Thursday, March 15, 2012

France Mar 2012 - Reims, Paris and Albert

France is a big place - there is so much to see. And as you can tell from this and the previous blog entries, we tried to do it all in a week!!

Sat 10/3 Beaune to Reims

First job was breakfast, of course. Next we cleared up and left Vergisson, to head North towards Beaune (pronounced “bone”). This is the heart of serious red Burgundy. After a short 100km drive North we popped into Beaune to check out the market and architecture. We then did a driving tour thro Cote de Beaune, to the South of the town. The countryside is similar to Macon, hilly with quaint villages dotted among vines as far as the eye could see. We stopped for lunch atop of one of the hills and feasted on jambon, bread and cheese from the market.

Next it was North again, heading towards Dijon and the Cote de Nuit area. This is a narrow strip of vines which contains some of the biggest names in the region, France, indeed the world. And they are tiny – Domaine Romanee-Conti is the most expensive and most famous pinot in the world. Wikipedia tells me that a single bottle of the 1990 vintage has sold for almost US$11,000. No, it was not on free tasting, and no we didnt buy any!! And the vineyard is 4.4 acres – Geoff and Leanne, our friends in Melbourne live on a 5 acre block that is bigger than Romanee-Conti. We popped into a Cave and tried wines from a few areas around Beaune, and the credit card was given a nudge once more. Am sure the car groaned when we got back in, with another box of wine.

It was then time drive North, from Dijon back to Reims. Time for a couple of Leffes then bread, cheese, meats and wine. Yum once more.

Sun 11/3 Paris

The 9.15 Train took us to Paris est. It was meant to be a 45 mins journey but took 2 hrs! What little comfort we had was knowing that its not just the UK rail system that has problems

The Metro tipped us out at Place de Bastille – a flashpoint in the revolution but nowadays a groovy spot with the biggest opera house I have even seen. We did a walk thro two arrondisments – the Marais and Les Halles, covering the Jewish quarter, the Pompidou Centre, St Eustace, Forum Les Halles, the Bourse (stock exchange) and the river Siene. Lunch took the form of a falafel in the heart of la Marais, which was noteworthy enough to make this blog entry.

For our main course, we headed North to Stadt de France to see the best rugby match we have had the pleasure to watch. Thank you Bob for the tickets – everything about it was just wonderful; the atmosphere, bands, tension and the small matter a very close match that ended France 22-24 England, but only after a Trahn-Duc drop goal attempt dropped a meter under the bar. Swing Low, Sweet Chariot....

We managed to get an early train back to Reims for a mirror image of the previous night – beer, bread, cheese, meats and wine. Yuuuuuuum. Readers may be starting to notice a thread here....

12/3 Reims to Albert

Our last full day in France on this trip started with breakfast then a quick schlep across to Reims Cathedral. This is at least our 3rd trip to Reims, yet Notre Dame never fails to take the breath away. It is architectural history, from the middle ages to now. French kings were crowned there, one at the behest of Joan of Arc. It was clobbered on both world wars. Some of the older stained glass remains but much was removed by the Germans, and some of the modern replacements includes the work of Mark Chagall among others. These word will not even try and do the place justice – its a staggering building.

Grog lovers will know that Reims is in the champagne region. So off we popped on our next driving tour, down to Epernay and its surrounding villages. The scene was very similar to Burgundy further South - miles on miles of vines, with lots of people bending over pruning back the vines to the main root.

Our trek towards Calais saw us detour slightly to the West, to the Somme. We were last here in 2001, but the place is so huge there is always more to see and take in. Our first stop was Villers-Bretennoux and the Australian memorial. Like many sites on the Somme, it is a sobering, yet inspiring place to be. The rows on rows of white headstone, beautifully kept by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission are a sad reminder to those who fell in battle. Even more so are the names of 11,000 or so whose bodies were never found, doe to the fortunes of war. As recently as 2010 as large mass grave was found at Fromelles, which has created big news in Australia recently, as relatives of lost soldiers have been asked for DNA to help identify lost men. And this all happened close to 100 years ago. The memorial is pock marked, after fighting in the second world war.

