We then drove to a small local outside of Epernay the heart of the Champagne region. Here we stayed in a very nice ancient farm estate which Louis the ninth often stayed when traveling to the region. The drive was beautiful passing through many small rural villages. Rolling hills and shocking scenes of vast expanses of bright yellow carpet which we soon found out were Rapeseed crops. Our first restaurant dinner was rather lovely. We all shared a bottle of Bordeaux vin blanc which was shockingly the colour of dark orange amber. I had a lovely fat steak with frites and sauce béarnaise. In the morning the parents woke up late so I rushed them to get downstairs to our breakfast. I had chocolat instead of coffee this morning and it almost blew me off my chair. Fabulous, thick, rich, creamy; ah.
After breakfast we started our next adventure to Reims along the Champagne route. First stop was the city of Epernay where Dom Perignon, the genius, discovered the method champanoise. We stopped for a tour at Moet and Chandon the most expensive and well known Champagne in the world. The property was gorgeous, I thought I was back at Versailles. NOTE to self I would love to work for this company some day. The tour was excellent, we walked through the caves which took two centuries to build and expand twenty miles under the city. The largest bottle of Champagne they make is 1200 euros and can be found pouring over the winning cars at NASCAR races. The underground caves were cool and actually carved out of chalk. We were taught extensively about the growing regions history and method of production. Most interestingly, 50 percent of bottles back in the day used to explode due to poor glass and unstable temperatures. That was hundreds of bottle of champagne exploding every day, they used to actually build trophs around the bottles in each section to collect the bubbly. Now about 10 bottles out of hundreds of thousands in these caves explode each day, thanks be to God. At the end of the tour we all had a tasting and I chatted with the funky and well dressed 20 something Swedes from Stockholm. In the luxurious store we purchased a bottle of bubbly and took some pictures by the huge posters depicting beautiful models underwhich read, BE FABULOUS. And anyone watching would have said I was.
From Epernay we made our way to Reims, pronounced “rez.” First stop was the hugely famous and in general, huge, Notre dame Cathedral where all of the Kings of France were crowned. Huge is no understatement here. We then went for a quick washroom break where I met my first ever toilet conductor. Why did my guidance counselor in high school never inform me of this valuable and intriguing profession? Scathing, rushed, and starving we all succumbed to a bite at McDonalds in which we were delighted to be accompanied in line by a raving lunatic man who screamed and stared at me like I had killed his precious cat. I heart locals. We then took a visit to the Basilica St.Remy. This is also a famous hot spot as St.Remy was the bishop who crowned Clovis of the Francs and thus brought Christianity to the country.
We hopped in the car and took a four hour drive to Dijon the capital of Burgundy, THE Dukes of Burgundy, and home of Esler my dearest friend from high school. Unfortunately the trip goes down hill from here, for a while at least. I was getting some serious stomach pain half way through the drive and upon arriving at the hotel I actually decided to lie down rather than eat dinner. I know shocking, I passed up Beef Bourguignon and the night was a wrenched barf o rama. I’m not one to get into details but I was thoroughly ill and we had to switch rooms due to my mess. I was feeling horrible, not just for passing up an amazing once in a life time meal that I didn’t have to pay for but I was so sick. The next day the family left without me and toured all around Dijon as I was bed ridden with fever and sleeping. They arrived back at 2pm as I demanded they pick me up for the Malle Mustard Museum tour that I had booked, I didn’t care if I was half dead and holding my severed head in my hands, I was going to see this Culinary Tourism highlight. Maybe not the BEST idea as I could barely stand up and actually lay on the cobble floors of the museum for most of the one hour. The family learned lots about mustard and they promised to teach me more later. Dijon was by far the worst city yet to actually drive in, TINY little streets and a plethora of them were only one way, family car angst. To best understand, it took an hour to get to the museum which was only 20 minutes away. We got back to the hotel and I had another two hour nap and awoke to visit dearest Clare at her apartment. We then walked to a cute little restaurant that specializes in Swiss Raclette. We ordered two bottles of wine and each received a plate of cured and dried deli meats topped with gherkins. I was IN SHOCK when the waitress arrived with a HUGE half slab of Raclette wheel. The wheel was approx a foot in diameter, only pictures suffice. The dish is consumed by scraping the melted cheese which is heated under an element. This gooey wonderfulness is poured over steamed potatoes, the meats and baguette. VERY filling meal, I obviously didn’t eat a lot but made a valiant attempt to fight my urge to fall out of my seat. We “closed up shop” as they say. We were the last customers in the place and took a whooping 3 hours to savor our meal. It has occurred to me several times that I need to live in Europe, I need to live in a place that embraces the slow eating of food, enjoyment, no rush, I think I’d be less anxious. Amy and I finished off the night by visiting a cozy little bar with Clare’s throng of friends who are also studying in Dijon via Dalhousie. It was nice to see some young faces; especially those of fellow Canadians. Gets me all excited for the 3 months solo ahead of me…
And then we drove through the French Alps! Wow and we all thought the Rockies were something to write home about! West Coast Canadians lack the beautiful valleys. We drove and drove and drove…one little town of St.Claude was cute. It is the pipe smoking and diamond capital of France, who would have known. We drove all along the Franco Swiss boarder and I basically felt as though I was in Switzerland, lush green pastures, dairy cows galore and beautiful little towns. We were just a stones throw from Geneva. Driving was insane; ZIG ZAGS are an understatement; I don’t think we actually drove in a straight line for hours, our heads bobbing left to right. We arrived in our destination, the beautiful town of Annecy in the Haute Savoie region; known as the Venice of the Alps. Lake Annecy is absolutely stunning. A slender pool surrounded by towering mountains; reminded me a lot of Vancouver and Lake Louise. The entire city has rivers running through it; bridges upon bridges, turquoise blue; takes your breath away. In the main center of the town there is a small prison house that was used to hold criminals, vandals and heartlets surely. It is so cute as it sits right in the middle of the river in town and has two bridges on either side connecting it to the main boardwalk; only a picture will suffice. We stayed at a bed and breakfast right beside the famous Chateau. That night for dinner I had Tagitelli with crème de nutmeg and raw egg yolk on the top. Finished that off with crème brullee.
The next morning was the first day of blue sky and sun. We strolled downtown and I was amazed to see at the wine store one euro bottles of wine. Today was the start of my search for Paris Homme Vogue and Paris GQ. Annecy is the capital of Noughut in France, many sweet shops carry great varieties of this treat along with fruit jellies another local specialty. We then attempted to leave Annecy by driving up the mountain, as we got to the top we realized that our gas tank was dangerously close to running on empty so after a few courteous curses from all in the family we drove all the way back down the mountain to find a gas station. Once we filled back up we took the drive to the top again; surrounded by white snow we jumped around and took a copious number of pictures. We had now seen with our very eyes Mount Blanc. As we zig zagged another hour down the other side of the mountain in the southerly direction we experienced severe hairpin turns in which every family member squeaked in fright. We then installed the rule of honking prior to making the turn in order to warn any oncoming hooligans; namely those careless biker gangs.