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Destination: Reims, France



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Reims Cathedral (November 2018).

Situated about an hour east of Paris, the city of Reims (pronounced “rance”) is the capital of the Champagne region. That’s to say that it’s located in the heart of the champagne-making part of France, and it’s no wonder that plenty of visitors come to check out the copious cellars, lush vineyards, and of course, to taste the bubbly, alcoholic beverage.

Aside from its champagne-tasting status, Reims is also known for its cathedral, with an imposing architecture that has had a long history in the coronation of French kings. Its origins date as far back as the early fifth century AD and, despite a fire in the 13th century and damaged in the first World War, it remains a towering beauty that attracts visitors to its site every year.

I had been interested in visiting Reims for some time, as I was keen on seeing the cathedral, as well as experiencing champagne tasting in the region. In fact, the drink can only be classified as “champagne” if it’s been produced in this particular part of France (and nowhere else). It goes to show that the French take their champagne-making very seriously, and it’s not a surprise that champagne has such a high status in alcoholic production (not to forget really expensive!).

While visiting Paris for about a week in late October-early November, I had a couple of days when I could take day trips to other places *relatively* near by in France. I spent one of my days strolling the stunning château de Chenonceau in the Loire Valley, and I decided to spend my last full day in Paris to visit Reims. Trains ran fairly frequently between the two cities, so it wasn’t a problem purchasing my tickets in advance (about 17 euros one-way) and taking it over.

From gare de l’Est, the journey took no more than an hour (TGV, ftw!) and soon enough, I arrived into Reims around 9:30. Since it was still early for anything to be open, I puttered around the city center for a while. I visited Reims Cathedral, which didn’t disappoint me with its sheer height (to the point that I had to back up a considerable amount to fit it within the photo frame).

Before entering, I glanced up to see the Smiling Angel (“l’Ange au Sourire”), a 13th-century sculpture embedded into the cathedral’s exterior, along with sculptures of bishops. What makes this sculpture well-known in the city is its history, as it’d been partially destroyed when the Germans damaged the cathedral during World War I. The sculpture has since been restored, and it has become symbol for French resilience against the Germans in the 20th century. Upon gazing at the statue, I also interpreted the sculpture to represent benevolence, as the angel’s small, but sturdy smile suggests forgiveness for sins committed in the past.

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Inside the cathedral.

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L’Ange au Sourire (“Smiling Angel”).

Following my visit of the cathedral, I headed south of the city towards the champagne houses, where one can take tours of the cellars and indulge in champagne tasting. I’d received a recommendation from a friend who’d gone beforehand of a particular house for champagne tasting at a reasonable price (as I was on a budget…somewhat ironic that I wanted to taste champagne on the cheap, but I’m not rich, by any means), so I chose to go there to check it out.

Perhaps it was because I’d gone in early November, i.e. off-season, but upon arriving at the champagne house, it was only me and another woman who chose to arrive once it opened at 10:00. After paying 12 euros for three tastings (which I found to be a good deal), we sat back in the fancy parlor to enjoy the flights of the bubbly drink. I found the first and third flights to be my favorite, with the former being light and subtle and the latter stronger and more intense. Actually, I did enjoy the procession from light to strong, as means of easing into this otherwise strong drink.

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Champagne tasting.

Our guide was really amicable and knowledgeable about each flight we tried, along with answering any questions we had about champagne. For instance, I learned that, while champagne is produced similarly like wine, there’s also an extra fermentation process (like beer) that brings in its carbonated taste. I also discovered that, due to its more-extensive production process, it makes it expensive to purchase. Maybe the questions I was asking were too juvenile but, considering that I’m no expert on champagne production, at least learning a little offered more insight into exactly what I was tasting!

The tasting lasted no more than an hour, and I soon left to continue exploring Reims. Just 10 minutes from the champagne house was a small church, église Saint-Nicaise, which I happened to stumble upon and, in the end, really enjoyed. While the exterior looked rather unassuming (with the exception of its bright-red roof), the interior boasted a lovely wall-painting that I hadn’t expect to be placed in the church. A underrated gem, to say the least.

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Église Saint-Nicaise.

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Inside the church.

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Paintings inside the church.

I made my way back to the city center, where I wandered the bustling place Drouet d’Erlon (the hub for restaurants, cafes, and shopping) and eventually ducked into an Indian restaurant for lunch. Not exactly sure why I chose Indian for my meal, but it wasn’t too bad, although I’ve had better elsewhere.

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Place Drouet d’Erlon.

My train back to Paris wasn’t until 17:15, so I still had several hours to see Reims after lunch. I’d already seen and done the main attractions– the cathedral and champagne tasting– so it was then a matter of distracting myself with other things to do. I did visit the palais du Tau, a building adjacent to the cathedral that’s the former house of archbishops in the past– today, it’s a museum dedicated to artifacts from the cathedral. While I didn’t find it so interesting (mainly because I’m not really into museums), admission was free, so that was a plus.

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Tapestries inside the palais du Tau.

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Inside the palais du Tau.

After the visit, I headed to a random coffee shop to pass the time until my train came, and soon enough I took it back to Paris, returning in the early evening. It’d been a long day of ambling throughout Reims, and I was glad to be back to rest. Overall, I didn’t find that there was much to do there (aside from the cathedral and champagne tasting), but it had a pleasant, easygoing atmosphere that reminded me somewhat of Dijon. I’m glad to have visited, and it was a good way to conclude my October vacances.

Thanks for reading. More travel posts to come soon!

 

— Rebecca



The BEST holidays

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