What I did on my almost summer vacation

20190521_115030

AGMA goes to France!

I know I promised last week, but it’s just so difficult to distill 15 days worth of sights, sounds, tastes and experiences into just 35 photos.  But honestly…that’s probably the maximum number of pictures of somebody else’s vacation that anybody really wants to view.

I know, right?

The “tile” organization of the pictures kind of distorts them – yuck and sorry…  You can hover over each picture if you want to read the compelling caption on each one.

As promised, “AGMA goes to France” in pictures:

 

 

 

 

 

20190508_162411

The Chateau de Villandry in the Loire Valley that is world famous for its gardens.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

20190520_131546

The back of our car at the end of 2400 miles around France. It’s kind of a good thing our friends luggage never caught up with us, but they were reunited with it in Paris before they flew back to the US.

Speaking of travel, for heavens sake, if you haven’t already, subscribe to Scott’s Cheap Flights!

We just booked another trip last night for September on British Airways, $290 round trip Atlanta to Paris.

Wow!!

We promptly cancelled it this morning to get a full refund (even non-refundable fares are refundable within the first 24 hours).

AGMA hated to do that!

But we need to let our waistlines and bank accounts recover for a bit before heading out again.

Sometimes being practical sucks.

 

Wars and wines (minus cycles)

20180408_212700.jpg

Our Epernay AirB&B host’s champagne brand! Just the thing to help make packing up to go home a bit more tolerable.

WARS:

Four years ago, AGMA borrowed a friend’s DVD set of Steven Speilburg/Tom Hank’s WWII HBO miniseries Band of Brothers (some 13 years after it aired.) It follows Easy Company of the US Army 101st Airbourne Division from their training in Toccoa, Georgia (right up the road from us!) to D-Day through V-E Day.

Then we saw George Clooney’s 2014 movie, Monuments Men. Based on the book of the same name, it’s the story of a group of museum directors, curators and art historians who, toward the end of WWII, were tasked by the US Government with trying to recover art treasures stolen by the Nazi’s.

We got hooked. Now I know we’re came late to the game, but Hubs and I got hooked on WWII history in Europe. And some WWI history as well.

Soon after, Hubs and I went to Belgium and France. Sound familiar?

To make a long story short, we visited a number of WWII and WWI sites on our 2014 trip. It was eye opening, heart wrenching and incredibly memorable, moving experience.

Fast forward to a few weeks ago.

Return visit to Belgium and France. Here we go…

20180328_1029234267805318547227924.jpg

The Cloth Hall in Ypres, Belgium. It looks old doesn’t it? It’s not… The Ypres Salient was the scene of intense fighting in WWI with some 450,000 lives lost on both sides.. The entire town of Ypres was destroyed as was everything else in the area. It all became a No Man’s Land. Every building in Ypres dates from after 1916. The rebuilt Cloth Hall is the sight of the In Flanders Fields Museum which is excellent in explaining the WWI history of the area.

20180328_104920_resized

WWI recruitment posters in the In Flanders Fields Museum. Anybody who thinks the rise in Nationalism is a good thing needs to learn more about the causes of WWI, and the devastation that the Nationalist passions back then wrought to Europe. And 16 million people died as a result.

20180328_1457415870997598250897551.jpg

In driving from Paris to Ypres we passed probably 25 small WWI cemeteries. And there were dozens of small WWI cemeteries around Ypres as well. They just buried the soldiers as they fell in skirmishes and came back after the war to formally mark the graves. The past is very much present and in people’s minds in this part of Europe.

20180402_1148331981037816740676805.jpg

In Bastogne in the Ardennes where the Battle of the Bulge took place. The 101st was surrounded on three sides by the Germans during the brutal winter of 1944/1945. Supplies had to be air dropped to them and they prevailed until Patton’s Third Army advanced.

20180402_115331_resized

A display of Patton memorabilia in the 101st Airborne Museum in Bastogne.

