Our digs tonight.

A little off colour next to the Dom.

The Marnie river just before the lock in Reims.

The end of a not so successful Vortex or was it a super pain.

When the sun goes down we will not forget.

A tribute to fallen soldiers on Australian and New Zealand ANZAC day,

Me at my device writing this tome.

Eager to be on its way.

The patchwork of fields stretch beyond the eye's limit.

Drink Champagne in moderation or this could be you.

Third session.

This is the place.

Moet & Chandon 'tool shed',

About 99,000 bottles sitting on the wall.

Dom Perignon display where the cheapest 'bottle' was more than the GDP of Zambia.

Arc of many in Nancy.

Avenue du Champagne here I come.

Day 7 is devoted to the pink umbrella as it has been unused and lonely since Strasbourg where we took it out for a spin after finding it in Zurich beside a river walkway and thought it might be lonely and hankering for adventure. The day begins with a celebration of Lee's birthday made perfect by a lengthy Skype session with all our grand-children and our girls and their partners singing Happy Birthday while we here in France sitting in our bed having coffee after a long sleep in. This call from afar certainly was a highlight for Lee.

Pink umbrella was eager to get going as it was raining out and knew its time had come. It rained all the way to Epernay where many Champagne houses are headquartered and is the place to party with the best Champagne money can buy. 

In fact umbrella is hanging out for a good time on the Avenue de Champagne and begins its quest to enjoy as much Champagne as it can hold between its folds.

The quest begins at Pol Rogers and a down-pour of Champagne into the folds of the umbrella hits the spot. It is soon time to move onto Paul-Etinne Saint Germain where it downs the most delightful Brut with a hint of Brioche soon covering the stopper pin along the handle- seems as though the umbrella is in for a session of grand proportions. 

The Avenue du Champagne is, after all, the place to be and be seen, and fatefully it rains between drinks and with an effort the umbrella springs into action when needed. Champagne Mercer is next and feeling a little under the weather umbrella is looking forward to the last visit of the day. 

As far as top-notch goes Moët & Chandon is the pinnacle and the umbrella is looking forward to seeing the caves, being enthralled by the tour guide, venturing into the byways and storage areas of those 27 kilometers of tunnels 17 meters below the surface where hundreds of thousands of bottles of champagne are fermenting and maturing into all that is good about alcohol with bubbles in it.

Umbrella lamented it could not taste and listen but patiently noted that Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte visited the Champagne house following the repatriation of Rhiems by his troops to award Claude Moét a Legion of Honor as mayor of Ebernay. Umbrella was feeling a bit off colour as it rested by the racks of Dom Perignon, surprising as those bottles are worth hundreds of Euro each and yearn to be drunk.

While umbrella took a rest in the corner Lee and Bill were photographed by the friendly and helpful sommelier beside a range of Moet & Chandon bottles that the umbrella could only dream about owning.

Umbrella thought there must be a way to be part of the in-crowd, so it stood on the corner in its most seductive pose and hoped a Masseratti owner would be tempted to pick it up.

As the effects of the Champagne started to wear off the umbrella had a second wind and started to pole dance and by the end was hanging loose from the top of the pole.

It was time to go to Mareuil-sur-Ah but really all umbrella wanted to do is curl up on a park bench.

We left it there overnight as we enjoyed the adjacent Aries next to the canal that runs parallel to the river Marne. Hope umbrella is comfortable since we certainly will be in our van.

Being useful.

Second session.

We have only travelled a small part of the great land of France and yet to travel in this area, likely tomorrow.

Nancy Cathedral

Day 6 and how they have passed. Early wakeup today mainly because of the rain drops falling intermittently on the roof of the van from the trees above us. It was lovely laying in bed, having a coffee and listening to the rain. We were on the road at least half an hour earlier than usual. Maybe we should have not stayed in bed so long but is that not part of the lure of any holiday - not having any or many must get up and do things.

