There’s nothing like traveling, and there’s no place like home…
Those of you who have been keeping up with my posts from time to time may have enjoyed my enthusiastic review of one of the most spectacular and moving operas of the 21st century. There were so many standing ovations that the Opera Comique finally closed the curtains. This bodes well for this opera returning to Paris soon and perhaps even to its production in other countries.
Since that particular post there has been silence.Why? I had been so inspired to write.
No Covid. No, I hadn’t ceased blogging because I was disappointed.
It’s just that it’s been two years since Ted and I took an overnight vacation. And with three jabs to keep us feeling relatively safe, and our steadfast Jeffrey now able to care for our cat Mickey and to stay overnight from Tuesday through Friday, we were finally able to plan a little trip beyond the length of the short leash we’ve been on since our three weeks of splendor in Norway in August 2019. When we returned from that voyage, we began searching for and going through the process of adopting our Mickey. Once we had adopted him, we were determined to stay near home to make sure that he would come to feel confident that we would be here with him, at least until he had a chance to grow a bit and to feel secure in the experience that we would always return to him and that we would never abandon him.
Of course by the time he felt sufficiently confident, March of 2020 brought the Pandemic and our first confinement on account of Covid-19. Now we feel relatively secure on all counts and made the decision to visit the beautiful town of Reims, just about a two-hour drive non-stop from our home in Paris. Reims is north and east of Paris, and not more than an hour from the border with Belgium. Much of the drive, once we left the boundaries of the city, took us through splendid and vast areas of green agricultural land, and as we entered the region of Champagne, we enjoyed the site of the rolling hills decorated with the vineyards of this storied region of France.
Just after noon, we turned into the driveway of the Domaine Les Crayeres, framed by gorgeous green trees and a canopy of blue sky. We had planned to drop off our luggage in our room and drive into the town to take advantage of what was predicted to be our only sunny day in Reims.
We were welcomed at the reception desk with an invitation to the Winter Garden for a glass of Champagne.Trying not to be rude, Ted and I both replied in unison that we would really love a cup of hot coffee. However, we were quite cheerfully and politely informed that we were in Champaign and that we couldn’t possibly begin the first day of our stay without a glass or two. So, we went along with the program. While our luggage was being whisked away up to our suite on the second floor, we were escorted through the bar and into the stately glassed-in room for our flute of bubbly.
When we were finished with this decadent indulgence, we floated up in the elevator, down the hallway with its red-velvet flocked wall covering, through the mahogany doorway, into the vestibule, and finally entering our room, the Empiratrice Victoria. On the table we found a three-layered stand filled with petit-four, and while we munched, we took some photos before we could have the chance to mess it all up. The enormous room was decked out in elegant pale cream and silver/grey, with a canopy bed fit for an Emperor, a huge walk-in closet, a large bathroom with a separate shower (complete with a stone bench), a separate toilette with it’s own sink, and a fireplace and two huge windows with
splendiferous views over the glorious fourteen hectares of parkland beneath blue skies.
Eager to visit the main reason for our choice of Reims -- the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Reims, the oldest Gothic style cathedral in Europe, and the traditional location for crowning all of the kings of France -- we jumped into our faithful Evie, and headed for the center of town.
I learned that this Cathedral had secured its place in the religious hierarchy early in its 75-year construction, when a 12-year-old Louis IX was crowned there in 1226. It was he who declared that all future monarchs would be coronated at the Notre Dame de Reims, a tradition stemming from the history of Clovis as France's first Christian king, who was crowned in an earlier version of the church on this very same piece of ground. From a distance, I was surprised when it appeared to be so like the Notre Dame of Paris, with its two towers and flying buttresses. But as we walked around the perimeter we could see how much more grand she was and how each view added to her grandeur.
It was both the best of times to visit, with the sun shining in through the countless stained glass windows and there were few visitors on
that Tuesday, and it was the worst of times, because this was the day that 145 wooden Swiss Chalet-style pop-up shops were being erected in the square right in front of and all around the cathedral in preparation for the opening of Reims' wonderful Christmas Market. Men were stringing electrical wires and lights, decorating and stocking each chalet with special edibles, wearables, holiday and religious
souvenirs, hot mulled wine and cocoa, sweets and salty treats, jars of home-grown and homemade compote and confiture, and artisanally crafted items. One sweater looked so attractive that Ted tried it on. The man who produced these sweaters had invented a special insulating system back in the 90s, one that kept the interior of the garment at perfect body-temperature. It was even impermeable to all weather, owing to the
lanolin in the pure lamb’s wool that adorned the exterior of the garment that also included a sturdy unzipable hood. It was an understatement to say that Ted was delighted to find a soft light grey colored model, a perfect fit for his size and taste.As the first customer, Ted was also given a special discount. So, even the worst of times turned out to be one of the best! And while I’m on the topic of 'best of times’, these three days included Ted’s birthday, Thanksgiving Day and our wedding anniversary celebration all rolled into one. We also had more plans for this brief trip.
