At last we are in France! Our first stop is Reims in the Champagne region. At this point we are just trying to find the hotel, but thankfully half our tour is on the same train. We stand out carrying the bright colored hotel directions. The Continental Hotel is located on the corner of Place Drouet d'Erlon. A somewhat smaller version of the Champs Elysses in Paris. I liked the atmosphere of this place - so relaxing.
Upon arriving, my foot was tired so Mom went shopping on her own. Another first for mom!
I stayed behind, checked my email and ordered a glass of champagne from the bar. A first for me! It came with strawberry meringue cookies.
Later we had our group meeting where we did introductions and had some wine and snacks supplied by William and Julie.
I was surprised at how many repeat travelers there were and excited to get to know everyone. I somewhat felt like a Rick Steves amateur. There was so much travel knowledge to obtain from my new tourmates.
I'm feeling like it's going to be a good group.
Ted, Ann, April and I made reservations for Le Foch, a Michelin star restaurant. Yep, this place was a bigger 'wow' moment. You never forget your first Michelin experience. I was so excited to sample some of the world's finest cuisine.
Our first challenge was reading the menu. Even with the handy translation book, we were still making mistakes. I think the worst conversion was thinking sweet breads were lobster...eek! Thankfully the hostess was more than accommodating, explaining each item to us.
Can there ever be too much foie gras? You would be surprised at the answer! Especially when you order it for an appetizer and then it is also a garnish on your entree. Something new for me was having truffles. I'm still not sure if it's my thing, but I am so glad to have tried them.
We even had courses that we never ordered. At the beginning we had moved tables to accommodate a larger party. As a thank-you, the hostess gave us a whole entree for free. Plus the restaurant brings out small samplers in between our actual courses. I would hate to admit that I had to watch other tables to see how to eat something, but sometimes I was clueless. Then, just when we finished our dessert and couldn't possibly eat another bite, there's a sample plate of mini sweets. Well...we couldn't be rude. What an amazing meal! And again, great new friends.
William then led us on a quick walking tour that ended at Le Bouligarin. I remember thinking, if our first meal together was any indication of the quality we would receive, we were in for a real treat. We had carpaccio de boeuf, saumon sauce champagne cougettes and goelleux au chocolate! Chocolate lava cakes were soon to be my best friend at many restaurants. It was such a wonderful night filled with good food, great conversations and even better wine. That night, Ted, Ann, April and I drank champagne together at the hotel and got to know each other a little more. My new friends!
Our First Full Day It was a little rainy out but that didn't slow us down. William took us on a walking tour of the city centre and taught us about the damage that Reims incurred during the wars. My favorite part was the Notre-Dame de Reims (Our Lady of Rheims), which is the Roman Catholic cathedral of Reims, where the kings of France were once crowned. This is where I witnessed my first 'wow' moment and it would never have happened unless it was raining, the rain was running out of the mouth of the gargoyle on the cathedral. I have been a fan of gothic cathedrals for many years. The inside was large and we basically had it all to ourselves. The rain was pounding outside and someone was playing the organ on the inside, it was so relaxing.
After that, we had lunch on our own before meeting to go to the champagne caves. Mom likes a nice sit down meal so we chose the Brasserie Flo across from the hotel. It may have been a little pricey for lunch, but the creme brulee was worth it. Even though our French was less then poor, our waitress was so nice and accommodating. I had the steak and chips (the only thing I could read) and it was the best steak in all of France. This is where Mom started her quest to eat creme brulee everyday!
The Highlight of Reims They say champagne is just another wine, which is great. "No special occasion required". We toured a small estate, G.H. Martel & Company and got to walk down into the limestone caves built by the Romans but are now used to house miles of champagne bottles. We sampled a coeur de cuvee, a rose, and a demi sec. Our guide was so enthusiastic and told us she liked to have her friends come over in the afternoon for champagne, fruit and chocolate!
What I learned: The sediment (sludge) that is frozen and removed from the neck of the bottles is used in lipstick. Weird, but yet not wasteful.
Unfortunately it was raining so we didn't feel like touring around on our free time, but everything happens for a reason. Some of us decided to go to the grocery store (Monop) and buy champagne and snacks. I have never drank so much champagne. It was so awesome to hang out all afternoon in the hotel lobby with my now really good friends and get to know each other.