We set the GPS again -you'd think we would have learnt our lesson - to head off to Reims which our paper maps indicated was 40 kms North of us and since the GPS told us the same we were inclined to believe the GPS - this time. 

There must be a setting I have not found on the GPS since the route we were taken, although it did end up in Reims, was via the back roads of France. This time we did not mind as the scenery was full of the bright yellow heads of Canola contrasting against the rich green of the young grain, both stretching into the distance and creating a checker plate pattern to behold, interspersed with the occasional township with its obligatory church spire. We stopped a number of times to take pictures, and sometimes realizing after we had driven passed a particularly pretty scene that it was worth stopping at a wide-enough part of the country road to three point turn the beast and not only return to the spot, but to also find another wide-enough part of the country road to perform the same maneuver. Well worth the effort and of course we are not on a schedule, so anything is possible.

The route also took as through some unexpected rain forrest regions and when we came across a Moét & Chandon marked 'tool shed' on the side of a vine covered hillside - we had to stop and take some pictures - as you do.

The first experience of Reims was crossing the Marne river which we know is one of many routes for barges and river boats (2 to 6 person size) to ply the river systems which crisscross Europe and provide a continuous pathway for such river boats from North in Amsterdam all the way to the East in Germany and Italy. Then from the West along the Atlantic Ocean boarders of the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Spain and Portugal and finally to the Southern boundary formed by the Mediterranean Sea of Spain and Italy. 

As we have a large vehicle we expect to find it difficult to park in cities but quickly found two normal vehicles spots and decided to park there while the going was good. I paid for two spots and off we went after taking a picture of the spot we had parked including the signs of nearby roads.

We expected to do some walking to see the sights and some of the Champagne Caves in the city and nearby Les Crayeres area but did not expect that by the end of the day we would have walked nearly 10 kms.

First off to see the Main Street of Reims and the nearby Cathedral-de-Notre-Dame-de-Reims. In my mind these two features were like chalk and cheese, where the Cathedral is the Triple Brie. The temperature today is a chilly 8 degrees C, so it was a relief but sweltering in our heavily clothed condition to duck into the local information center to checkout where exactly the Champagne Caves were. We picked up some brochures and Mumm Champagne seemed to be within walking distance so we headed off to hopefully be in time to do a tour. Well half an hour later we are told by the forlorn guide that it is quarter to 1 and they are closed and tours begin again at 2. 

This is a great mystery to me about France and I must have a discussion with my French colleagues about how commerce survives with this midday closure, typically noon to 2 pm, for almost all shops and places of business. Having walked a considerable distance to get to Cave du Mumm Champagne and with the prospect of there not even being a pastry shop open nearby we walked back in the direction from whence we came and thankfully came upon a restaurant that was open. We promptly took shelter from the cold and enjoyed a meal with some wine. Lee had smelly Salade Nicoise which essentially comprises tuna, mayonnaise, lettuce, tomatoes, green beans, egg and anchovies and liked it very much. While there we decided to abandon our tour of Mumm Champagne and walk to Veuve Clicquot, so Mumm and their closed shop, can take a hike, or at least we did, for another 20 minutes to the other side of town.

However, along the way we passed Cave du Taittinger Champagne and popped into see if they had a tour. As luck would have it there was one in English beginning in 5 minutes. The tour began with a video and then we were escorted down many steps until we were 12 meters then later 20 meters below the surface of the city and the temperature is a constant 12 degrees C. The tunnels are created out of the subterranean chalk which is part of the 70 kilometres of tunnels below Reims. I will not regale the spiel but I enjoyed learning about the history of the tunnels and the process of champagne production. The tour took longer than we anticipated and that left just 10 minutes to get back to the van before our parking ticket ran out with thirty minutes of walking to get there, and the further desire to see Veuve Clicqout (our youngest daughters favorite champagne) which closed in an hour.

