The List: Favorite Trips Of All Time.

This post is dedicated to all the travelers out there.  We often get inquiries about our favorite places that we have visited outside of the US.  Before we forget, we wanted to leave detailed notes on our top picks in rank order.    Instead of putting it as a post and making it impossibly long to scroll through, we have created a new page on the site here.   You can find it in the future on the top menu of the blog. We pledge to continually update it through our travels!
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Gratitude Friday: UNESCO World Heritage List

This Gratitude Friday goes out to UNESCO.   I actually had no clue what UNESCO was before we moved to Geneva.  However, because of the sheer volume of places in Europe, it became something of note during our travels.  UNESCO helps identify and protect the places in the world that are most important to humans, both culturally and naturally.  There are currently 962 places in the world on the list.  Roughly 80% are cultural while 20% are natural.

unesco

How wonderful that there is an organization which makes it their mission to preserve and recognize these sites?   While sites like the Notre Dame in Paris might not have trouble gaining support, think about those in underdeveloped countries like Angkor Wat in Cambodia that can now have the financial and administrative resources to preserve and protect these special sites for the world to appreciate?

And also, I wanted to express our thankfulness for being able to visit over 30 new UNESCO sites during our time as ex-pats.   This is something that neither one of us thought we would do in a 1.5 year span.   While our travels will be slowing down with our move back to the US, I wanted to find a way to archive the sites that we had been to, both before this experience, and then after.

So, I have created a page in the main menu of the blog listing Our UNESCO Tracker.  I’ll keep this up in the future as well.

Bon weekend, everyone!

 

The Swiss Rule Book: Drinking in Public

Drinking in public isn’t a big deal in Europe.    We are constantly reminded of this with our guests.  We bring along a bottle of wine to a picnic or on a train and they ask us, “you can’t actually drink that here, can you?”.     The answer is yes.      Europeans are far more lax about things like this.  As a result, there are actually far less drunk people because it isn’t so taboo.  In fact, the Swiss can start drinking wine and beer at 16.  It’s 18 for hard liquor.  And, we have never seen drunk teens.

Here are a few photographic reasons to further demonstrate the point:

Recently, in Italy, we had a glass of champagne at a risotto fair.   They gave us cloth glass holders to string around our neck so that we could take it “to go”.   This has become my favorite new accessory.

Me with my champagne glass necklace, walking around town

They  put reminders up about the legal drinking age:

Babies can't drink in public.

Babies can’t drink in public.

However, some don’t pay attention.

Before….

After….

Sorry little guy.  You have to wait a few years.

And, those ‘on duty’ don’t mind enjoying a cold one.

This guy might have just had his 16th birthday

People drink in random places.   It is most common on the bus to see a guy in a suit enjoying a beer on his way home from work.   I prefer this photo of a lady in her 70’s opening up her bottle she purchased grocery shopping and drinking it out of the bottle at the bus stop.  There is no time like the present.

It’s 5 o’ clock somewhere.

Here’s hoping that this New Years Day, you didn’t have too much to drink!

The crooked little town of Troyes

As I mentioned last week, if we are on a road trip, we love to discover interesting places to stop on the way home.

As we left Champagne around 11am, our lunchtime fell in the town of Troyes, France.  We parked and while exploring a place to grab some food, soon designated this as the most crooked town we’d ever seen.   No, not because of any shady deals that took place.  Literally, the architecture:

Do you think the floors are level in the yellow house?

Lonely Planet highlighted an alley way called the “tiny street of the cats”, and it was crooked as well.

Gabe and Marty McFly near some teetery houses. Both being finance guys and very orderly, they were both going into hyperbolic shock from the unevenness.

Even me, who hangs up the most crooked of photos and pictures and can’t draw a straight line to save my life found it uncomfortable!

Another crooked yellow place

While you might not be able to live this way permanently, Troyes was still pretty cute.

Architecture in Troyes, France

Adorable street in Troyes

Lovely architecture & skyline

By the way, in French, Troyes isn’t pronounced Troys or Troy but Twaaaah.   Before I mastered this knowledge, the French would have considered my speech a little crooked as well!

Reims: Not just a Champagne town

During our stay in Champagne, we selected a hotel in the city of Reims (Rheims in French). Before our arrival, we had no clue how historically significant the town was.

Main square in Reims

Our first night in Reims, with Marty & Jennifer McFly, all we knew of Reims was champagne….

However, as I stated on last week’s Gratitude Friday post, our champagne guide was a bit of a history expert.   While exploring the rolling hills of the Champagne region, we also had the benefit of a history lesson.   We learned that the tribe of Remi founded Reims.  Caesar invaded the Gauls and in 51BC conquered it with the help of the tribe of Remi, whom he rewarded for their help.

