Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Monday, January 31, 2011--Reims

We headed off to Reims for a last day of sight-seeing outside Paris.  When we arrived, we discovered that our return ticket required our traveling to a small local station and then on to Paris.  That was a fun negotiation, but really without incident.  Mary has done a superb job of booking all these trips in advance and saving us a ton in so doing.

We wandered into Reims to the city center and found a bar dedicated to Ernest Hemingway and a monument to victory.  We trudged on and eventually found the tourist office and the cathedral.  Notre-Dame de Reims is another monumental gothic structure, and barring a visit to Chartres, which we won't do after all, we have seen all the other major cathedrals in France and tons of smaller though beautiful churches.  What's a lapsed Catholic supposed to do?  This is the major tourist attraction and alone worth the price of a visit.

Notre Dame de Reims

detail of Mary's coronation as mother of god


stained windows by Chagall

We then hiked, and it was a hike, down to Taittinger's for a champagne tour.  They were the only vintner offering a tour without a reservation.  Since Reims is the major city in the Champagne-Ardenne region, there are quite a few wineries specializing in champagne.  The winery is built over the ruins of the Saint Nicaise abbey, which was destroyed ages ago.  What remains are the cellars of the monks who were producing wine, and these stretch on and on and give a good idea of the size of the winery's production.  As we wandered through these, we came to even older caves that were once a quarry for the Romans who harvested the chalky soil.  One can still see the carvings of the Romans in the walls.  All the caves keep a stable temperature of about 44 degrees.  At the end of the tour we were given a taste of the bubbly.

Taittinger cellar with medallion of family seal

stairs from former abbey

Roman cave

We had only a little time left, so we went over to Saint-Remi Basilica, a romanesque-gothic church that was also beautiful.  Outside in a nearby courtyard, there is a monument to the conversion of King Clovis to Catholicism, thus inaugurating the continuation of Christian kings in France.

St. Remi Cathedral

St. Remi altar

King Clovis baptism

With the clock ticking, we headed back to the station and had about an hour to visit the Musee de la Redditiion, the sight at a local school where the Allies forced Germany to surrender during World War II.  Since we were stretched for time, we did a quick run through but it was worth it.

table at which German surrender signed
In all, Reims was the least interesting city we visited.  The cathedral is spectacular but the architecture is mostly uninspiring and depressingly modern.  The temperature all day was incredibly cold--in the 20s--so we were happy to finally get home, drink wine, and get warm.

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