This morning we reluctantly left The City of Light, walking 1.5km in light rain to the Gare de l'Est where we picked up our comfy rental car and braved the Paris traffic. Maybe it was the rain or some strategically placed roadworks, but it took us an hour to drive a few blocks to the motorway.
Once there we were off, sailing away on the Autoroute. The A4 is part of the European E50 route that traverses virtually all Western Europe, and winds through the countryside at brisk pace. We passed the village of Meaux, searching in vain for the baby Brie cheeses growing in the fields.
We arrived quickly at Rheims (Reims) - the largest city in the Champagne region and home to a number of the larger Champagne houses like Taittinger and Veuve Cliquot. The city is quaint, combining large open boulevards that allow trains to travel through with ease, with small medieval cobblestone streets. In actuality, it is not an old city for the most part, as much of the city was heavily shelled during The Great War reducing a city of 100,000+ inhabitants to a bare 1500. Most of the buildings have been restored, or rebuilt in more of an art deco style. The centre of the city is dominated by the stunning Cathedral - another 'Notre Dame' by name - an impressive and very beautiful structure that also took a beating from German shells... The fires got so hot that the 40 ton metal roof melted, with molten lead spewing through the mouths of the ornamental Gargoyles. Since then it has been under perpetual renovation.
Dinner though, was what really inspired me to write this evening. Now preface this to say that our culinary experiences have not been the widest known to mankind, but we know how to cook and know how to eat! Our meals in Paris have been excellent, and relatively inexpensive for the most part. A highlight example was a tiny bistro with just a handful of tables, offering a very appetising and well presented 3 course meal for under €10 per person. Tonight's dinner was... Without exagerration... Truely awful.
'Les Tables des Halles' seemed to be exactly what we were after, a simple bistro meal offering regional fare. Boy were we wrong - and the result is easily a contender for the worst meal in a decade. Le Plat du Jour was grilled beef, with vegetable Puree. Hard to go wrong?? What we received can only be described as a "minute steak" - a thin and stringy cut of skirt steak, cooked medium on one side and raw on the other, over seasoned, with thin potato mash and a gravy that may have come from a jar. Dessert must surely be better... But no, the Tarte du Moment was a bready/brioche like base covered in a flavourless grape and condensed milk pie filling. My Nage de Fraise was a thin and watery berry smoothie with chopped mint in it, and what was masquerading as a tuile could be bent 90 degrees without breaking... Topped with surely was cool whip. Honestly, the meals we were served on the airplane on the way here were epic in comparison. I can honestly say that i have never paid $60 for two minute steaks and cool whip before... Either the chef, the owner, or both were fully taking the piss.
Tomorrow is certain to wash away the experience with more delicious fresh pastries. More as it comes.