France: Troyes

Day 5  September 15, 2015

Our New Country Home

After a sad farewell to our hostess in Hautvillers, we drove toward Troyes. Troyes is pronounced Twah. Don’t ask us how they came up with that, but it seems to work for them. While writing about driving, let us divert of a moment to tell you about our GPS. We mentioned before that we have the voice of Stephen Frye as our navigator. You may remember him as Jeeves in the PBS show Jeeves and Wooster. Anyway, he is making driving so much fun. Put on your most proper British accent as you read some our favorite navigation directions that Stephen uses.

  • In 400 yards, go across the roundabout. Second right. That’s it!
  • This is going swimmingly, don’t you think?
  • In 200 yards, on to the highway we go! Fantastic!
  • Just bear left. That’s all.
  • Could I possibly trouble you to turn around?
  • I hate to interrupt, but in 800 yards, turn right.
  • You have reached your destination. Marvelous! I think I might be falling in love with you.

With Stephen’s help, we arrived in Troyes and met our guide who was waiting for us at the town hall. Troyes was never destroyed in the wars and so has many beautiful old buildings reflecting many centuries of history. We knew we were in for an experience when we asked about a building and he sort of huffed and said, “That’s a newer one—15th century.”

Gargoyes galor
Gargoyes galor
Pig and piglet
Pig and piglet
Just plain scary
Just plain scary

We looked at delightful gargoyles, stained glass from the 12th century, and half-timbered buildings that might look straight if you are really drunk but lean multiple directions to those of us who are sober.

This is known as "Cat Street" because the buildings are so close together that cats can jump from one building to another.
This is known as “Cat Street” because the buildings are so close together that cats can jump from one building to another.

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The ends posts on buildings are often carved.
The ends posts on buildings are often carved.
Yes. Gold.
Yes. Gold.
Inside the gates, there was a demonstration of container gardening.
Inside the gates, there was a demonstration of container gardening.

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They have walled up the hole, but this is where infants were left to be cared for by the church.
They have walled up the hole, but this is where infants were left to be cared for by the church.
It is sort of like being trapped inside a kaleidoscope
It is sort of like being trapped inside a kaleidoscope

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We tasted some amazing chocolates from a famous MOF. Oh my!

http://www.pascal-caffet.com/

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We also tasted the local plum liqueur and lived to tell about it. We didn’t need a second sip.

We had lunch at an outdoor café that served six rilletes (sort of like potted meats or meat salads). The six flavors we had were chicken, pork, trout, mushroom, goat cheese, and sardine. Jim remarked that the sardine rillete reminded him of the ice cream we had on Saturday night. We also had a salad since we needed something green. Green vegetables have been hard to come by.

http://www.resto-toutsimplement.fr/

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The red awning makes everything look rather red.
The red awning makes everything look rather red.

After lunch we took a tour of perhaps one of the most unique museums. It was a museum of antique hand tools. If only we could have had a dollar for every time we wished Cindy’s dad had been with us! There were three floors of antique French hand tools displayed in the most artistic ways imaginable. For example there were perhaps seventy five to a hundred different types of antique trowels in one huge display case and they looked like they were starlings flying in formation. Would you like to see all the tools involved in barrel making, or all the different types of axes, or perhaps you’d like to see all the hand tools that were used to bind and decorate leather-bound books (a task which required over 120 steps in days of yore)? This is the place. One favorite displays showed all the tools needed to make gloves, complete with the forms with thumbs that could be moved to either side. Jim Walch, you were in our thoughts so much this afternoon.

http://mopo3.com/

Who knew tools could dance?
Who knew tools could dance?

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With Stephen’s guidance we headed southeast out of the city to a rural portion of the department in this region of France. We made a quick stop at a cider museum filled with old apple presses of all sizes, a movable still, and farm equipment. We now have some lovely apple juice with cherries to enjoy in the morning and some cider to enjoy another evening.

