Jane woke early this morning to watch the Grand Final between the Pies and the Eagles. It was a close, tense match but disappointingly went the Eagles’ way in the dying minutes. No singing of the Pies anthem today!
But we got on with our plans and after a hotel breakfast walked up the road to get our Hertz hire car for the next few days. Happily we have been given a super cute three-door Fiat 500, a driver’s car, with sensitive steering and a responsive, if small, engine.
We're particularly happy because, not surprisingly, it's so much warmer here than in Denmark! In the sun we could safely strip down to our t-shirts. Bliss!
We left our bags and the car at the hotel for the morning while we explored the charming Auxerre. It boasts an amazing abbey and cathedral that dominate the town. We’ll visit them when we return in a few days. In the meantime, it was the Fête du Bourru et Raisin, a festival to celebrate the grape harvest. Several streets had been closed off and the cobbled ways were lined with stalls selling bric-a-brac, fruit juices, champagne, pastries and clothes. For lunch we found a charming galettes and crêpes restaurant where we had lovely chicken and ham/cheese galettes, all washed down with local cider and fruit juice.
It was time to get in the car and try it out on the open road. We headed north to Épernay, the centre of the champagne region, where we’re booked to stay for a few nights.
On the advice of the tourist office, we stopped off in Pontigny to visit its abbey, one of only four houses that comprise the Citreaux Abbey, of the Cistercian order. It is a substantial building dating back to 1114 that boasts flying buttresses and soaring vaulted ceilings, and it has played an important role over the centuries, having been the training ground for many senior church officials from the 12th to 13th centuries, and hosting the Decades of Pontigny, which were 20th century conferences of intellectual elites such as Satre, de Beauvoir, Gide and T. S. Eliot.
We backtracked a little to visit a local cellar door where Jane bought a lovely chablis to enhance her dinners.
We drove on, passing through gorgeous rolling countryside and tiny (mostly empty) villages in varying states of repair. As we got closer to Épernay, the fallow fields became vineyards that stretched as far as the eye could see and we spotted increasing numbers of large and little champagne concerns in each village. Some big names were showing up - Veuve, Moët, Roederer - but there were also many that we had never heard of and no doubt are well known but only distributed within Europe.
Our apartment in Épernay is located on the outskirts of town, which makes it easy for parking. Perhaps not surprisingly, the first room we were offered stank of smoke (there is no smoking allowed throughout the building), so we were given a very nice “clean-air” replacement (although the corridors still occasionally smell of smoke).
Then - disaster! We could not connect to the wifi! Quelle horreur! We were offered scant assistance and so had to consider our options: Could we survive three days without the Internet? Was it worth moving to another hotel? Fortunately, we did finally manage to connect a few of our devices (although not all); enough to manage for the duration of our stay. Yay!
This was a good thing too because our apartment is lovely! The largest bathroom we’ve had so far, nice comfy sofa, non-beeping working fridge and excellent bed.
We walked into town quite late, feeling very hungry. The town was very quiet apart from a fun fair right in the centre; and it was a Saturday night! But we managed to find a brasserie, Le Progrès where we enjoyed a lasagne and chicken burger for dinner.