We did quite a lot of tourism today.
Reims (pronounced Reems) Cathedral was fairly busy this morning as you’d expect from one of the premier venues on the European Cathedral circuit. Just about all the French kings and queens were crowned here because St Remi baptised Clovis on Christmas Eve 498, thereby introducing a Christian tradition to the land of the Franks. The current structure is a towering gothic design, tall and full of air and light. Lots of stained glass both new and ancient.
It is possible to climb up the towers but the next guided tour was at 4pm and our busy schedule did not allow that. I lit a candle as a pilgrim must do and got my credentials stamped.
Paul discovered an extraordinary place which we visited after lunch. I can’t imagine why I didn’t know about it beforehand, for here in Reims the Germans signed their unconditional surrender just before VE Day. It’s in a large school partially used by the Allies and was Eisenhower’s HQ. General Jodl arrived from Germany at 5pm and signed at 02.41 on 7 May. There was a delay to allow German troops to escape capture by advancing Soviet forces so victory was not proclaimed until 3pm on 8 May. Stalin insisted on a 2nd round of signatures in Soviet Berlin which took place on 9 May.
So just imagine standing in that ordinary little room this afternoon, an old table and wooden chairs with two ash trays. Nothing had been disturbed. It looked like they just took the document and everybody went home. What history!
Paul also arranged our final visit of the day. This was to the House of Taittinger Champagne. We didn’t actually have a booking but he gave the receptionist a yarn and pretty soon we were whisked into a rather plush room and offered a bottle of water to prepare our mouths for the experience to come. We were shown various cellars deep in the chalk, originally quarried by Romans, but now full of Champagne bottles. Our host explained the process and the different types of Champagne.
In olden days, an exceptional year was declared as a vintage, the wine was stored for longer and then sold at a premium price. But now a vintage is declared to meet demand from China. I might have got that bit wrong. My head was starting to spin. Paul had negotiated a special ticket which allowed us to compare different Champagnes. I couldn’t really tell the difference without looking and suggested to someone from Surrey that the pink one would go well with pizza.
Reims Cathedral and its smiling angel
General Eisenhower’s headquarters
The room where the unconditional surrender was negotiated and signed on 7 May 1945 02.41