Champagne, France

Last week I was invited on a last minute, spur-of-the-moment trip with Moet to visit their cellars in the Champagne region of France. The trip began at the Eurostar terminal at St Pancras station, Kings Cross, London – the trip also began with me realising I was suddenly entering uncharted waters at 8am, mid-week, with 11 men I barely knew (I was also the only female on the trip).

Following the long train journey to Paris, a second train journey to Reims and the bus ride to our hotel, we were all ravenous. After dropping our bags we headed out into the sunshine and found a typical French bistro in the heart of Reims, a stones throw from the hotel; the food was fairly average French fair, served in unusually large portions (I’m almost certain you could have fallen in love with a gorilla in the salad they brought me) and highlight of the meal was the champagne. ‘When in Rome’ as they say, or in this case Champagne. We were drinking the Ruinart Blanc de Blanc, my new favourite champagne and one which is wonderfully refreshing on a hot day – it must have been since we finished four bottles between twelve of us over lunch. I had to drink quick to keep up with the boys and to prevent the champagne in my glass from getting warm in the 30 degree heat; if you’ve had warm champagne you will understand why.

Lunch was quickly followed by a rush to the bus and our first tour, which took us to the House of Ruinart. The guided tour was interesting although I spent most of the time  marveling at the overpowering size and and beauty of the intricately designed, cavernous cellars which were dug over 200 years ago; they really really are quite breathtaking. The House of Ruinart was the very first Champagne house, it was established in 1729 by the monk, Dom Ruinart who, along with Dom Perignon,  built the houses which represent the birth of one of the worlds most famous wine regions and of course, the birth of Champagne itself. Ruinart has stayed small compared to Moet and you can really feel the history as you walk through each and every part of it. The tasting which followed the tour was well explained as well as interactive; the Blanc de Blanc is still my favourite of their wines and is made entirely from the Chardonnay grape which gives it an incredible colour and a lighness rarely found in champagne; the R de Ruinart is also, it has to be said, a spectacular drink.

Dinner that evening involved yet more wine and champagne along with some fabulous food courtesy of Le Jardin; the restaurant is about 10 minutes from the town centre by car and on a warm summers evening there really isn’t a better place to be in Reims. The following morning, after drinking far too much champagne the night before, we piled back onto the bus and headed for Epernay – the home of Avenue du Champagne (where most of the bigger Champagne houses are based). We arrived at the House of Moet and were taken immediately through the tour of their expansive cellars. The cellars here are more structured as they were built in stages; I believe they measure 28km’s in total, which is quite a lot of champagne.

Moet was incredible; shortly after the guided tour we headed across to the actual House of Moet; built for the children, the stately home is kept in perfect working order and plays host to all official guests of Moet & Chandon. Upon entry we were ushered up the grand staircase to a plush seating area where we were given an overview of what was to come; at this point it should be noted that I was drooling, sweating, hungover and not entirely certain that I would be able to stomach any more champagne. My problems were immediately solved by a glass of Moet (this is the ONLY champagne one should drink before 12pm) allowed me to regain my personality in preparation for the incredible lunch we were then served, courtesy of Moet’s in-house chef. All I can say is WOW; each dish was paired to the champagnes which had been pre-selected by our guide and each and every course was not only delicious, but staggeringly beautiful; classic French fine dining.

I have never, nor im sure will I ever again, been treated to such a fabulously magical and yet slightly drunken experience. Now I must just mention that after lunch we had to get back to Reims, board a train to Paris and then catch another to London. By the time we reached St Pancras we all looked as though we had arrived in hessian sacks which been dragged behind the train, and I’m certain I wasn’t the only one who felt like the train had hit me square in the face. The next 3 days were spent under a duvet in the confines of my bedroom in North London feeling very sorry for myself indeed. Note to self – No matter how good it is, Champagne should not be consumed in such large quantities, in such hot weather conditions, without much water and with only 3 hours sleep in between.

Olympic Fever – London 2012

I am sure that most, if not all, of the populous of Great Britain (despite their vehement protests and incessant whining about the ‘disruption’ it would cause and the costs which would be incurred for a country already in a financial crisis) were glued to their respective televisions, radios or computers, soaking up every second they could of what can only be describes as the worlds ultimate sporting event – The Olympic Games. Luckily, I made it back from Cape Town to join in on the action – a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be part of this momentous occasion, and one which I shall never forget.

I was lucky enough to be invited to join an old friend to watch some of the events, starting with Women’s Beach Volleyball where Brazil played Germany; this was only made more comical by the reactions from the rather somber German crowd, who weren’t supporting so much as sulking, which was such a stark contrast to the loud and vibrant cheers of the Brazilian supporters, who were as colourful as you would expect, if not more so. I was therefore grateful, and quite relieved, to be seated near a large group of Brazilians. Apart from that the event itself was fairly ordinary despite the media hype surrounding it; don’t get me wrong, it was great to be there and I would do it again in a heartbeat, but it wasn’t quite the party I had heard so much about and had therefore expected (though this may have something to do with the Germans – not that I have anything against Germans of course).

It wasn’t until the Friday when we were actually in the Olympic stadium itself, 8 rows back from the track, positioned directly in front of the pole-vaulters (it happened to be the men’s pole vault final too – yum!), that I actually felt the emotion and thrill and that indescribable ‘Olympic Spirit’. It’s really quite a phenomenal feeling, the atmosphere is electric and the energy all-consuming; I found myself getting completely caught up in each event, especially during the women’s four by one hundred metre final during which Team USA not only took home the gold, but completely smashed both the World record and Olympic record. This was indeed one of the highlights of my year, and a day I will remember forever. We saw – Men’s Pole Vault Final, Men’s 4 x 100m Relay Round 1, Women’s 5000m Final, Women’s 4 x 100m Relay Final, Women’s 1500m Final, Women’s 5000m Victory Ceremony, Men’s 4 x 400m Relay Final, Women’s 4 x 100m Relay Victory Ceremony – AND I got to see Oscar Pistorius run (proud South African I am!!)

These athletes work their entire lives for that single defining moment, and a lot of them will never take home a medal, but just competing is more than most people could ever hope for and that’s what the ‘Olympic Spirit’ is all about. You never really understand it until you come face to face with it and are caught up in the whirlwind of it all. I hope it changes the way we view sport in the UK, and I hope it inspires the younger generations to get involved and take more of an interest.

Special thanks to my amazing friend JM for making this whole thing possible. Well done to all the athletes (you’re our inspiration), volunteers, supportive families, coaches, team mates and our wonderful city of London for making it one of the best Olympics yet – you all did an amazing job. Looking forward to Rio in 2016.