“Bring on the bubbles”
After leaving Luxembourg we headed south towards Metz, we had been told about the new Pompidou centre that had recently opened there and I had read about the Cathedral having some of the most ornate carving anywhere in Europe, so that along with it having a municipal campsite (which would help keep the cost down) we headed south.
When we arrived the campsite was closed but thankfully there was a free carpark with large enough spaces for us to fit in right next door. It was a great spot next to the river and only a 5 minute stroll into the centre of Metz and the Cathedral. When we arrived the sun was out so we locked up and went exploring. The town was beautiful bathed in the last sun of the day so we took this opportunity to put the camera to work and got some great photos. That night we decided there was plenty to see so we would stay an extra night.
The next day we went out early to see the modern art at the Pompidou (Metz) but managed to get there too early so had to wait outside in the cold for the twenty minutes until 10am when it would open. At about ten past ten it had still not opened so we re-checked the opening times board to see it should be open at 10. There were no other signs saying why it was closed so when it got to half ten and we were still outside we decided to head off and do something else. Later in the Tourist office we asked if they knew why the Pompidou had been closed. She replied that they were always closed on Tuesdays so I guess we should of paid a little more attention to the sign at the front!
We also popped into the covered market that day which was selling every part of every animal you could imagine, either raw, smoked, dry cured or just put in a jar with brine, along with every type of cheese there is! It was a feast for the eyes if not the stomach!
On the day we left Metz we spoke to a couple in a motorhome next to us from Germany who were a little distraught as that night whilst parked only a few feet from us in Heidi they had been broken into whilst they were sleeping and had had their laptops and ipads stolen. It was a horrible thing to have happened and served as a stark reminder that we needed to make sure we were doing everything we could to keep ourselves and Heidi safe.
As we drove off towards Epernay (the champagne region) we began to get a bit excited. The weather was cheering up and vines started to appear on the side of the road. We had wanted to visit a couple of Champagne houses and learn a bit about how the most famous of drinks is made. So we popped into the tourist office and picked up brochures from many of the local producers and then headed off to read through them. We decided on Jacques Copin a small supplier from Verneuil and Pommery one of the largest producers with a huge Chateau in Reims. Jacques Copin was chosen as they had built a small motor home campsite in their car-park and were happy for us to stay there for free. It was a lovely place and we were shown around by the 24 year old grandson of Jacques who was very passionate about their product and keen to show as around their operation which was producing around 75,000 bottles a year. We then went into the shop where we had a free tasting of all 7 of the champagnes and the champagne liqueur that were all produced from their own grapes on their own land which makes them a recoltant -manipulant.
That night we opened one of the several bottles we had purchased. It was very good and at the equivalent of just a ten pounds a bottle was great value.
The next day we visited Pommery, which was a totally different affair. It was a massive Chateau on the outskirts of Reims and had 20 kilometres of underground caves that had originally been dug out of the chalk ground several centuries earlier by the Romans.
Although the tour was a more grand affair, I felt it gave better explanations as to the owners and stories of their indulgences than the making of the Champagne. The tour had cost 18 euros and included a free glass at the end which although not expensive I felt the small producer had something a little more real about them.
From Reims we headed to the north west of Paris and to Vernon and the new home of Ellie’s cousin CH. We were going to spend the weekend there and arrived after a brief stop to pick up some gluten free things from the local L. Eclerc supermarket.
On the Friday evening when we arrived we cracked open a couple of bottles of wine and chatted through the evening. The next day we went off to the local market in the morning to get some food, wine and cheese for the next couple of days. The market was a very busy affair with a huge choice of meats and fish and every type of vegetable you could envisage as well as several stalls selling all types of cheese. We opted for a large sea bass, a selection of veg, two small goats cheese and some smoked tea Gouda and then popped into one of the stores to collect some red wine.
That afternoon we had been invited by one of CH’s neighbours to go along with some of the local community to pick and collect apples for that year’s cider. So along with about a dozen locals we drove off with vans and cars full of people, children and the wooden packing crates, with the target of 2.5 tonnes of apples!
