The Day We Got Lost in a Field

Trip Start Jul 17, 2010
Trip End Aug 07, 2010

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Flag of France  , Champagne-Ardenne,
Friday, July 30, 2010

From Cari: Today's adventure is best discussed in reverse. It’s not that the morning was particularly uninteresting (in fact, I thoroughly enjoyed it), it’s just that this evening’s….

From Greg: …events were just exceedingly exasperating….

From Cari: …and, therefore, more story-worthy. Let’s begin with the drive from Brussels to the Champagne region of France (i.e Juvigny). Getting out of Brussels was relatively painless, even though I did have to ask the man at the Shell station who spoke no English at all how to get to the highway for which we were looking. After only one U-turn, we headed toward Reims. We made it off the toll road after they ripped our arm off (they wanted fourteen euros for a toll), and we had followed the directions we had to a tea. However, once we got off the highway, "turn left" was not an option. We got to know the three kilometer section of the highway between highways D21 and D89a very well. On the third try, I happened to see a sign pointing in the opposite direction of the directions we had, but it was for Juvigny, so we turned. We continued following the signs through fields and, seemingly, into the middle of nowhere until we happened upon Chateau du Jugnivy, a historical chateaux in (you guessed it) the middle of nowhere. The chateau was to be our accommodations for the next two nights.

From Greg: Ah, the french countryside... There is nothing quite like being lost in the middle of a giant rolling grass land. You know what it's like to be lost in a city? I think being lost in a city is accurately thought of as your destination being lost. You know where you are, you're right next to the falafel stand. As a matter of fact, you'll probably stop to enjoy a felafel en-route to your destination... Now, being lost in the French countryside is a different story. In that situation YOU are truly lost. There is no felafel stand. The people around you are more likely to be cannibals than to speak your language. It was only through Cari's cunning and deceit that we managed to make it through at all.

From Cari: Driving down the gravel road to a giant gate, we were considering jumping ship and cutting our luck sleeping in the car. Seemingly, our only entrances to the place were through a gate, through a smaller gate, or across a moat that I wouldn’t have swam in if you paid me. Luckily, there was a French couple arguing (?) in the courtyard, and the man started coming at us. It turns out that he was the owner of the establishment and he had just returned from an afternoon swim in the lake with his HUGE dog. “English?” Greg asked. “Oui, oui,” the man responded. Once he determined that we were checking in, he proceeded to tell us about his daughters, about a wedding he planned for a man from Prague and a woman from French Guinea, and about where we should eat for dinner (shoving cards from restaurants in our hands and speaking too quickly for us to be able to recall where any of the restaurants were). 

From Greg: I think that a crazy old man in a castle bed-and-breakfast is the new equivalent to a "kid in a candy shop" or "spaghetti and maple syrup." That last one assumes that you are an elf...  

From Cari: After pulling our car into the courtyard to unload our bags, we went to ask the man to repeat (perhaps more slowly) how to get to dinner. He informed us that he could not “explain what is obvious” and then proceeded to tell us that we were not as cool as the British people who were checking in because they spoke French, made a joke about how men were “more clever” than women, and dismissed me as he invited Greg into his office to give him directions (which is ironic since I am the one with the short term memory and Greg is the one who is better at getting his bearings on the fly, and definitely not vice versa). I was extremely ready to leave. 

From Greg: While the french make fantastic food, their personalities are equivalent to that of a bag of rocks which you have just hired as your assistant. At first, your bag of rocks is great to have around. It is ugly, you become better looking, and therefore more popular by simple not being a bag of rocks. But then you start assigning your bag of rocks tasks, such as finding a nice restaurant to go on a date. But the bag of rocks doesn't do anything. It is, after all, a bag of rocks. At first you respond kindly by attempting to explain to the bag of rocks what you are looking for and how you would normally go about finding a restaurant if you weren't so busy being lost in eastern France, the bag of rocks is new here, there is probably a learning curve. Yet, the bag of rocks just sits there. Staring at you. Making you feel stupid. So you try a new approach. You kick the bag of rocks. You have now broken your big toe on the bag of rock's ugly face-body... Do you get the moral of this story?

