We had a full day tour scheduled for the champagne region, so we dressed and met the tour group in the lobby. The day would be a long one, so we loaded up at the complimentary breakfast at the hotel. The bus wound through the city, as the tour guide called out the various sights we passed.
The bus ride would be about 1 1/2 hours to the first vineyard, a drive that took us first through the city, but quickly devolved into the similar looking landscapes we were used to seeing in the east coast of the United States. We passed lovely farm regions and small villages that, but for the distinctive stamp of French culture, could easily have been from the area where I grew up.
Along the way, one of the necessary streets was closed for some kind of event, so the tour took a slightly panicked detour until finally stopping to ask some random person for directions. As we arrived to find other tour groups waiting, it became obvious to the tour guide’s angst about arriving on time. We managed to get in, though, and the group began its slow descent into the wine cellars.
The tour guide gave a wonderful presentation of the champagne production process. The caves had been hand carved from old chalk mines, still soft to the touch. There were beautifully restored wooden doors and statues honoring Saint John the Baptist (who is apparently the patron saint of cellar workers). We finished our tour with a video and finally some actual champagne.
After the wine cellar, we had a brief tour of the city of Reims, mostly focusing on the cathedral. The word immense is a staggering understatement for this behemoth of stone and cut stained glass. Although heavily shelled in the world wars, the structure still stood. Some of the windows were blown out by the attacks, but were restored with less elaborate patterns in the reconstruction.
The guide informed us that several French kings had been crowned there, which seemed curious to me. One would think that they would hold such grand events in the capital. I’ll have to do more research on that to get a better understanding.
After the tour, we broke for lunch. We found an area full of cafés but chose poorly. Our orders were wrong, my husband’s lunch inedible as his burger was totally raw. Not having much time, we just paid the bill and left. I did find a chocolatier and bought a large chocolate macaron for each of us for €3,50 each. They were heavenly!
As we waited for the rest of our group, I made light conversation with one if the pretty trophy wives, who was exquisitely nice to me. We were soon joined by some of her friends who consoled me about missing my son, the pitfalls of having daughters over sons and we glanced wistfully at the gorgeous French clothiers which were sadly closed on Sunday. It was uplifting to be accepted, even for a moment, by such a posh group.
We had another vineyard to visit, and the drive there was even more gorgeous than before. The bus wound its way through lush, green countryside with quaint villages nestled in like content doves. We arrived at our destination, a beautiful town of Eperney, where another champagne vineyard awaited us.
This tour was fully automated, with a video presentation, a “panoramic lift” and finally a small train tour through the underground caves. The video was interesting, highlighting the family vineyard’s origin and history of somewhat exotic self promotion, but without audio, the group quickly devolved into lesser maturity levels, giggling and making comments to fill the silence.
The panoramic lift was an exercise in claustrophobia, again without audio, slowly descending to the bottom of the cellars where the train awaited us. Here we were given audio devices with the remainder of the tour already preprogrammed. Once the train finished the tour, we were finally given some champagne. It was nice enough, but too pricey to justifying the purchase. We snapped a few more photos and hopped back on the bus back.
Once we returned to Paris, we decided to head to the Latin quarter for dinner. We had to take the metro, connecting at another station before reaching our destination. The concierge was kind enough to map out directions, which seemed pretty straightforward.
The subway system, regardless of city always weirds me out. There’s almost always some vagrant or panhandler mucking about, and it makes me extremely uncomfortable. Mostly because I truly want to help the less fortunate, but don’t want to be victimized myself.
At the first station, a young man and his lady companion got on the same train as we did. He kept turning around to stare at me, following us at our connecting station. I let them pass ahead of us, even giving them a long head start to wherever they were going. Still, the guy kept turning around to look at me. At our next stop, I paused when the train cames, opting to simply wait for the next one. He and his friend took the train and sped off into the night, but not before one parting glare as we remained behind at the station.
We breathed a sigh of relief, as we waited for the next train. For a moment, I felt foolish, but I’ve always tried to listen to my gut when something didn’t feel right. Maybe he was harmless, maybe not. But I’m alive and that’s all that mattered.
We arrived at the Latin quarter and found it hopping with activity. The shops and restaurants were piled on top of each other, but eventually we found our destination: a British chain called Frog Burger. The food and house-made ales were both delicious and reasonable, the staff accommodating and friendly. We stayed late, chatting with the waitresses who could not have been nicer. After a lovely meal, we finally returned to the hotel for the night.