20180402_1304421559230222260966616.jpg

Just outside of Bastogne is the Mardasson Memorial honoring the memory of 76,890 American soldiers wounded or killed during the Battle of the Bulge. The memorial itself is a huge 5 pointed star (one of the points can be seen in the distance) Each state name is carved in the parapet, the insignias of each participating battalion on the outside walls and carved in the inside walls are 10 passages describing the battle. They still remember…

20180330_1357184217391367795230138.jpg

An uncentered photo (sorry…) of Michelangelo’s Bruges Madonna in the Church of Our Lady. In Bruges, Belgium. It is breathtaking (AGMA’s photography isn’t!) It was stolen by the Nazi’s in 1944, and was found a year later by the Monuments Men in a salt mine in Austria.

20180331_160937_resized

A view of Saint Bavo Cathedral in Gent, Belgium. The Gent Altarpiece (Adoration of the Mystic Lamb) done in 1432 is located in Saint Bavo. This was another priceless work of art stolen by the Nazi’s and recovered by The Monuments Men. We saw the Altarpiece in 2014, but got to Saint Bavos too late in the day to see it this time. Dang…

20180407_1544202711153586550917161.jpg

We’re at the Verdun Memorial in Verdun, France. Verdun was the scene for some of the fiercest fighting in WWI. There were anywhere from 700,000 to 1,200,000 casualties in the nearly year long battle. Again, the museum inside the memorial did an excellent job explaining the battle and its aftermath.

20180407_1555134483259466454908540.jpg

Our rental car’s passenger side mirror and the Douaumont ossuary memorial (around the phallic looking thing…) that contains the bones of 130,000 unidentified French and German soldiers. It’s surrounded by a cemetery of soldiers who were identified. War sucks.

20180407_1604384820994633916882789.jpg

Like Ypres, the area around Verdun was obliterated by the fighting and the bombing. The chapel at the end of the walkway stands where the church in the village of Fluery once stood. The entire village along with several others was completely destroyed, and was never rebuilt. The craters from the bombs (they look like ski moguls) are still visible all over the landscape over 100 years after the end of the war.

WINES:

Yeah we did!

20180402_1811517901412656346776588.jpg

The most charming, ancient town of Trier, Germany on the Mosel River. Trier is considered the oldest town in Germany. The Romans moved in back in 30 BC and things have never been the same since! Mosel River = Mosel wines! Cheers!

20180403_1900084063334608103695170.jpg

No – this is not something in Disney World or Epcot although it looks like it. It’s Colmar, France in The Alsace. And our AirB&B was the white home on the right (NOT the pay toilet…) Our hosts started our visit off right by leaving a bottle of Pinot Blanc in our fridge!

20180404_1052293116344998253334447.jpg

A canal runs through it…. This section of Colmar is called Little Venice!

20180405_1600254292179125644591926.jpg

Some of the delicious Alsatian white wine from the Paul Schneider vineyards tasting room in Eguisheim, France. It’s exhausting work, but somebody has to do it….

20180406_1804358735217396142023279.jpg

The enchanting town of Riquewihr, France. NOT Disney World. We did the Alsatian self guided ‘wine tour’ suggested by Rick Steves and it was nothing but one stinkin’ charming wine producing half timbered house village after another…

20180406_1503115252036588395243843.jpg

More wine tasting in the tiny village of Hunawihr. We’d never heard of the Sylvaner grape variety, but it make some pretty nice wine!

20180408_1836384789287680842659762.jpg

Our last stop on our trip was the Champagne region. We stayed in a charming AirB&B in Epernay hosted by the charming Michele who just happened to have her own small champagne house. This meant our fridge was stocked with 4 bottles of her champagne. AGMA did not want to be awakened from this lovely dream…. We had to pay for what we drank but at 14 Euros a bottle, it was an amazing bargain. And yes – Epernay has a glitzy Avenue de Champagne where all the YUGE, bougie producers have locations and you get to pay a premium for a tasting.

20180408_1758234191040387650076881.jpg

This is ground zero for champagne lovers! This is the Abbey Church in Hautvillers, France where Dom Perignon sang hymns and did Benedictine Monk stuff. Legend says that after he got the fermentation process right for his sparking wine, he ran into the church and said, “Brothers, come quickly! I’m drinking stars…!” Yeah he was! He’s buried in front of the alter of the church.

