Monday, October 1, 2007

Day Eleven: Welcome to Reims . . . France!

Smile Before You Enter

Welcome to Reims

We awoke and packed hurriedly to get out of the hotel and find ourselves a nice little French cafe where we knew a tasty French breakfast awaited us. Fearless Leader had taken the chance to jog around the city before any of us awoke, found thPick ONE!e cathedral, and spotted those few little places were we might find parking and place to eat. We picked the cafe with display windows in the front and a long stretch of tables spilling out over the cobblestone square and settled in for our first and last French breakfast. Most of our company ordered the usual croissants, bread, and coffee, but I took the chance to bring my daughters up the display window and let them pick out one item of choice. I, naturally, picked out one of the largest and most delicious looking things to share with everyone. When my mother-in-law went to pick it up at the window they asked if we would like it boxed to eat it as dessert that evening. Ha! By evening we'd be in Germany and the air or atmosphere across the border would not do a French pastry the justice it deserved. We'd live lavishly this morning and eat according to our hearts content. The meal was the best I've ever had and I will not forget it in this lifetime. I imagined myself sitting in under the umbrella in the middle of the square all day long eating one after another of the various pastries at the slightest rumble of my tummy. But the tour must move on and we walked the streets towards Reims Notre Dame.

At this Notre Dame the kings of France celebrated their coronation ceremonies and lining the walls were the various kings which had entered commonly royal and left with a crown upon their head. This cathedral has witnessed many a great day. The building which stands today was built in the late 13th century to replace a destroyed basilica which had been the baptismal place of Clovis, who was the first to start the tradition. It was full of stained glass windows and statues and pews and the like and I could have found myself bored with yet another cathedral if it weren't for the history which its walls had witnessed. I never liked history in school, but now that I get a chance to live it I am fascinated to the point of loosing myself to wander with the halls with ghosts of the past. I envisioned Joan of Arc escorting her king, Charles VII, through the doors and into victory by means of a coronation in the only church able to perform such an honorary feat. I had to force myself to rightly envision her at a young seventeen? She died burned at the stake only two years later. This church also saw the coronation of the youngest king, Louis XIV, at the age of 4. What would possess a nation to crown a four-year-old king? I can only imagine the uncertainty and forced national pride that filled the aisles on that day. Leave my daydreams I must, for there was a date we could not miss a second time.

Silly SculptureReims is known in the champagne region for the chalk pits which house the champagne as it ages. As a result we were given the choice of a variety of different wineries to choose from all in the same vicinity. I took it upon myself to make reservations with the one house which was recommended above all others and one of the only which required a reservation. I figured if we had time for any of the others we could travel to them as well, but by this time in our trip we began to grasp what goals were within realities grasp. One tour would be enough for the day before we'd be back on the road heading towards the German border. I also choose the Pommery estate because it was established by a woman, Madame Pommery, after her husband died leaving her the beginnings of a winery. She turned it into her own taste and design and found her own abandoned Roman chalk pit which she turned into underground tunnels to house her champagne. I felt it might do my family of girls some good to see all that a single woman could accomplish. She was a lover of art so, to this day, the tunnels are filled with various forms of art. Originally she had hired a sculptor which she sent into the caves to carve elaborate masterpieces along the walls. He worked non-stop for five years in the tunnels, carving by candle light, until he went blind. We've been having issues with our new reader lately; she can't seem to put books down even to sleep now and we often find her reading well into the dark night. I've told her we love her to read and she can read before she falls asleep, but she must only read a short while before it gets dark otherwise her eyes will suffer. Thankfully the fateful tale of the artist supported my argument and she has stopped reading into the darkness since.A Gift From God

Though the tunnels are not as full as they once were there were still several alleys which were piled rack upon rack as far as the flash could penetrate and further. Bottles of reserve lay collecting dust from each year behind bars. The previous means of transporting bottles by an overhead pulley system still wound its way through and around walls. It was amazing to tour the caves, but the girls were chilly and frightened in the low-lit passages. We were glad to get back above ground and to our wine-tasting, which warmed us up enough to move on to the next country.

Once we crossed the border we stopped in a little German town and found the local pub. The locals all gave us a look as if we'd just beamed down from an alien ship, but let us pass after some minimum inspection. The food was wonderful, it was refreshing being back in a familiar atmosphere and language. The girls were anxious for schnitzel again and scarfed it down like it was going out of style. Likely, it was. We would only have a few days to enjoy Germany once again. After the girls were done eating I took it upon myself to escort them out the door once more as they had energy to burn and noise to make which did not go together comfortably with the older generation of Germans seated nearby. Once out the door I noticed a little back street which called to my inner sense of adventure. I knew the rest of the family would come looking after the bill was paid, but if they didn't find us waiting at the Tour Bus this little road would surely be the next best place to look, right? When we rounded the corner we bumped into the town playground which was full of play equipment the girls had never dreamed of before. This country must not worry about lawsuits as the toys were marvelously fun! My favorite was the tiered mountain of rocks and grass which you had to climb to reach the top of the slide. And a tunnel ran underneath just big enough for a small child to crouch through. The girls tried out each to burn off some of their pent up energy and we had blast. I made Swinging Sisterssure the ruckus was loud and the laughter plentiful so the rest of our party could find us. Eventually they did, but not after much worry and wonder, and when they did it was all fun and games started anew. Even the adults took the toys for a spin. Some of the locals joined us before long and it ended in exchanging directions towards Heidelberg. All we really wanted to know was if we could get back onto the interstate going the right direction from this little town or not, but he began a long and ominous report about how we'd be up for a long and difficult drive trying to find our way to the elusive Heidelberg, which he wasn't even sure he'd be able to find himself. Very reassuring. I wonder if he'd ever really left his village.

Heidelberg was easy to find. The hotel was not. We did arrive late, as he'd predicted, but once we got to the street the hotel was supposed to be on we drove circle after circle without ever passing it's number. And whoever said men don't ask directions? This time, instead of Burger King, it was Subway which saved the day. No, we wouldn't let her out of her seatbelt because we were sure the hotel was just around the corner, and once the local Burger King gave us the proper direction, it was. From this point on it is all a blur. Something about parking the bus and elevators and hallways leading to nowhere and cards which wouldn't work in the doors and a bed.

WC Report:

All is as normal as it ought to be. Either that or we are getting used to it ;)

Tragedy Report:

While touring the cathedral Squirrel Monkey chose a border rope to take a seat on. If I could have seen the thought pass in the space between her ears I may have had the available split second to prevent the accident, but my mind was not within those borders at the moment of her decision. The second her feet left the floor her butt slipped off, feet flew into air, and her head cracked itself not on the stone floor but upon the edge of one of the centuries worn stone steps to the altar. By the sound that it made I knew we were in for a howler and by the time I could get her up in my arms the screams were echoing off the walls and between the rafters of the ancient church. I knew her daddy could not miss the call where ever in the church he may be, but I sent my eldest off to guide him to the correct source of the reverberating din. You know you've been through this scenario one too many times when you can go through the list of tests, signs, and symptoms with the speed and accuracy of an emergency room nurse. She had an instant hematoma, but it was soft, which is actually a good sign. You'd think soft should be bad, right? I imagine my finger pressing into a hole in the skull, but in reality if there were a leakage from a break in the skull the hematoma would be firm and would steadily grow. She had a headache for the rest of the day, but it got better as the day went on and soon the only reminder of her fall was hidden under her hair and only mentioned when it was time to brush her hair or she received a bump in the wrong location. I do not need to tell you that she was not a happy camper for at least a couple hours regardless.

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