Relyance Bank Crown Club members travel to France


Members of the Relyance Bank Crown Club recently returned from an outstanding 12-day river cruise on the Seine in France.

This year marks the 70th anniversary of D-Day. The group took an in-depth voyage from cosmopolitan Paris to the beaches of Normandy as they delved deeply into the region’s rich history and culture. After an overnight flight, they had some time that morning to explore one area of Paris before an overnight stay at the Novotel in Roissy de France.

The following morning, they visited the Peace Memorial Museum in Caen, a state-of-the-art facility that does a remarkable job of presenting the events of World War II. After lunch, the group boarded its cruise ship and had time to settle in before the captain’s welcome drinks and dinner.

The next port was the rich artistic town of Honfleur. Honfleur, known for its prestigious past and its authenticity, ranks among the top 20 most visited French sites. The travelers enjoyed a guided walking tour that morning including a tour of Sainte-Catherine’s church. After lunch, they chose between time to explore this town more or to visit the Tapestry Museum of Bayeux. Bayeux showcases a remarkable fabric, 230 feet in length, depicting events of the 1066 Normandy invasion of England.

The next morning, the group began their D-Day beach tour with a visit to the Battery of Longues Sur Mer. One of the most formidable gun emplacements the Allies faced, the four guns here could fire on either Gold or Omaha beaches and, at 215 feet above sea level, were ideally placed to confront D-Day forces.

After a box lunch at the village of Arromanche, some visited the D-Day museum before they continued to the American Military Cemetery. They saw the Memorial, featuring a 22-foot statue, “The Spirit of American Youth Rising from the Waves”, that honors the fallen. They visited the cemetery of Colleville sur Mer, where 9,386 American soldiers rest.

The group traveled on to Omaha Beach, where they had the opportunity to stand on the cliffs overlooking the sand and breakers where the first Allied footing was achieved in German-occupied France. They continued on to Pointe du Hoc, a place all Normandy veterans know well, where Allied forces scaled 328-foot cliffs as they sought to silence German artillery. After a very moving day, they traveled back to their ship for a wonderful dinner and evening entertainment.

They cruised the next morning to Caudebec, passing under Honfleur’s 90-foot tall Tancarville Bridge en route. The group enjoyed a fantastic cheese and wine tasting before lunch. The afternoon was filled with leisure time to discover this charming town and its historic main square or take a half-day excursion to Fecamp and the beautiful cliffs at Etretat.

Rouen, the capital of Normandy, was the next city they visited. The morning was filled with a guided walking tour of this important French commercial city. But the city is infamous as the city is where Joan of Arc was imprisoned, tried for heresy and burned at the stake in 1431. After lunch, some of the group took the Abbey St. Wandrille tour. The remainder of the group spent the afternoon exploring more of Rouen. Many visited the wonderful Gothic Notre Dame Cathedral, whose façade has graced more than 30 Monet paintings.

The next morning, they enjoyed a cooking lesson before lunch. Then they had time on their own to explore Les Andelys before a watercolor painting class on-board. There was also an optional kitchen tour and French lessons. After dinner, the Crown clubbers enjoyed a presentation about the Impressionist period during another exclusive Discovery Series event.

After breakfast the group disembarked for Giverny, an excursion into the countryside to see the lovely landscapes that inspired Claude Monet. They explored the artist’s home and gardens. They strolled through the gardens and spotted the familiar Japanese bridge and water garden shaded by weeping willows, its pond still full of the water lilies that so permeated his work. France had a very mild winter, so the gardens were in full bloom very early this year, much to the pleasant surprise of the travelers.

The next day as they cruised the Seine, they sampled French delicacies during a gourmet tasting. Then they traveled through Van Gogh Country. The Seine, the Epte and the Oise, are referred to as “Rivers of Light”, this was where the Impressionist artists flocked to paint landscapes that are recognizable around the world.

Anna Claire, the Crown clubbers guide for the cruise, took the group on a walking tour of her hometown, Aulvers-sur-Oise. This is the village Vincent van Gogh came to live after his release from the asylum in nearby Saint-Remy. Van Gogh remained here for three months, until his suicide in 1890. Amazingly, he produced 80 paintings during this short time, including the turbulent Wheat Field with Crows, one of this last works. The group saw where he lived and visited his grave.

The remaining few days of this fantastic river cruise of France were spent in Paris. The morning was filled with a panoramic tour of the city’s classic highlights. They saw the Eiffel Tower from several different perspectives as they traveled along the famed Champs Elysees.

In the afternoon, they visited the Palace of Versailles, the former home of 3,000 princes, ministers and servants. The guided tour took them through the formal French gardens, then through the palace’s Grand Chambers and renowned Hall of Mirrors. They marveled at the luminous décor in marble, bronze, gold leaf, as well as the Rococo-style woodwork and Italian-style painted ceilings.

The last day in Paris, the group made their way to the renowned Louvre Museum. The treasures inside the museum are world-famous, and the collections of sculptures and paintings by the Great Masters is unrivaled. They strolled from gallery to gallery, marveling at the famous works. Of course, everyone had to push through the crowds to get an up-close look at da Vinci’s, Mona Lisa.

Anna Claire took the group back to the Cathedral of Notre Dame for an opportunity to tour the cathedral and its beautiful grounds as well as the surrounding area. Later that evening, the cruise ship set sail for the heart of Paris, the only cruise ship that is allowed to do this river tour. They finished the tour with Champagne on the top deck and a view of the lights of Paris at night.

The following morning, the travelers transferred to the Paris airport for their flight home. The Crown clubbers enjoying this wonderful river cruise vacation were Kitty and Bill Rubenstein, Kay and John Garrison, Elaine and Tommy Dial, Willie and James Reed, Lucretia and George Byrnes, Marnelle Clement, Donna Davis, Jo Stanfield, Janine Harkins and Tenie Bullard. Cindy Whitwell, director, escorted the tour.