20180408_1715111794522160451370927.jpg

The big producers have vineyards everywhere!!

20180411_195037.jpg

AGMA and Hubs were very relieved that our precious cargo made it back to the US unbroken and unconfiscated. Four bottles in each of our suitcases. We pack pretty light when we travel so we have room to bring our booty home! There is always the wearing of sackcloth and gnashing of teeth when we drink the last bottle.

So there you have it…the good (wine), the bad (war), the ugly (my pictures) and the ‘makes AGMA’s heart sing’ (cycling!) It was an eventful 2 weeks with a lot of ground covered, great food consumed and fabulous wines tasted.

I’m so blessed.

But AGMA’s glad I’m home and staying home for the foreseeable future. Other than the 5 days in Chicago starting tomorrow…

Yeah we are!

P.S. After I published this, WP informed me that this was my 200th post! Where’s the champagne…???

Loose end tied

20180409_133908.jpg

AGMA and Hubs got back from our two week trip to Belgium and France (and a couple other places) less than 48 hours ago. And we’re leaving early tomorrow for Nashville.

I’m not even unpacked.

But that’s okay, we’re driving. I can throw all my crap into a trash bag if need be. Except my dress for the wedding we’re going to on Saturday. AGMA hates wearing dresses…

But that’s another post.

So no time for a ‘real’ post today. Just kinda checking in with everybody to say AGMA is still a force for the universe to reckon with.

I promise I’ll post a trip report next week when I’m stationary.

But I do want to share what we did on our last full day of our trip. And I promise my trip report won’t be backwards (although that is an interesting idea…)

It was a fulfillment of a promise I made last October right here on AGMA. Here’s the post, No blinking .

And you know how these things sometimes (most of the time) don’t work out when you’re planning 6 months ahead. But this time it did.

And I’m so glad it did.

We made it to Avize and to the Le Burn Severnay champagne house. And we tasted Patrick’s delicious champages. And they were wonderful.

But why yak when pictures can say it so much better?

20180408_181613.jpg

This isn’t Avize, but I just wanted to give you a sense of what the Champagne region looks like.  Because it was early spring, the vines weren’t leafed out.  But it was still stunning.

20180409_141152.jpg

The Le Brun Severnay champagne house on the Avize town square.  Avize is in the Cote des Blanc area of Champagne.  Most champagnes from Cote de Blanc are 100% Chardonnay.

20180409_135805.jpg

This shelf was in one corner of the tasting room.  Of course nosey AGMA found it…  Turns out Patrick was a marathon runner!

20180409_140006.jpg

Patrick’s words (French words) about his vintage 2006 100% Chardonnay champagne that won honors from the wine gurus in France.  I think he’s basically saying “Try it, you’ll like it!”

 

 

20180409_135855.jpg

AGMA’s toast to Patrick (drinking his delicious rose champagne!)  I hoped, but didn’t honestly didn’t think we could manage to do this when I wrote my post in October.  So glad I was wrong!

Helen, the assistant in the tasting room, didn’t mention Patrick at all during our tasting.  Until afterward when I told her about our cancelled visit in September.  And then it all came pouring out…

Listening to her only confirmed the sense that I had that he was a pretty amazing guy.  “He was my boss,” she said “and I am passionate about this champagne because he was so passionate about it.” (with a very cool French accent)  Her tribute to him was incredibly touching.

We brought home two bottles of Le Brun Servenay.  Not nearly enough.

Maybe another visit is in order??

Here’s to you Patrick, and the reminder to be passionate about life.  And not to take life for granted.  And to live the sh*t out of every single day!

 

 

 

 

No blinking

20170923_121158.jpg

Tresors de Champagne : la Boutique.  This was a lovely tasting room in Reims featuring local producers.

OMG…

Isn’t she done yammering about her trip to France??

Yeah – I can hear you out there… And no, I’m not done.

One more post.  And it may not be what you expect.

AGMA loved every town/chateau/winery we visited on our trip, but I was REALLY looking forward to our next to the last stop.

Reims. Champagne central. Bubbles, bubbles and more bubbles.

AGMA’s promised land!

