Normandy Cruise – 2009

From Home to Paris, Boarding Viking Ship Seine


November 7 – 15, 2009


Part I:  Memphis to Paris, Viking Ship Seine

Part 5: Conflans and Tour of Market

Part 2: D-Day Beaches on Normandy

Part 6: Paris and Visit to Napoleon’s Tomb

Part 3: Scenic Coastal Town of Honfleur

Part 7: Flights to Cincinnati and Memphis

Part 4: Rouen and Les Andelys

Link to travelogue about 2001 France cruise

- Revised Jan. 2, 2010


About 35 photos mainly taken by Betty Nolan during this cruise are posted at under member name of Lewis “Buzz” Nolan’s email address. Email for instructions on how to access. 




Nov. 7-8, 2009, Saturday and Sunday  Memphis to France


Our longtime friend Nancy Russell once again had kindly agreed to provide transportation for my wife Betty and me from our home to the Memphis International Airport. Nancy is a longtime friend and co-worker at Schering-Plough HealthCare Products; she is still employed there long after my retirement in 1996 from the blue-chip company that merged into Merck in 2009,







As promised, Nancy arrived at 12:15 p.m. That gave Betty and me the morning to sleep, eat

some home-cooked food and put the finishing touches on Betty’s customarily and long-practiced packing for international travel and trip planning.


We had booked an eight-day cruise on the Seine River through Viking River Cruises, one of the larger lines that operate in Western Europe and elsewhere. We would fly to Paris, be met by a Viking employee at the airport and ride a tour bus to the port city of LeHavre, France to board the ship. We had booked the cruise at a bargain rate nearly a year earlier, taking advantage of a special price for advance payment for a tiny cabin on the lowest deck of the Viking Seine.


This was our third river cruise, a method of relaxed travel in Europe that requires unpacking only one time and provides fancy-restaurant dining in an elegant room with beautiful views of the passing scenery. Our earlier trips, in Central France from Grand Circle Travel, and along the Danube River from Budapest, Hungary to Nuremberg, Germany, proved to be wonderful experiences at a very good value. So we had been planning this trip for months.


We especially liked the opportunity to be back in France, a country that we feel is overly maligned in America because of its politics but nonetheless remains a wonderful place to visit because of its beauty, charm, culture, history and hospitality. Current population is over 60 million and a surprising number of its citizens speak English fairly well. French food is legendary for good reason.


PARADE REST: Perfectly aligned gravestones add dignity to American Cemetery overlooking Omaha Beach at Normandy, France

The clockwork of planning by Betty and pickup by Nancy came to a halt at the airport. I’d been flying in and out of Memphis International Airport since the early 60s, back when the old Southern Airways provided service to Oxford, Miss. Southern was taken over by Republic Airways, which became part of Northwest Airlines and then finally Delta. The resulting Delta business combination


is the world’s second largest airline and its ascendance in Memphis is admirable.


The usual excellent service Delta provides had a minor glitch with our check-in, which was two hours before scheduled flight  due to a slow-talking Delta agent in Atlanta giving me an “or else” recommendation for early arrival at the airport on the day of our long journey on that airline. The fact that our Memphis flight on a relatively small airplane connected in Cincinnati with a flight on a big plane for the 4,000-mile flight over the Atlantic Ocean to Paris required us to present U.S. Passports at check-in.


Despite the repeated efforts by a nice, middle-aged gate agent at Delta, the automated self-check in machine would not produce our boarding passes. (I normally print them at home on a computer for domestic flights to eliminate the main-gate lines and hassle.) Finally, she used another machine and we got our boarding passes OK. The flight got off on time and appeared to be about half-empty. But it was a good flight and we enjoyed a lot of views out of Betty’s window of the Mid-South and Midwest landscape along the Mississippi River far below.


The screw-ups continued in Cincinnati when our 6:20 p.m. flight to Paris was postponed due to a stuck valve that required a replacement part. Passengers at the gate were told Delta was arranging for the part to be flown in from New York’s LaGuardia airport and takeoff wouldn’t be until 11:30 p.m.


Dismayed by the hours-long delay in expected arrival and likely screw-up of our boarding the boat on time, Betty and I repaired to an airport saloon-restaurant for a light supper, Max and Erma’s. We enjoyed “half salads” of greens topped with fried and grilled chicken along with a low-alcohol beer for me and a margarita for Betty. The pair of $7 meal vouchers given us by Delta didn’t come close to paying for the food and drink. I really should write Delta and complain about it.


Luckily, we heard a PA announcement about the Delta plane boarding much earlier than first expected because they found the needed part on another plane at the airport. Our flight took off at 8 p.m. and the last-minute, quick shuffle by Delta employees to get everybody boarded and seated showed us just how quick they can work when the chips are down – which in this case could have been mandatory refunds and accommodation expenses for many stranded passengers.


It turned out Betty and I had the usually cramped seats  by an aisle and window about mid-way back in Tourist Class in Row 32. Near us were three enormous women traveling together and loudly yukkng it up. But thankfully there were no screaming children to keep us awake as on other international flights. At 9:30 p.m., the crew served a dinner, which we passed on. Sleep for me was slight due to the cramped “pitch” between our seats and those of the seats in the row to our front.


We also passed on the breakfast, but I did snag a banana to eat later (the potassium from bananas and also the quinine in tonic water helps abate the leg cramps I get from taking a certain blood pressure medication.)


We landed in the Charles DeGaulle Airport on the outskirts of Paris about 9:30 a.m. But it seemed to take longer than necessary to retrieve our two checked bags and make it to French Customs and Immigration. As expected, we were met by a chirpy young woman employed by Viking named Andrea, who was at the appointed place even though we were an hour late due to the flight delay. Our tour bus picked up a few more passengers on different flights, giving us about 20 on the roomy bus for the three-hour drive through scenic farmland to France’s biggest port, LeHavre.


