Hopefully you’ve had enough time to read [and re-read] and digest Paris – Part I: Bonjour, ca va?. If not, I’ll give you a few moments to read it……..Ok?
I’ll pick up at
Day 5: Monday 4/10/17
The day began with a bit of tension. You see, Jeff has a wonderful sense of direction; but it was failing him. [I later came to realize that this internal GPS malfunction was likely due to the Metro – travelling underground can mess with your bearings, as I believe it did for Jeff – but I digress….]. We took the Metro to Les Halles on our way to O’Chateau – a wine tasting bar. I know, I mentioned it was the beginning of the day and you’re probably wondering why we were headed to a wine bar at that hour.
To answer the question – we were meeting up with a tour group with whom we would spend the day exploring the Champagne region. We had this goal in mind as we were aimlessly wandering the streets of Paris before the city had really awakened for the day. After passing a unique building for the second time [“Big Ben….Parliament” – I know, I know, wrong city] we knew we needed some assistance. So we hailed a cab and a few moments later we were hopping out at O’Chateau – closer to our hotel than the Metro stop we used!!! But we made it.
Yes, we made it and were sipping our cafe and eating our delicious pain au chocolat when we found out from our co-conspirators for the day that each group had been told a different arrival time and that we were the last to arrive. So we hurried through our breakfast, made quick pit stops and were climbing into the van en un rien de temps.
As we zipped through Paris on our way to Reims [grateful for a driver with experience navigating Paris at rush hour] and then as we cruised the highway between Paris and Reims watching the scenery change from bustling city to bucolic countryside, we got to know our travel mates and our tour guide, Richard. Our group consisted of Theresa, Mark, Leslie and Larry (friends from Texas (although Leslie & Larry don’t live in Texas any longer); Tanya from New Zealand and Shyla from Philadelphia (yes, our own backyard) who met running the Paris Marathon the day before; Jeff and me; and Richard.
Richard gave us snippets of information about what to expect from the day, what we would see, where we would visit and a bit of foundational information about champagne – but mostly he saved the champagne talk for stop #1.
We arrived in Reims a few minutes earlier than expected, so Richard gave us a little bit of time to explore the Notre-Dame Cathedral of Reims – a beautiful structure that elicits feelings of awe and reverence as you step inside. It is a gothic art masterpiece that welcomes over 1 million visitors each year and is the site where the kings of France were crowned. And it was a great first stop for our journey.
Next we headed up the ‘hill’ on our way to La Maison Taittinger – one of the big boys of champagne. We toured the cellars – which is to say we walked through 4th century chalk mines 18 meters below ground. As we walked through the cellars we found ourselves both transported back in time and learning about current technologies in champagne production. We were told about bottle shapes, riddling, disgorgement, aging, fermentation, blending, etc.
Our cellar tour concluded with a LLLOOONNNGGG trip up a spiral staircase and a glass of champagne in the tasting room. Richard educated us as we sipped and I learned from a delightful experience that sometimes a BRUT champagne (one to which less (or sometimes no) sugar is added) can actually taste sweeter than a SEC champagne (one to which more sugar – up to 50 grams per liter in the case of a DEMI SEC – is added).
From Taittinger we made our way past Veuve Cliquot to La Maison Penet, which has been family owned for five generations. The vineyards of La Maison Penet stretch across the villages of Verzy and Verzenay – quaint villages that your mind conjures up when you think about the French countryside. We sipped a glass [or two] in the cellars at La Maison Penet and then were treated to a fabulous lunch in la maison. We sat with owner Alexandre and his marketing specialist, Justine. The dishes served [made by Martine – Alexandre’s wife] were simple but remarkably tasty – a true example of farm-to-table at its best. I doubt they even use the term farm-to-table in rural France [maybe not anywhere in France] – it’s just the way they eat. The food is unbelievably fresh and simply prepared in a way that makes even the most humble ingredient a star. And when paired with Alexandre Penet Extra Brut champagne, Penet-Chardonnet Grand Cru Terroir Escence Extra Brut champagne and Penet-Chardonnet Grand Cru Cuvee Diane Claire champange the foods shined [or is it shone] even brighter!
