The Perfect Afternoon Getaway: Épernay

By Sara Sanabria

“You know, it’s really nice to see the horizon again, I really missed the sky,” said my friend as our TER glided through la montagne de Reims. She and I had decided to explore the towns around Reims because, after all, Champagne-Ardenne is world-renowned for its history and elegance. Yet for those of us who live here it is seldom explored.  However, as the school year is only just starting, there is more than enough time to begin your exploration of this culturally rich area, and where better to start than Épernay, the Champagne capital of the world!

Where to go:

  • Cathedral: Once you left Épernay’s train station, head towards the city center. At the traffic circle look to your right and you will see La Cathédrale Notre Dame. While not as impressive as our Notre Dame, this one is quaint and charming.
  • Synagogue: Built in 1880, this Byzantine-style building sits just right of the cathedral and is worth a quick pop-in.

    • Theatre Gabrielle Dorziat: Still in the same traffic circle, this Italian designed theatre adds yet another elegant touch to an already charming area.

  • Hôtel de ville: From the traffic circle you can cut through a small green park that will lead you to the city hall.
  • Avenue de Champagne: Heading past the city hall you will arrive on Avenue de Champagne. This is the most famous street in town because as the name may suggest, most of the champagne houses can be found here or nearby. To your right from the exit of the town hall you will be able to find the tourist office and to your left you can see Moët and Chandon, the largest Champagne house in the world!

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Where to taste champagne:

  • Moët & Chandon: For 24 Euros you can enjoy their tour traditionnel, which is available both in English and French. From the main lobby, a guide will give you a historical tour of the building and its caves and an explanation of the champagne-making process. Finally the tour will end with a tasting of a glass of “Imperial” champagne in a glamorous tasting room. Tours are available throughout the day, however, you should reserve in advance if you are going on a weekend or Friday afternoon.

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  • Maison de Champagne Castellane: Still on Rue de Champagne, this champagne house was established in 1895 and in true “la belle epoque” fashion, it is elegant and romantic, its stark red bricks representing the red cross St. Andrew will definitely leave an impression. It offers tours daily from 14h to 18h. Tours are available in English and French and are only 14 euros.

  • Champagne Charles Mignon: Located on 7, rue Irène Joliot-Curie, this smaller Champagne house offers a cozy experience. It offers tours in both French and English and is open from 13h30 to 17h.  
  • Champagne Georges Cartier: On rue Jean Chandon Moët you can find another smaller champagne house if you are looking for a more intimate experience. It offers tastings and a tour of the caves followed and is open from 10h to 20h everyday.
  • Champagne bars/tasting houses: Throughout Épernay there are plenty of different establishments those who prefer to skip the tour and go straight to the champagne tasting. Almost every one of the main streets will have several bars and tasting houses, but the largest concentration of them is found along Rue Gambetta (Épernay has one too!).

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Where to hike:

What with its fame for Champagne, Épernay’s natural beauty is sometimes put on the backburner, but with its rolling hills and endless skyline this is a great destination for an afternoon hike. Below is a map of popular hiking trails and a link for a complete guide to hiking around Épernay.

Where to stay:

If you want to extend your day trip here are a few options:

  • Hotel Le Clos Raymi: Located on 3 rue Joseph de Venoge this red-bricked hotel has double rooms for 120 euros a night.
  • Chambres d’hôtes la croisette: On the west hillside of Épernay, La Croisette enjoys a quiet, safe environment near the vineyards and the town centre. Swimming pool from June to August. Prices start from 69 Euros a night.
  • The municipal camping is located along the river.  It is a 5-minute drive from two shopping centers and 2 km from the city center. Prices are on a reservation basis by calling (00-33) (0) 3 26 55 32 14 or by email at camping.epernay@free.fr.

Mongolia in July: Tango, Yaks and the Naadam

By Sara Sanabria

Where were you the last time you felt a sense of pure wonder? A feeling of absolute amazement; as if the world had stopped spinning and it is just you and that, which is in front of you? For me, it was beside a dusty road outside of Hatgal, Mongolia.

