16 July 2009

Reims, Day One

Another year, another mostly uneventful flight through Frankfurt. We like Lufthansa for its no-frills teutonic efficiency, and we were sorry to hear they discontinued direct service from Portland to Europe as of next month. The flight's always full, but somehow, it loses money. Oh well.

Frankfurt is Lufthansa's hub, with non-stop flights from Germany to pretty much every part of the world. Every time we took that flight, I couldn't help but notice the odd collection of travelers it attracted. There were always a lot of passengers from India-- Lufthansa was the primary link between India's skilled labor force and Intel. This particular flight was chock full of Eastern Europeans. I usually get cranky when the passenger in front of me reclines for the duration of a ten hour flight, but it's truly impossible to be annoyed with a woman in a drab, Ceaucescu-era muumuu and a flouncy babushka who peeks back every hour or so to ask me if I mind that her chair's in my lap. Shucks.

An hour after we boarded our connection in Frankfurt, we were in Paris with our luggage. It took slightly longer than that to get our rental car in Paris, but we were out of the airport and headed to Reims in our surprisingly spacious Citroen by about 1PM local time. The drive was wonderful. The grass was greener, the sky was bluer, the clouds were fluffier. We delighted in it! We passed through long stretches of empty space punctuated equally by modern industrial or agricultural sites and beautiful, ancient villages. A few minutes after we passed a Home Depot-sized garden emporium, we passed a tiny village surrounded by medieval stone walls.

Our first hotel here, the Hotel Azur, is clean, comfortable, and exceptionally basic. After we showered and got into some fresh clothes, we set out on foot to see Reims. It was about 85° out-- stifling in the bright, midday sun, but perfect in the shade.

First stop: Cathedral of Notre-Dames. The current building dates to 1211, but it replaced an older building that was destroyed in AD 496. Note: this picture is from Wikipedia. There's some scaffolding in front of the Cathedral that made it impossible for us to get a decent shot.

Our next stop was a pedestrians-only stretch of Reims lined with shops and restaurants. The architecture was beautiful, but at eye-level, this area was an eyesore. It reminded me of the Leidseplein in Amsterdam-- a collection of international chain stores (including Le Golden Arches) and mediocre restaurants that are absolutely teeming with tourists.

By 6PM we were absolutely certain of two things:
1. we wanted to find a place to sit and have a drink, and
2. we'd be asleep as soon as possible.

We found a neighborhood place called Le Bistrot Henri IV near our hotel, and settled into a bottle of mineral water and a € 9 liter of unnamed rosé from Aix en Provence. We sat inside, but just by the door so we could listen to the loud, jovial group of locals seated outside. They were... fantastic. All smiling, all laughing, all shouting over each other with a guttural passion that's only possible in French. We didn't speak. We listened to them the way you listen to music-- you don't have to understand a word of the lyrics to enjoy the song.

After our liquid dinner, we went back to the hotel and fell asleep by 7:30. We're not quite on local time, but at least we didn't sleep through our first full day in Europe like we usually do. Hey... it's progress!

Up next... the real reason to be in Reims. Champagne!

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