March 2023
More photos here


Wednesday 8th

The traditional March first trip of the year this year is a guided tour of the big churches of Medieval Champagne based in Reims. It's an Art Pursuits tour, the group numbers 10, the tour lecturer is Sally Dormer, the tour manager Ulrike Ziegler. Sally is an old pal who has taken us around Milan and Durham previously, and I say us because there are a fair number of acolytes from Sally's previous trips and courses on this one.

Because of a general strike in France yesterday our original Eurostar train was cancelled, for some reason, and we were transferred to a train one hour later. And, for some reason, the new tickets had to be sent to me yesterday to give to Sally at the station this morning. All of this was achieved smoothly - the rendezvous at the Eurostar terminal at St Pancras at 9.00, the baggage check, the two passport checks, the catching up on the gossip with old trip chums, and the catching of the 10:26-13:50 to Paris Gare du Nord. A very short coach ride to Gare de L’est to catch the 16.07 SNCF to Champagne-Ardenne for a coach to take us into Reims and then to check into the hotel Continental Reims. Our planned introductory stroll through Reims before dinner got a bit curtailed, to a good look at the Roman gate so as we got a bit of culture after all the travelling and before dinner. But the gate was totally covered in scaffolding. Our first dinner was probably the least imaginative vegetarian meal of the trip - a plate of salad followed by a plate of cooked vegetables, including mash - but the conversation more than made up.

Thursday 9th
A cold day in Reims, but it was even colder in the churches. Firstly to the cathedral of Notre-Dame, where the French kings, from 987, were crowned. Jamb sculpture, well-populated entrance portals, painted glass, triforia ... all the usual wonderful stuff.

After lunch (veggie burger no. 1) a coach took us across town to the large Romanesque abbey church of Saint-Remi, which was even more of a treat, but with much more rounded arches. An unofficial (small) group dinner featured veggie burger no. 2 for me, and a desert that featured pear (poached and not) a sort of peanut coulis, and pain d'epice. Yum.



Friday 10th
An 8.00 start saw us on a coach to Troyes, with beverages on arrival and then to the Cathedral of Saint Pierre and Saint Paul which has fine glass and some good stuff in it's treasury including fine enamels and the reliquary containing the bones of Bernard of Clairvaux and his close friend Bishop Malachy of Armagh, with whom he shared robes and was buried.

For lunch we celebrated the cold wind with onion soup, which had onion bits, bread and melted cheese in it. Then I had a salad with goat's cheese and honey on toast, followed by vanilla ice cream and pear sorbet.

After lunch, on the way to the church of Saint-Urbain, I bought not only a jar of pear and vanilla jam, but a jar of coconut jam too. The 13th-century Saint-Urbain was begun by Pope Urban IV, a local lad, on the site of his dad's shoe shop, and is an excellent, and unusual, example of Rayonnant Gothic. Then to La Cité du Vitrail - a recently revamped and reopened stained glass museum with lots of good and illustrative stuff.

Return to Reims for a short rest and a small-group dinner. I had my second goat's cheese on toast with salad of the day, but it wasn't a patch, despite added fried potato discs. The coconut ice cream and lemon sorbet was ordinary also.

Saturday 11th
A civilised 8.45 start, with a coach to Laon and the cathedral of Notre-Dame with its famous carved bullocks on the colonnaded towers.

Lunch here included a local speciality cheese flan, but we had no time for glacé.

Then to Soissons, and the cathedral of Saint-Gervais and Saint-Protais. Finally a private visit to the Carolingian crypt of the Abbey of Saint Médard de Soissons, part of on-going excavations. This was my least favourite day of the trip, I must confess - too much historical detail to listen to while cold winds blew.

The farewell group dinner in our hotel's restaurant was another good one.

Laon Cathedral


Sunday 12th
To the champagne village of Hautvillers after check-out, and  the Benedictine Abbey of St Pierre where Dom Pérignon himself is buried. Not much else to recommend it though for non-drinkers.

Then on to the Moët et Chandon Champagne House in Epernay for a tour, tasting and lunch. I admit I was not looking forward to this bit but the tour had fascination, the tunnels where long and impressive, and the food at the lunch in the orangery was lovely. They had gone to town for us two veggies too, with separate plush printed menus, and the five vintage champagnes that accompanied the courses were, I was assured, chosen to compliment the veggie options too. The courses were...
      Raviole de Morilles et Cerfeuil, Bouillon Végétal au Parfum Thaï
      Croustillant de Fromage de Troyes
      Risotto de Fregola Sarde aux Légumes Verts
      Soup de Fraises au Champagne, Sorbet Bulgare, Macaron au Biscuit Rose
But the tour didn't take in anything functional, noisy or industrial, despite such processes being covered by our guide.

Afterwards, as SNCF were on strike again, the coach took us to the Disneyland Eurostar terminal to catch the 18.03 Eurostar, on which our party were the only people without Mickey Mouse ears and/or children. At St Pancras, waiting to have our passports checked, I queued and chatted with Sally, the tour lecturer, and Lesley, a fellow traveller. Lesley took longer, so we waited, and it turned out she had been asked if she had been travelling alone and she'd said she'd been in a tour group and had then been quizzed as to who the man in the queue was she'd been talking to - i.e. me. Do I look like a drug dealer?

The cathedral of Notre-Dame Reims

Troyes Cathedral

Laon Cathedral

The Carolingian crypt of the Abbey of Saint Médard

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