Organising a piss up in Champagne.
Up to this point our itinerary had been very heavily influenced by 2 things: The fact that when we committed to this trip, whilst a bit pissed in a bar, we could get to Barcelona on air-miles and the fact that we wanted to meet Bridge and her friends for Champagne en Fete.
The latter has involved many of our favourite things: Champagne, festivals, cheese and old picturesque villages.
We made it to Troyes, the closest town to the villages involved in the event that had accommodation for 12 people, on Friday afternoon. We had made it the 16,852km from Sydney with relative ease. All we had to do now was make it the last 52km……..
As J and I arrived before everyone else, we popped into the tourist office to ask about buses to the area…………and they laughed at us. We asked about hiring a minibus and driver, getting a cab, or a driver and we would hire a car. They continued to laugh and told us one of us would need to drive.
This kind of news represents a challenge to Jodie and she doesn’t like to be defeated. So after a bit of investigation we found that you could indeed get a bus; the L4 to Bar-Sur-Siene, where the main office for the festival is. We found the bus using an app called Rome2Rio, which is genius app that helps plan travel and has often found options that Google had failed to find. Hurrah….. perhaps.
We had a pleasant Fri night, sitting by the pool in one of the Airbnb’s that had been rented, meeting the gang as they arrived in dribs and drabs over the evening (and into the next day, as French train strikes, storms, and Franks hired van showing positive for explosives as he and Charlotte boarded the Eurostar, turned straightforward journeys into epics). Sally, whose 40th birthday was the reason for us all to be there, arrived with Kym mid afternoon and we provisioned the big house (that had a pool – a god send in a heatwave on a continent that doesn’t do aircon) and debated the booze to food ratio intently, concluding that as long as we had enough booze, snacks would be fine. Fiona, Stuart and Jenny arrived later, Fiona having escorted a stray dog being rehoused in France from Tunis to Orly, and Stuart and Jenny having set out from Cork at 4am that day. J, Kym, Fiona and I, all staying in the ‘not the big house’ committed to getting the 9am bus the following day and left the rest to it. ‘It’ turned out to be a session ending at 5am.
The Big House
So, bright and breezy, the 4 of us set out to quaff Champagne, nice and early. Everything seemed to be going well. The bus existed, it left on time and 50 mins after leaving we arrived in Bar-Sur-Sienes attractive square. We bought our tickets, which was a pack containing a Champagne flute, a thing to keep it round your neck, tasting tickets for the 18 Champagne houses involved in the Fete, 1 water ticker, and a bag thing that was a breathalyser, then went for a coffee to plot the day. It was over coffee that we discovered the potentially day ending challenge. We were still 11km away from the first village, and there was no bus. Also, the only taxi in town, driven by the local ambulance driver, was booked until 11pm. Bugger. We had made it 16,904km and seemed to be defeated by the last 11…….
This kind of news represents a challenge to Jodie and she doesn’t like to be defeated.
A quick chat between us established that the big camper van sitting in the square was owned by 2 English speaking Dutch ladies, currently enjoying a coffee outside a café……… so J was off. Enter Greete and Doreen, 2 exuberant ladies on holiday in Doreen’s sons campervan (a keen surfer who used it to follow the waves and who had decided the most essential thing in a van was a huge stereo system, so complicated G&D couldn’t switch it on) who were happy to take us to the first village as long as one of us was happy to sit on the floor.
Success…. And we managed to secure a cab from Troyes to pick us up at the end of the day at a reasonable price.
The day turned out to be wonderful. We did 2 of the 5 villages on the first day, visiting 7 separate champagne houses over the day and loving every minute. The atmosphere was like a really civilised party with different bands in each place and great food in the houses or on the street. The tasting measures were healthy and buying an additional glass of champagne cost a very respectable €3. We ate oysters, escargot, local bread, cheese and sausage, and a dangerously good caramel spread that was a heart attack waiting to happen. Perfect.
On the way back we managed to (or rather Fiona’s fluent French managed to) negotiate enough transport so that the whole group could return the next day and try three more of the villages. More hurrahs.
By the time we got back to the house the gang were complete. Bridge had made it from her exhausting course to become a qualified explosive ordnance disposal operator as part of her UN career, Penny had made it from the UK and……….. G&D were there. By a happy coincidence they had been in need of a room and there was a spare one in the big house. Serendipity.
Everyone was pissed. Very pissed. It is great to meet kindred spirits!
Day 1 photos
Day 2 was a little different. Each village had fewer houses, the villages were further apart and the day was hotter. We tried some great bubbly, we met one of the few female champagne producers in the industry, saw some lovely countryside, and ate some interesting food, but try to picture the end of the day, with 8 slightly tipsy tourists (Stuart and Jenny had split from the gang and had been picked up by 2 Belgium girls who took pity on them and drove them to the last village) strung out over a km of road, clutching warm glasses of bubbly in various states of discomfort. It was a bit Champagne en Fete meets the retreat from Moscow……. But with less snow……. fewer dead horses……. and no Cossacks. There was a snake though. A swimming snake, in a river that seemed to be a great place to cool off tired feet, but perhaps wasn’t.
It was a great few days in which we made new friends, drank great bubbly, have found a reason to visit Curaçao in the Caribbean (to visit D) and it was lovely to see Bridge. The group was a a real mix of interesting, fun and easygoing people, who made us feel very welcome and really made the experience a great one.
But…. FFS, how hard is it to organise a piss-up in a Champagne growing area? There is a generalist, borderline racist, joke about what you pick nations for…….. Italians for lovers, Brits for fighting etc. it suggests Germans should do all the planning and the French bring the food and wine. I think a few Germans may need to move to Bar-Sur-Siene……..
From Troyes, it’s off to Lisbon via Orly Airport.