We drove down the road from Albert to Bapaume, dropping into the remarkable Newfoundland (Canadian) Memorial at Beaumont Hamel. The Canuks bought a piece a land where the Newfoundlands came up against heavily entrenched German lines, just a few metres from their own. The trenches have been retained, and a short walk allows people to see just how close they were. No mans land is like a lunar landscape thanks to relentless shelling. Two more cemeteries show the outcome.

13/3 Albert to Calais to Kenley to Bristol

We just had time to visit the Somme trench museum in Albert before heading off to Calais for our train thro the tunnel. A 250m disused WWII bomb shelter has been converting into a fascinating museum, with a great trench simulation with lights and sounds and a few stuffed rats.

Our train was at 12.20, we had lunch with Nicko, picked up the bass, which only just fitted into the car with all the grog, then headed back to Bristol in time to unpack and tend to a couple of attention starved cats.

France Mar 2012 - Macon

Tues 6/3 to London

We left Bristol on Tues arvo, as Nic managed to get off a bit early from work. At one point we were making great time.... Then there was a crash on the M25 and we sat there for 90 mins with the engine off! Ah the joys of travel in the UK. Still, we arrived in time for a curry with Mike and Catherine and our host, Nicko

Wed 7/3 to Reims

A day of frantic activity on both sides of the English Channel started early with Nic off to lecture to a group of orthodontists in the central London. Stuey too caught the train to town, to pick up a bass from Duncan Goode at English National Opera. We reconvened back at Purley then shot off to Folkestone to catch the 2.20 train thro the tunnel, which we just managed. Although we have been thro the tunnel a few times now, it never ceases to amaze how efficient it is, so much better the ferry options of yesteryear. Next was an awful 2.5 hr drive to Reims; it was very wet, with lots of standing water on the carriageway, so overtaking was a leap of faith. We got to Reims ok, checked in then hit the city for a meal at Brasserie Flo. Nic went for the mainstream steak frites option, Stuey opted for the Alsace sauerkraut and sausage supper! Yum.

Thurs 8/3 to Macon

We left Reims early, to embark on our 3.5 hr drive down to Macon. The weather had cleared, it was a beautiful bright sunny Spring day. We arrived for lunch and joined Bob, Liz, Hugh, Chris, Ian, Janet and Norman. Bob Reeves is our neighbour in Clifton – he has a share of Vergecosse vineyard and holiday accommodation in the village of Vergisson in the Macon region of Burgundy,

It is located in a magic spot nestled in the hills among the vines. The parcels of grapes are very small and are shared among owners – there is a very good reason for this as the region is knows for its micro-climates. Hail showers have been known to pass thro and devastate a small area, leaving the adjacent parcel untouched. Stuart was flogged by Hugh and Norman at dice, fortunately not for money or wine.

Next up was a wine tasting session at Domaine Saumaize-Michelin,

Roger and Christine manage the property and vineyard – from accommodation bookings, to growing the vines and making the wine. We tried a dozen or so chardonnays, mostly Pouilly-Fuisse.

And the evening was rounded off with coq au vin cooked by Laurence, a Doctor who has given up medicine to cook. Am sure this was a wise choice as she was no doubt a superb quack, but her food is glorious. Yum once more.

Fri 9/3 Beaujolais

After a traditional French breakie of breads and croissants Bob took us on a stunning drive thro the local villages to Chirouble to try some Beaujolais reds. The Burgundy region is divided into 5 areas, spread out over 100s of kms – Chablis, Cote de Nuit, Cote de Beaune, Macon and Beaujolais. Bobs property is in Macon, very close to the border with Beaujolais. Reds in this region are based on the Gamay grape, as against Pinot Noir further north around Beaune. Gamy makes a rustic, gamey, earthy animal wine, quite different to anything else. In true French fashion, they flaut the rules in Beaujolais – vines are not trelliced, but left to stand alone. Our memory of Beaujolais had been jaundiced thanks to the Beaujolais Nouvelle craze in the 1980s, where lots of young, rough reds hit London around October, and everyone got very excited about it. Thankfully that trend has abated...except in Japan. Enough said. Bob’s secret Beaujolais cellar lead to our first purchase of the tour.

