After a truly wonderful (and delicious) vacation in Italy with my parents, it was finally time to move into my Paris apartment/hotel, bid my parents au revoir, and hit the books. The first week was a whirlwind of activity as we got used to this new country, endured 3 hour sessions of “Survival French,” and began to get a handle on what our classes would demand of us in the next seven weeks. By Friday, we were all ready to sleep in – but, at last, there is no rest for the weary traveler. Instead we all met the bus at 8am for our day trip with the program to the towns of Reims and Epernay in the Champagne region of France. Reims was a quaint town with a cathedral that was a little less than a year away from its 800th birthday! We had a great tour and learned all about what gothic churches looked like back in the day and the purposes of the stained glass and sculptures. The information really increased my appreciation for old churches and cathedrals. After our tour, we had some time to walk around the town, grab lunch (and some Italian gelato!), and drool over the beautiful displays of French sweets.

Reims Cathedral

Macarons in Reims

After we had sufficiently explored Reims, we all trooped back to the bus for a short trip to Epernay where we would tour the world famous champagne house, Moet et Chandon. After a tour of the upper house, a brief history of the Moet and Chandon families, and a video explaining the champagne making process we headed down to the cellar, where rows and rows and stacks and stacks of champagne bottles rested, all at various stages of the aging process. When asked if anyone had ever gotten lost in the cellars, our lovely guide quickly responded, “Oh, all the time.” We made sure to stay close to the group after that! After a tasting, the tour ended (in typical Disneyland fashion) in the gift shop. We enjoyed the weather outside a bit, and then got back on the bus for our trip home.

The endless cellar tunnels

Plaques (using a secret code) label each batch of champagne.

On Saturday, a few of us planned to spend the day at the palace and gardens of Versailles, the exorbitantly lavish home of the last few kings of France, including the ill-fated Louis XVI and his wife, the infamous Marie Antoinette. By the time we finally left that morning the “few of us” had turned into nearly the entirety of our group. It was a beautiful day and the crowds of tourists were in full force. A few of us who had been to the palace on previous trips decided to skip the tour (and the ticket lines) and headed straight to the gardens. We had all brought some reading or other homework, so we found a spot in the shade by a beautiful gilded fountain and camped out for most of the day. I was able to get some of my reading finished, despite the distractions offered by colorfully dressed tourists and squealing children.

Poseiden Fountain, Versailles Gardens

Our homework spot for the day

When we tired of our productivity, we headed to Marie Antoinette’s “Petit Palace” and then her “Grand Palace” – because apparently the enormous main palace was not enough space for the overindulgent queen. The rooms were incredibly decorated and the gardens exquisite.

Marie Antoinette's Petit Palace

Marie Antoinette's Grand Palace

Inside the Grand Palace

By the time we got home that evening we were all exhausted. It had been a fun weekend, and we couldn’t wait to enjoy six more weeks of France.

A bientôt (Until next time),