A Travellerspoint blog

Sante! To Champagne!

rain 14 °C

Beneath the streets in some 100km of subterranean cellars, 200 million bottles of champagne, just waiting to be popped open for some sparkling celebration, are being aged.

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Foodie moment

So for our time in Epernay we have come to a realisation that there is a high chance that our 'foodie' moment will not be about food... This is because we are eating cheap here so we can afford to visit the Champagne houses and enjoy the bubbles! So it may turn into a bit of a Champagne appreciation area :)

'Contesse Lafond' was our first Champagne house we visted in the Champagne region of France. Served only in restaurants in France, we tasted 4 of their champagne varieties, Extra Brut, Brut, Necteur and Rose. The Brut was the most traditional and our favourite, but all were delicious. Yet with bottles starting at 30 Euros we were expecting it to be pretty amazing!

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Still budget conscious we didn't buy any 'Contesse Lafond' but instead 'splashed out' on a bottle of Medot Champagne for 14 Euro. It was great for the price.

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Cultural moment

The alcohol in France is incredibly cheap. A six pack of beer costs only 4 euro ($5) and you can buy wine for as low as 2 Euro. This might be because of their proximity to the source, therefore cutting down on importing costs, but it sure is cheaper than Australia!

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France does not sell Baked Beans in a can, without little sausages in it, strange.....

Wow moment

Although the weather was wet today, the drive into Champagne was still quite stunning. A patchwork of fields filled with bright yellow flowers, green grass and rows of orderly vines. Tiny little villages with stone houses, small windy roads and cobbled streets. Hopefully the sun comes out tomorrow, to show more of its beauty (and so we can get some pictures)

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What we learnt today

Champagne is made out of one or a combination of three grape varieties; Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier. The differences in taste are due to the grape used and the amount of sugar added. The demi Sec (half sweet) champagne can have over 40g of sugar per litre! Obviously the Sec (sweet) has even more! Wines produced in the region of Champagne with the Champagne grape are the only ones which are entitled to call their product 'Champagne' on the bottle. Due to popular demand for 'real' champagne all over the world, the government has decided to expend the boundaries of the province to include more wineries. This will mean a 30,000% increase in the value of those wineries so they will sbe worth 1 million Euro per hectare.

Posted by travellinglise 02:01 Archived in France Comments (0)

Dying to see the Catacombs

sunny 23 °C
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Arrete! C'est ici l'empire de la mort! - Stop! Here lies the Empire of Death!

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Foodie moment

When I pictured our time camping in France I always imagined us sitting in the sun having wine and cheese. Today it happened - heaven! Sorry no photos as we were too comfortable and content to get up and find the camera!

Cultural moment

The public toilets (like many things in Paris - eg forming queues) are a prime example of inefficiency. They are the automatic type, but after each person they do a full clean meaning the time waiting can be 7 minutes per person! More queues!

Wow moment

As part of my Christmas present from Lisa, I got 2 tickets to go and see the catacombs of Paris. I had heard of them before and had always wanted to see them. So after a little wait in line, we descended into the underground of Paris. The catacombs were originally tunnels dug as a quarry for limestone used to build most of the buildings in the city. In the 1700's, because of over saturation of Paris's cemeteries and risk of infection, all of Paris dead were exhumed from their graves and manually transported into the mines. There are now over 6 million peoples remains in the catacombs! It took over 3 years of transporting the bones of the dead every night to complete the task. The amount of bones we witnessed was staggering, and you can only see what's at the front of the piles. There are millions stacked underground in the catacombs. It was a very eerie and surreal experience and the audio tour was creepy and excellent. I loved it!

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What we learnt today

You will always line up in Paris. When we visited the Eiffel tower a couple of days ago the lines were over 2 hours long. We asked the girl at information, what times there are less of a line at the tower, and she replied 'In January' (Parisian winter). We thought this was funny, but as the days have passed we have realised more and more how serious she really was. Everywhere has a massive line, you would think with the volume of people at Versailles or the tower that it would be quiet at other places, but it never is! Today was a key example of this as we visited the less popular catacombs (on a day that all other museums were free admission). We arrived 15 minutes before opening and joined a line of 150 people! You can't win!