Picking apples may sound like quite a fun task and to some extent it is. The issues we were having was that most of the apples had already fallen onto the floor so to collect them you needed to be on your hands and knees routing around in the long grass feeling for the apples. (two weeks later I still have orange knees!) The other thing I guess I had never known is that cider (well Normandy cider) is made from very small apples which means you have to collect about six just to make up a regular sized apple! They also need sorting as apples with any brakes in the flesh or too much bruising must be discarded as they can contaminate the others whilst they are being stored.
After about 5 hours as our backs were beginning to stiffen and as it was getting dark we brought the vans into the field to load up our collection and as with all volunteer parties it seemed to be that most people realised that was quite a bit of heavy carrying to be done and therefore an excuse as why they needed to dash off was created leaving just four or five of us to load the haul! The next day the organiser David thanked us for our efforts with half a dozen bottles of the previous years vintage, which I am sure will go down well.
That evening we were invited by Remy a local baker to diner, he had also invited a friend who was a wine producer so we were set for a great evening. The meal was to be a rare thing even in France. It was a many course meal centered around different types of meat being cooked in pomace which is the left over seeds and skins after grapes have been pressed for wine making. This way of cooking gives a unique flavour and we felt quite honoured to try it.
During the evening I had managed to make a bit of a faux pas of wine etiquette having run out of wine in my glass I casually picked up an open bottle and began pouring only to be admonished by Ken the wine producer. In a rather jovial (but with an underlying level of seriousness) I was told that if I wanted to be the first to drink from a new bottle it would be up to me to firstly ascertain whether the bottle had been stored correctly and was therefore good to drink and secondly explain the story of the wine with regards to its provenance and the terrior of the vines and explain how this combination of factors along with the vintage and pouring temperature would be the perfect accomplishment to the food we were about to eat. At this point if there was a funnel handy I would of been tempted to pour the wine back into the bottle!
The next day CH had a cousin from the other side of her family coming to lunch so we popped to the local butcher as the plan had been to make a Beef Bourguignon. We had been running a bit late so by the time we arrived at the butchers there was a long queue outside of the store. When we had finally got to the front of the queue and the butcher asked us what we wanted. We explained what we wanted to cook but asked for a cut of beef that might cook a bit quicker than the usual skirt of beef you would use as we were slightly against the clock. We were told in no uncertain tone “NO” if we wanted to make Beef Bourguignon there was only one cut of beef we could use and it wouldn’t possibly be ready in our timescale so therefore he would not sell it to us! He then dismissed us and started serving the next customer. The next customer was also getting a good telling off from the butchers as she had asked for a beef roasting joint and had confidently stated that she would cook it for 20 minutes on a medium high temperature. Again the threat from the butcher to withdraw the sale of his meat to this woman unless she agreed to cook it for at least 25 minutes but preferably 30 minutes on a high oven. After some muttering under her breath and some looking around for some support from the other customers (no chance- as all eyes were facing the floor) she finally agreed to the butchers request. We then plucked up the courage to ask for the same cut of meat as we knew this would fit into both our timescale and also into the cooking preference of the butcher!
For the rest of the day we met CH’s cousin Bruno and his family and ate, drank and hung out in CH’s gloriously sunbathed garden. But time had come again for us to move on. The plan from here was to head south to chase the sun. The next weekend we were going to be meeting some family in Duras (East of Bordeaux) as they had just sold their house there and as the removal men were coming we had agreed to give a helping hand to box everything up.
P.S.somehow and I’m not sure how, earlier on in this post I forgot to mention a minor incident that happened near Epernay involving me forgetting which side of the road I should of been driving on! Needless to say no one was hurt and Heidi managed to avoid major damage with just a new rear light cluster and a bit of spray paint being required…..unfortunately the poor french man who worked for Lansom Champagne that I hit will need a bit more body work to get his car back on the road.
Next week we will be “Chasing The Sun”