A while back, Mr. M & I were lucky enough to take a five-day trip to Paris. It goes without saying that Paris is a rich & unrivaled city: the culture, the atmosphere, the food (lawdy, the food… if you go for a week and don’t gain 5 lbs, you have Failed the Mission and shamed your ancestors.) Because we tend to travel at a breakneck pace, 5 days is a reeeeally long time for us to spend in one place. Even when that place is grandeur-upon-grandeur Pair-ee.
Never mind the concerning nature of getting wanderlust while on vacation, it was time to break free for a day trip into the French countryside.
Much to the dismay of the tiny part of me that wants to Grow Up and fit in at Mr. M’s business dinner parties, I kind of hate wine. I much prefer champagne. It’s just so darn sparkly. And undeniably celebratory, no? While many Adults (read: not me) have a glass of wine with dinner, I have yet to hear of the bon vivant who has a glass of champagne nightly. Champagne signals a special occasion, even if that occasion is Tuesday.
For this reason, my first thought under the subheading: Day Trip From Paris was the Champagne region of France, which, it turns out, is centered in the little town of Reims- pronounced “Rance,” to save you from judgmental Parisian looks like this:
Chapter One: Our Hapless Heroes Travel to Reims…
How does one plan a last-minute day trip to Reims? Easy. Ask the hotel concierge. So we did. And they told us it could not be done unless we were a part of a tour group or had a rental car. Try as we might to get any sort of assistance, they kept repeating that it could not be done in a single day. Eempozeebleh.
Liars, I thought, perhaps a bit maliciously. I don’t like being told things are impossible. It’s annoying.
So we decided to wing it. We navigated the train station and made it onto a train bound for Reims and actually got off at the right stop. Things were looking so, SO right. But apparently we exited the station headed the wrong way. And didn’t realize till we were very very lost. We kept making right turns to find our way back to the train station where we had started. Sacre bleu, not a good start.
Chapter Two: An Ally is Made…
Eventually we found the street we were looking for… and then the bus stop we were looking for (morale was on the up & up)… until we decoded from the French sign that this particular stop was not in service on whatever day it happened to be.
We ended up following bus stops like a trail of Hansel & Gretel’s breadcrumbs until we reached a stop that appeared to be in service. And twenty minutes later- thank you, baby Jesus, because it was quite cold- a bus came along!
In my best French I asked the driver if he’d be stopping at our desired intersection. No more glitches on my watch. Much to my surprise, the older gentleman driver who’d had what appeared to be a perma-scowl etched into a stone face broke into a smile, amused that I’d tried speaking French. Despite my foreign language skills inspiring laughter, we now had a friend.
Not only did the bus stop exactly where we wanted, but the driver waved us off and gave us directions in French-slash-Sign Language to the champagnery we were hoping to visit.
As the stereotype goes, the French are notably reserved and cold- to the point of being snooty and unfriendly. I’ve gotta say, we didn’t find that at all! If you’ll forgive me for grouping a whole nation of people into one blanket statement, we absolutely loved the French.
Chapter Three: Our Heroine Turns Less Heroic…
We followed our bus driver’s hand signals directly to the closed gates of the Taittinger champagnery. I buzzed the buzzer.
No, I was told. No tours today. Come back tomorrow.
But we made it all this way, and I really want to see a French champagne cellar! FirstWorldProblem, my ass, Mama needs some bubbly.
Perhaps because I had uttered the above only in my mind’s narrative (no less shameful), the buzzer came through again:
“There’s another tour open across the street. Martel.”
Merci, buzzer, merci!
Chapter Four: Champagne is Had. Lightweights Are Revealed…
Not only did Mr. M & I manage to find the tres adorable G.H. Martel champagnery…
… but we were also told that they’d be running a pre-booked tour of the champagne cellar in a few minutes. Back in the game, baby! The French couple who had booked said tour so very graciously announced they were fine with the tour being conducted in English so we could understand. So generous.
We descended a narrow stairway into the cold basement champagne cellar and seemingly stepped back in time.
Our young guide blushed his way through having to speak English and was embarrassed about not knowing the word ‘fermentation.’ I laughed and reminded him that I did not even know the word ‘embarrassed’ in French, so it was most certainly I who should be.
After the tour, we were treated to three full-glass “tastes” of champagne, which is more alcohol than I usually drink over the course of a month.
Mr. M & I toasted our three French companions and bought a small bottle of champagne for back home. The French couple looked at us, amused, and promptly ordered two cases.
Chapter Five: History and the Heavens Are Considered…
A textbook lightweight in need of something to soak up my champagne tasting, I suggested we stop for a snack and a tour of the nearby Cathedral at Reims.
The Cathedral (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) was mind-bogglingly gorgeous.
Perhaps it’s because I’m American and our shared ‘ancient history’ dates back only a few hundred years (which blows my mind nonetheless), but being surrounded by history in that scope and magnitude has a way of silencing me reverential.
Chapter Six: Our Heroes Try for One More Sip…
Emboldened by our morning’s success at Martel, Mr. M & I decided to test our luck and visit the famous Mumm’s Champagnery before it closed in an hour. We ran through the streets of Reims, high on good luck (and still a little bit on champagne), and made it to the beautiful Mumms gates with some time to spare. Unfortunately… said beautiful gates were closed. And locked.
And then we realized that the entrance to the champagnery was actually across the street and that people were pouring in for tours and wondering why we were taking sad-face pictures across the street.
Chapter Seven: Smugly Ever After
Sometimes you must absolutely refuse to listen to the wisdom of hotel concierge. Adventures are always worth a shot. Especially when they end finding vindication in a glass of real live champagne in the real live French countryside.
I was sure to give concierge The Bea Arthur (see above) when we strolled back in with our champagne that afternoon.
The Epilogue… or, Details of the Day:
Well, this is awkward. Because we did everything so happenstance and at the last minute, I honestly have no idea how we got to Reims or what bus we took or how this all managed to happen. I suppose it allows you to create a swashbuckling adventure for yourself, right? And if this sounds like too much uncertainty & getting lost for your taste, Rick Steves (Of course! When in doubt, turn to The Steves!) lays it all out in his Paris guide.