Ideal Vacation: River Cruising in France

Arcadia's Norma and Larry Stewart in Paris.
Arcadia's Norma and Larry Stewart in Paris.

Generally speaking, I’m not a fan of vacation blogs. They rank just a notch above Christmas letters. I’m usually not that interested in where people have been -- or the achievements of their offspring.

That said, I got a writer’s itch to do a blog about the vacation my wife Norma and I just experienced.

We were in Paris for five days and did all the touristy things – visited the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, the Orsay Museum, the Luxemburg Gardens, the Arc de Triomphe and so forth, plus enjoyed some terrific meals.

But the main reason I decided to write this piece about our vacation is to let people know about our riverboat cruise up the Seine River and our visit to the beaches of the Normandy invasion that began during World War II on June 6, 1944.

We were not aware that because of the U.S. government shutdown the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial was closed when we arrived in France. A friend I talked to before we left had mentioned he thought it was closed, but I thought it was just the U.S. National Parks.

The cemetery and memorial overlooking the four D-Day invasion beaches was closed because it is one of 24 U.S. military cemeteries overseas maintained by the U.S government.  

We learned the site had reopened the day we arrived at the beaches. Our cruise line program director, a lovely young German gal named Annika, gave us the good news during lunch at a nearby restaurant.

Visiting the cemetery and memorial and walking on Omaha Beach and envisioning what our troops had to endure were the emotional highpoints of our vacation.

But what really made this vacation so special was our riverboat cruise. It exceeded our expectations, and that is saying something because our expectations were high. Friends, including Bob and Judy Miller (Bob is the Hall of Fame television announcer for the Los Angeles Kings), had raved about their experiences on riverboat cruises.

We had taken four cruises on the big ocean liners and enjoyed them. But we had been told we would enjoy the riverboat cruise even more – and we did.

The key thing is that the smaller riverboats are more intimate. Although there a lot fewer people on a riverboat, you actually meet more.

Our trip was arranged by travel agent Judith Sizemore of the Auto Club office in Arcadia through Viking River Cruises, which has an office in Woodland Hills. We had three days on our own in Paris, then two days in Paris while on the boat and then a five-day trip up the Seine to Normandy and back.

On our first day in Paris, we went on a walking tour arranged by Viking. We had a wonderful tour guide named Florence who helped us in many ways. And we also met two of the people who we felt had become special friends by the end of our cruise. They were Iris Anne Wilson of Dothan, Ala., a former teacher, and Susan Crist of Marietta, Ga. , a retired airline flight attendant. These two charming women are sisters, and they were a hoot throughout our vacation.

On the boat we met Dr. David Werdegar, a modest but prominent San Francisco physician, and his wife Kay. 

In the cabin across from ours was Lee Livingston and his wife Lanny of New Brunswick, N.J. We learned Lee’s best friend is Phil Mushnick, the TV-Radio sports columnist for the New York Post. I know Phil because I used to the TV-Radio sports columnist for the Los Angeles Times. It is indeed a small world.

Then there was Alice and Jon Smith of Tacoma, Wash., another nice couple we enjoyed meeting.

During lunch on our second day of the boat, we sat down with two women and introduced ourselves. They were from Easton, Pa. The women, Margie DeRenzis and Sean LeDonne, are both special education teachers who became administrators. My wife is a retired special education teacher.

The three of them talked shop as I listened. Eventually Margie asked about my profession. I explained I was a retired sportswriter. She said, “Maybe you have heard of my father, Earl Strom.”

Of course I had heard of Earl Strom, the famous NBA referee was who inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame last year.

So now the conversation turned to sports, and I was happy.

Our cruise included several interesting stops along the way. We saw the Monet home and gardens on our way to Normandy and we saw the Palace of Versailles, the huge opulent complex where King Louis XIV and Marie Antoinette resided, on our way back to Paris.

The food and service on the riverboat were excellent. When we got back home to Arcadia, we decided this may have been our best vacation yet.

“We could never go back to the big ships now,” my wife said.





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