When you are walking in a strange city and you are able to use Google maps it is possible to not only find your way back to your vehicle/hotel/train station/taxi rank, etc. you can use the estimated travel time to consider your options. We did and were soon power walking our way back to the van. We make it back and thankfully no ticket and we are glad for the facilities onboard. We were then on our way to the next Champagne Cave which we get to with plenty of time to spare, considering we did not not know what the parking situation would be.

Veuve Clicqout is well organized and although we were not in time for a tour (and since we had just been on one it was not that important) were we ushered to the very casual and stylish tasting room. A very helpful English speaking host took our order for a single tasting of the Grande Dame Champagne providing a story about the name of the champagne and the vine stock it was made from.

Lee and I enjoyed the experience sipping some top shelf Champagne and then to top it off our daughters and their families in Australia wished Lee a happy birthday via Facebook since at that exact time, in Australia, it had become Lee's birthday. A great way to finish off the day.

Arrived just in time to get in and a park.

Day 5 Well how do I start to describe today.

Well I guess it starts when you get woken up by the CH......., no not 'children' this time ...but chickens... (lots of them). Beats the alarm clock if you ask me.

The Aires also located next to the Mosselle river, and no it does not taste like wine (although I actually did not try it) and best not to since we emptied our waster water at the Aires and who knows where that ends up.

Off we went - setting our GPS to our next destination in the vicinity of the Champagne region. It only became suspicious that we were not going in the right direction when we again entered the mountains. Boy does Lee not like the mountains. Yesterday she had kittens as the van navigated the winding roads, especially when the drop was on her side. The pressure was on me and as long as my driving position was over the centre line she seems happy but that did not auger well for me when the crazy motor cyclists came roaring around a corner using the center line as their outer limit guide. As for today, it seems that familiarity does not breed contempt, as Lee was just as anxious. 

It took our mobile WiFi and Google Maps to confirm that we had been guided a large number of kilometers in the opposite direction in which we were meant to be going. I thought it was great to see some more of France and the scenery was again spectacular, Lee, not so much, since it had involved more mountain roads. 

After a readjustment we were on the correct way to Nancy and by the time we got there we had done 100 kilometers when it would have been a short 30 kilometer jaunt. As it turns out we just drove through Nancy and then decided to head off to Chalons-en-Champagne which is South of Reims and near Eperany. Many of the well known Champagne Caves of Dom Pierre Pérignon, Moét & Chandon, etc. are located nearby and where there would be a camping site with electricity and hot showers waiting for us.

Along the way we dropped into the home of Baccarat crystal while keeping a wary eye on the scores from the Melbourne Cricket ground as our beloved Australian football team the ..Crows ..were playing the Hawks. Unfortunately the result was a close loss to the Crows, so we bought some crystal brandy glasses to bring home and to help us consume some more French wine/champagne in some level of style, most misplaced I know, but it's the thought that counts.

Our stressful day would not be complete without a senior moment - as we could not for the life of us find our CampingCard which provides a discount for stays during the quieter season at camping grounds. We eventually found it but we had only used it only two days ago. We put our forgetfulness down to too many things that are different from our norm, examples being Lee not using her normal handbag, in which she seems to keep everything except the kitchen sink, and me not having a place for everything and everything in its place. 

It has has only been 5 days and we think otherwise were are doing very well. 

We are now sitting down in our van in a lovely camping site, to a lovely meal with some of that wine, in those glasses and this busy and crazy day is becoming all but a wonderful memory.

It pays to go for a walk after dinner.

First session.

Many of these seen along the way.

Looks spooky but what is in the bottles tastes spectacular.

8 degrees C and windy

with BILL'S EYES

Vines are in the early stages of budding

Bill and Lee behind the counter at Moët & Chandon.

See The World

Happy Birthday Lee.

This equipment is typical of the facilities at an Aries providing water, power for a hour and waste water dumping (not shown).

Statue of Joan of Arc in foreground.

The Mosselle river and banks nearby the Aires.

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