Day 102: November 1st
Bill here – Sam has asked me to guest-write this blog post. Careful observers will note that I’ve only guest-written on here once before; to let the world know that a 5.9 earthquake back in early September hadn’t derailed our trip. I guess assigning me this work is Sam’s way to indicate the importance of our 102nd day. After all, our 102nd day was a day we’d long looked forward to…the day we finally visited the gothic cathedral at Reims!
Also, it was my 30th birthday 🙂
We woke up in the morning and made casual plans to drive out to a vineyard north of town that had a website which seemed to suggest, in French, that they welcomed guests to come and sample their grapes and bubbly. We had an address and a rough idea of where we were going, and that was enough for me.
Just as we were leaving our hotel however, our friendly hotel receptionist called out to us to make sure we knew that the day was a bank holiday and most places in the area were closed for the day.
It was news to both of us that the French would be celebrating my birthday as well.
At this point in the trip, we’ve come to understand two important, if unwritten, rules:
1. Always be flexible on plans.
2. If somebody recommends something, do it.
Laurie, our friendly receptionist made a few phone calls on the spot and discovered that our original destination was closed for the day, but that and came back with a suggestion on visiting a small little Champagne house in Epernay, just down the street from the massive Moet & Chandon, mentioned by Sam in yesterday’s post. She knew the owners and was a big fan of their product.
What a great decision that was. Not only did we have a private sampling of four different types of Champagne, the tasting was led by the husband/wife couple that owns the house (Paul-Etienne Saint Germain, see pictures below). It was also great because on the way out of Reims, we impulsively pulled off the highway and drove up the dirt roads leading into the vineyards. Sam was inspired to take pictures of the earthy, autumn colors of northeastern France, while I was inspired to grab a small handful of ripe purplish grapes off the nearest vine. I used to work in a winery and the whole experience, from the surreptitious consumption of grapes in the vineyard to the Champagne tasting room where proud owners shared their newest bottles and beamed about awards won in recent competitions, all reminded me of my old job.
After that, we drove back to Reims to park the car — with more wine and bubbly scheduled for the day, there would be no more driving for me.
After stowing the car and making a few quick calls home to say hi to our parents, we made our way to our next destination — the aforementioned gothic cathedral in the center of town.
We have seen a lot of gothic cathedrals on this trip. Sam, I’m proud to say, is now well versed in the history and terminology of European religious architecture and she can pretty much walk into a church/basilica/cathedral and estimate the year its various features were built. To be honest, having seen so many churches and having described so many here on the blog already there’s not much new to say about this one. The only thing I would say is that for anyone who hasn’t already seen 25 churches in Europe, this would a pretty good one to visit. It’s beautiful and has all of the thing you’d look for in a stunning gothic cathedral. Additionally, Reims hosted the coronation of all but two French kings so it has some solid history going for it as well.
…but that’s not what you’re here to read about, nor is it what brought us to Reims. Thus, we finished the cathedral, grabbed a quick bite to eat (Sam = pasta, Bill = burger) and made our way to Tattinger for another tasting.
I’m sorry, I’m afraid you mispronounced the name of the champagne house in your head just now. “It’s TAY-ton-JAY here in Frahhnce” as we ourselves were told multiple times.
The Tattinger tour meant well and some might say that the caves were even slightly more interesting than the ones at Moet the day before, but unlike the small group of 15 or so on the day prior, we had about 70 people on this cellar tour and there simply wasn’t enough space down there to accommodate everyone comfortably. The tour covered almost everything we’d heard the day before, in some cases nearly word for word, and I was beginning to worry that we’d wasted our money. Thankfully the tour wrapped up again in the tasting room and Sam found that she liked Tattinger better than Moet. If nothing else, I’m happy that we can now confidently order Champagne knowing what we like.
After the Tattinger tour, and finding other champagne houses closed for the holiday, we retired to the hotel room for a few hours to warm up on what was shaping up to be a dark, cold, and rainy evening. Finally, an hour or two later we summoned the courage to head out again into the elements and walked down the street to a nice looking French restaurant overlooking the main drag. I tend to not be too fussy about my birthdays but Sam wanted to take me someplace special and this restaurant really delivered. The food was amazing, the wine was great, and somehow Sam managed to sneak away and explain to our waiter, in French, that it was my birthday and please could they put a small candle in my desert?
The resulting pyrotechnic display surprised even Sam. Given that all activity stopped and all eyes in this upscale restaurant were on me, I was sufficiently embarrassed for her liking and it was a hilarious end to a wonderful day.