Got up bright and early to check out Vienne, a perfect little gem of a city, population 30,000, whose roots go back to the Roman era. Two thousand years later, one of its enduring attractions is the Temple of Augustus and Livia, a magnificent ruin in the center of town that electrified Thomas Jefferson when, as America’s Minister to France, he visited in 1787. (Our guide, Stephanie, described it as “the ooh la la building.”) The city still boasts a plaque in honor of Jefferson.
Walking on, we arrived at a large Roman-Gallic theater carved into the earth. Restored in 1908, it became the site of a yearly jazz fest in 1981. A year later, Miles Davis (a notorious Francophile) played it for the first time and was so knocked out he returned four more times. A large mural on the back of the stage depicts a number of world-class performers. On its far right, trumpet to his mouth, is none other than Mr. Davis. To his left, seated at a grand piano with his head in his hands, is Hector Berlioz. Why is the composer so glum? We never did figure it out.
Before the morning was gone, we rode a trolley to a high point in the city. It delivered just the kind of panorama you’d hope for, but it was also the site of a charming little church. In a country chock-a-block with magnificent old churches, this place was not a contender. But our tour guide was proud of its acoustics and decided to give us a demonstration of its excellence by sailing into an a capella performance of “Ave Maria.” Acoustics be damned, she was a compete knockout. I am not a religious person, but I felt shivers running down my back.
Back on the Viking Heimdal for lunch, our bow now edging into Provence, the chef decided to seduce us with a few choice Provençal delights. First course was bouillabaisse. It was parfait. We were happy.