We have had absolutely fantastic travel karma and now that I write that down, our trip will commence to come off the track.

When I booked our tickets on the trains heading hither and yon, I spent the $5-$10 to make sure we had (whenever possible)  seats reserved.  You can’t on the regional trains, where it is every person for themselves, but for the longer trains you can.  That information is printed on the ticket–it gives you the car number and the seats.  When we arrive at the train station, we get to the correct track and posted there (or in the Bahn app) is a picture of the train layout with car numbers.  Stand on the track, get into the car, the seat has a light or printed words that show the seat is reserved.  No light or words?  Then that seat is open for first come first serve.

Why do I bring all that up?

Because this morning as we got onto the first of three trains taking us from Mainz to Reims, France (via Mannheim and Paris), the car was very crowded and there were  a lot of people getting onboard.  We were on the correct car and I found our seats (around a table facing each other with one other reserved seat).  There was a dude already in one of the seat (sleeping), but three were open and I slung our bags up top.  Another dude comes along, wakes up slumbering man, tells him it is his reserved seat, slumbering man gets up and wanters away.  We all sit. 

And then came the ‘bridge ladies.’  The bridge ladies are a pack of 60+ year old women, all wearing sweaters and sensible shoes, and, most importantly, a pin that says shows a hand of cards and says 20 years of bridge.  I can see at least 12 of them filling the aisle and they are very agitated.  At us.  It seems that they feel that they should have the seats in which we are sitting.  Fortunately for us the fourth dude at our table speaks German AND has no tolerance for either the game of bridge, old ladies who want his seat or both.  He commences to hammering at them in German, turns to us and says in remarkably clear English “hold my seat,” bounds out of his chair and down the aisle.  No sooner had he vacated his seat than three ladies, one after the other, tried to sit in his seat.  Jan had to beat them off with her purse.  A minute later our savior returns with an employee of the train who looks at our ticket, looks at their ticket, shrugs (because the train company sold our seats twice) and takes the affected bridge ladies to another car to find them a seat.  Crisis averted.

We are on our way to Reims, France via Paris.  Why Reims?  Two reasons.  First is to go see Anne Marie who was our very first Au Pair and who lives in the city.  And the second reason is so we can explore the area.  The plan?  One day we will use to visit Paris via train, without having to stay in the actual city.   One day will be heading off to see a WWI battlefield.  One day to become experts in Champagne, since we are in the champagne region.  Anne Marie, after she left us and returned to France, became a tour guide, so she arranged our two days in Reims. .

The train ride to Paris is just over four hours, then we have a three hour wait at Gare l’est in Paris for our onward train to Reims.  I could have booked an easier train but then if something happened I would have to try to speak French to a French person and that scares the berjabbers out of me, so I went with the long layover.

At the appropriate time, we hop on our train heading east.  Very fast train, might I say, but the French high speed trains definitely do not get a bath between runs.  45 minutes after we depart we are at Reims where we have a flashback moment.  Back in 2010, I was still on active duty working in the Pentagon, Jan had a year under the belt at the Washington Hospital Center and AJ was at some random day care.  We tried many things to manage child care, but it was apparent that we needed something drastic to make two full time (and way over full time) jobs to work.  We did some research and decided to hire an Au Pair.  It is a state department program that brings over young people (typically women) who live in our house for a year, receive a stipend, care for AJ (in our case), go to school and see the United States.   Our first Au Pair was Anne Marie.  And back in 2010, I was standing in the Washington DC Union Station with a sign in my hand that said “Anne Marie,” looking for someone we had talked to by phone, but not seen or really met.

Flash forward 9 years.  We pull in the Reims, get off our train and standing on the platform is Anne Marie with a sign in her hands that say “Donnelly Family.”  An excellent start to our four days in Reims/Paris.

We have an airbnb, our first of the trip, and have our checkin instructions in hand and drag our bags for 15 minutes our place.  Last time Anne Marie saw AJ he was 4-5 years and she had to hold his hand crossing every road.  Now he is 14 and would rather have an anvil dropped on his foot than have someone hold his hand.  Our Airbnb is pronounced ‘excellent by all,’ and we unpack.  Anne Marie picks us up at 6pm, we go to her house to meet and have dinner with her family.  We start off dinner with cheese.  And special cheese.  “Stinky cheese.”

Short vignette from 2010.  Anne Marie was a bit homesick and her parents sent her a care package from home that had her favorite things.  Included in the box was a wedge of cheese.  We didn’t know the name of the cheese at the time; we simply dubbed it ’stinky cheese.’  Because it had a distinctive and strong smell; something along the lines of used athletic socks.  So strong that we could smell it through the packaging of the box…when the postman dropped it off and we brought it in the house, the small filled the room.  It turns out that the best way to eat the cheese is to put it in the oven, heat and melt the cheese and then serve with bread.  I want you to imagine that you take a bag of nasty, smelly sweat shock, put it in a oven proof pan, add a little water, then place in an oven set to 350-400 degrees and cook for 30 minutes.  The result is a very soft, warm cheese that you can easily spread on your baguette.  The secondary result is that the house smells like a dirty locker room.  Or that is what we thought at the time.

When we knew we would return, I put in a special request.  Stinky cheese.  And there it was, sitting on the table.  A little orange brick of stinky goodness.  It did not, contrary to what we remembered, smell to high heaven.  More like smelled to the troposphere.  And it tasted excellent.  If you are looking to get you a different smell in your house, find some Maroilles fromage  We also had some Chaource and Bleu d’Auvergne cheeses.  All excellent.

Dinner is sausage and chicken from the grill and couscous salad and (of course) champagne.  All sitting outside in a little garden.  Nothing better than spending an evening with great people.  Anne Marie’s mom and dad left after dinner and we wander downtown to the cathedral for a 10:30pm light show, then walk back to our place to drop into bed.  Tomorrow we explore the area!