I’ve been wanted to visit the champagne region ever since I found out there was such a thing as champagne. Probably even before. I’m pretty sure my mom drank champagne when she was pregnant with me.  Or Schlitz.

Hey – it was the 50’s and they did stuff like that back then.

The champagne region did not disappoint.  It was as fan-tabulous as AGMA had hoped. Glasses of the mystical, mahvelous, bubbly elixer were as inexpensive as a regular ol’ glass of wine and were sold EVERYWHERE! A bottle of non-vintage champagne – good champagne from small local producers – was between 15 to 25 Euros.  On our one full day there, I had 8 – count ‘em – 8 glasses.  Yeah – that’s right.

20170923_122055.jpg

Be still my beating heart!

AGMA was home!

The champagne vineyards were beautiful – there was a tinge of fall on the grape vines.  And the Reims Cathedral was spectacular. Of the “Big 3” medieval cathedrals in France (Notre Dame, Chartres and Reims), Reims wins the prize. It was a marvel.

20170923_184815.jpg

The spectacular Reims Cathedral built between 1211 and 1345

Yet despite the beauty of the area and the wonderful, delectable, delicious champagne, our enjoyment was tempered with sadness.

We booked an AirB&B studio apartment in Reims only a few blocks from the Catherdral. When you book an entire flat, you rarely meet the owner. They usually have a lockbox that gives guests access to the keys. I messaged our host about a week before we were supposed to arrive to get the skinny on the check in process. And from the AirB&B reviews, I also knew that Patrick, our host, owned his own champagne house – the PERFECT host right? – and wanted to know if we could visit his cellars and do a “tasting”.

Patrick sent me a lovely message with incredibly detailed instructions regarding access to the flat. He said that he was going to be traveling during our visit and regretted not being able to meet us especially since his wife “knows Georgia and loves it so much.” However, we were more than welcome to email his staff to set up a time to visit and taste.

Delightful!

Then on Wednesday, two days before our visit to Reims, I received a message from Patrick’s wife.

It was short and stunning.

She said, “Hello I’m Patrick’s wife. Just to tell you that you can’t come to the cellar this weekend. I’ve lost my husband on Monday so there will be no tasting or anything else. But no problem with the flat.”

I stared at my phone in disbelief. She couldn’t mean what I think she means…

She did.

Patrick died on Monday, three days after sending me that lovely message.

According to some articles I found on the Internet, he was working of a piece of agricultural equipment used in his vineyard when something went terribly wrong. A bucket dropped, hit him in the head and killed him.

He was 55 years old.

When Patrick awakened that Monday morning, I’m sure his whole week was planned.  His whole year was probably planned.  He was a successful champagne producer and had some business to take care of, but first on his list that Monday was working on some of the grape harvesting machinery.  Clearly, he wasn’t above getting his hands dirty with the day to day operations of his business.

He was a leader in the champagne producing community being the past president (at a very young age) of one of their important producer associations. His champagne house was a family affair and he was mentoring his son into the business.

He bought the flat in Reims to try out this AirB&B thing and it was doing pretty well.  It had good reviews and was rented for the weekend to a couple from Georgia. But he wasn’t going to be able to meet them because he was going out of town with his wife.

In the blink of an eye, that all changed.

His business cards were in the flat along with an order form for champagne from his champagne house, Le Brun-Servenay in Avize. I felt sad every time I looked at them.

I never met Patrick. I only messaged back and forth with him via AirB&B. But though that and reading about him on the Internet via Chrome’s translation function, it seemed like he was an lovely, gifted man, devoted to his profession and family. Somebody I’d like to hang out with and have of glass of his champagne with. Maybe a couple glasses.

Definitely.

So AGMA has decided.  I’ll be going back to Reims and the champagne region in the not too distant future.

And I’ll be traveling down to Avize in the “Cote Des Blancs” to visit the Le Brun-Servenay Champagne House for a tasting. And will probably buy a bottle or two. Or three.

I’ll raise a glass to Patrick, who reminds me to live and love fully in the present moment, and to never take even one minute of living and breathing for granted.

Live big. Live large. Drink champagne. Often.

Because it can all change in the blink of an eye.

Patrick

Patrick Le Brun in his vineyards