Next stop was lunch by the river Soane. We are sure that Bob knows everyone in these parts. Entree plus main plus wine for 13 euros – it was no wonder the place was full. And the customers who were “working” clearly were into the French tradition of a long lunch!! Then it was back to Verecosse to sleep off lunch, to go Rogers to buy lots of wine and test the Mazda’s suspension to the max, then off out to eat, of course. This time at a local restaurant in Vergisson. Yum, yum, yum.

Xmas 2011

Xmas was spent in Mo's pad in Stokie Newington, NE London. The three of us has a 40-something Xmas (one of us only just made it into that group mind you) as we have no mates and didnt want to share our noice wines with anyone else.

It was a quiet day, the gals had a run, I was suffering with man-flu, so opted out. We lounged around, made a few skype calls and dining like kings and queens - Mo produced wonders in the kitchen. The goose was glorious, with all the trimmings.

Nickys early energy in the first video has clearly dwindled by the second one, later in the arvo and a few bottles worse for wear!!

The skype call to Buxton summed up many up there quite nicely, V cheating at board games, Jon being antisocial and Ewan performing!

Ile d'Oleron Dec 2011

In December 2011 Chris and Sharon Gibbs allowed us to visit thier wonderful beach house Ile d'Oleron on the Atlantic coast of France, roughtly half way down the country. We go back a long way - Nickys first job after graduating in Jan 1986 was house officre at Edgware General Hospital - Sharon was the previous post holder and was senior house officer for Nic's first 6 months.

After the disappointment of getting a flat on Friday 17th, we missed our ferry. Mazda, in thier wisdom, dont put a spare wheel and tyre in new cars nowadays, and the dodgy punture repair kit didnt work. This is a car Mazda, not a push bike. So we were towed to a quickfit place, left the car and stayed with Jane Young, and the kids Ben, Alice and Suzanna, who were all home. It was wonderful to see the guys.

On Saturday we got the car fixed up with new tyres then shot to Portsmouth, and got the ferry over to Caen before staying overing just South of Caen. The following day we did the 5 hour drive South to Ile d'Oleron.

The island is fantastic - jutting out into the Atlantic, it must be hugely popular with the locals in peak season. It was pretty empty when when we were there, but still a wonderful place to visit. We cycled round the paths to get the feel of half of the island. Its full of mussle and oyster producers, and lots of birds interested in the former! Chris and Sharon's house is fantastic - the garden shed had suffered a little in a recent storm, so we ended up trying to patch the roof felt, most of which was in the garden!


We took a day out to drive down to Bordeaux, on the first of what was to be a series of wine tours in France. Readers of this blog will not be surprised to hear this! Bordeaux is a big region, with sub appellations spread over a large area. We decided to focus on the Left bank of the Gironde, the Haut-Medoc, and specifically the Margaux, St Julien, Pauillac and St Joseph appellations. One of the aims was to learn more about French wine, which can be a bit of a mystery. For example three wines in Pauillac are premier grand crus, the top drawer of the 1855 classification, and they are Latour, Lafite Rothschild and Mouton Rothschild. In good years these go for over 1000 euros a bottle! Just across the creek, there are some 2me crus, which are arguably just as good, in neighbouring St Julien, and they sell for a fraction of the price. Leoville Barton is one of our favourites - so it was great to see the vines, the chateau, and to stock up on some serious clarets!

I hate to say it, but however rude we Brits can be about the French, we really are very fond if thier country and its produce.