Press those apples. Make that cider.
Press those apples.
Make that cider.

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Our new home for the next two nights is in the hamlet of Ervy-le-Chatel. The town is perched on a hill and once had a medieval castle. Some of the ramparts are still visible. Our room looks out on the farms in the valley below. The only sounds are the bells from the church about a hundred yards away and the birds.

http://www.laquarelle-ervy.com/accueil.php?a=page500000

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We had dinner this evening with our hosts. Terrific food, much from their garden or the local village, and lots of fun talking politics made for a great evening. It will be hard to get up and rolling tomorrow.

Local cheese!
Local cheese!
Our host's newest challenge
Our host’s newest challenge

Off to bed to dream about another terrific day in France.

France: Meuse-Argonne and Reims

Day 4  September 14, 2015

 A Multiple Gasp Day

We don’t know if there is a limit to how many times in a day it is safe to have one’s breath taken away, but today tested the limit. We decided to visit the Meuse-Argonne Cemetery after much back and forth in choosing between that and Verdun.

The Muese-Argonne Cemetery is in the middle of an expanse of rural France. One has to go way out of your way to find it. That seems fitting in a way.

https://www.abmc.gov/cemeteries-memorials/europe/meuse-argonne-american-cemetery#.VzSx6hUrJ2Y

The Muese-Argonne Cemetery is the resting place of over 14,246 U.S. military killed in WWI. Another 954 names of the missing are listed on the memorial. This cemetery holds the most American military gravesites in Europe.

A sacred rendezvous
A sacred rendezvous

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It is hard to describe what 14, 246 white headstones look like. It was more than one could see at any time from any vantage point. It is heart-breakingly beautiful with the graves on rolling slopes that mirror the countryside they had to reclaim for the allies. (Breath taken #1)

We went to the reception center after going to the chapel and visiting the cemetery. We asked if they could please tell us more about the areas where each of us had a grandfather in the war. We had taken information with us about what units they were each in and the gentleman who was there was more than willing to assist us. He printed a map and highlighted the places they had each been. He was interested in the information we had brought with us (Thanks, Richard) and made copies to read more carefully later. It turns out that while Cindy’s grandfather was in the cavalry and Jim’s grandfather worked with horses at one point, there weren’t in the same areas at the same times. As we drove back through one of the towns where Cindy’s grandfather had been, it was a very moving experience to know that almost a century ago, he had been here under such harrowing times. (Breath taken #2) We thank all of them for their service.

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Charlie was here.

We then headed back to Reims (all together now, Ronce) to visit a couple of sites we were unable to visit on Saturday. Our first stop was the museum where Germany signed the surrender to World War II. http://www.reims-tourism.com/Discover/Heritage/Museums/(fiche)/127587

It is a technical school now and was a high school before the war. We visited the room that was used for planning by Eisenhower and then used for the signing of the surrender. The walls are still covered with huge maps and charts that have remained in that room since the war. (Breath taken #3)

It's official.
It’s official.
Frozen in time
Frozen in time
The room where it ended
The room where it ended

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Next was a visit to Musee Abbaye Saint-Remi. http://musees-de-france-champagne-ardenne.culture.fr/saint_remi.html

Where do we begin to tell you about this place? To say that Reims has a long history is such an understatement as to be laughable. They have ten wall-sized tapestries from the 16th century which seem old until you see the 12th century statues which seem old until you see the artifacts from the Romans (statues, mosaic floors, columns) which seem really old until you see the tools and vases from the Bronze Age which seem really, really old until you see the artifacts from 100,000 BC! (Our breaths were taken away with each step.) Truly, it was more than we could comprehend. All the artifacts were from Reims, not just bought from collectors here and there. When you have to rebuild — as Reims did after World War I — we guess you uncover old stuff.

