Afternoon in Epernay

Other than having trouble finding a place to eat, I kind of wish I had gone straight to Epernay. The town itself, what I saw of it, is beautiful, especially the park around city hall. But first, fountain at the traffic circle.

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2013-07-05 18.04.57I walked up “Champagne Avenue” and bypassed Moet & Chandon. I have never particularly liked their champagne, and I was turned off by the way they kind of monopolize the tourist trade here. Plus I thought their tour was was overpriced at 17Euro for one measly taste. There isn’t much or huge signage directing tourists into individual champagne houses, which preserves the beauty of the street, but also led me to walk into a bureau and to fiddle with a locked door before (3rd time’s the charm) finding the Collard Picard Boutique.

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At first I was disappointed because a fellow traveler had visited this town the day before and I loved her pictures of the caves. Collard Picard is about as bright and white as it gets, (check out the lamp, even that has a clear base) but I loved their champagnes. 15€ (Yay! Just figured out how to make the Euro symbol!) for the Prestige tasting, which is three full good-sized glasses of the better champagnes of the house. I honestly didn’t know it was 3 full glasses until they started pouring. I am used to Temecula, California wineries where a small portion is poured into a full sized glass. As I tasted, the woman told me all about the grapes, the area, the “terroir”, where each grape was grown, and what percentage of those grapes were in each of my glasses. My first one turned out to be my favorite, which was a surprise because in wine I am a Chardonnay fan and I liked the blend over the all-Chardonnay.

I thought I would have trouble walking after 3 glasses in quick succession, but I didn’t fall down when I got up (although the door did get away from me when I opened it to leave, lol). I thought I’d better put some food between tastings, so I walked back to the beginning of the street and the tourist information center. The girl there very nicely drew 3 places on my map, and also suggested 2 cave tours that are less popular than Moet & Chandon.

I ended up taking a nice walk all around the area surrounding the traffic circle/tourist area, as all the restaurants were closed until 5PM. The one place open that was on my list to visit was C Comme Champagne, but a quick look at their menu showed only cold dishes of accompaniments, so I moved on.

I did find a nice outdoor seating area at the least favorite of the recommended restaurants from the travel center, but they had what I wanted on their menu, a chocolate banana crepe. They were out of bananas and as it was not only the last restaurant on my list, but also the only open restaurant I could find, I ordered just chocolate and whipped cream. It turned out to be delicious, although I will sit inside next time as I found an ant in my shirt and 2 on my feet! :::shudder:: I detached the little critters, got the check, and got out of there, feeling a bit itchier.

I hoofed it up to the other end of “Champagne Avenue”, made a left and went to the Champagne de Castellane. Remember this tower for later.

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I walked in and asked for the English tour and was told it was starting in 1 minute. Finally my lack of scheduling brought me some luck. The tour was 10€. We were not allowed to take photos of the production. (I believe this is the only house to show the production on a tour) But whenever we were in an area where photos were permitted, our guide let us know.

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The caves are kept naturally at a cool 11 degrees Celcius here, they vary from 11-13 degrees in all the cellars in the area. Humidity is at 85%. The walls were literally dripping with water.

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Our tour guide was very good, and patient. One of the families was Finnish, and our guide waited while the mother summarized everything quickly for her daughter who did not speak English yet.

The underground is much bigger than I imagined. It reminded me of the utilidoors at Walt Disney World. While they lacked the color coded walls of Disney :), they did have actual street names dedicated to different people associated with the champagne house and according to our tour guide, it is quite an honor to have one of these “streets” named after you.The light bulbs are covered with broken champagne bottles.

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All of these caves were dug out by hand, amazing. During the war, many of the caves were bricked up. After the war, they were taken down, but one was overlooked until many years later. A very nice surprise! This isn’t it, but this is what the storage caves look like.

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They had a room full of champagnes from past years, and every once in a while, one of these bottles is taken and finishes production for the owners to taste and compare. We were told to find our year, and mine was not there, which the guide said indicated that all the champagne had been drunk that year. 🙂 There was also a creepy representation of Dom Perignon trying to store his bottles. There were lots of these creepy people, depicting different parts of the process,but I didn’t take pictures as they would give me nightmares.

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After the tour, we of course were taken to the tasting room and given a small glass to taste.

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This was a nice tour, very informative, and it included a trip through the pretty large museum upstairs at our leisure as well as a climb to the top of the tower if we so wished. I did wish, and got some lovely pictures, (the first four are zoomed in) as well as a really very unladylike “glow” of perspiration. Ok, I was dripping sweat, yuck!

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I tied up my hair, which had pretty much been devastated by the humidity in the cellars anyway, and went back down Champagne Avenue once again, towards the train station. I stopped in another tasting room, Paul Germain I believe, and had a glass in their outdoor garden.