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Europeans travel with their pets. Since being at this camp-site we have seen one camper with her two Siamese cats in her camper van and another with two full grown Dalmatians with their own tent!

Posted by travellinglise 08:24 Archived in France Comments (1)

The Royal Treatment at Versailles

sunny 19 °C
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"It is legal because I wish it." - Louis XIV

Foodie moment

Traditional French Breakfast - Pain au chocolate and croissants. Yum! Nothing like a sugar rush in the morning.

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In an attempt to save money we cooked on our gas stove tonight. Fresh raviolli filled with '3 Fromages' bought from a local shop with capsicum and tomato pasta sauce. Not exactly Master-chef but we enjoyed it!

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Cultural moment

Today we learnt a big cultural lesson, which can really mess you around if you forget it (which we keep doing!). Food is not served all day in cafes and restaurants, after about 2pm most kitchen's close and sometimes the whole bar/restaurant. Annoying if you lose track of time and are wondering down the street starving at 2.15!

Wow moment

Versailles was the royal palace of Louis XIV. His father built it as a hunting lodge, then Louis XIV (being the humble fellow that he was) expanded it into the worlds largest royal domain in the world (8,150,265 m2 including majority gardens). It is opulent and over the top, and Louis built it to show the strength of the French as a country. Later on, this was the place that Marie Antoinette and her husband Louis XVI lived when the French revolution began and crowds stormed the palace. She escaped out the back door of her bedroom.

The palace had a great audio tour included in the price of the ticket (we used our museum pass), which was informative, interesting and not long winded. Unfortunately this was also the place we had the longest queues, standing in a winding line for a hour and half (people that came half an hour later than us would have had to wait even longer!!)

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What we learnt today

Walking hurts!! After Hong Kong, Paris and now traipsing around a massive palace our feet are well and truly in need of replacement!! Even after a night of resting, 5 minutes in, they are back to square one!! Ouch! Lets hope the walking reduces soon!

Posted by travellinglise 08:06 Archived in France Comments (0)

(Day &) Night at the Museum(s)

sunny 17 °C
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Instead of "live well", the French say "Eat well:" Mangez bien

Foodie moment

Finally, today, we had the time and money to try a French speciality - the Plat de Jour. This is a set menu, displayed on a blackboard out the front of the restaurant, where you can choose either a starter and main, or main and desert for a set price. We luckily picked very well as this was one of the best meals we have had so far. We ordered French onion soup and Eggs Basque style for starter - best soup ever with goopy melted cheese in it, and the eggs so beautifully prepared. Then, beef with red wine sauce and potatoes, and chicken with creamy mushroom sauce and chips, for main. So delicious and a lovely waiter at the Latin St. Jacques restaurant near Notre Dame, in the Latin quarter.

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Cultural moment

Paris loves its museums, they have museums looking at everything from the extremely famous right through to the extremely bizarre! What is really great is that they encourage a love of art and culture in their youth, by giving all under 26's free entry to all museums. There are more museums than you can count in Paris, and you would never have time to see them all without being a Parisian.

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Wow moment

Celebrating its 850th year! Notre Dame is the geographical center of Paris. We arrived in the middle of midday mass service, so it was nice to see that the cathedral is more than just a tourist attraction and still in use today. We didn't get to climb the tower as the line was ridiculously long. Even without being religious, the stained glass windows and architecture evoke a feeling of calmness within.

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The Musee d'Orsay houses the best collection of Impressionist paintings in the world. Featuring artists such as Monet, Degas, Renoir, Manet and Van Gogh. Seeing some of the paintings of these masters in real life, rather in art class or books, was awe inspiring. We particularly enjoyed the Neo Impressionist paintings by such artists as Henri Edmond Cross. Another great thing about the museum is that it is set in an old train station, with a beautiful big clock overlooking the gallery.