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As breathless as we were, were managed one final stop. We went next door to the Basilica of St. Remi. http://stremi-reims.cef.fr/ He was buried here in 533. He lived to be 96! Of all the cathedrals and churches we have visited over the years, this is now Cindy’s favorite. The windows that weren’t destroyed in World War I were beautiful, and the music that was playing as we walked in was ethereal. It isn’t the biggest church, but it had a warmth and dignity that one could feel instantly. (Breath taken several more times.)

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One candle for every year of his life
One candle for every year of his life — 96

We leave our wonderful home in Hautvillers in the morning and head southeast. This was been a great start to the trip,and we wouldn’t change a moment of it.

P.S. We had another “Rick Steves moment” this morning. We were in one of the small nearby towns and trucks filled with field workers who have been bringing in the grape harvest drove by in decorated vans. They were wearing colorful wigs, yelling, and honking their horns. We can only figure that they had finished picking their parcel of land and were off to celebrate — probably with champagne!

France: Epernay

Day 3  September 13, 2015

Getting the Hang of This

We are settling in nicely to the rhythm of starting our day with fresh pastry, homemade jams, and then setting out for a new adventure. Today we visited Epernay, which we had been seeing as the twinkling lights in the distance from our bedroom window.

They don't want you to forget where you are.
They don’t want you to forget where you are.

Our first stop of the day was the best. We went to a little cheese and spice shop we had researched. (Epicerie Gourmande 5 Place Auban Moet) We were prepared to see lovely cheese, but we weren’t prepared for the shopkeeper — the warmest gentleman who shared his love of his work. We sniffed all sorts of amazing peppers that he wanted us to experience, tasted jams that were sweet and flavorful, and brought home (for dinner this evening) some fresh goat cheese that he marinated in tomatoes, olive oil, and herbs. It is always the people who make traveling a joy. Great cheese helps as well.

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We then had a Rick Steves moment. We parked the car near the center of town and saw a small band preparing to march down the street. We knew the French were thrilled we’re here, but a parade for us? The band was made up of youth and adults in matching light burgundy blazers playing songs they must have known we would recognize such as “When the Saints Go Marching In.” Four older men in matching fedoras were carrying a very large pallet covered with fresh vegetables, a HUGE flower arrangement, and a small statue of a saint. We watched this parade as it walked to the church, played a few numbers in front of the church, left the pallet, and then headed away. We discovered that this was sponsored by the local agricultural society. What a fun little diversion.

Everyone loves a parade. Everyone loves a parade with fresh fruits and vegetables.
Everyone loves a parade. Everyone loves a parade with fresh fruits and vegetables.

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We left town for a while and took a walk in the woods to see the famous twisted tress near Verzy. The trees have some sort of a genetic issue that causes them to stay short and become very gnarled. They were hauntingly beautiful. We think we got some good pictures.

A Walk in the (Verzy) Forest

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We had a late lunch at a champagne tasting room, C Comme, and enjoyed some ham and pickles that made tasty bites to go with the wines.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZZ4zSRLlifg

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Ham persille and pickles are perfect with champagne.
Ham persille and pickles are
perfect with champagne.

We are now back “home” and preparing for a picnic dinner of goat cheese, fresh bread from the shop across the lane, and a cherry tart. The windows are open. The breeze is cool and fresh. The chickens in the hen house below the room are clucking softly. The pickers are still picking in the vineyards on the slopes nearby. Yep, we’re settling in just fine.

France: Reims

Day 2  September 12, 2015

An Interdisciplinary Report

Being in Reims made us smile too.
Being in Reims made us smile too.

Let’s start with phonics—Phrench Phonics. We spent today in Reims. Reims rhymes with France as long as you pronounce France with a short o (Fronce). Reims is pronounced Ronce with a short o sound. Go phigure.

Now, on to history. Reims was a big town before Christ. The Romans had many large buildings here in the third century.

These Roman ruins are still used for performances.
These Roman ruins are still used for performances.

