Sunday, February 6, 2011


Anyone who really knows me well, knows how much I love long car-rides.  I adore them.  Needless to say, I was just so content in the back seat of the little Audi as the Garmons and I drove from Paris to the French region of Champagne, unable to wipe the stupid grin off my face.  As we rode out of Paris, we drove East along the Seine.  We drove under overpasses ridden with colorful graffiti, and along stretches of road neatly lined with sycamore trees.  On we drove, past the town of Meaux, which I was told has the best brie in France--I'll have to go there at some point to judge for myself.  We even passed the European Disneyland exit.  As we drove out, I started to see power lines among the scenery, which seemed strange because I've become accustomed to Paris, which has their power lines buried underground.  The sky was very grey and dreary, but it didn't make the landscape any less beautiful--in fact, it only reflected more brightly the green green fields of just-sprouting-up wheat.

Bright green wheat fields against a grey sky, as seen from the car window

We passed little forests full of very tall barren wintry trees, with touches of green only from the dark green ivy spiraling up them from the forest floor, and the bright green moss growing at their bases.  Apparently June is sunflower season in France, and the sunflowers just completely take over the landscape, like bluebonnets do in Texas.  I can't wait to see that!

On a brown road sign for CHATEAU THIERRY, there was pictured a fox looking up at a bird with a round object in its beak, and I immediately recognized it to be from an Aesop's fable.  I love how literature is so intermingled with the culture here; I remember seeing a picture of The Little Prince on the French francs the first time I came to France.

After lots of driving through the countryside, we drove through a very old, tiny village.  These are some pictures from there:

After we drove through a couple tiny villages, we started to get into vineyard country!

I absolutely LOVE all of the tree-lined roads here

More vineyards

View from an overlook point

Finally, we reached the village of Hautvillers, a village made notable by Dom Pérignon.  Marcie had typed up a little blurb about the history, and it is so well written that I'm going to quote it directly:

"This is where the story of Champagne and the story of Dom Pérignon intertwined.  The Hautvillers Abbey is located in a setting, according to legend, that was chosen by God.  The story begins with Saint Nivard, who was Bishop of Reims before 657 and until 673.  According to the legend, at year 650, Saint Nivard followed a dove through the hills nearby. As it flew around the forest, the story goes, the dove left behind flashes of light that made the forest glow. Saint Nivard, guided by the bird’s flight, recognized God’s will, and decided to found the Abbey of Hautvillers there. He was later buried there. Many years later, in 1668, Pierre Pérignon transferred to the Abbey of Hautvillers near the town of Epernay. He served as cellar master of the Abbey until his death in 1715. Under his leadership, the Abbey flourished and doubled the size of its vineyard holding. The church, today owned by Moet et Chandon, escaped unscathed from vandalism following the French Revolution. It is much as Dom Pérignon left it, restored and beautified under his leadership. As a sign of honor and respect, the Dom was buried in a section of the Abbey traditionally reserved for only abbots. At the foot of the altar, a slab of black marble engraved with his life's details (in Latin) covers Dom Pierre Pérignon’s remains." 
This is a picture walking up to the Abbey: 

The village was completely void of people.  But we walked right up to the abbey, and there was a door open, so we walked in to the sanctuary.  Completely empty (and apparently it's difficult to get in to look at it without some sort of permission).  I guess we were lucky that someone had left it unlocked.  But just in case, we went walking around it on tip-toes.  The first thing I noticed upon entering was the magnificent organ, which was put in around year 1630:

And then, I turned around:

Relics of St. Helene (the mother of Constantine)
 So it was very beautiful, but no one was around the little town, so we got back into the car and drove around some more, and saw just fields and fields of vineyards.  We decided to have lunch on Montagne de Reims, there was a nice little restaurant there.  Walking in, you could see all the heavy wooden beams holding it up.  There was a welcoming smokey smell from the large fireplace.  It was a very nice restaurant, and we had 4 courses for lunch, as well as a bottle of champagne, of course!  For the first course, I ordered the smoked salmon, and it was the most delicious smoked salmon I have ever eaten, very tender, so much flavor, and the little glass full of citrus cream was so tasty on top.  The two little biscuits on the side tasted like little pancakes.  And on the left side of the plate was a cranberry, or currant or some sort of berry on top of a dollop of frosting.  And it was amazing because eating this berry and frosting after the salmon wiped out all of the fishy flavor from my mouth--how great!

My second course was some sort of game bird in a savory alcoholic cider sauce.  The texture and taste were both very pleasing.  The little things surrounding it were (in clockwise rotation) some sort of sweet potato creation topped with a sprouted lima bean (it was my favorite of the four), the second one was made of potatoes, the third one was a slice of zucchini topped with what tasted like a mousse made from celery, and finally a tomato with herbs.  Each had a nice complementary flavor to go with the bird.

Following this was a course of cheeses.  The waiter wheeled in a large cart full of many unnamed cheeses and we got to pick which ones we wanted to try.  I forgot the name of the first one I tried, but it looked similar to brie (round and had a crust), and had a nice mild buttery flavor.  The other cheese I got was the chevre.  It was the most delicious goat cheese I've ever eaten.  In my life.  Honestly, Woody asked me how it tasted right after my first bite and I absolutely could not answer right away because I was having to fight through the urge to close my eyes and savor every moment I had with it before my saliva drowned it all.  Chevre has an impeccable way of making me speechless.  For several minutes after I had finished every scrape from my plate, I had such a pleasant tingling around my solar plexus (I'm not sure why the feeling was in my sternum), but it was very similar to the feeling of being in love, I imagine.  Yes, I think goat cheese has won me over.

Finally, as if the experience couldn't get any better at all, dessert arrived.  And I hope I can accurately describe the delightful marvel of this dessert to you.  The little pot on the right is lavender creme brulee.  Yes, lavender creme brulee.  It had just the right amount of lavender not to be overwhelming, but still powerful enough to give a handsome tribute to the flower's essence.  I honestly think it is the best thing I have ever tasted.  I am learning that I really love the flavor of flowers in my desserts--like the little rose-flavored macaron I ate last weekend.  It's just so nice and so different from the taste of everyday desserts.  The ice cream in the flower on the left was all right, but not very notable.  At least not in comparison to its counterpart on the right.  And again, the little berries atop beds of frosting completely cleansed my palate, even though I wanted to remember the flavor forever.

After lunch, more driving.  We passed this awesome house:

And saw more bright green flat land (so unlike south Texas):

 I really just sat in the back seat and reflected on the delicious meal I had just eaten the entire way home.  There was some terrible traffic in Paris on our way back.

The side of Notre Dame, with some graffiti in the foreground
All in all, it was a wonderful trip.  I feel very spoiled by the Garmons!


  1. this is wonderful. Thank you for taking the time to write all about your adventures.

  2. When you get home you MUST make me some lavender creme brulee and rose macarons!!!!