way is the fact that the approximate average passenger age is about 10-15 years older than me. I thought to myself, “how fast can they really go?”

To her credit, Selina moved throughout the pack to see how people were doing.
To her credit, Selina moved throughout the pack to see how people were doing.
Pont de Brotonne bridge
Pont de Brotonne bridge

I decided to risk it and take door #2 with Selina. There are about 120 passengers aboard our ship and approximately 16 of us decided to join Selina. The walk was brisk, but bearable and I was surprised that the entire group was able to keep up with her.

Monument to the Latham 47 'Heroes', who disappeared in the prototype of the Latham 47 in 1928 with Roald Amundsen onboard during a rescue mission to the North Pole in search of Italian aviator, Umberto Nobile.
Monument to the Latham 47 ‘Heroes’, who disappeared in the prototype of the Latham 47 in 1928 with Roald Amundsen onboard during a rescue mission to the North Pole in search of Italian aviator, Umberto Nobile.

We walked about a half mile along the Seine and crossed the street. There was saw a monument dedicating the men that lost their lives during a rescue mission to the North Pole.

Selina led us up a fairly steep grade. I got to the top near the head of the pack and was surprised that the entire group made it up without any sign of fatigue. Since we turned on a street that was parallel to the side of the hill, we recovered nicely.

Selina announced that we can take a shortcut and head down to the farmers market or go to the forest (another 20 minutes added to the walk). Since no one opted out, I couldn’t embarrass myself by taking the shortcut.

We were led up another incline. Everything became greener and we were suddenly in what appeared to be a rain forest. Huge draping trees were overhead while we were mostly in shadows. The only thing missing were drops of water dripping from the trees.

Selina led us to a clearing where we were rewarded with an incredible view of the church, the town and the river. It was definitely a “Kodak photo spot” without the sign being needed.

After making our way downhill, we entered the farmers market. The fruits and vegetables were colorful, blemish free and the type you generally see in professional photographs.

In addition to the fruits and vegetables, there were seafood and cheese merchants. A person was cleaning out a huge paella pan and they had paella in containers for sale. A functioning rotisserie had whole chickens available.

Since our afternoon excursion was leaving at 1:00 p.m., I opted to play it safe by eating lunch on the ship.

 

 

Day 4 – Vernon France

Our cruise director took us into the town of Vernon. This was a precursor to the afternoon Giverny gardens tour. This area was first built in the 11th century using Gothic style architecture.

Nearby is the Church Collégiale Notre-Dame de Vernon. This was built between the 11th and 16th centuries with gothic style rose and stained-glass windows. Some of the windows were replaced after the World War II bombing raids.

As we made our way around the eastern edge of town we saw the impressive Tour des Archives. This is a round tower built in the 12th century. It was interesting to me that there are people living in these 16th century buildings.

Amazing selection of fresh seafood and shellfish
This charcuterie had many seafood specialities like this one and about 20 different salads.

We went window shopping and ogled the amazing desserts and food displayed. It quickly reminded me how passionate the French are about food quality and preparation.

Since I was intent on eating local food, we stopped at one of the bakeries – Boulangerie Rose. I selected a baguette filled with ham, cheese, lettuce and tomato. My wife chose a ham and gruyere panini. Of course, I had to get some fresh croissants!

We brought our goodies to the ship’s dining room and enjoyed them with a glass of chardonnay. Fortunately, the staff wasn’t offended that we brought food from the outside into their dining room. In fact, he commented that the bread baked on-board is delicious, but he really likes fresh baguettes from the local bakers.