10 September 2013

R & R in Champagne

On Saturday 31 August we had arrived in Sillery, one of the Grand Cru Champagne villages on Montaigne de Reims. We decided to pause for a while. Our winding route from Harlingen to Sillery has taken us through 128 locks and along 996.2 kilometres of canals, rivers and lakes to cover the 452 kilometre straight line distance.

Edi completed the carving of the second Zonder Zorg name board and began painting it. 

On Tuesday morning we caught the local bus into Reims. For €2.50 each we bought return tickets, which were good for an hour in each direction on all lines. Among the things we needed to do was visit the Sous Prefecture to begin the process of getting my long-term stay authorisation in Europe. When we arrived shortly after noon, the signs informed us the offices are open only on Mondays and Tuesdays from 1430 to 1730 and for longer on Fridays. We went off to the Orange office to buy a French sim card for my phone and to set-up an internet connection for our computers. We arrived back at the Sous Prefecture to find a huge crowd milling around the entrance, waiting for the opening. At the appointed hour the doors opened; inside the crush was subdivided and we ended-up ninth in the Immigration line.

After a little more than an hour we emerged with a form and instructions on what to bring with us to the Prefecture offices in Chalons-en-Champagne. We decided to visit Notre Dame for some solace.
The current structure was begun in 1211 and it replaces a series churches on the site dating back to the late Roman era. In 496 Clovis, the first King of France was baptised in one of the former churches on the site. This led to twenty-five French kings, from Louis the Pious in 816 to Charles X in 1825 being crowned at Notre Dame de Reims. The Cathedral was severely damaged during World War One and the restoration is ongoing. The more important pieces among the statuary in the entrance portals have been restored.

The church is one of the finest examples of Gothic architecture, and its design uses flying buttresses to allow the huge windowed walls to soar to great heights.

Most of the stained glass windows from the thirteenth century were destroyed by German artillery shelling; however some remain.

The Rose Window is the most prominent of these, and it is a superb example of the art.
High up in the nave and the choir some windows from the 1240s have survived.
Modern windows have gradually replaced temporary fillers. This trio by Marc Chagall was completed in 1974.

The light strikes the interior in a seemingly endless variety of designs. The feeling inside is of a monument, rather than of a place of worship. 

Outside, facing the Cathedral rides a bronze Jeanne d'Arc, the teenager who turned the tide for the French in the Hundred Year's War. She was condemned as a heretic and burned at the stake at the age of nineteen. The Church said "Oops" twenty-five years later and admitted a mistake. She was later canonised and is one of the Patron Saints of France.

A few blocks away is Eglise St Jacques, which was begun about 1190, two decades before Notre Dame. Its interior is wonderfully serene, and unlike Notre Dame, there is an overwhelming feeling of being in a spiritual place. 

We were captivated by the peacefulness of the place.

The church is tucked away in a side street directly abutting neighbouring buildings and almost completely hidden from view. Only from an interior courtyard is there a view of the exterior.

It was late afternoon by the time we had returned to Zonder Zorg in Sillery. Edi added more layers of paint to the name board.

On Wednesday morning I walked a few blocks to Case à Pain, broadly reputed as the best bakery in the region.

We enjoyed a splendid breakfast of Brie de Meaux and Forme d’Ambert with fresh croissants and cups of espresso.

We relaxed and explored, but mostly relaxed. We continued to celebrate our arrival in Champagne with more Champagne. For dinner I prepared pan-seared coquilles St Jacques, basmati rice and green beans amandine and we enjoyed these with a bottle of Champagne Canard Duchesne. 

As we were savouring our way through the bottle I thought of my friend and former business partner, Philip Holzberg, who in the 1980s and early 90s had done a splendid job of representing and promoting Canard Duchesne in Canada. He had gone on to own a vineyard in the Burgundy and a wine chateau in Bordeaux before his tragic death a couple of years ago. Cheers, Philip!

Just along from our moorage is one of the nineteen nécroploes nationales, French national military cemeteries, which occupy a total of thirty-five hectares in the area east of Montagne de Reims. They are the final resting places for 116,628 members of the military. 
The placard gives a breakdown: WWI - 114,120 French, 188 Allies; WWII - 2028 French, 292 Allies. This was one of the major battlegrounds of the Great War.

We were waiting for a technician to arrive from the French distributor of our Perkins engine. Since our first outing from Harlingen in early June, we have had a problem with leaking of diesel oil and coolant from the engine as well as some oil from the transmission. We have had Dutch technicians come to us from Harlingen when we were in Winsum, Workum, Lemmer, Ens, Elburg and Haarlem. Then we had them come from the distributor in Utrecht while we were in Gouda and Gorenchem. Now in Sillery we were waiting for the first French technician.

Late on Friday morning Julien arrived after a two hour drive from Beauvais, and from the series of photos I had emailed, he quickly found a faulty connection on one of the fuel injector lines. He had brought spares and he had soon fixed the fuel leak for the ninth time. From stains, he tracked down the coolant leak to a faulty connection in the return line to the coolant reservoir. He had no spares to for this, but was able to cobble together a temporary remedy with a piece of hose and some clamps. After engine run-ups and testing, he cleaned a couple of litres of fluids from the bilges.

He left mid-afternoon, telling us he would have the proper parts ordered and would return to install them the next week, wherever we happened to be along the canals. We need to keep heading south; we still have a long way to go to our winter moorage in Carcassonne.

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