Our last move until we come home on Halloween. Took the high speed train to Montpellier in the south of France, the 8th largest city in the country (about 250K population and the fastest growing city for a number of the last few years), and about 11 km from the beaches of the Mediterranean Sea. Very nice train, fast, and quiet, both inside and out. (No one talks, and if they do, they whisper…even the little kids are quiet and well behaved.)
Our landlords, Annie and Gilles, meet us at the train station. We walk about 4 or 5 blocks to the flat, which is located right across the street from the main historic district, so great location. The building looks like something renovated in the 60’s or 70’s, even though the outside is fairly old. Not as charming as our Lyon flat, but lots more amenities, space (700 sq. feet compared to about 450), comfort and half the price.We have an elevator (no 12 flights of stairs!), even though it is very small. We have to take the suitcases up in shifts: only room for 1 suitcase and 2 people squished in. Ken and I vow to use the stairs up and down to keep up with our exercise, but only after we get the bags upstairs. We are on the top floor and there are probably only 8-10 apartments in the entire building. The place has a separate eat in kitchen (with a stove!), full refrigerator (small, but bigger than the cooler size we had last time) with freezer, and even a tiny dishwasher. Washer (always in the kitchen), and same “dryer” situation. The biggest difference, and one very important to us: a big “terrace” (guess we would call it a balcony) the entire length of the apartment. We will be living/eating out there, as it is very pleasant and seemingly fairly private. Nice breezes and an awning so no direct sunlight to bake us. It looks out onto a quiet street. The dryer situation is good as it is outside on the terrace and with 25% humidity, 300 days of sunshine, which the grapes in the area love, our clothes dried in an hour or two. It was great!
Speaking of the weather, it’s phenomenal: cool (low 60’s) at night and morning, warm (low 80’s/mid 70’s) during the day. With such low humidity, it is very pleasant. We keep all the windows/sliders to the terrace open (remember: no screens and no bugs) whenever we are here.
We also have something called a “raclette”. Sort of a tabletop electric grill, which Ken has taken over and put on our table outside. Our hosts were surprised we were going to use it in that way as there is some type of local dish where you put cheese on the little triangular paddles underneath the electric heating element (sort of like a broil situation, I guess) and it melts the cheese and you put sausages on the top part. We will use it sort of like our Weber at home (have not seen any charcoal/lighter fluid, so guess this is it). First night we did chicken breasts on top and halves of apricots on the bottom to put on the chicken. Came out great! Incidentally, we have very quickly slipped into the European timeframe of eating: a light breakfast about 9, lunch between 1:30 and 2, dinner around 8 or 9.
In neither of our flats are there closets. People seem to put a standalone piece in which to hang the clothes. Guess there just isn’t the room build in any closets (forget a walk in!).
Everywhere it’s sort of like the old mixed with the new, like in Lyon. We have Internet and yet the streets are cobblestone. To access the building, we have a thing with a little computer chip in it to open the door, and yet some of the doors have very old fashioned keys. It all seems to blend and work together nicely.
So, Montpellier: not as upscale or as charming as Lyon (which is not as upscale/”picture book French” as Paris). It’s different. I feel that this is how the real French live. Definitely not as touristy or expensive. Even in the historic district, not all the little cafes/restaurants that we saw in Lyon. More shops that people who live here full time would use (like Craft shops, kitchen stuff, still shoes, of course, etc.). Not the little food stores, either, although there are a few, but not like Lyon. There are 4 “Farmer/Outdoor market type things, like there were in Lyon, but they are indoors. There is an actual grocery store in each of the two Monoprix’s (A department store that I mentioned in Lyon…they are all over Europe) near us. The prices are less expensive than in Lyon but we still bought a bunch of stuff (fruits/veggies/a baguette, meat, cheese, olives (which were very expensive), etc. at the indoor “outdoor” market). What is really inexpensive is the wine and it is GOOD….. (We have vowed to not have wine at lunch, although that would be easy to do, and limit ourselves to only one bottle total for “cocktail hour” and dinner). We are trying wines from the Languedoc-Roussillon region, in which we are located, which is actually the highest wine producing region in all of France, and I think the entire world, if I remember our guide from our wine tour last year saying. The wine is very inexpensive as it is not imported and there are very few taxes to contend with. One wine we were exposed to when we were here last fall is Tavel. A wonderful rose if you can get it. Be sure the bottle has the raised imprint of the logo or else it is not authentic. We found some in a small grocery store for about $9: expensive for here!! It is a rose as only the French can do it….
Chicken is another thing that seems to be a little pricier here. Saw a rotisserie whole chicken that we would get at home at Sentry for about $6.99 (remember when it was only $3.99 a few years ago??!!) in Lyon, for about $25 (and it didn’t even look as nice), and here it is about $15.
So getting back to Montpellier itself. Have yet to see any Americans or hear any English spoken (although supposedly a lot of Brits retire here), and just like in Lyon, a lot of young people. There are 4 universities (guess the first medical school was started here in the 11 or 1200’s), and both Dell and IBM have campuses here. See few people of color (was expecting a lot of Algerians as they were said to flee North Africa when the French were occupying and settle here), and few babies (like we saw in Lyon).
The main square is called the Place de la Comedie. There are small streets (it’s in the historic district) that branch off from this and at one end of the square is the opera house where there are many performances of opera, symphony, dance, theater, etc. There is also a regular movie theater and an artsy movie theater off this square. On the other end, a few blocks away, is a mall with the typical stuff that you’d expect in a little bit of a higher end shopping mall. Behind that is a planned community that was just built about 15 years ago with green space, apartments, the Olympic size indoor municipal pool and shops/cafes. Very unique looking and like nothing I’ve ever seen. This district is called the Antigone, and looks almost like a Roman Olympic Coliseum.
We can walk everywhere and there is also a great tram system that was just completed a year ago (with a fifth line to be done in the next 2 years).
My son hooked us up with a couple our age who live here and are the parents of a friend of his cousin’s who my son hosted/acted as tour guide last year when the daughter was visiting NYC. The mother is French and the father a Brit. They have taken us under their wing and have been very nice to us. We met them yesterday afternoon at a little café on the Place de la Comedie. They invited us to see their son and his band play at a club (The Black Sheep) tomorrow night and to meet him, his band and their daughter (the one who has met my son and is in town for the weekend). It will be nice to interact with some people other than shop keepers!
Sure we will do some “touristy” things (like museums, etc.), as we have never been here and would hate to miss that, but this is a place for us more to “live” potentially for a year or two. We are trying to find a place to work out (the Curves was a bit too far), and settle in like we have “moved” here, to see what that would be like. Know it takes time, but my paradigm is to look at it with different eyes than I looked at Lyon (which seemed very charming, like more of a vacation…too costly/higher end for us to consider really “moving” there). This place, very realistically, could be doable, so merits careful consideration for that arena. Since we’ve only been here a few days, the jury is still out, but there have been a lot of things that are passing the test so far. Think the biggest obstacle is meeting people to have a life with here. Working on that!!
That’s it for now, mes amis. Miss you all, and thanks for following my blog and keeping those emails coming. They are our lifeline. Will post again in a few days or so as we get more settled in. Au Revoir!