Me and Jess dining in the bathroom
Liz and Jess
Afterwards we ended up at a tiny little wine bar. It was nice to be out somewhere for once where I didn't feel like the oldest in the room (Tours has a pretty studenty scene, after which I think the majority of people go off and have babies and dinner parties or something) but the flipside of that was getting periodically bothered by middle-aged men, one of whom stood right next to me and said "we can say anything we like in front of them, they don't speak French". My sister was right, I should have waited to see what they would say before disabusing them of this notion, but let that be a lesson to all of us that just sometimes, people can actually speak more than one language. I'm sure I'm sometimes guilty of saying things a bit louder than I should, but it never fails to amaze me whenever I hear English-speaking tourists in France having what they obviously think are private conversations right in the middle of the bus or metro or whatever. Funny how they forget the (mythical) idea that "everyone speaks English" as soon as they feel the need to whine about how everyone on the metro stinks (usually true, but keep it to yourself).
We didn't have a big night, because on Friday it was up early to catch the train to Reims. Despite having two changes (shuttles from the TGV on both sides) everything went very smoothly and we got to Reims about 11.30, checked into our hotel, and headed out in the direction of the wine houses. I hadn't got around to booking anywhere, for various reasons, so we ended up going to Taittinger, one of the only houses where you don't need a reservation. Apparently this was one of the busiest weekends of the year for some reason, so most of the others were booked solid. We got there just before they closed for lunch, got tickets for the afternoon tour, and then traipsed around in the hot sun trying to find food. You'd think that there would be some options around a major tourist draw like that, but after being turned away from a fancy restaurant that was full, we opted for the other end of the scale and got croque monsieurs from a tabac. Mine was pretty nice, but the dude panicked upon being asked to make one without ham for Jess and just shoved 10 ccs of extra cheese in, so I think hers was a bit much.
The champagne tour was actually more interesting than expected. I learned of the existence of people called Riddlers (LOVE that) who have to turn the bottles in the racks over the course of months so that the sediment gradually gathers in the neck. Apparently they turn something like 60,000 bottles in an hour, if I'm remembering correctly. Can that be true? They must have the wrists of an 80 year old prostitute! (Sorry for that.) Once the sediment is in the neck, they plunge it into a very cold solution so an icecube forms around it, then open up the bottle, it shoots out, and they add a bit more sugar and something else I forget to get the bubbles back in it, then cork it up again. Who knew? The house are on the site of a former monastery, where the monks used to make wine, and the champagne is actually stored in Roman quarries excavated in around the 1st century A.D. We didn't know this going in, so it was an extra treat to have that special dimension to the tour. And of course the tour concluded with a glass of the main attraction, which we drank while chatting to a lovely mother and daughter from Los Angeles. Very nice the champagne was too, good flavour and nice fine bubbles. I don't get to drink champagne very often, but I would say that's one of the chief differences I noticed compared to other sparkling wines - you can actually really taste the delicate flavours as opposed to just getting the sensation of bubbles hitting your tongue.
In the Taittinger cellars
We had dinner at an Italian place, and then we were lucky enough to get to see a light show put on for the 800th anniversary of the cathedral. If you are in France and you possibly can, I would really encourage you to go see this! It is far and away the most impressive spectacle of this sort (including fireworks and lazers and so forth) that I've ever seen. It lasted about 25 minutes, and was more than just a projection on the front of the building, it was really tailored to the cathedral, with the lights tracing out individual features or giving special effects like projecting workmen lifting statues into place on the façade or showing the effect of a royal procession entering the cathedral, etc. I'm sure my photos don't do it justice (I also have some videos that I'll try to upload later, or you can look on their website http://www.cathedraledereims.fr/) but might give an idea of some of the different effects. By the way, there was a bush in the way on the lower left-hand side, so that's why there's a dark spot there. Definitely a memorable event and really pleased to have been able to be there while this was happening - it wasn't planned that way, I just knew Jess had been wanting to go to Champagne for ages, and I had realised on the way to Strasbourg that there was a TGV past there that didn't go through Paris, so it was fate. Especially since I just saw that if we had gone next weekend, there would have been no show!
I think this was meant to show beams on the cathedral as the workers 'constructed' it
The workers rolling the rose window into position etc.
These flags were 'lowered' down until they covered the whole façade (as you can see in the next photo)
I think this is meant to give an idea of how the cathedral may have looked in the Middle Ages, when the exterior would have been painted. My sister was asking how that could be true when she'd seen far more ancient preserved painted façades in Egypt. I was just having a look on the cathedral website, and according to them, it and other cathedrals have been cleaned over the course of centuries. It doesn't go into further specifics, but what I gather from other websites is that people's sense of aesthetics changed and even in Catholic countries they came to prefer gleaming white edifices to brightly coloured ones. Of course, even Roman and Greek statues were once painted (those creepy blank eyesockets weren't always that way) but to us it is really hard to imagine them any other way than pure white marble.