After our… interesting… stay in Amiens, we loaded the bus once more and headed to Reims, a slightly larger town in the heart of (drumroll please) champagne country! France’s Champagne province is the only area in the world that is legally allowed to call their sparkling wine “champagne,” though it has become a generic term across the world, much like “Kleenex” or “Band-Aid.” Regardless of what it’s called where, this girl is a huge lover of champagne, so I was determined to do some tasting in Reims, along with most of my colleagues.
First, though, we had a concert. Business before pleasure, right?
We checked into our hotel, which was rather inconveniently located outside the city center, but very conveniently across the highway from a McDonald’s and a place called “Flunch,” which apparently was short for “fast lunch.” Flunch, which was somewhat cafeteria-style, turned out to be fantastic. You could grab sides, desserts, drinks, and a la carte items, then order your main course and pay at the cash register. Then, if you ordered a burger like I did, you took your order ticket over to the grill and waited for your food. It was all unsuspectingly delicious, including the chocolate mousse I had for dessert. I wish I had taken a picture of the place.
After Flunch, we headed into town for our rehearsal, dinner, and concert. The venue was a church called Église Saint-André, and compared to Notre-Dame d’Amiens, it felt very intimate.
Upon entering the church for rehearsal, the French gentleman who let us into the building gave us a short, informative history of the church. Compared to some of the churches and other landmarks we had already seen, Église Saint-André was relatively young. It was built in the mid- to late 1800s, and as you saw in the above photo, it was badly damaged during World War I. In fact, only one of the original stained glass windows remains. I wish I had taken a picture of it to show the difference between it and the rest of them, which were installed after they were bombed out during the war.
I felt a strange sense of connection and warmth inside this particular church. It may have been that my subconscious noticed the lack of tons of Catholic icons inside… not that I have any issue with Catholic churches, it’s just not what I’m used to or familiar with in a church. It may have been the natural light that streamed in multicolored through the stained glass windows. It may have been the smaller size that instantly made it feel more friendly, welcoming, and personal. Whatever the reason, this particular church touched me as I sat down during the other choir’s rehearsal and could vividly imagine the war damage being done just barely 100 years ago. When you travel to Europe, you see tons of Renaissance art and buildings that were constructed in the twelfth century, but it’s much easier to connect to history that happened within the lifetime of some people you know (okay, maybe not World War I, but definitely WWII). It’s a perspective I never really considered on my previous Europe trips, but one that adds a whole new later to my appreciation for and love of Europe.
Of all the concerts we performed on this trip, I felt that this one was the cleanest. Because the church was on the smaller side as European cathedrals go, the sound didn’t get sucked up into the high ceiling, but actually reverberated and came back to us. Personally, I was able to hear much better, and because it wasn’t freezing like the night before in Amiens, I was able to focus much better as well… perhaps surprisingly, because we had eaten dinner before the concert and it didn’t even start until 8:30 PM. Again, though, the audience loved us and we received a standing ovation.
That night we were all sort of confined to the hotel, as we were twenty minutes outside the city center and there was nothing to do in the immediate area. I sat down to a glass of champagne on the patio with our director, the other choir’s director, and a couple of friends, which turned into a giant party with most of our group showing up at one point or another. Drinks abounded from the hotel bar, and some brave souls even crossed the highway to pick up large amounts of chicken nuggets from McDonald’s. We were even joined by a cat that was clearly a frequent hotel patron, as he made himself quite comfortable in the arms and laps of a few different people. A good night was had by all, especially him.