Image courtesy of peperonity.com

From then, It was a Roman city.  They built the triumphal arch in 200AD, largest arch outside of Rome.

Roman arch in Reims

In the 5th century, Clovis became the first king to reunite all the territories within France.   He was baptized at the site of the current Basilica St Remi in Reims.  His armies converted to Catholic Christianity in the same way Clovis did, per the traditions of the time for soldiers to follow their leader.  From that point on, Reims became the religious center of the region.

Basilica St Remi

Inside the basilica, with Sunday services in the front

From then on, all kings were coronated in Reims.   Most occurred in the Cathedrale Notre Dame.   Most famously, Joan of arc stood by King Charles XII during his coronation ceremony after her vision to help him become monarch and overthrow Britain’s control.

Cathedrale Notre Dame in Reims

Visitors are able to see the structure on Sundays, but just not the back where the service takes place

Inside of the cathedral with its’ magnificent stain glass windows

Soon, Paris overtook Reims in size and became the most prominent city in France. However, this change didn’t keep Reims safe in WWI when it was seen as a symbol of France’s rich history and bombed 1051 consecutive days in a row, destroying over 90% of it.  This was known as the ‘crime of Reims’.   Since, they have repaired and rebuilt, but the impact was devastating.
As discussed last Friday, also in WWI, Reims saw the 1st battle of the Marne and advent of trench warfare.   Sadly, Reims and the surrounding countryside has seen more than its fair share of bloodshed.
WWII treaty was also signed in Reims after the German surrender.

Champagne: Lessons behind the Bubbly

“Come quickly, I am tasting the stars!”
Alleged quote by Dom Pérignon, instrumental wine maker of from Abbey St. Vanne, later found to be created by the ad industry

Did you even know Dom Pérignon was a 17th Century monk?   I sure didn’t know this before we visited the infamous wine region in France.  Below we have 12 other lessons learned on our tour:

Champagne Lesson #1 – Champagne can only come from Champagne, France.   All other must be called sparkling wine.   There are strict regulations around production and the wine cops come do checks to ensure the product is 100% Champagne AOC.    This, however, is not an indication of quality.

It wasn’t the grower, but the ‘Champagne police’ were the ones who put the wax on these bottles. It is part of their routine check ups to ensure the protection of the AOC.

Champagne Lesson #2 – The land in the Champagne region has a chalk base, much like England’s White Cliffs of Dover. The chalk not only retains heat but moisture.   We’ve seen similar theories of superior wine due to the unique ground:   Switzerland Lavaux has the terraced walls that use the sun off Lake Geneva to heat the soil, as well as Chateauneuf-du-Pape claims its rocky basin of the former Rhône river.

The exposure white cliff beside the house gives an indication what the soil is like under the vines : pure chalk

Champagne Lesson # 3 – Champagne is just as confusing with designations as many other French wines are:  Grand Cru, Premier Cru, and village level.  Again, this isn’t a guarantee of quality, just the designation of the land is supposed to be higher in Grand Cru.

Enjoying a taste at a Grand Cru Champagne house. Oooo la la.

Champagne Lesson #4 – Champagne likes to get sideways. While the region itself is huge, AOC Champagne grapes only take up a portion of it because only the vines grown on hills are used for wine.  The flat lands are used for other crops.   In terms of wine producing hectacres, our guide explained it in terms of American-isms….the wine-producing hectares occupy the size of 34,000 football fields or 280,000 tennis courts.

The hilly landscape in Champagne

Champagne Lesson #5 – Champagne likes to get around. Unlike Bordeaux, there are no chateaus surrounded by all their vineyards….just champagne houses that blend from various grapes/plots collected from all over the region. So many big houses are actually located in the city center of Reims, with the grapes coming from the countryside.

These grapes will likely be blended with other grapes from non-adjacent plots. Burgundy would have a fit!

Champagne Lesson #6 – Champagne is a family business. 90% of the land is family owned. It takes 2.5 hectacres, or 15 tennis courts,  for an individual to make a living. However, land isn’t easy to get: 1 hectacre goes for 1.5 million euros.  It generally requires two generations to see a return.   Most families sell a portion of their yield to the big houses.

This plot is likely owned by a family. It’s much better to think of the purchase of each bottle of Champagne as putting food into someone’s mouth 🙂

Champagne Lesson #7 – Champagne can be made from both red and white grapes!  The reds just dont keep continual contact with the skins.  There are actually 3 types of grapes in the Champagne AOC: Chardonnay, Red Pinor Noir and Black Pinot Meunier.

