Blundering into Paradise – Saturday 5/12/2007

We hadn’t travelled far from our hotel when we saw this charming sign in Reuilly. There was also a WWI monument and an old water fountain there, so we stopped to look around. Went in to see about the B&B, and were even more charmed by Meredith. She showed us the bright and well-designed rooms and we decided to make it our base for the next two nights!

It couldn’t have turned out any better. Meredith showed us to our room, gave us some pointers about places to see in the area. She and Bill (who was out photographing a horse riding competition) have run the B&B since 1998, if I remember right.

This is perhaps the most ecpressive soldier statue I have ever seen. I love this guy. He’s so strong and protective. The gesture seems absolutely unique in the genre, but it is so familiar and real. This place suffered a lot during WWI. Check this out and scroll down for photos of the streets in 1918.

Stopped at an outdoor market, I think still in Dormans. This is a big round of brie in straw packing. There were at least a dozen cheeseless straw mats on the table…brie sold.

The market was closing up, and we found a great dal on these cheeses: 3 for 3.30 Euros. Huh! Okay! That’s about $1.50 each. We stopped at a boulangerie and bought a baguette, an eclair and a tart with woodland berries on it and planned to picnic…which we did.

The cheeses are displayed on a rock in a little park just below Hautvillers, which is considered the birthplace of champagne by some. Certainly, it is by Hautvillians. Dom Perignon (a monk in the abbey here) tweaked the techniques and the types of bottles and figured out that three different grapes should be mixed.

This is our little Renault Kangoo! Adorable little car. Mom was sitting on the cheese rock having lunch in the wind. It was a little too much for this California-import. So I took myself and a share of the lunch down to the car, where I enjoyed this view of the Marne river and discovered the little pull-down trays in the backseats of the car.

There are all these little grave-marker looking things around, which identify the owners of the grapes being grown here. We also saw markers for Moet & Chandon, and for other world-renowned champagne makers.

You know how small towns in the States have signs listing the charitable organizations and churches? In the district of Aisne, they list the champagne houses!

Our tour guide at Mercier in Eparney. We went down into the miles of caves hollowed out of the limestone in order to keep the champagne at the correct temperature. Meredith had told us that the champagne might not be the very best at Mercier, but the tour was much less snooty and more fun than over at Moet & Chandon. We had a great time, and enjoyed the champagne tasting at the end, too.

Poked around the countryside a bit on our way back. Stopped and looked at truck gardens along the Marne. Went out for dinner in a nice local restaurant. Another fine recommendation from Meredith…who, I guess I didn’t say, is originally from the East Coast and was so unpushily helpful!


Planless but Interested – Friday 5/11/2007

One last breakfast on the Bateau Johanna. This is the little corner I perched in. Sigh.

We bid adieu to Pierre, the little head who lives in the proprietor’s part of the boat. Their son helped us take our bags to the taxi stand outside the Musee d’Orsay where we got a ride to the airport and a rental car.

They don’t give you any information when you rent a car from Europcar. It’s just like when you rent one in the States. They try to sell you extras, give you the keys and wave bye-bye. No traffic sign handouts or briefs on how not to get in trouble. You can get a map. We took the map.

Headed out with the flimsiest of ideas about where we were headed. We’d decided to visit the Route de Vin (Wine Road) in the Alsace-Lorraine based on a few pages I’d torn out of a free 2006 Frommer’s guide I’d been given at AAA. See, I couldn’t find the Rick Steves’ France 2007 book before I left home… Sigh.

Misplacing that book urned out to be a good thing. When I found it a few days ago–under the bed–I realized we would have missed probably the best part of our trip if we’d followed his advice! As it was, we wandered into Champagne country, and followed the Champagne Route.

We didn’t have big expectations for this day. It was about getting out of Paris and into the countryside and getting our bearings.

We had lunch, including local champagne, in the small village of Charly-sur-Marne. According to Wikipedia, it’s even more interesting than we knew! For us, it was a quiet little town where we found parking next to a little restaurant in which working people both in dusty painter’s pants and in suits or skirts were eating.

This assiette de charcuterie doesn’t look nearly as tasty as it was. Each meat had it’s own texture and unique flavor. Wonderful with fresh chunks of bagette.

It’s part of one of the prix fix menus. You can order one with three courses, but Mom and I figured out early on that it’s good to order the one that comes with your choice of appetizer and choice of main dish, or main dish and dessert. One of us would order the appetizer/main and the other the main/dessert, and we’d taste everything. Worked out well and kept us from absolutely gorging ourselves.

Mom had the lasagna. I had the andoullette du grillee and frites. The andoulette is the big rustic looking sausage. I read in my phrase book that it included tripe, and I was fine with that… until a big chunk of pale tripe popped out of it about halfway through. Kind of put a damper on it for me somehow, and that odd little aftertaste began to bother me. Sigh.

But it was delicious as long as it lasted, and it was served with a rustic mustarde sauce that was so good it sent me on a mustard hunt for the rest of the trip. (I brought home, no kidding, 3 big containers and 5 tiny samplers…brace yourselves, writing group, I’m bringing them next time I see you!)

We had dessert, but I was apparently too excited to photograph it. I think we had dips of cassis sorbet and pistachio ice cream. An odd combination, but both things rare in the States.

I took a LOT of pictures of food on this trip. Almost every meal we had out, I think. It was just so well-presented and amazingly tasty.

Many thanks to Braveheart, who repeatedly encouraged me to eat, drink and be merry, and to write what makes me happy. It was the best advice. (I ate with abandon, ended up falling into a pattern of light breakfast and one large meal a day and another small one. With maybe a lemon tart or a chocolate crepe thrown in for good measure, and I was actually down three pounds when I got home!)

Stopped in Chateau Thierry to use a cybercafe and got directions to what turned out to be a motel outside of town. We were pretty beat, so decided to stay there, even though Campanile is a chain. It was sufficient and there was a restaurant there where we split an omelet for dinner and eavesdropped on the big table of Germans who spoke English to the French waitress.