The traditional March first trip of
the year this year is a guided tour of the big churches of Medieval
Champagne based in Reims. It's an Art Pursuits tour, the group numbers 10, the tour lecturer is
Sally Dormer, the tour manager Ulrike Ziegler. Sally is an old pal who has
taken us around Milan and Durham previously, and I say us because
there are a fair number of acolytes from Sally's previous trips and
courses on this one.
Because of a general strike in France
yesterday our original Eurostar train was cancelled, for some reason, and
we were transferred to a train one hour later. And, for some reason, the
new tickets had to be sent to me yesterday to give to Sally at the station
this morning. All of this was achieved smoothly - the rendezvous at the
Eurostar terminal at St Pancras at 9.00, the baggage check, the two
passport checks, the catching up on the gossip with old trip chums, and
the catching of the 10:26-13:50 to Paris Gare du Nord. A very short coach
ride to Gare de L’est to catch the 16.07 SNCF to Champagne-Ardenne for a
coach to take us into Reims and then to check into the hotel Continental
Reims. Our planned introductory stroll through Reims before dinner got a
bit curtailed, to a good look at the Roman gate so as we got a bit of
culture after all the travelling and before dinner. But the gate was
totally covered in scaffolding. Our first dinner was probably the least
imaginative vegetarian meal of the trip - a plate of salad followed by a
plate of cooked vegetables, including mash - but the conversation more
than made up.
A cold day in Reims, but it was even
colder in the churches. Firstly to the cathedral of Notre-Dame, where the
French kings, from 987, were crowned. Jamb sculpture, well-populated
entrance portals, painted glass, triforia ... all the usual wonderful
After lunch (veggie burger no. 1) a coach took us across town to the large
Romanesque abbey church of Saint-Remi, which was even more of a treat, but
with much more rounded arches. An unofficial (small) group dinner featured
veggie burger no. 2 for me, and a desert that featured pear (poached and
not) a sort of peanut coulis, and pain d'epice. Yum.
An 8.00 start saw us on a coach to
Troyes, with beverages on arrival and then to the Cathedral of Saint
Pierre and Saint Paul which has fine glass and some good stuff in it's
treasury including fine enamels and the reliquary containing the bones of
Bernard of Clairvaux and his close friend Bishop Malachy of Armagh, with
whom he shared robes and was buried.
For lunch we celebrated the cold wind with onion soup, which had onion
bits, bread and melted cheese in it. Then I had a salad with goat's cheese
and honey on toast, followed by vanilla ice cream and pear sorbet.
After lunch, on the way to the church of Saint-Urbain, I bought not only a
jar of pear and vanilla jam, but a jar of coconut jam too. The
13th-century Saint-Urbain was begun by Pope Urban IV, a local lad, on the
site of his dad's shoe shop, and is an excellent, and unusual, example of
Rayonnant Gothic. Then to La Cité du Vitrail - a recently revamped and
reopened stained glass museum with lots of good and illustrative stuff.
Return to Reims for a short rest and a small-group dinner. I had my second
goat's cheese on toast with salad of the day, but it wasn't a patch,
despite added fried potato discs. The coconut ice cream and lemon sorbet
was ordinary also.
A civilised 8.45 start, with a coach
to Laon and the cathedral of Notre-Dame with its famous carved bullocks on
the colonnaded towers.
Lunch here included a local speciality cheese flan, but we had no time for
Then to Soissons, and the cathedral of Saint-Gervais and Saint-Protais.
Finally a private visit to the Carolingian crypt of the Abbey of Saint
Médard de Soissons, part of on-going excavations. This was my least
favourite day of the trip, I must confess - too much historical detail to
listen to while cold winds blew.
The farewell group dinner in our hotel's restaurant was another good one.
To the champagne village of
Hautvillers after check-out, and the Benedictine Abbey of St Pierre
where Dom Pérignon himself is buried. Not much else to recommend it though
Then on to the Moët et Chandon Champagne House in Epernay for a tour,
tasting and lunch. I admit I was not looking forward to this bit but the
tour had fascination, the tunnels where long and impressive, and the food
at the lunch in the orangery was lovely. They had gone to town for us two veggies too,
with separate plush printed menus, and the five vintage champagnes that
accompanied the courses were, I was assured, chosen to compliment the
veggie options too. The courses were...
Raviole de Morilles et
Cerfeuil, Bouillon Végétal au Parfum Thaï
Croustillant de Fromage de Troyes
Risotto de Fregola Sarde aux Légumes Verts
Soup de Fraises au Champagne, Sorbet Bulgare, Macaron au Biscuit Rose
But the tour didn't take in anything functional, noisy or industrial,
despite such processes being covered by our guide.
Afterwards, as SNCF were on strike again, the coach took us to the
Disneyland Eurostar terminal to catch the 18.03 Eurostar, on which our
party were the only people without Mickey Mouse ears and/or children. At
St Pancras, waiting to have our passports checked, I queued and chatted
with Sally, the tour lecturer, and Lesley, a fellow traveller. Lesley took
longer, so we waited, and it turned out she had been asked if she had been
travelling alone and she'd said she'd been in a tour group and had then
been quizzed as to who the man in the queue was she'd been talking to -
i.e. me. Do I look like a drug dealer?
The cathedral of
The Carolingian crypt of the Abbey of Saint