The juice inside every grape is clear – it is just the juice is fermented – with our without skins that determines the color

Champagne Lesson #8 –  No &*^ in the Champagne Room.   It rains 200 days out of the year in Champagne.  The rainy temps leave the mildew and catepillars.  The wind has to help with the mildew, but to avoid the use of pesticides to ward against the creatures, growers use a technique called confusion sexual.  Pods are filled with female butterfly pheromones to distract and confuse the male caterpillars so they can’t find an egg to fertilize. Each dual-pod costs 1 euro and they are placed every 2-3 meters on the vines.

A cruel joke to the male caterpillar. But if it means more Champagne for the world, I’m game!

Champagne Lesson #9 –  Champagne is under a lot of pressure!    The air inside a bottle of Champagne has pressure 3x that of a tire.   One in 10,000 explodes due to the pressure.  They use horizontal stackers to help reduce the impact to an entire wall.

A Champagne bottle that wanted to join the party a little too early.

Horizontal panes help minimize damage if there is an explosion – at least they all don’t fall vertically downwards.

Champagne Lesson #10 – Champagne is strong!  Since the glass is designed strong to support the special liquid, Champagne bottles are hard to break.  Our guide taught us how to deal with the situation if the event occurs:  leave it, cover it with a blanket a few hours. If you put it down on a counter immediately after, the impact creates a 2nd shock which can cause explosions.   Alternatively, don’t sit it down, open it and drink it.
Champagne Lesson # 11 – The official term for the process is not known as “Champagne-ing”.   I ‘created’ this term after a few glasses while asking a question to our guide.  I never heard the end of it and I can hear him telling future groups, “You’d never believe what this American I had said….”.    Even still, I managed to learn a bit about how a still wine is turned into bubbly:
1 – Fermentation happens like a normal still wine
2 – Blending happens
2- More yeast & sugar is added, a cap affixed, and a second fermentation is done in the bottle
3- Every day, bottles are turned a fraction every so often.
4 -The extra sediment must be removed in a technique called remuage.  This is either done manually, or with today’s technology by freezing the sediment so it pops out easily
5 – The bottle goes to rehab to adjust from the stressful procedure of remuage
6 – The bottle is corked
The process takes several years in order to mature and perfect the contents!

Our guide demonstrating the old school method of turning on a traditional Champagne board

Another method of turning – these barrels are slightly rotated and turned throughout the maturation

Even more current machinery automates this process

A glimpse at the sediment that must be removed before corking

Champagne Lesson #12 – France allows for blending the rules of rosé.  Okay that was a play on words that might be a little cheesy.   Rosé champagne is the only of France’s wines that permits the blending of red juice with white, because of the second fermentation process.  For traditional rosés, this process is scoffed at as cheater.     Even still, many opt for the higher grade technique of satinée, or bleeding, for their rosé champagnes.

Rosé Champagne

Gratitude Friday: Our Veterans

The timing of our trip to Champagne was quite good from a historical appreciation standpoint.  The sunday of our departure was Armistice Day.  This day commemorates the ending of WWI in 1918, specifically on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month.
It overlaps with the US Veterans Day and the British Commonwealth’s Remembrance Day.  For France, thinking about WWI and Armistice Day, this war had a catastrophic impact – 1.4 million, or 4.29% of their population died.   An incremental 10% of their population were soldiers wounded in military action.

Witnessing an Armistice Day ceremony in Reims as we drove by at 11:15, within the 11th hour.

Our Champagne guide was a historical fiction writer and wove a lot of the history into our tour. We passed dozens of cemetaries and trench lines between our cellar visits, to develop our appreciation for the historical and military significance of the region.  The Battle of the Marne occurred right in the heart of Champagne country.  Verdun, where approximately a million soldiers lost their lives, is 100km away.

French graveyard containing fallen soldiers of WWI

British graveyard, looking like an English garden

In France, the Germans graveyard is absent of the white symbolism of peace

One of our guide’s remarks really stuck with me. He commented that if you say the name Champagne anywhere in the world, the immediate feeling is joy and celebration.  However, there has been such a history of sadness and bloodshed in this famous region.

Each town, no matter how tiny, has a monument for their men lost in the Great War.

I have a profound appreciation for our United States veterans who currently serve and who have served to provide a safe and free country for the rest of us.  My father and grandfathers included.   And with extreme reverence, I am thankful to those who gave the ultimate sacrifice for my country.  I have only had the honor of knowing one solider personally.  But, as do many, feel indebted the family and loved ones for those who I didn’t have the pleasure of knowing, but gave much for me.
And specifically for Armistice Day, I am grateful we were able to experience this.   Reflecting on the pain and sacrifice that another country has made in its history was a good lesson for me to expound on my own way of thinking.  The realize the hurt and pain that others around the world have felt.  Really, we have more similarities than differences.
Bon weekend, everyone!