Now jump ahead 1700 years to 1914. Reims was home to 120,000 people in 1914. Between 1914 and 1918, the Germans bombed Reims beyond recognition. When the city was evacuated in 1918 there were fewer than 1,400 people still there. At the end of WWI there were fewer than 60 habitable homes left. The cathedral was bombed, and a fire destroyed much of it. It is still being rebuilt a hundred years later.

http://www.palais-du-tau.fr/

These gargoyles were removed from the cathedral. During the fire the metal melted and began pouring out of their mouths.
These gargoyles were removed from the cathedral. During the fire the metal melted and began pouring out of their mouths.

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Perhaps the most moving sight of the day, in this very lovely rebuilt city, was one stone building that was left as it was after the war as a reminder.

A lasting reminder
A lasting reminder

Ready for a little math? Reims is home to many famous and not-so-famous champagne houses. There are over 200 million bottles of champagne stored in the caves under the city of Reims.

Art anyone? We visited the fine arts museum containing some lovely Monets, and a private home that is now a museum with a special exhibit of Albrecht Durer prints from the early 1500s.

and a girl with her dragon
and a girl with her dragon

At the cathedral we saw the Chagall stained glass windows that replaced some of the destroyed windows from the war. There were also some stained glass windows that were donated by Germany. We guess the French had to accept the windows because it was a nice gesture, but the windows are really unattractive (sort of like the bunny suit that Ralphie gets in A Christmas Story).

Chegal
Chagall
So very NOT Chegal
So very NOT Chagall

Time for music, class. We made two delightful restaurant stops today and both were playing American music the whole time. Frank Sinatra and American jazz are welcome anywhere.

Is it time to open our lunchboxes and compare what’s inside? Our food today consisted of an amazing breakfast spread here at our B&B;

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a trip to the market and then a little lunch by the Romans ruins;

One needs to check out the local market, Right?
One needs to check out the local market, Right?
Yum.
Yum.
Just a little lunch we put together
Just a little lunch we put together

appetizers at Aux 3 Petit Bouchons;

https://www.facebook.com/aux3ptitsbouchons

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Hey. We had to WALK to get to these appetizers.

and then dinner down the street. http://www.annas-latableamoureuse.com/ The first course of dinner was one of the best dishes Cindy has every eaten. It consisted of huge pieces of cold poached lobster over thinly sliced Granny Smith apples, with a carrot dressing.

A little starter
A little starter

 

The BEST ever!
The BEST ever!

We also had snails, four different types of fish, cheese, and lovely desserts. As the third course we were served fresh strawberry and hibiscus sorbet and ice cream with sardines and vodka. The strawberry hibiscus sorbet was splendid. Enough said.

Snails with lots of garlic
Snails with lots of garlic
Oh-so-fresh fish
Oh-so-fresh fish
One is fish. One is raspberry. One is tasty.
One is fish.
One is strawberry.
One is tasty.
Delish fish
Delish fish
A break for cheese
A break for cheese

As the final send-off to Reims, (You are still saying “Ronce” in your head aren’t you?) we stayed to see the light show at the cathedral. Lovely.

They do know how to put on light shows in France!
They do know how to put on light shows in France!

We were so happy to have Stephen Frye to guide us back home to Hautvillers on this dark, and now rainy, night.

Class dismissed.

 

France: Hautvillers

Day 0 September 10, 2015

The word of the day is VORFREUDE (for-froi-duh). It is a noun meaning the joyful, intense anticipation that comes from imagining future pleasures. We are in full vorfreude today as we make our final preparations for our trip back to France this afternoon. This trip will have us heading east from Paris to the Champagne region and then south to Burgundy. Last year we focused on William the Conqueror, WWII, wine, cider, and cheese. This year we’ll focus on the Romans, the French dukes, WWI, wine, cider, and cheese. We have a couple of cooking classes, some cider and wine tastings, and many a historic site on the schedule.

Our bags are packed (as some of you know, Cindy’s have been packed for several months), the color-coded file folders (with a mustard yellow folder for Dijon, of course) of researched information and maps are ready, the GPS (with Stephen Frye’s voice as the navigator) is charged, the passports (triple-checked) are at the ready, and the watches have been set (seven hours ahead).

