I leaned into the driver's side window of our rental car on a street in the center of Reims and kissed Damon goodbye. He was off to Paris-Beauvais to catch a flight back to Ireland -- without his navigational security blanket, the Garmin Nuvi -- and I stayed in France for another nine days to visit my company's French winery clients, with Damon's GPS as my co-pilot.
It was really intriguing to drive through so many different regions of France and see the changes in each location -- the geography, the typography, the people, the food, the architecture, the weather. I also enjoyed brushing up on my French and spoke as much as I could every day. It would have been more relaxing to take the train, but the drive proved interesting. I learned that the French have some of the best highways in the world -- and you pay a price to drive on them. We all know that gas is crazy expensive in Europe, but add on a toll of 12€ to drive for a couple hours on the autoroute. Luckily, I was traveling on the company's dime. :)
After visiting a client in Le Mesnil-sur-Oger, I had a wonderful three-course lunch (with a glass of Champagne, of course) on the Place de la Republique in Epernay, the main city in the Champagne region, before having a glass of Champagne with a colleague from Wine & Spirits magazine. Then I drove east toward the border with Germany to the Alsace winegrowing region. I spent a couple days in Andlau, a village in Alsace, then enjoying a morning walking tour of Strasbourg before hopping back in the car and driving very far south -- about 5-6 hours -- to the Rhone Valley.
Andlau and Strasbourg Photos:
I stopped in Lyon for dinner, where all the men looked Spanish and Italian, as did many of the buildings -- my first experience seeing the Mediterranean influences of bordering countries can have such similarities yet speak different languages, etc. (Alsace is the same with its Germanic influences.) I stayed at a little B&B in the Crozes-Hermitage wine region called La Farella and loved the hospitality. The family welcomed me into their home for cheese and wine while I used their computer (my Wifi in the room wasn't working). The B&B looked like an Italian villa, and the family ate paella one night -- a Spanish dish. The owner mentioned to me that her husband was from Spain, and they eat a mix of French and Spanish food. She was from the Midi (southern France), and she couldn't understand most of my French, sadly. She said I had an accent American/Parisienne, which I guess is actually a compliment.
After visiting our new client in Crozes-Hermitage, I drove down to Nimes on Saturday to visit another client, then spent the afternoon driving north through the southern Rhone Valley. I didn't realize I was so close to the Mediterreanean; I should have tried to drive to the sea, but instead, I spent a few hours in Provence and the Cotes du Rhone. First, I walked through the walled village of Avignon, then I drove to Chateauneuf-du-Pape and then toward the mountains to the village of Gigondas, where one of my favorite wines comes from to taste Gigondas at a wine bar in Gigondas, which I figured would be a rite of passage.
I drove a few hours back north to Beaune, the main city in Burgundy, and -- of all things -- ate sushi on Sunday night. I love French cuisine, but there is no good sushi in Ireland, and I've been missing sushi a lot lately. The California Roll at Sushi Kai (50, faubourg Saint-Nicolas, Beaune) didn't disappoint. I found that the Burgundians understood my broken French and I understood them quite well, which boosted my confidence. (Burgundy is only a few hours from Paris, and their accents are more Parisienne.) I even conducted a business meeting 90% in French -- a revelation for me.
After a few days of visiting our clients in the Cote de Beaune and Cote de Nuits, I drove to Paris and stopped at a cafe on the northeast side of the city to meet an American couple, he's a writer and she's a photographer. They've been living in Paris since the 1980s, and I wanted to make a connection with them since they write about wine and travel often.
As soon as I arrived back into Ireland, I had one day to clean, do laundry and prepare the guest room for Mom's inaugural visit to Ireland.
Rhone Valley and Burgundy Photos: