The few words of French I know are useless. Besides, on what occasion could I have said: “Oui, je suis Cathrine Deneuve”? This is my level of French, limited to introductions, greetings and goodbyes. In Reims I discovered the real pronunciation of the name of the city itself. It’s a sound halfway between rams and runs. I discovered that Taittinger cannot be read as it is written, nor should it be pronounced as a German surname would be pronounced. I could tell you how to pronounce it but you should be here with me and we should be holding a flute of champagne.
Reims is beautiful but a bit sad. There are few people around and everything seems to close too early. In July, here, the sun sets after 21:30. My apartment is located a few steps from Reims cathedral. Notre Dame is of a heartbreaking beauty, it leaves you speechless if you stay admiring the stained glass windows made by Chagall for too long. At 21:30, however, I still have the desire for life, the kitchens close early, many clubs are closed on Mondays and there seem to be few tourists and locals on the streets. So I stopped in a café and drank to forget, and I succeeded, in fact I don’t remember the names of all the champagnes I tried.
The hills and vineyards surrounding the city are spectacular. A wine merchant, Joseph Goulet, had a lighthouse built. It dominates the village and the vineyards and rivals the G.H. Mumm’s windmill erected on the opposite hill. That Joseph intended to blind G.H. or perhaps the intention was to warn him of some danger?
The vineyards and houses here belong to important families and bear names that I remember from having read hundreds of wine lists on the pages listing prohibitively priced bottles, those pages that I usually turn quickly.
There aren’t many restaurants in Verzenay but there is a pizzeria. Plaques, certificates and cups are displayed inside the venue. While I’m choosing what I’m going to order, I hear the voice of a tourist asking the pizzaiolo: “Can I have a photo of the champion?”
On the sleeve of the tourist’s t-shirt a patch from some Swedish cycling club.
Scrolling through the names of the pizzas to find something familiar, I read: Pizza à l’escargot – tomate, mozzarella, jambon, champignons de Paris, chaire d’escargot, beurre d’escargot, oeuf. I really can’t stop thinking about this pizza, no one can free me from this image of some escargots passing over the tomato and mozzarella of my pizza. They leave these escargot butter trails. And why also add eggs? It’s only in my worst nightmare that I would consider ordering such a pizza.
However, I have to admit that the pizzaiolo has talent. If I ever come back to Verzenay, since there is no alternative, I will go back to his place.
In Verzenay and Reims champagne tastings are quite expensive. In Châlons-en-Champagne, in the darkness of the galleries where the Maison Joseph Perrier champagne is kept, I thought seriously of leaving the group of other visitors, hiding in the darkness and taking advantage of any moment of solitude to uncork a bottle and another and another.
In Verzy you can drink for free if you visit Pascal Machet’s cellar.
His champagne is extraordinary. I totally recommend visiting this Maison.
After leaving France I returned to Belgium. I immediately felt at home pouring an Orval into the right glass.
Between Chimay, Durbuy and Dinant maybe I choose the latter.
The citadel and the riverside have their charm, as does the Maison de Leffe.
The souvenirs you can buy in local shops look old and have traces of dust, but there are two beershops next to each other. I visited both and I’ve bought things from both of them.
They advised me not to eat the biscuits.
“They are hard as stone” friends told me.
So I only bought beers.
I’ve tried this trip to see places I’ve never been and to taste beers I’ve never had before.
In Belgium it’s easy, every time I think about what I had in my glass I remember the name of a new one I had. Those of the Brasserie Surrealiste, Stroom, Chimay 150, Troubadour Magma Vina or the Hop Snob by Natuurwijn.
In Ghent I fell in love with Bowie.
It wasn’t love at first sight. I love cats and Bowie is a dog.
Before meeting Bowie only one other dog had stolen my heart. Like Charlie, Bowie also had a great desire to play and like Charlie, so did I.
Bowie is a champion at recovering freesbies. If you throw one he brings it back to you, if you want him to give it back he turns his head to the opposite side and pretends he doesn’t want to give it back but if you turn around and he pretends you don’t want to play anymore, he puts the freesbie on the ground and wait for you to pick it up to continue the game.
Bowie was exactly like Charlie. I was recovering from a knee injury I sustained while playing football. I hadn’t touched a ball in months. Charlie understood everything. He looked at me, he ran to retrieve a ball and left it in front of my feet, then went to position himself between two trees. He waited for me to kick that ball and blocked it. We played like this for several minutes.
Maybe one day a Saint Bernard will win me over with a definitive gesture. He will offer me a drink by handing me the small bottle he wears around his neck.
At the end of the trip I discovered that I had traveled almost 1400km by car, it is as if I had left Bari in the direction of Dijon.
From Ghent I reached Rotterdam, a city that surprised me. The cube houses, the market, the street food, the marina with the parade of cranes, the gray sky and the cold. As always, I arrive in the north unprepared.
I left 40°, sweaters, raincoats and umbrellas at home to find 16° and three shirts to protect from the rain.
It was nice to see so many friends again: Wio and Jürgen, their beautiful families, Wim and Annelies, Mike, Laura and Manuel. I felt at home with you, we felt at home with you.