Monday, December 12, 2005

Reims Part II

I knew my time in Champagne was limited and I was determined not to let this setback ruin the trip for everyone—especially me. I was going to have to suck it up and ask for help*. All the girls were very gracious—they could tell it was a humbling experience for me, and knew I was good for the cash, so were also very generous. After getting as much information from the Board of Tourism, we headed to Epernay by way of a 20 min. commuter train (which was hysterically small—my POS Pontiac at home is bigger). Epernay is home to most of the Champagne Houses, and the Boulevard de Champagne—which is not nearly as spectacular as it sounds. We signed up for a tour of the Moët et Chandon Caves. Moët et Chandon owns the most famous champagne labels, including Dom Perignon, and Veuve Cliquot (my favorite), and of course, Moët et Chandon. The tour is more of a journey through the moldy, dank labyrinth that is the company’s storage and mixing house before tasting (in my case) several of the house labels. The whole thing cost me 28 euros, but tour/tasting rates begin around 8 euros. There are several champagne houses in Epernay, which is a cute town surrounded by vineyards. Big on ambiance, but not a lot to do there. If you’re not interested in the (half) day trip, stick to Reims, where one finds just as many cave tours—if not of the big labels.
We had time to kill after our tour and decided to take a petite promenade around town. We ended up walking out towards the outskirts of town and vineyard on a hill to watch the sun set, thousands of birds swirl in the air creating black clouds, and pick wine grapes from the vine (technically illegal).
That night, we headed out for a nice dinner. Our hostel—the only hostel in Champagne, is only several blocks from the center of Reims, where we found a restaurant serving local dishes with a menu** around 22 euros. We were seated in the no-smoking section on the lower level by a hostess, and introduced to our waiter—the worst waiter in the history of bad French waiter stories.
He literally threw our menus at us, and stormed away, clearly upset by our presence in his section. As the cuisine was local, we were unfamiliar with most of it, but eager to experience something new and waited for him to return to ask questions and order some wine.
I got his attention first, and ordered bottle of the house red. He laughed, sighed a little, and then walked away before I could inquire about the menus. When he returned with a carafe filled with red water, he took a moment to answer questions. One moment. I attempted to ask him several things, but he wouldn’t let me complete any of my questions, talked over me, and became so frustrated by my refusal of his attempts to guess what I was going to ask, he walked away in a huff. Now, my French is not perfect, but it just so happens that I was speaking very well and very clearly that night. The problem was not in my communication skills.
The wine was disgusting; it tasted like vinegar and cherries, and it had a gritty texture that scratched my tongue and the roof of my mouth. I am still unable to account for this—or forget that awful taste. Blech! We have our theories—one of which includes our waiter emptying half of the full bottle we ordered into a carafe and filling the rest of the pitcher with urine, keeping the bottled wine to himself.
The food was amazing, I started with shrimp and basmati, stole one of Maggie’s escargot, and tried some of Andrea’s cow marrow. Marrow is not as disgusting as it sounds or looks. It is gelatin. Brown gelatin served still in the bones, with sea salt and hard toast. It tasted like salt and hard toast.
I had duck—my favorite, with mushrooms in a black sauce, and ended the evening with chocolate and cocoa covered profiteroles. YUM! Unfortunately, the service got progressively worse with each course. Everyone in the no-smoking section was smoking, and terribly drunk and loud, which was fine as they included us in the fun, but were awful to our waiter who took it out on the table of foreign girls. Thankfully, one of the neighboring tables consisted of an amateur soccer team who “love the US and American women!” I like to think that their ogre-like behavior—including tipping over the two melted ice buckets, and throwing food at other tables was their chivalrous idea of rescuing four damsels suffering at the hand of a greasy, stringy waiter.
We returned to the comfort of our hostel after dinner. Having originally planned on staying the night in Epernay, we were so impressed by its facilities, we decided to stay the extra night in Reims. To say that it was nicer than our dorms is not saying much, but the shower, toilet, even the beds and linens were so luxurious by comparison, we felt spoiled as we settled in for the night.

Travel Tip: When visiting the Champagne Region, one is sure to encounter lots and lots of champagne and champagne recipes. But beware! Those charming bubbles giving your morning orange juice a kick, served as an aperitif during dinner, and then an afternoon of tasting will leave you flatulent. You and all of your traveling companions. This can be humourous but a bit off-putting. Avoiding dairy products of all kinds can help, and opening all windows will rid the room of such an ungodly odor and prevent the respiratory problems we encountered throughout the night. Just be sure to ask the front desk for extra blankets.

*The dirtiest word I know
**Culture lesson of the day:
in France, the menu is called
la carte. A starter is called l’entrée, and an entrée is called un plat. Stay with me…
If you would like to order a meal consisting of two or more courses, you choose from a selection of
Menus that typically offer an entrée , un plat and dessert; with cheese and salad courses also available.
Menus typically start around 15 euros for un plat and dessert. If you would like something that is not offered within a Menu , you must order from la carte as we do in the states—or rather, à la carte.


Blogger Serena said...

scroll down, there's more...

5:26 PM  
Blogger European said...

Ahhh, I will rest tonight! ;)

2:39 AM  

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