I wanted to see as much of France as possible. It’s the only European country where I can speak the language on a basic level, and it’s also the country best known for my favorite beverage, you know that stuff made from grape juice.
But it wasn’t just my love for wine that attracted me to Champagne. After reading travel guides about its main town Épernay, I thought it would be a really great place to go as a solo traveler. Épernay is the headquarters of Champagne where many of the champagne houses can be found. In fact, they are all in one place for the most part on the Avenue of Champagne. If you want to try bubbly, all you really have to do is just walk down the street and pop into whatever tasting room you choose – except for extra fancy places like Moët & Chadon, which require advance reservations.
This all sounded great, but there was one problem. I was single and I was coming from a situation, back in Bordeaux, a bit akin to a breakup. I wrote about my experience in Ravishly, which is that I met up with a French man I was really into and rather than encourage my romantic fantasies he grounded me and made it clear we’d never be together. I understood that what he did was for the best, but I was still sad. And I was REALLY sad when I got to Épernay and realized the majority of its visitors were couples, especially people on their honeymoon.
My other issue was that Épernay was not a very romantic place, so if you weren’t in a romantic arrangement, you couldn’t expect the town to fill in as your plus one. I didn’t Google it prior to visiting so I had been imagining something much more pastoral. I pictured going to tasting rooms via country gravel roads. That was not to be so. Épernay is very modern and accessible, with a traffic circle and plenty of cement.
These cons didn’t stop me from enjoying some bubbly though. There are several great champagne bars in the town, and I fell for La Fine Bulle. There I enjoyed a tasting of six different champagnes. Interestingly, the first champagne I tasted was my favorite. It was 100% Chardonnay and had a delicious creamy texture. I also enjoyed the rose.
However, I wasn’t interested in tasting these wines alone. I decided to sit at the bar and practice my French with the owner, who is really friendly, and some French carnival workers. I have to say, I didn’t expect to party with carnies in Champagne. But travel throws you little gems like that. As I sipped through every one of my wines, I learned new French words and my companions and I established some understanding of each other through broken English and French. Unfortunately, as the night went on things started to feel different. The men were getting very drunk, and kept letting me know that one of them in particular thought I was cute. I didn’t think anything of this, and simply ignored them. However, they kept bringing it up.
I decided to stop drinking because I was feeling uncomfortable and wanted to maintain control of the situation. The carnies and some girls (who I think were also carnies) decided to leave and said goodbye. However, the one guy who liked me did a bit more than that. He swooped in for the classic French kiss on the cheek. Or so I thought. When he got close enough he took the opportunity to plunge his tongue down my mouth. Immediately after, he ran out of the bar. I was in shock, and all the owner said was, “Those men are crazy.” I can’t really fault her for not doing more. I’m not sure what she should have done, and it really did happen fast. I left the bar shortly afterwards, walking down a series of dark streets which, sadly, I couldn’t avoid if I wanted to get home to my Airbnb.
The next day I decided to take a break from the drinking. To be honest, that night in Épernay was the first time I went out drinking by myself. I thought that it was a safe enough town and that there were more like me doing it. I was wrong. So I decided to go to the tourist office and rent out a bike. Maybe I could have my pastoral experience after all?
Well, I did.
Although the bike ride was challenging and the maps I got from the tourist office were epically confusing, I was able to see the famous Champagne vineyards and ride down so many steep hills! I also had some beautiful quiet moments by myself where I reminded myself how lucky I was to be in France and to be having all these new experiences. It’s unrealistic to expect everything to be perfect.
After that I headed to the Mercier Champagne house where you can take a train ride through their underground cellar as you learn about the history of the winery. Touristy as it was, I enjoyed the tour. I learned a lot about the process for making champagne and it made me feel great love for all the generations of winemakers who’ve developed these winemaking techniques over the years. Seeing all the effort these winemakers put into their craft got me thinking about my own work as a filmmaker and how much time it takes to truly be great at what you do. I was inspired.
Things continued to look up after that. I braved the wine bars again (because you know, when would I be in Champagne again?) and met a sweet couple from Canada who invited me to sit with them, even though it was their honeymoon! I’m really thankful for them, as if it hadn’t been for them, I may not have returned to La Fine Bulle and had another glass of that fabulous Champagne!
All and all, my visit to Épernay really changed how I approached my travels. I never went to a bar by myself after this experience, nor did I visit anymore areas that didn’t offer a variety of activities. I also decided not to go to any more romantic destinations until I was healed from my last romantic encounter. Luckily that didn’t take too long, and the changes I made really optimized the rest of my trip. I was rarely ever alone again. Unless I wanted to be, that is. It was always my choice.