Some History, Some Art, and Something to Drink
Trip Start Sep 20, 2009
10Trip End Oct 07, 2009
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Where I stayed
Of all the stops planned for this trip, Reims is probably the one I was most looking forward to visiting. First of all, it was a new region of France for us – Champagne. Second, the town offered a little bit of everything – history, art, and, of course, the wine. I'll begin with the wine.
Though the tools have changed, the process of creating champagne has remained the same since it was first consumed by the region’s monks, including one named Dom Perignon. Champagne MUST be made in France’s Champagne region, and it usually consists of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and occasionally, Pinot Meunier.
The grapes are picked in September and are mashed shortly after picking
After we learned all this, we drank.
Almost as beautiful as the wine, Reims boasts one of the most amazing Gothic cathedrals ever constructed. Like so many cathedrals and basilicas throughout Europe, the stories of Catholic spirituality are told through the architecture, paintings, and sculptures because during the Middle Ages, people couldn’t read. This is how they learned the stories. For me, time and time again throughout all the religious buildings I have visited, I couldn’t care less what the stories are or what the lessons teach, but the sheer enormity of the structure and the beauty of the art gives me the same sense of awe and humility that the stories themselves are supposed to convey in the first place
In the Notre Dame de Reims, there is also one small gem of modern art. Stained glass windows from the Russian-French artist, Marc Chagall, were installed in the axis of the cathedral’s apse in 1974, and they added an almost dreamy, modernist touch to the gothic structure that somehow seemed to fit. The cathedral was also the site where Clovis was baptized as the first king of the Francs, thus determining the country’s religion, and it was the coronation site for French kings including Charles VII in 1429. He was led to the cathedral by Joan of Arc, who encouraged him to rebel against English rule of France, marking the beginning of the end of the Hundred Years’ War.
The city of Reims was also the site for the beginning of the end of another war. Though it wasn’t announced until the next day, the Germans unconditionally surrendered to American, British, French, and Soviet forces at a schoolhouse near the train station on May 7, 1945. We saw the map room, completely preserved, where the signing of the Armistice took place, and to this day, the small museum remains adjacent to one of Reims’ schools.
The most memorable meal of our stay in Reims was at an art deco brasserie (many buildings in Reims were reconstructed after World War I, and a style of the times was art deco) called Boulingrin. It was suggested to us by a girl we met at the laundromat who had just graduated from Pitt University and was living in Reims teaching English. The meal turned out to be great – foie gras, escargot, steak frites, scallops St-Jacques, tartar, the best mousse au chocolat I’ve ever had, sorbet with a champagne liqueur, and a bottle of wine from Beaune – and our teacher friend was also kind enough to pass along some information on what teaching English in France is like
Glenn and Pam Said:
Who would have thought you could find a restaurant/café on the main walking street named Ernest Hemingway in Reims? Besides the frequent cafes, our self-guided tour through the Notre Dame of Reims was enlightening. They had an old clock that was pretty cool. Going on two different champagne tours gave us a good perspective of the local/non-commercial and the big time export one. We really enjoyed the Martel/local where we were able to sample three different champagnes. The caves however, in the more commercial one were under the archbishop’s quarters. They were dug out by the Romans and we were at 10 degrees C. Our last night there we had a wonderful French dinner. We all tried the escargot—even Glenn!
As usual, I begin with accommodations. We arrived in Reims with three hotel options.
Since I was such a good sport in Paris, I was rewarded with the option of a bathroom in the room this time! Once again, Glenn and Pam waited with the bags as Chad and I began our ritual tour for an acceptable place to stay.
We ended up with a place in an ideal location, with a bathroom IN the room, but with some rather comical malfunctions. At first the elevator wouldn’t work, so we trekked the bags up a few flights
We got settled and showered and found a place for dinner that appeared to be Reims only brewery. Since it was Monday, the town was pretty dead, but after dinner, we toured a bit and saw this town’s impressive cathedral all lit up.
This is also where the next day began, with an audio tour of the cathedral, this time with narration and detail inside the church. Chad and I were psyched to team up again with the audioguide; one machine, two headphones. That is until Chad wanted to hear all of the OPTIONAL extended detail which the guide offer, but allows people (like me) to opt out of. My favorite part of this cathedral was definitely the windows. The first sets of windows were reminiscent of the Ste-Chapelle windows in Paris, which I loved, and houses some of the most amazing windows I’ve ever seen. These windows were modeled after those windows and were incredibly beautiful. The next windows were the Chagall windows. Another amazing work of art with all its colors and figures.
After the audio tour, we picked up food from a local market and had picnic by an old abbey. This before the next three hours were to be spent in the champagne caves learning all about where champagne started (yup, those monks knew what they were doing), how it was made way back when, and how its made in present day Champagne with the new technology
The first tour was a family owned brand, only distributed in France. This was a more intimate tour and supplied us with three tastings at the completion, including a premier cru! The next tour you’ve probably heard of, Taittinger, was a bit more "factory-like" and repeated much of the same information we’d heard previously. They only gave us one sample of the cheapest bottle on the menu. The comparison may be best described with a beer analogy, Budweiser versus a locally brewed beer with limited distribution. My recommendation for anyone reading this who visits the champagne region is to take one tour of a local champagne cave, and then go to a local restaurant and do some sampling of all the different brands.
After all of that, it was time to wash our socks and undies. Yup, laundry day (or laundry 3 hours). So, not only are the unlocked internet signals harder to find since last trip, but the laundry places are also much more expensive. We did have a nice conversation with an American girl who was in France for six months to teach English
We had one of the most delicious dinners that night and ran into some really old ruins on the way back to the hotel, including carvings of Romulus and Remus!
Before leaving town, we visited the Armistice museum. Although I wasn’t too keen on going to a museum, I was outvoted. I also didn’t know which museum I was actually declining (yes, like a child). Well, it’s a good thing no one listened to me, because it turned out to be an excellent museum, with a generous collection of items preserved from the day that Europe declared victory over the Germans (hallelujah). It was easy to envision what it would have been like to be in that room, sitting at that long table (see pics) while the documents were signed. We spent enough time to appreciate all it had to offer, and headed for the train to…we had no idea…