After lunch we chatted with Justine, Alexandre and Martine, placed our orders for champagne delivery and reluctantly climbed back into the van. I could have stayed at La Maison Penet for much longer, learning about champagne and local culture and nibbling from the wonderful cheese tray while sipping some bubbly.
Following our delightful stop in Verzy we travelled to Vrigny to our last destination – Champagne LeLarge Pugeot. The vineyards of LeLarge Pugeot are spread out across three villages – Vrigny, Coulommes-La-Montagne and Gueux. In 2010, Le Large Pugeot began its shift to organic farming.
I didn’t fully understand the significance of organic farming until we were standing in the vineyard and we asked about the distinct difference between one row of grapevines and the next. We were told that the left side belonged to LeLarge Pugeot and the right to another – non-organic – vineyard. Right then I could see the impact of organic farming!
After our walk in the vineyard, we sipped and sipped and sipped some wonderful organic champagnes and then we sipped some more! Then, wonderfully light-headed from all the bubbles, we purchased champagne, said our good-byes and climbed into the van for our final ride….back to O’Chateau. Along the way we talked and some of us snoozed and laughed and talked and snoozed and laughed.
Throughout the day we learned a lot of things……some related to champagne and some not…..
- 80% of the land in the champagne region is owned by small farmers
- A good champagne is not produced from a single vineyard
- The eyes should be pleased before the palate [the same is true for food]
- The riddlers (not from Batman) can turn about 6,000 bottles per hour
- A meal without wine is called breakfast
- A fine Texas proverb – “it’s not bragging if you can do it”
- Champagne makes you happy in 17 minutes, wine in 30
- The term ‘bless your heart’ (one with many different meanings depending on which part of the American south you are from) is sooooo much funnier when it’s incorrectly changed to ‘bless my heart’ and spoken with a southern drawl by your Chinese tour guide/somelier [I’m almost positive Richard told me he was from China but I was a bit loopy so I apologize if I got that wrong] who has spent many years living in Paris and speaking French!!!!
- You can have a marvelous time spending the day with new friends from around the globe – particularly if you add champagne!
Unbelievably, by the time we got back to O’Chateau, said our goodbyes and got our bearings, Jeff and I were hungry. So we walked a bit to stretch our legs and found a chic Italian restaurant – Daroco – where we enjoyed stuffed zucchini flowers, pizza (Jeff), pasta (me) and a thick, decadent mousse au chocolat (Jeff…..but I had a taste…..or two).
Still a little bit buzzed with full bellies and happy hearts, we returned to the hotel and fell into a deep champagne-induced sleep! Ahhhhhhh…..
Day 6: Tuesday 4/11/17
After Day 5 sipping champagne and sitting more than walking, we needed a day to blow off the cobwebs and use our muscles. We began the day with a quick ‘continental’ breakfast at Lauduree and then visited the Palais Garnier. We strolled through the opera house, snapping pics and marveling at the opulence.
Next we took the Metro to the Left Bank and then strolled over several bridges as we explored the islands of the Seine – Ile de la Cite, home to Notre-Dame de Paris, and Ile St. Louis. We had lunch at another of Rebekkah’s suggested cafes – Le Petit Pontoise.
Then, as encouraged by Norb and Cam, we sauntered through the shops of the Rue Mouffetard. And we finally took a little time to watch the world go by at a cafe [Cafe Delmas overlooking the ‘fountain’ (now under construction) at Place de la Contrescarpe] where Jeff sipped a beer and I sipped a cafe. We sat at our little table in the sunshine and soaked in the local flavor.
On our way back to our home base, we walked with our dinner [a lovely roast chicken, roasted potatoes, cherry tomatoes, and a bottle of champagne purchased on Rue Mouffetard] through Ina’s neighborhood. Along the journey we strolled through some pretty gardens and through Place Vendome. By the time we made it back to our hotel we’d been on our feet for 12 hours and were ready for dinner, a rest, a shower and a long sleep!
More to come on our trip to Paris – including a day learning to make croissants!!!