voulez vous du champagne?

Reims, oh Reims, why are you so amazing? I had a weekend full of food, fun, and champagne! What a life I have.

It started off with a bang, when once again, SNCF decided to throw us a curve ball by canceling our connecting train. What to do when you are stuck in a random small impoverished city in rural France with no hope of escape? Why, go into the nearest café and find someone sober to drive you Reims! Luckily a gentleman was kind enough to take us the rest of the way for only the price of gas. We made it to Reims and quickly devoured kebabs to pacify our sorrows.

Soon enough, we were safely in the hands of our Couchsurfing hosts. GG hosted Christine and I, and Thomas hosted L and R. We headed to a bar close by to taste the local beer! Many of the others in the couchsurfing circle in Reims joined us, which was lots of fun. We got along swimmingly with our hosts – it was so refreshing to meet such a friendly group of young French people.

The next day we took advantage of all Reims had to offer; we had a lazy lunch at a café in the sunshine, basking in the glory that is horrible customer service and sitting for hours around the table. After walking all around the center of town, we went inside the stunning cathedral. We all agreed that it was more beautiful than Notre Dame in Paris – there is even a vivid Chagall vitrine at the nave of the church. As the sun set over Reims, we sat on a bench and watched the sky turn shades of magnificent blues, oranges, pinks, and golds. GG came to meet us and take us to Happy Hour, where we discussed plans for an evening celebrating Halloween – in France!

After we made dinner for GG, the couchsurfers took us out dancing! We went to a bar ambiance – which was totally decked out for the Halloween. The V-crew (Verdun crew) got a little crazy; the overwhelming furor came over us when we saw crowds of people our age and heard good dance music. Classics such as MJ were played, French pop Discobitch, and the night ended with Frank Sinatra New York, New York, a personal favorite.

The next day we crawled out of bed, running around Reims with our rolling suitcases trailing behind us, rushing to get to the Mumm champagne house tour. The fact that it was daylight savings time got us all in a little tizzy, but we made it just the same. The maison was exquisite, and the champagne was delicious! We felt like stars as we sipped and laughed about our amazing and fabulous destin.

After a sad parting with our hosts, we (eventually) got home and went right to sleep – there is only so much fun a girl can handle after spending a month in Verdun.

Merci à GG et les autres pour un très beau séjour à Reims!

*Pictures copyright C and L*

les vosges

Last week in the Vosges, I cried many times.

The first time, I was at Julien’s house for dinner. After spending my first morning in the mountains pruning the lavender fields in the blissful October sunshine, and the afternoon crafting apple-pumpkin-ginger jam, I had worked up quite an appetite. Exhilarated by my first taste of life in plein nature, I was ready to relax.

Being my first official dinner invitation chez un francais I was a little nervous. But with  my hosts Guy, Solonge, and Tom by my side, their friends welcomed me with open arms. Over plusiers coups de champagne, Julien had us going. His animate personality was a perfect match for the kind and more introverted Dominique, his wife. After four hours at the table, a game of touche-moi-la-fesse got a little rowdy (don’t ask), and the music was turned on. It started with Dr. Dre, followed by Eminem, Nirvana, and eventually ABBA. By the time the air band got going, Dominique mistook Julien’s symbols for the triangle, and I couldn’t hold it in anymore; tears were streaming down my face, I was laughing so hard my belly hurt.

The second time I cried, I was on a quad, raging through the forest, dodging branches and plowing over potholes. I was holding onto Tom with all of my might, the wind whipping at my face so hard I could not hold back the tears. A rush of adrenaline poured over me, a we passed waterfalls and sweeping autumn cascades. A veteran driver of sixteen years, we even popped wheelies over the plains. Ca va?, he asked me. My laughter was my only response.

Then, came Into the Wild, film version. Curled up in the family room, we watched as Chris, the main character, traveled the country to find personal solitude. When he finally realizes that even amongst the most heavenly wildlife, even when one has created something out of nothing, one cannot be happy without anyone to share it with, tears dripped right into my steaming mug of thé, made with homemade sirop de menthe.

And of course, the onions. While working happily next to Solange, churning the apples from the garden to make fresh compote, she asked me if I wanted to cook something for them. I decided to make a pseudo-Thanksgiving dinner for my hospitable French hosts. After a horrible explanation of pumpkin pie (it just doesn’t come in cans in France), I knew I had to whip up something good to destroy the American cliché. Guy had been chiding me all along, if it’s not ready by seven we’re going to a restaurant! he joked. I was taking my time, looking at the view as I slowly pieced together my American App-le Pie, twice baked sweet potatoes, green beans, and chicken. But those darn onions. When Tom offered to cut them, I happily conceded. But when it came time to put them on the stove, the heat got to me, and a little tear slipped out.

Brenna, what will you tell your family, that you cried the whole time you were in the Vosges?! Guy joked. Little did he know, I would.

The most lovely part about this little adventure was not the allure of a 400 year old stone house in the middle of the forest, because the isolated mansion is a little paradise in and of itself. But the sharing of moments; a mid-morning thesane break next to the fireplace, a mandatory apéro following a surprise visit from friends, a pair of slippers neatly placed outside your bedroom door. That warm welcome into another person’s life is something you won’t read in guide books, you can’t pay for at museums, and you won’t find in hotels.

Merci à Guy, Solange, et Tom pour une belle experience 🙂 Je  ne vous oublierai jamais.