Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Day 8 – Train to Epernay, All You Ever Wanted to Know About Champagne and Dinner in the Latin Quarter

Rise and shine.  Saturday was our trip to Epernay, which meant catching an 8:32 train from Gare de l’est (eastern train station). That meant catching the Metro around 7:30, picking up our tickets from the kiosk at the station and hopefully finding a double espresso to wake us up. Check, check, check.  With tickets in hand and a jolt from our espresso and pastry, we got on the train in good shape. It was very crowded with some passengers having to sit on the floor (in front of the toilettes, since they were not open for use). A quirk of trains in France we have noticed is that tickets are rarely checked by anyone. The other is that France must be the graffiti capital of the world, and spray paint sales must be huge.  Train stations, tracks, bridges, et cetera, make for handy palettes.  We arrived in Epernay a little before 10am, giving us a little time before our 10:30 tour to walk around. Epernay is a pretty classic French village with a center square/circle, a train station and lots of history. Since Epernay is to the northeast of Paris, it has seen Napolean, the Kaiser’s boys and some of Adolf’s finest roll through, hide out and generally control the town.

Our 10:30 tour was at Georges Cartier, a small champagne house in town.  After a video about the making of champagne, we were given a tour of their caves which equal about 1.5 km in total. Interestingly, the caves under Epernay total several hundred km and many are linked (or could be easily). The largest producer in Epernay, Moet & Chandon (makers of Dom Perignon) has 28 km of caves.  The tour was a fascinating learning experience and well worth the time if you are ever in the area.  Of course, the best part of any champagne or winery tour is the tastings at the end.   Your Ramblers now feel like we can have a reasonable discussion about champagne, so if you want to talk cuvees, blanc de blancs, vintage vs. non-vintage, we are your folks.

After our tour, we had a great lunch at Le Sardainge where we met two gents from Australia that were touring like we were.   After lunch, we went up the street to C.Comme Champagne  Proprietaires a place Rambler Jane had located on the interweb with good TripAdvisor ratings again. They specialize in small champagne houses and offer a tasting as well.  We opted for the package of six tastings: First three were of the three types of grapes used to make champagne, then one of the more common blend of these three, followed by two roses.  It was fortunate that we told our Aussie friends where we were going, because one was nice enough to walk down the street to tell us Rambler Hance left his wallet at the café. Fortified by eight glasses of champagne (two from the earlier tour), a beer at lunch, our wallet and a thirst to know more, we went back to Avenue de Champagne where most of the major and minor houses are located.  First and foremost is Moet & Chandon, one of the oldest and largest houses. Dom Perignon discovered the original methode champanoise, which is the method by which champagne is made. The house is closed for renovations or we would have taken their tour. "House" is an understatement as it is really more a combo of massive Chateau with a muse in front, large numbers of related buildings and some more modern factory type structures.  Next door is Perrier- Jouët, and its main chateau is equally or even more impressive and its complex takes up several blocks. Rambler Hance thinks that if you have been in business since the 18th century and those are your family estates, champagne is a very good business.

Here are a boatload of pics so you get the idea about the size and elaborateness of these places.

Our wine caves tour

C. Commes for tasting #2

Now THAT'S a door

Moet & Chandon Welcome Center

Before we left we also went by the local church (L'eglise Notre-Dame) since it, like most in France, is large and old. A wedding crowd was starting to gather as we walked around the grounds. It was pretty clear this particular church took hits (probably during WWII) since nothing else would explain four inch deep, very round holes in a stone wall quite like a 50 caliber shell. The old gal held up well and now it gives her character.

Note the Chunks Removed from the Facade

After boarding the train back to Paris, we ran into our Aussie friends and invited them to have a coffee at the train station.  Good guys. Two of our encounters in Paris were with Aussies, always so friendly. Definitely the site of  a future Ramble.

After a long day on trains and in champagne mode, a trip to the Latin Quarter was in order for dinner. As always, the walk to your destination is half the fun of Paris. We found ourselves in what is perhaps the greatest concentration of restaurants per foot of street space in the world. The very narrow streets were jammed with people, and the cafes and other restaurants were packed. After deciding to try one of the establishments with a very creative rotisserie, we found this place (Onzebar) and had a lovely dinner.  Here are some pics.

Very Cool Rotisserie. Pans Catch the Au jus from meat. Right on the Street

Our Spot. The Door Between the Two Placards is Our Table

Guy Soliciting Business Right Across the Street

 Another walk along the Seine past all the Saturday night revelers led us back to our hotel.  Tomorrow is our last day in France so we have a picnic and perhaps one final museum trip planned.

 Until then, keep rambling.

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