Perhaps the rain in Spain stays mainly on the plain, but the rain in France seems to be following us around. We had a dreary but fun three days in Reims, in the heart of Champagne region.
Disclaimer: This is a long post. You've been warned. BUT - this one is really awesome. I highly encourage you to make it all the way through...
We got off to a rough start. Note to all you potential visitors: when you purchase your TGV tickets, you have the option to purchase an e-ticket or you can choose to print the ticket at the station. We typically do e-tickets, because B has the SNCF app on his phone, and he also prints out the e-confirmation as backup. But when he booked these tickets, there wasn't an e-ticket option.
So on Friday morning we headed blithely to the train station in Tours and walked right up to one of the machines to print out our tickets. To make a very long and boring story short, it didn't work. The ticket office was closed because it was a bank holiday. And we had a train to catch in 15 minutes. We finally talked to the conductors and they allowed us to board the train, but we had to purchase another ticket from them to do so. Of course, all of this was done in our very bad, broken French with awkward miming: "Yellow machine no work. We already buy tickets. Train leave at 8," etc.
When we got to the Paris station, Gare Montparnasse, we had to go into the ticket office to get our tickets printed. We had to wait in line. Once we got them printed, we had to take the Paris metro to Gare de l'Est. This was not as fast as we'd hoped. By the time we got off at Est, we were panicking. Enter hero, stage right. A man about our age stopped to ask if we needed help (clearly we did). He looked at our tickets, and then he walked (okay, jogged) with us out of the metro and showed us to our TGV track. We would never have made it in time without him. To our nameless savior, thank you dearly. We will pay it forward to someone else in need.
After sustenance, we set about wandering, and wander we did. On Friday, according to Brian's phone's health app, we took more than 23,000 steps - more than 12 miles! And okay, yes, some of those steps were earned doing the hundred-yard dash through Paris's Gare de l'Est while three men in fatigues with semi-automatic rifles stood guard (don't even ask), but the rest were obtained in a more leisurely tourist manner. We checked out Reims Cathedral and generally wandered around the city, and, of course, sampled the "local product." Wink, wink. Check out some pics of the city below:
On Saturday, we had a half-day tour of the Champagne region with Cris-Events. We never really would have pegged ourselves as tour people before. Our travel style is more of "aimlessly wandering and seeing what we can run into." But after these last two weeks, we just might be converts - for wine tours, anyway.
Yet again, the small wine-producing villages have proven more attractive than the major cities in which we've been based. But they're harder to get to, not on main train lines, so going there with a tour is the perfect way to do it. It didn't hurt that our guide, Aina/Ina (sp?) was a super guide. And our fellow tourists were awesome. We were a crazy international bunch. There was us, the Americans living in France. Then there were two Asian-born men who were raised in the Netherlands. There was one Japanese guy who lived in Brussels, and his two friends from Japan. Everyone was friendly and happy and up for a good time.
We first went to the village of Hautvillers to see some of the vineyards. Due to the cold climate, only three grape varietals grow in the Champagne region and subsequently can be put into Champagne: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier. As per normal, the view was stunning as, frankly, it should be considering how expensive it is. One hectare of vineyard land (100m x 100m) is roughly $1.8 million, and you have to have at least two to produce Champagne. So that's quite a hefty investment. No wonder Champagne is so expensive.
Then we headed to an independent Champagne house, Fernand Lemaire, in the village of Hautvillers. We learned about the Champagne-making process and the many, many rules and regulations surrounding it. The number of grapes you can grow and pick, the length of the first fermentation, the length of the second fermentation...it's crazy. We learned how vintages are chosen and made, and we got a tour of their operation.
Fun Champagne fact: it's totally okay to drink Champagne (or sparkling wine) out of regular wine glasses, so long as they are rounded at the bottom and narrower at the top. Champagne flutes are used when you want to mask the imperfections in a Champagne because it doesn't allow as much scent and flavor to come through. Who knew?
I told you this post was long, but I also told you it was worth it...and here's why. At our second tasting, at Gobillard and Sons, B got to saber a bottle of Champagne. "What's that?" you say? That is exactly what it sounds like. He used a giant-ass sword to slice open a bottle of Champagne. This was the one thing he wanted to do. B is not a pushy person, and he's generally content to let me plan and organize everything, but he desperately wanted to saber a bottle, so he did!
See pics AND a video (via YouTube) below! This was definitely the highlight of our trip!
The rain held of on Saturday but came back to haunt us on Sunday. We had to check out of the hotel at 11:00, but our train wasn't until 6:30 p.m. We had lunch around 11:30, and we walked around a bit, but we were both just cold and wet and had squishy feet. So we bought a bottle of wine at a mini-mart and hung out in the lobby/lounge of our hotel, drinking wine out of coffee mugs and reading for 4 hours. Sunday Funday, Stevenson-style...rain never keeps us down long :)
E & B