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"So lets walk to the Louvre", I (Mark) said. Stupidly I didn't realise it was the biggest building I have ever seen, it has wings off wings off wings. They say it would take you 9 months to fully explore all of the 35000+ pieces of art it houses (I think that's a bit of an exaggeration). Needless to say, it houses many famous pieces of art, well worth trekking through the vast halls to reach. These include the Venus de Milo, Psyche and Cupid, The Winged Victory of Samothrace and most famously, the MONA LISA! The ceiling paintings were as impressive as the artwork they held. We managed to see most of the best exhibitions within 3 hours, sore feet, but feeling culturally fulfilled.

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What we learnt today

If you plan on visiting at least 3 famous museums in Paris (especially if one of them is the Chateaux Versailles) then you have to get the Paris Museum pass. It will save you money and best of all, let you skip some of those dreaded lines! Having said that, DO NOT wait until your first museum to buy it, as you will wait in line with everyone else... either buy it before you leave for your trip or get it from the airport, train station or at the tourist information office.

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Another hint.... sharpen your elbows, Paris tourists are pushy, especially in front of the Mona Lisa. Apparently everyone has more of a right to have a personal picture with the painting than anyone else!!

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Posted by travellinglise 11:15 Archived in France Comments (1)

Parlez-vous francais? Paris, Je t'aime!

sunny 16 °C
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"A walk about Paris will provide lessons in history, beauty, and in the point of Life." - Thomas Jefferson

Foodie moment

When you think of foodie Paris one thing springs to mind - gourmet picnics. We decided to try our own, so we visited the fromagerie and picked up a hard goats cheese with rosemary and a soft brie, then to the boulangerie for a fresh baguette and a quiche lorraine. Final stop was the supermarket to pick up a cheap bottle of red wine... and Voila! Parfait!

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I suggested to Mark that we grab a crepe to eat from one of the roadside stalls. He wasn't too interested , saying crepes are for desert... to which i replied, not in France! We chose a crepe with cheese, egg and minced meat with onion - 5 Euros and it filled us for the rest of the night!

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Cultural moment

We have one positive and one negative cultural realisation for our first day in Paris.

1. Even though Paris is idolised by people from all over the world, the Parisians themselves really do not look after it at all. There are cigarette butts everywhere, rubbish on the side of the road and in the rivers and there are parts of the city that literally reek of urine. It's a shame because I love the 'look' and vibe of Paris but these little things do stain your perspective.

2. There is a well known stereotype that people in Paris are rude and unhelpful. We may have been lucky but from our experiences we found this very untrue. Every person we dealt with (excluding one young lady who sold us our quiche, and just seemed to be a not very nice person generally) were friendly, helpful and willing to slip into (perfect) English once they realised we weren't French speakers.

Wow moment

Until you actually see one of the monuments of Paris, you don't fully believe you are here, this is how we felt when we turned the corner onto the Champs Elysees and saw the Arc de Triomphe straddling the 12 road Charles de Gaulle round about in the distance. Yep, we're in Paris now!

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And just to enforce the fact that we were in Paris, we took a long walk to the Seine River to the Base of the Eiffel Tower. Not the typical approach, we could catch glimpses of the tower peaking over the buildings. But once in full view, wow what a sight! You see it in photos, but until you see it in person, you can't comprehending the size. Amazing both during day and night!

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Sacre Coeur was always one of my favourite memories of Paris. Definitely not because of the stairs you have to climb to get up there, not even for Sacre Coeur, the church itself.. but for two other reasons, the view of Paris and Artists corner. The view is still great, such an amazing perspective of Paris. Unfortunately, Artists corner is nothing like i remember as it now full of bistros and bars, not the quaint little square overlooking Paris with artists sketching people in Paris... Oh well, i guess things change!

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What we learnt today

Paris' skyline is incredibly flat, with all its skyscrapers confined to a small area over to the side of the city, and most buildings in town no higher than 4 stories. This means such monuments as the Eiffel tower really stand out from any vantage points in any part of town. Having said that, when walking around the streets of Paris the apartment blocks and trees surround you, and you will often not see the towering monuments you are looking for until you turn the last corner, and there they are!

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Posted by travellinglise 09:33 Archived in France Comments (0)

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