Let’s rewind back for a second: Mongolia is like a patty stuck between China and Russia. It is landlocked, dry, and reaches below freezing temperatures during winter. Strategically positioned during the Cold War, it too was part of the Soviet Sphere. After the fall of the Berlin Wall and the crumbling of the Soviet Union, Mongolia saw its GDP fall by half overnight. Rather than descend into chaos or war, Mongolians worked together to demand democracy and a multi-party system. Since then, the country has been growing, albeit slowly, and relatively modernising.

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The key word here, however, is relatively. While small villages like the one I visited have access to Wifi connection, and most people are up to date on Game of Thrones, a significant proportion of Mongolians hold on to their traditional way of life. In the countryside many still live in “Ger”s (large tent homes made of cow skins) and live off of their livestock. On your way to the grocery store you may see Range Rovers and Yaks sharing the road, as well as someone talking on their smartphone while steering a pack of horses. It’s this tango between tradition and modernity that makes Mongolia so unique, a place where you can see the two dip, sway and step in an eight-count dance where tradition seems to be the lead.

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However, tradition has a solo in July when Mongolians put on their annual Naadam festivals. The full name of the festival translates to “the three sports of men” and during two or three days villagers compete in archery, wrestling, and horse-racing. First recorded around the Qing era of the 17th century, this festival now officially celebrates the 1921 Mongol Independence from China.

Men and women both take part in the archery contest. Men shoot from a distance of seventy-five meters and women from sixty-five meters. Each archer gets four arrows and each team of ten must collectively hit at least thirty-three small targets.

Wrestling, the second sport, is only for men; however, in an ironic twist, these male wrestlers wear skimpy uniforms that show off their round bellies and thick thighs. The goal is to make your opponent touch the ground with anything other than their feet or hands. At the start of the tournament, prominent wrestlers get to choose their opponents, most of them picking the smaller and newer wrestlers and as the day goes on, only the strongest remain. In Mongolian society, wrestlers are very well-regarded: interestingly enough, most successful wrestlers are also successful professionally and have important posts or are business owners. In fact, the principal of the Hatgal high school is a well-known wrestler.

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The last of the sports is possibly the most fascinating: horse-racing. Unlike Western horse-racing, in Mongolia, attention is paid to the horse and to the jockey. The racing is split into two categories where two-year old horses race ten miles and seven-year old horses race for seventeen miles. The races usually start in the very early morning and end around 10am. As if it wasn’t difficult enough, it is probably worth noting that the Jockeys are boys or girls between the ages of seven to thirteen and they ride bareback.

My last moment of pure wonder thus happened at Hatgal’s Naadam festival. Around 10:30 am, as people waited for wrestling to start, a faint rumbling could be heard. I hurried over to the top of the hill close to the finish line to watch the scene below me. At the front were two or three horses were neck and neck, their child jockeys feverishly whipping them to go faster. Behind, about eighty more contenders followed, while a few SUV’s sped alongside, presumably carrying worried parents. As the thudding became louder and the race approached, I was in complete awe. What was I doing at the age of nine? Certainly not riding bareback across the Mongolian plains. And that is when it dawned on me: Mongolian culture is not a fixed platter of events, customs and foods, it is something that is born out of perseverance, strength and a sense of community, all of it deeply rooted in a year-long celebration of tradition.

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I have no reservations in strongly recommending everyone on planet Earth to see Mongolia at least once in their lives. Not to “find yourself” or seek some ancient wisdom, but instead to experience a culture that could only exist in a place where children are as tough as nails, yaks creep into your front yard, and tradition and modernity dance ever forward.

Sara Sanabria is a second year student at Sciences Po Campus of Reims and Travel Section editor at The Sundial Press.

Carte Jeune vs Blablacar : qu’est-ce qui t’arrangerait plus ?

Lire la version anglaise. Read the English version.

Être étudiant ne t’empêche pas de quitter Reims ! Que ce soit pour rentrer chez tes parents ou voyager pour le weekend, plusieurs modes de transports s’offrent à toi, et le Sundial en a comparé deux : la Carte Jeune et Blablacar.

