We spent this past weekend in Reims, France ticking off yet another item on our 100 things list: Drinking champagne in Champagne. It also added another country visited bringing our total up to 14!
Another first was travelling by Eurostar train instead of flying and I’ve got to say, it’s my new favourite way to travel. It’s so nice to be able to show up only 30 minutes beforehand, spend literally 2 minutes (if that) going through customs, bringing on whatever food/drink we like, and not have to worry about baggage restrictions (within reason anyway). Plus, you end up in the middle of the city instead of an hours drive away AND you get to use your phone!
Pretty sure I’ll be taking Eurostar whenever possible.
So, after a lovely train ride and a dodgy walk through the dark streets of Paris to make our connecting train, we arrived in Reims late Thursday night. Our hotel was about a 3 minute walk from the station in the main restaurant/bar area of Place d’Erlons – perfect location. However, it was massive with big red carpeted hallways and sections under renovation so it had a bit of ‘The Shining’ feel to it. I haven’t seen the movie but Matt has and confirmed that all the Hotel was missing was 2 creepy twin girls walking around the hallways. A little creepy, but it was a good price and had a massive bed so we were happy.
The next morning (after a bit of a sleep in), we went out in search of the Cathedral of Notre-Dame. The streets of Reims are a bit confusing but eventually we turned a corner and there it was. These photos don’t do justice to how big this church is – absolutely massive!
You can see the parts that have been rebuilt due to bomb damage in WWI, and the towers were meant to go higher (although I can’t wrap my head around how) but after a fire it was decided that they would stay as is.
The Cathedral is roughly 800 years old (to put that into perspective, the temples at Angkor Wat in Cambodia were built around the same time) and, like I said before, I have no idea how they built massive and intricately detailed structures like this back then. And to have them last this long…completely blows my mind.
Inside the church was hauntingly beautiful with lots of stain glass windows.
From there, we practice our French by ordering sandwiches at a cafe (mostly just pointed and said ‘oui’ or ‘non’) then walked to the Museum of Surrender.
Matt’s been reading a lot about WWII lately so he geeked out a bit when he found out that the room where Germany signed the surrender documents to end the war was in Reims.
The room is in a school (which is still being used and we had to make our way through a bunch of students to get to it) and was Dwight Eisenhower’s headquarters during the war. They’ve separated it from the rest of the school and turned it into a museum all the while keeping the room exactly the same as the day the documents were signed.
I don’t think I’ve ever felt more connected to a historical event than I did in that room.
Our days ended up in a bit of a routine during our time in Reims. We’d have a little bit of a sleep in, then walk around taking in the sights and grab some lunch and wander around some more. Then we’d head back to our hotel room for a few hours to read or nap before heading out for dinner. It was nice not having a tonne of things to do or see and a TV that only had French speaking channels (including badly dubbed over movies – it’s a bit weird seeing Anthony Hopkins speaking French with his lips not moving in time with the words). It meant we could have a relaxing weekend which was definitely needed.
Saturday morning we got ready to cross off Drinking Champagne in Champagne off the list by preparing our stomachs with French pastry goodness and headed to the Veuve Clicquot champagne house.
We got a tour of their museum and were told the history of the company which has been around for nearly 200 years.
This is one of the oldest bottles still unopened:
After that, we headed into the caves where they age the champagnes. What we found really interesting about the Veuve Clicquot caves was that they were used as a hospital in WWI and the markings are still on the walls.
Finally, it was time to taste the delicious champagne. We later saw this bottle going for 190 Euros at a restaurant.
After leaving Veuve Clicquot, we thought we’d try our luck at getting into Ruinart house without a reservation. The man at the gate spoke very little English and answered our question with the only answer he knew: “You need to book 4 days in advance.” So apparently, unlike at wineries, you can’t just go to the champagne houses to purely taste. Good to know! (guess it makes sense though when expensive bottles of champagne can’t really be opened just for a couple of people to taste)
On our way back to our hotel, we had a walk through a (what I originally thought was creepy but turned out quite nice) park. But more on that later….
The rest of the afternoon was spent drinking a (much cheaper) bottle of champagne out of plastic cups in our hotel room. Classy!
The next day as we were walking to another champagne house, we stumbled across some old Roman ruins and soaked up the beauty of all the pretty autumn colours.
Our next champagne tasting was at GH Mumm. We did a tour of the caves here as well and again got to hear about the process of making champagne. As the tours are relatively all the same, I wish there was an option to just do the tasting. Still pretty interesting though!
We were pleasantly surprised by the food in Reims. I think it all tasted so good cause we didn’t have any sort of expectations on it. Whereas in Italy, we were expecting amazing food and all we got was less than average (besides the gelato and sandwiches).
One night we decided to go for dessert after dinner (I was craving crème brulee) so we rocked up to this swanky looking place wearing jeans and hoodies. We looked totally out of place (evidenced further by them placing us in a reasonably empty section of the restaurant) but had amazing dessert and Grand Marnier…which cost more than our dinner.
Another excellent food related thing about Reims was that it had candy stores. One was absolutely massive (and had better candy than Candyland in Singapore), and the other had my absolute favourite candy that I’ve previously only found in Canada. Yes, it’s a sour key which you can find anywhere, but this is a particular type. I take candy seriously.
We also didn’t have too much trouble language wise. The only difference we noticed was that people would just speak french very quickly at you even though it was clear we had no idea what they were saying. When we’d stop them and say something along the lines of ‘Je ne parle pas Francais’ they’d just continue on as if we could understand.
One case was when the Candy lady was rambling on in French as we slowly back out of the store gave us too much change saying Merci…Je ne se Pas etc before we finally realised that she had given us too much change and wanted her money back.
I was quite happy with how much french I remembered from high school though! Reading menus was pretty easy (and I even got to show off how many words I knew to Matt) but my issue was when people started talking to me. I knew (very roughly) how to respond but I’d just panic and stare at them like a deer in headlights. Very tempted to take some night classes to freshen up.
Reims is one of those places that makes you think “I wish _____ was here cause they’d love it.” We’ll definitely go back one day and hopefully some of our friends and family can join us.