The second day we visited another famous landmark of Catholicism, The Basilica of Saint Remi,
a medieval abbey founded in the 11th century over the chapel of St. Christophe, where St. Remi was buried and was consecrated by Pope Leo IX in 1049. It is the largest Romanesque church in northern France. The church has been a historic monument since 1840, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1991 as a part of the trio that consists of the Cathedral of Notre-Dame, the former Abbey of Saint-Remi, and the Palace of Tau.
We visited the Basilica first, and afterward had the thrill of seeing a wonderful collection of original art, sculpture, and tapestries that had been placed for viewing in what had been the Palace of Tau. This palace was so named due to its T-shaped form ("tau" in Greek) and which had been the palace of the Archbishop of Reims. It is associated with the kings of France, whose coronations were held in the nearby Cathedral of Notre-Dame de Reims and the coronation
banquets that followed had taken place in the palace itself. The façade of the Palace of Tau boasts a beautiful 17th century look, currently housing the Musée de l’Oeuvre, where original treasures as well as much of the surviving artwork linked to the coronation ceremonies are displayed.
Although this sculpture on the left may resemble the Pieta sculpted by Michelangelo in the 15th century and displayed near the entrance to St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican City in Rome, this one actually dates back to the 5th century and is displayed in the Tau.
After this unusual experience, we took a walk in the town and passed by the lovely Opera House!
Then back to the hotel for ‘apero' in the bar before relaxing in our room and dressing for us dinner in
Le Jardin, the bistro in the garden of the hotel.We walked there through the dimly lit garden
and when Ted saw the copper pots and pans in one window he expressed a wish to visit the
kitchen. We had a lovely dinner, after which Ted asked and was granted permission to visit and to photograph the kitchen and the staff as they carried out their duties
and to learn all about the mechanics of preparing all of the many sauces and keeping them at a perfect temperature in a large bain marie. The food was way beyond what one would expect in a good bistro and the service was impeccable.We could not imagine that it could get any better than that, but we had planned to have dinner in the main restaurant Le Parc on our last evening in the hotel.
The next morning we had arranged to take a tour of the caves belonging to the producer of Ted’s and my favorite Champagne, Veuve Clicquot Brut.
Our hotel was conveniently surrounded by some of the top producers of the bubbly
wine the French love to drink (and so do I). It was a fascinating tour that took place hundreds of feet below ground in the natural caves that spanned dozens of acres where the temperature was naturally a perfect 50-54 degrees ℉. Near the end of our tour, we were treated to three different varieties of this brand (as much as we wanted of each) and then we were asked to rank them with the qualities that made each high on our list or not.Back above ground there was a boutique where one could purchase in quantity their particular favorites, and a lovely terrace where one could buy a glass off a 'food truck’ parked in the garden and could sit and enjoy this life-giving substance to our heart’s delight under the clear sunny skies that we were still so
lucky to be blessed with. Of course it was quite chilly outside in spite of the sun, compared to the depths of the caves--nearly freezing, in fact!
But Ted and I love the crisp cool weather under the azure skies and we were dressed for the occasion. In this, our last day, we returned to our room and after catching up on our email, we dressed for our special anniversary dinner in the grand dining room of the hotel. This Michelin star restaurant, known as Le Parc, deserved the respect of a bit of a dressing up, which we rarely have the occasion to do.
The atmosphere was devine, and the food delicious and artistically plated to perfection.
This three-night holiday had been just what we needed to chase the Covid-19 blues away and to get back into the fresh air and into the heaven that is comprised of the exploration of French historical sites and cuisine. But we are also happy to return home to our little rue, all decorated for Christmas and our little guy Mickey.
We enjoyed our annual trimming of the tree with the help of Jeffrey, who we could not live without, and we look forward to taking him and his family to visit One of one favorite holiday destinations The Chateau Vaux-le-Vicomte,
and to visiting with our triply vaccinated friends in small groups to celebrate just being alive! I wish all of my readers a wonderful and festive season and a healthy and happy New Year!