Our woman-hating host could not explain what is obvious because he was an idiot.  

From Cari: Dinner added to the frustration. Since we were in the middle of nowhere, we ate in a town (Chalons en Champagne) in the middle of nowhere. It was really more of a village. The old man at the hotel had ensured us that, “more or less,” the people working in the restaurants would speak English. That was definitely not the case. We settled for a brasserie that the old man had starred in our travel booklet about the Champagne region, but we quickly learned that only the youngest waitress there spoke any broken English at all, they had no English menu, and, to add to the confusion, there was a band fest going on in the plaza. The waitress was very helpful, however, and after several forced interactions, we got our food and wine. The ironic part of this story is that the young girl found an English menu after we had already ordered. C’est la vie. It ended up being easier for me than for Greg because a woman had ordered a salad that looked good to me so I ended up just pointing at it. It was good; it came with toast topped with brie and ham. 

From Greg: You know how your child (or possibly yourself) took the required two years of Spanish classes in high school and now thinks that he/she is god's gift the the Spanish language? And how in reality your child (or yourself) cannot actually understand a word of Spanish if put into a position of stress? Well this waitress girl was that child, but with English. She attempted to discuss with me my options by saying words such as "bread," "meat," and "bird but I do not know the English word for [that] kind of bird." I know what you're thinking (for I was thinking the same thing) but it was not a chicken... Anyhow, I was struggling to communicate my desire. All I wanted was anything that contained some sort of meat. I'm not really picky, most restaurants do make perfectly passable food, I don't speak nor read french, and I was hungry. Finally, I believe that I convinced the young girl that I trusted her judgment (on account that she left) and later received my not-chicken dinner. I have no idea what it was...
From Cari: A little bit about the band fest: during dinner we decided that the two man band was made up of François (man one) and Al (man two). François was God’s gift to music: he played guitar, was the lead singer, and, since the band had no drummer, was controlling a base drum and crash symbols with his feet. Al…was not so good. We decided that the only reason he was there was because François couldn’t play two guitars at the same time or harmonize with himself. After dinner, it was back to the Chateau for sleep.

(Earlier that day...)

Now, let’s return to this morning’s festivities. Greg and I were going on a chocolate tour of Brussels and were to meet our group at 845AM in front of the Godiva chocolate shop on the Grand Place. We were there on time, but no one else seemed to be for our tour, and our guide was no where to be found. A suspicious looking British couple walked by, but they continued on in a manner that made us think they were not on the tour.

The British couple returned, and it became clear, after conversing with them for a moment, that they were, in fact, waiting on the tour. At seven after 9AM, our guide came strolling around the corner and led us immediately into the Godiva chocolate shop. At first, Greg and I were a little disappointed that we were starting with Godiva since we have many Godiva stores back home. However, we were told that the Godiva store we were standing in was the original store and that the company was founded in Brussels. We were able to choose which type we would like to sample. 

From Greg: As my mother is fond of saying, "If you're not five minutes early, then you're ten minutes late." I seem to have inherited this gene and find it very frustrating to be put into a non-punctual situation. However, when the guy arrived I decided that everything would be ok. Anyone with golden locks sweeping back over his head into a sweet euro-mullet is alright in my book.

From Cari: Even though our tour was mainly about chocolate, our guide told us that he was going to try to point out things of historical interest that not a lot of tourists get to see. As we walked down the “Street of the Butchers,” the guide pointed out good restaurants and eventually led us down a small side alley where we discovered a statute of a little girl peeing. It was the female version of the Mannekin Pis, but was, somehow, slightly more inappropriate.

From Greg: Yes, and it was down a creepy alley lined with loading trucks and the like. Very weird. 

