Thursday, May 21

Voyage à Reims

When we were planning our trip to France, Kelly mentioned she'd love to go to the champagne region and do a day in the countryside sipping champagne. After debating about whether to forge out on our own path and try to figure out the champagne houses ourselves, or go with a chauffeured tour...we went with option B. More champagne. More mileage. More drinking and no driving. Sounds much safer. Kelly booked us a tour with La Vigne du Roy, for a private day-tour of Reims and the champagne houses.

We left our apartment early to head to the train station this morning. The metro was full of women in wonderful black heels and sleek dresses & men looking dapper in their blazers and buffed shoes. I love the metro-style of city life, especially the men! We ended up at Gare de l’Est and caught the train towards Reims, about a 40-minute ride. I love riding trains, maybe because it’s something I only do in Europe, but I think it’s so fun to watch the country speed by your window and just catch small glimpses of another place.

After landing in Reims, we were supposed to meet our guide outside of the station. We arrived and walked outside and were expecting someone standing there with a sign for our group, however when we got out there- nothing. No one was waiting. We were about two minutes early, so we figured they were just running late. A few more minutes pass, and still no one shows up. After double and triple checking that we were at the right train station, I started to panic. I went back into the station and used my little French to ask if they knew of this company but quickly found out they didn’t speak much English in this part of France. So this was going to be an adventure. Thankfully when I returned outside to mom and Kelly, our guide had arrived. She had run into quite the traffic jam and profusely apologized (we were just so thankful that she arrived and it wasn’t a scam that we didn’t care).

After that adventurous beginning of the trip, we were so thankful to be able to hop in the car and be driven around and not have to worry about directions. We spent the rest of the afternoon driving around the countryside of Reims; we went into a vineyard and walked through the rows of grapes, we stopped and got to take in the breath-taking views of the countryside (you could see groupings of vineyards for miles), but one of the highlights of the day was stopping at champagne caves along the way. We stopped at three champagne houses, one large house and two smaller houses where we got to experience the art and history of champagne making; like for example that Tattinger monks turned their abbey into a champagne house to make more money for their parish. The whole process was fascinating and really opened my eyes to the art of champagne. At each house we got to sample the different types of champagnes- brut, extra dry brut, rose…it was all delicious.

Our second champagne hosue we visited was in this little town outside of Reims, I mean this teeny tiny little town that had the most quintessential French country homes with old picket fences and rusty bikes outside the gates. Our guide stopped the car and opened this big green gate, exposing a dirt driveway to the house. It was old and charming and rustic but inside had all the bells and whistles of a modern champagnery. After a private tour of the caves we had the most amazing luncheon in the glass atrium of the house. It was the most simple, perfect and French meal accompanied by bottles of champagne. The sun came out and baked our cheeks as we enjoyed gorgeous tomatoes with olive oil, sausage rolls, fresh baguette, a crisp green summer salad and sweet cantaloupe for dessert. Gosh I could’ve sat there for hours soaking in the beautiful scenery and drinking the beautiful rose champagne until sunset. It was magical. Unfortunately we had to leave to head to yet another champagne house before heading back to Reims to catch the evening train back to Paris.

It was an absolutely wonderful and charming day, full of wonderful memories, beautiful scenery, delicious wine, amazingly simple food, and wonderful sights. Our guide dropped us off in the city center as we still had about 2 hours before our train left. Walking around the town ended up getting us horribly lost in a town that didn’t speak much English. We walked around for almost an hour and half trying to find the train station. Each person I asked would point in a different direction, getting us even more confused. In a last ditched effort I went into a bar and the bartender spoke English and gave us the (correct) directions but oh my gosh, our train was going to leave in 15 minutes and he said it was about a 10-15 minute walk. Needless to say we were in an absolute panic as it was the last train out for the evening. We booked it, running through town looking horribly tacky and ridiculous with BOTTLES of champagnes in our hands (as we obviously didn’t want to drop these lovely bottles). By the grace of God we ran right through town, through the train station and onto the train just minutes before the doors shut and the train took off. We stood in the hallway hysterically laughing, not even believing that we made the train. Needless to say, we ended our day trip in quite the memorable way.

My advice: after the tour, have them drop you off at the train station directly and then just walk and explore from there so you know where you’re going…unless you’d like to run through city center with bottles of champagne looking like the most RIDICULOUS Americans ever; then have at it!