A handout given us by Viking said almost 80 percent of the French population is Roman Catholic, 5 percent is Muslim (causing a growing problem due to separatist movements) and 2 percent is Protestant. A handout  warned, “The French maintain a strong gap between secular life and religion. Religion is considered as private as possible, and it is considered offensively inquisitive to enter religious discussions in most contexts.”


Introductory tour information also said in France schooling is free and compulsory from ages 6 to 16 and that the literacy rate is 99 percent. Unlike in the U.S. - where Betty taught home economics and Culinary Arts for over 30 years – where college is considered almost mandatory, France provides secondary education in the lycees and colleges that are the equivalent of U.S. junior colleges. French students are tested to see if they qualify for higher education (which is practically free in 60 institutions). “However, the best students take further classes in order to attend the Grandes Ecoles, where they study for careers in government, education, industry and the military.”


More than half of France’s power is generated by nuclear power plants. The unemployment rate is about 9 percent – lower than the comparable rate in the U.S.


I thought the important French port of LeHave was grim and grimy and one of the ugliest cities I’ve ever seen. It’s way out of the norm for beautiful France, maybe due to the lingering damage from World War. It suffered 146 air raids, with more than 4,000 killed and 9,000 dwellings destroyed. Ship’s info said that in 1945 LeHavre “bore the least enviable title of Europe’s worst damaged port; today it is France’s leading commercial port.” Tall chimneys made of brick and stone make it look like a gigantic, gray-colored prickly pear. Our boat was docked on a narrow, industrial canal and was surrounded by squat factories that looked like settings for a Depression-era movie.


As with our three previous trips to Paris, the weather was cloudy, cool and damp. But the Viking Seine boat’s welcome to boarding passengers was warm. A serve-yourself lunch was spread out on several tables in the ship’s lounge at 3 p.m. along with a staffed bar that offered complimentary glasses of champagne.


Since we couldn’t’ get into our cabin until nearly 4 p.m. and were a little hungry from not eating on the long flight, we sampled some of the offered foods and found them to be beautifully served and quite tasty. I had several tiny ham sandwiches on fresh French bread. Betty peeled and enjoyed a plump, naval orange. We also enjoyed glasses of champagne and Mimosa drinks served at no charge and met some of the ship’s officers.


With Cabin No. 100 on the lowest deck where the crew also bunks, we were a bit surprised to see how tight it was compared to more expensive and spacious cabins we had on the Grand Circle and Vantage river cruise boats we had experienced earlier. We later learned that this week’s cruise by the outmoded Viking Seine was its last in the Viking River cruise fleet and that immediately after this cruise that it would sail to Rotterdam and be placed on a barge for towing and refitting/scrapping in Scandinavia.


Our cabin was on and below the water line, with a small window about 6 inches above the level of river water. The tiny window was so low that it was covered with a steel plate when we cruised through a high traffic area of shipping on the river a couple of days later. We had reasonably comfortable “pull down” bunk beds and a table about the size of a pizza pan. The bathroom was so very tiny that somebody quipped the best way to take a shower was to first soap up the plastic curtain and walls and then spin around.


Faulty design did not leave enough room to store luggage under the beds. Hanging closet space was insufficient for two adults.  There was a very small, dressing “desk” with lights and a big mirror, but no chairs to sit on. But, at least the price was right and there were no livestock or broke immigrants on our deck. There was adequate heat this winter’s chill and presumably adequate cooling in the warm months. But after experiencing the “cost” of really tight quarters, Betty and I quickly agreed that we’ll never again go for the bargain price if we take river cruises in the future.


However, the ship is a beautiful craft, long and slender like a cigarette 367 feet long. It is 38 feet wide and has a draught of 6 feet. Propelled by three caterpillar diesel engines, it has a top speed of 14 mph and cruising speed of 11 mph. It has a fresh water tank capacity of 200,000 gallons – none of that U.S. Navy-ship conservation for the affluent American passengers. Our cruise had 146 passengers in 76 cabins and a crew of 36.


This eight-day cruise would take us from Le Havre to Normandy; the scenic villages of Honfleur and Caudebec; the town of Rouen where Joan of Arc was burned at the stake; the villages of Les Andelys and Vernon remembered for Richard the Lionheart and the last days of painter Vincent Van Gogh; Conflans and its wonderful open market; and Paris where we re-visited the magnificent Tomb of Napoleon. 


Among the Viking Ship Seine’s crew were English-speaking Davy Pontieux, a 29-year-old captain in a long family line of captains; Gerhard Bohl, hotel manager in charge of passenger operations; Monique Vanmierlo, program director and a native of Belgium with excellent speaking skills; and Andreas Patz, a superb chef from Germany who oversaw a kitchen staff that prepared the best shipboard food we’ve ever enjoyed. Among the gracious and expert waiters serving three meals daily in the elegant dining room at the rear of the ship were an Eastern European who went by the name “George” and a Frenchman called “No-no.”


Indefatigable Betty attended the embarkation briefing after the “welcome aboard” reception while I took a much needed nap in our tiny cabin. Later, we had an excellent dinner at a table for six, with couples from Connecticut and New Jersey in the ship’s dining room. I had broiled salmon but steered clear of the served rice in keeping with my low-carb diet. Betty had tasty veal and we both sampled some goose liver pate and several fancy desserts.


Tired from a long day of travel, we retired soon after dinner and passed on watching on our cabin’s TV a celebrated movie about the Allied invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944. It was called “The Longest Day.”


Continue with Part 2, D-Day Beaches on Normandy  /  Return to Nolan Travels Home Page