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I didn’t like this one as much, and I wasn’t cooling off sufficiently so I went back to the frigid air-conditioning of Collard Picard and cooled off with wet paper towels in their tiny but lovely toilette. Classy bitch strikes again. I ordered a glass of my favorite prestige from my tasting this morning and it was waiting for me when I returned to the counter. I relaxed and enjoyed without listening to the speech, as enjoyable as it had been earlier, as it was nearing closing time and the women were busy counting out their registers. At 3 minutes to 6 I said au revoir to my new favorite champagne and hoofed it down to the train station. I took a few more pictures on the way out.

I wasn’t nearly classy enough to go to Pol Roger.

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These lamp posts look quite threatening.

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DSCN2172Although this little town is beautiful, I was told that there is really not much to do at night. I couldn’t live here then I guess, but it sure makes for a nice day trip out of Paris. Just a 1 hour 20 minute train ride. And for the record, I mentioned this on Facebook and forgot to mention it here. Even though I had 6 full glasses of champagne within 3 1/2 hours, I wasn’t even tipsy. A first for me, as champagne has historically given me trouble.

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No Bubbly For Me in Reims

Today was my train ride to Reims/Epernay. The train to Reims was much nicer than any train I’ve been on so far. The day started kind of blech, with cold temps and a dull grey sky. I hopped off the train at 8:44AM. It’s too early for champagne so I went to the travel center outside the station to get a map, then I was pulled by an unknown force down a small alley and found this restaurant. I would have come back for lunch but the menu, strangely enough, was all burritos, quesadillas, enchiladas, and tacos. Fitting, I guess, since it reminds me so much of Old Town San Diego.

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On to the Reims Cathedral. When the townspeople started building this cathedral, they knew they would never see it completed, they could only hope it would be finished in their grandchildren’s lifetimes. I can’t imagine anyone starting a project like that today, that wouldn’t see completion in their lifetime. I was inside taking pictures and acting like a tourist, I heard a tone, then beautiful singing. There was a group of maybe 20 people, also tourists, standing in the center of the main aisle singing. It was beautiful. I started to record it, but soon had to shut off the camera, and I just sat at the base of a column and let some tears leak out. It wasn’t so much a religious experience as one of beauty. The singers stopped and became tourists again, walking around snapping photos. I loved the window just above the door

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DSCN2031The Marc Chagall windows at the back of the church.

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The ceiling

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The rose window, which is the original glass from 1255, although it was removed during WWI to save it.

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Some windows that were damaged in the war were replaced by the champagne makers in the area, and show harvesting scenes.

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This is actually a historically important cathedral, as most of the kings of France were crowned here after 1027. Joan of Arc famously led Charles VII here. Almost forgot, here are some pics of the outside.

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Beside the church and about a block away is a library donated by one of my favorite Scotsmen, Andrew Carnegie.

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Beautiful Art Deco.

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Chandelier.

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Now I have never seen such a huge card catalog, nor such a pretty one.

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Now that some morning has gone by, I decided to sip some champagne. Unfortunately the travel center in front of the cathedral was so busy that by the time they made my reservation, left me standing at the counter waiting to pay, while an intern said she couldn’t do anything, watching her colleague run all around yelling at people, I finally told them I thought there wasn’t any more time for me to get to the champagne house. The woman apologized profusely, saying she has been trying to get help all morning, but…I have a train to catch and taking the next tour is cutting it too close. By now I’m hungry so I walked to the main drag with all the restaurants and decided on an Italian place I saw earlier. I couldn’t help it, they had a gorgonzola pasta and I couldn’t resist.

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After I ate, I walked to the Museum of the Surrender, to see the actual room where the Germans signed the surrender papers to begin the end of WWII. Apparently there’s a ticker tape of the news, and the walls still have maps with troop positions. Unfortunately I didn’t notice that it closes from 12-2 so I could only photograph the building. 😦

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On the way back I swung by the Porte de Mars, a Roman gate from the 2nd century. The. Second. Century! Sorry, but as a history geek, this stuff really thrills me. It was one of 4 gates into the city and the only one left standing after WWI. You can see the different levels of construction by the deterioration of the columns.

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My time in Reims was strange. Usually I am a planner, but being on an extended journey (56 days), it can become all planning and no doing if I’m not careful. This was the closest trip to the city and I had had the itch to travel for a while so I planned it last minute and didn’t have time to obsess over schedules and such. 🙂 I think I paid the price, not getting to do 2 of the 3 things I wanted to do there, but I did see enough to know that I am not interested in going back. Here are some random shots I took around the city.

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Epernay is another story, and another blog post. It’s 12:30PM already and I don’t want to stay inside all day writing.