Friday, January 3, 2014

Friday 3 January - Reims

The 0840 TGV to Reims was on time and took us effortlessly to Champagne - Ardenne, the station on the outskirts of Reims. The countryside is uninteresting and, in any case, we were going so fast  there was not the opportunity to take much in. I saw a deer in a field and, as we approached our destination, signs of the chalk bedrock became evident. A connecting electric train took us into Reims in short order.
The Tourist Office supplied a city map, a transport map and instructions on how to get to the champagne houses. There was a ticket machine at the tram stop where we purchased a 24 hour pass valid for up to 5 people for just over 5 euros. The no. 4 bus took us to Martell where a toffee nosed receptionist informed us haughtily that we had to make reservations a day in advance. Tattainger were a little more friendly and booked us into the next tour which was in French. The guide spoke very clearly and we had a good visit. The dégustation was good but one cannot escape the fact that champagne owes much of its cachet to marketing.
The restaurant Au Plat du Jour was open for lunch and we all enjoyed scallops in a mustard cheese sauce with mushrooms and leeks. Mary and Veronica had Kir Royal.
Armed with a local transport map and a day pass, the journey to Mumms was very easy. Most of Reims was destroyed in World War I and it was rebuilt in a dreary, uninteresting fashion using the original confusing street pattern. 
We stopped off at the Opera to take a quick took at the front of the cathedral, a small portion of which has been cleaned. There was a 10 minute walk from the tram to the champagne house of Mumms. I had made a reservation for a tour in English. It explained the champagne process very well. The tour was impressive, there are 25 km of caves cut in the chalk, and I found the small museum of various machines and instruments well done. We had a dégustation of two champagnes, a vintage, which was smooth with an after taste of apples and caramel, and a rosé which was astringent and not to my taste.

We had plenty of time to stroll back to the station past a funfair. The train to Paris came in an hour before time but the SNCF bureaucracy wouldn't let us board until the stipulated 20 minutes before departure. This was a double deck train with a monitor showing our speed. Much of the journey on the high speed section was at 320 kmph, the maximum allowed.  Although the train was travelling very fast the ride was excellent and it was difficult to believe we were really going at that speed.

There is still one SNCF mystery surrounding this trip. Why was it cheaper to travel first class than second?

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