Les avantages de la Carte Jeune :

  • -30% sur tous les voyages en train avec réservation (TGV et Intercités)
  • -25% ou -50%, selon la saison, sur tous les voyages en train sans réservation (TER et Intercités)
  • Possibilité de travailler pendant le trajet
  • Tranquillité et espace personnel
  • Pas de contrainte pour la taille du bagage
  • En cas de ligne directe, plus rapide que le Blablacar
  • Des horaires plus stables et prévisibles (possibilité de planifier en avance)
  • Prix avantageux sur des tickets de dernière minute

Les avantages du Blablacar :

  • Relativement moins cher que le train (avec la Carte Jeune)
  • Pas d’engagement ou de prépaiement requis
  • Convivial, opportunité de rencontrer de nouvelles personnes et un bon passe-temps
  • Possibilité de demander un détour et bénéficier du trajet allant de porte à porte
  • Possibilité de contacter et de s’arranger avec le conducteur en cas d’empêchement de dernière minute
  • Sélection de tes préférences sur ton profil concernant le volume de la musique, la présence ou non d’animaux en voiture, la possibilité de fumer en voiture, et ta promptitude à discuter
  • Le conducteur est évalué sur le site par ses passagers antérieurs sur sa conduite et sa ponctualité, et commenté sur ses trajets
  • Blablacar existe également pour sortir de France, ou encore voyager à l’intérieur d’autres pays d’Europe

Autres critères devant être pris en compte :

  • Le trajet concerné

Pour un Reims – Le Havre, il n’existe pas de ligne de train directe, et il faut changer de gare à Paris. Dans ce cas, Blablacar est préférable puisque la durée de trajet est la même, voire moindre, et le prix est plus avantageux.

  • Tes préférences

Si tu préfères travailler et être seul et au calme, il est préférable d’opter pour le train ; si tu souhaites profiter de ton voyage pour rencontrer des gens en dehors du campus et peut-être même bénéficier d’un trajet direct de ta porte de départ à ton arrivée, alors choisis plutôt Blablacar.

  • Avoir la Carte Jeune ne t’empêche pas d’utiliser Blablacar de temps à autre puisque celui-ci ne nécessite aucun engagement

Carte Jeune vs Blablacar: which suits you best?

Read the French version

Being a student doesn’t mean remaining static. In order to occasionally return to your hometown or travel for a weekend, you’ll need to choose between various available transport options, and the Sundial is here to help you by comparing the advantages of the Carte Jeune and Blablacar.

Advantages of the Carte Jeune:

  • 30% discount on any train travel with a reservation (TGV and Intercités)
  • 25% or 50% discount, depending on the period of time, on any train travel without a reservation (TER and Intercités)
  • Ability to work while traveling
  • Your own personal space
  • No luggage size constraint
  • In some cases, faster than Blablacar
  • More stable and predictable schedules (you can plan in advance)
  • Access to last minute tickets discounts that can be very useful for a spontaneous trip

Advantages of Blablacar (carpooling website):

  • Relatively cheaper than the train (with Carte Jeune)
  • No subscription or prepayment required
  • Possibility to meet new people and pass time by talking, depending on the driver’s friendliness
  • Possibility of asking for a detour and benefitting from a door to door travel
  • Possibility to contact and arrange with the driver in case of a last minute impediment
  • On your profile, you can select your preferences in relation to music volume, presence or lack of pets, smoking and even willingness to chat
  • The drivers are evaluated by their previous passengers on their driving and punctuality, and you can find users’ comments on their carpooling experience
  • Blablacar also exists for travel beyond French borders and within other European countries

Other criteria that must be taken into account:

  • Your specific trajectory

If you want to go from Reims to Le Havre, there are no direct train lines, and you have to switch trains in Paris. In this case, Blablacar may be a better option since it will take the same amount of time, or less, and will turn out cheaper

  • Personal preferences

If you want to work or just maintain a degree of privacy, the train might be preferable. In case, you enjoy meeting people outside of SciencesPo, then Blablacar is your opportunity.

  • Having the Carte Jeune doesn’t prevent you from using Blablacar from time to time, since it doesn’t require any subscription