From Cari: We walked through the Royal Galleries, the oldest shopping centers in Brussels and passed the oldest chocolate shop in Brussels. During the tour, somehow the topic of beer came up and the tour guide was amazed that (1) I didn’t really like beer and (2) that Greg was a brewer. On our way to Mannekin Pis, we stopped off at a beer bar for a beer at 10AM because our guide wanted to prove it to me that I had not had the right beer. And, as such, our chocolate tour became a beer tour (only for a short time). Greg was a little disgusted that the guide had the bartender pour him a Stella Artois. I got a lambic beer called a Krick, so it didn’t taste like beer but rather like cherry syrup. It was bright red….and very sweet. I didn’t really care for it, mostly because it was still carbonated, but it was less carbonated than some so I drank it to appease the guide.

From Greg: A golden mullet can only take you so far in this world. How to articulate my feelings at this moment is proving to be a bit of a struggle. It was very much like that day as a child when you realize that your father isn't the strongest man in the world. If fact, you realize that your father is a scrawny actuarial accountant (Disclaimer: I love my father and think that he is very strong... even if he wears big glasses).   

If you live in Belgium, you should know that many beer-wise individuals believe you to be located in a sort of weird-beer mecca. While I fully acknowledge that Stella is a well made beer, I'm in beer-geek in Belgium. I want a Lambic, Saison, or Triple... no b.s. Stella made by the worlds largest brewer. 

From Cari: One thing that I found both amazing and shocking about the guide: he, at one point, told the British man on our tour that he (1) must be rich because he was from London and (2) that he obviously had to work hard for his fortune and, therefore, must not have had much time to walk. In other words, he told him that he was rich and that he was fat in one backhanded compliment.

From Greg: While my hero worship of the golden mullet was dead, this move brought him back into my favor. Lets see you try and compliment someone on being fat. I bet you get punched. 
From Cari: After our beer, we saw the Mannekin Pis, a statute that, apparently, was dedicated to the son of the Duke who put out a fire during a war by peeing on it.
From Greg: Yep.
From Cari: Our next shop was in the Upper Town and was called Wittamer. All of the chocolates were made in the back of the store and the store only had four locations: one in Brussels and three around Japan. I loved this shop. Everything was decorated in brown and hot pink. You could buy chocolate hats and chocolate cigars and even chocolate high heels.

From Greg: Belgians are very much like the French. The women behind the counter understood every word we spoke in English yet she insisted on babbling on in a very conversational French. French people... but the chocolate was soo good.
From Cari: On our way to the chocolate factory, we passed some workers who were shaving big logs in the middle of the plaza. Our guide explained to us that it was for a big exposition about not cutting trees down. The guide kept trying to explain, but I still don’t understand why they cut down trees to say, “Don’t cut down trees.” It seems a little contradictory to me. 

From Greg: Artists are also like the French. They don't always do things that make sense. Do you know what sort of demonstration would make since to illustrate not cutting down trees? Loggers bound and gagged... Not that I would condone that, I'm just saying... 

(Disclaimer 2.0: binding working men against their will is both unethical as well as illegal and I don't think the act of doing so stands to gain any real ground in the fight to save the world's forests. I'm talking to you French artists.)  

From Cari: At the factory, we had a lesson about where cocoa beans come from, how the chocolate it made, how different ingredients change the taste of the chocolate, and about how the industrial chocolate that you can buy in the stores is not high quality because it packed full of sugar. It was an interesting lesson, and we got to wear some sweet hats.

From Greg: Yes. As you can imagine, Cari look very nice in her hat. 

From Cari: We stopped by one more chocolate shop before heading to a “hand’s on” demonstration at the guild house of the master’s of chocolate. During the demonstration, Greg kept volunteering me to make the chocolates (we made molds of the Mannekin Pis, chocolates with fruit and nuts, and chocolate coated oranges). After the demonstration, we went down to the shop and got to try the chocolate of one of the masters and try some hot chocolate made with a chocolate stirring spoon. Because Greg kept volunteering me, I think the guy who led the demonstration liked me the best, so we got to keep all of the chocolate that we made during the demonstration. 

From Greg: Cari, don't be so modest. You were a chocolate rock star. I had nothing to do with it... 

From Cari: After the tour, we headed back to the hotel and our car, making only one stop to get some chocolate souvenirs. We got settled in the car and headed toward Reims (but you’ve already read about that adventure).

From Greg: :D
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