Let’s get this party started!

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Day 1  September 11, 2015

Over the River and Through the Wood, to Paradise We Go!

We arrived in France this morning and already have had our first perfect day. We rented a compact car and were given a Mercedes Benz station wagon instead. It is black with more chrome than should be allowed. We may be mistaken for French gangsters.

Anyway, our first stop was in Meaux at the new WWI museum. http://www.museedelagrandeguerre.eu/en

It is very modern and avant-garde in many ways. As you walk up to this space-ship façade you are suddenly surrounded by the sounds of war—the horses straining to pull the wagons, cannon fire, people yelling, and gunfire. It was stirring and very unsettling.

A huge relief map of the battle area is carved into the floor as you walk up to the entrance with the sounds or cannons and horse all around.
A huge relief map of the battle area is carved into the floor as you walk up to the entrance with the sounds or cannons and horse all around.

A man with a huge collection of WWI uniforms started the museum, and they use very imaginative ways to showcase them all. At times the soldiers on display were coming out of the display cases.

Trench warfare display that combined video with artifacts
Trench warfare display that combined video with artifacts
Part of the soldier's arm and leg are outside of the glass case.
Part of the soldier’s arm and leg are outside of the glass case. The soldiers and horses are life-sized.

One of our favorite pieces in the collection was a double-decker pigeon truck used to transport carrier pigeons.

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Going to and from the museum we crossed the Marne River and gave an acknowledgment to Cindy’s mom’s father and Jim’s mom’s father who both fought in WWI in battles near the Marne.

Our second stop was at Belleau Wood and the WWI cemetery there. The location is beautiful. Behind and up the hill from the cemetery and chapel, you can walk in the woods that claimed the lives of over 1800 U.S. forces in 1918. Over 8000 were injured. The woods are so peaceful and restful now that you can barely imagine the tales the trees could tell.

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A haunting view from the woods toward the cemetery.
A haunting view from the woods toward the cemetery.

So, we have the river and the wood. Let us tell you about this little piece of paradise. Our home for the next several days is Hautvillers.

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Busy downtown Hautvilliers
Busy downtown Hautvilliers

It is the village where Dom Perignon is buried. The champagne he helped develop is big business here. The village is charming with charm stacked on top of charm with charm sprinkled over it all.

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Dom gets a prominent place near the alter of the church.
Dom gets a prominent place near the alter of the church.
They have artistic occupational signs on the buildings.
They have artistic occupational signs on the buildings.

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This one tell the story very well.
This one tell the story very well.

We stopped at a wine bar we had read about and tried six types of champagne. http://www.au36.net/

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Three were single varietals and the other three were mixtures of the varietals. With the wine tasting we also had a sample of snacks. Read this and weep. Beet mousse with trout and parmesan crumble; ham “meat loaf” in puff pastry; potato cakes with bacon; white pudding sausage with mushrooms; lentils with ham and mustard sauce; local chaource cheese; and a huge raspberry macaroon that will dance in our dreams. We chatted with a lovely couple from Philadelphia who had visited some of the spots that are coming up on our trip this year. It was fun to compare notes.

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Could he look any more content?

We are staying with a champagne maker and have a lovely room that looks out over the valley. http://www.champagne-fedyk-chambres-hotes-hautvillers.com/ We sat on the patio this evening and played with their dog, ate some fresh goat cheese, tasted their champagne, and counted our blessings. What a great first day back in France!

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Upon open the gates to the B&B this is what you see. Oh my.
Upon opening the gates to the B&B, this is what you see. Oh my.
Thee hens provide fresh eggs. Notice the fox painted on the wall.
The hens provide fresh eggs. Notice the fox painted on the wall.
The view over the vineyards to Epernay from our bedroom
The view over the vineyards to Epernay from our bedroom