Haven’t posted for a bit as we lost a week due to Ken getting a very bad case of the flu. Fever, chills, aches, headache, not being able to keep anything down, etc. I haven’t seen him this ill in a long time. Luckily, we were not traveling or in a place where being sick would be even more difficult to accomodate, like in a hotel room. Wasn’t able to get out except for about an hour a day to get food, as I didn’t want to leave him any longer than that. A real cultural experience trying to get medicine at a Pharmacy where I didn’t speak the language and they didn’t speak English. Anyway, despite losing a lot of weight and strength, he is better now. We have a lot to catch up on!
We are starting with small forays around the area. One of our first was to the Jardin de Plantes (Plant Garden). This area is near the Medical University (the first in the world…established in the 11-1200’s) and is the oldest botanical garden in France. It was started originally at the request of Henri IV in the late 1500s for the study of medicinal plants, which are still grown today. It is continually being added to and was opened to the public in the 1800s. It is a nice green space, free, and is bordered on one end by the Montpellier’s own version of the Arch de Triumph. We saw many different kinds of plants, including some that were a variation of familiar ones, like shoulder high lily pads in a pond..not used to them being that big, many we did not recognize, and some that Ken has currently growing in our own backyard: genovese basil.
Aside from exploring, we are settling into a nice routine, which feels a bit like we live here. A little housework (including laundry due to the small “dryer”), computer stuff, workout routine (I finally found some handweights in a fitness store, so do a little yoga/strength/stretching thing on the living room floor – no aerobics, but we do a lot of walking), get cleaned up, lunch and then out for the afternoon. Come home, make dinner, and watch some movie or something. (A big “thank you” to my brother: he advised me on how to get Internet in the USA from here…only $7/month and then you can order Netflix, etc., which is not offered here in France…the only way we can watch stuff in English.) We are getting comfortable and really enjoying being here.
While grocery shopping, which we do daily, we have been trying to buy only local wines. This region, the Languedoc-Roussillon region, like I said before, produces excellent wine and the most in France, and possibly the world. It is not as well known as Provence (it is just on the other side of the Rhone river), but is starting to get recognized. One reason is that they do not have their own distinctive bottle, supposedly.Anyway, the local wines we have been trying have been excellent and very inexpensive. One wine we discovered was Piquepoul de Pinet. We got it for $4 ! One review I read said that the aromatic wine was “rich, typed, nervous, full of finesse and elegance”. Don’t understand how a wine could be “nervous”…all I know is that I enjoy drinking it !
Keeping with my wine theme (don’t I always!), we decided to jump on a bus (first time using public transportation, which is very good here, but before this, we have always walked) and explore a “folie”. These are old country houses, which were built at the end of the 17th century by the nobles of Montpellier, are known as “Folies” from the Latin word “Folia” which means “leaves”. There are about 10 of them left in the surrounding area. In today’s world, they are not that far out of the city. The one we visited was really right in the middle of a suburb of Montpellier. This one is called “Chateau de Flaugergues” and also has beautiful gardens and a vineyard, from which they produce some very nice wine.
The bus ride there was a bit of an adventure, as first we had to find the correct place to board, which was a bit confusing. Aside from buses, there are many trams which crisscross the city. The stop we were at had a station for two different tram lines and a different place to stand for each way the bus went. It was a bit confusing, but we finally found the one that we were supposed to take. We got on the bus OK and figured out how to use our “10 ride” card. We noted that people got on the bus in the front, and off in the back. OK, so far, so good. You could watch what station you were coming to by a scrolling banner in the front of the bus. When it got to be our stop, we went to the back door. The bus kept on going! Guess we didn’t realize that to have the bus let you off if no one was waiting to get on, you had to push a little red button that was obscurely located in a pole that you could hang onto for balance. So, we just rode the bus to the end of the line. Well, that was in the middle of NOWHERE, in a big parking lot. The driver, who did not speak a word of English, was very nice. I pointed on the map where we wanted to go, and by acting out his intentions (he’d be excellent at Charades!), he let us stay on the bus as he did his return trip. At our stop (and yes, I then pushed the red button), he motioned to us how to walk to the Chateau. We waved our “goodbyes” and said “Merci” many times.
The Chateau was incredible. For approximately $15, you could walk around the gardens, get a guided tour of the inside of the Chateau (the guide kept calling it a “castle”) and have a very nice little wine tasting of their wine at the end of the tour. The gardens were typical French: very manicured and orderly; however, there were also grounds (aside from the vineyard), where one of the owners (remember, it had been built in the late 1600’s), had planted things like a bamboo grove, a eucalyptus tree, a gingko tree, a sequoia (like we saw in CA!), and many other plants and trees.One of the amazing things that we learned was that the descendants of the original owners still lived in the “castle”, the Count and Countess, and even some of the current grandchildren, who looked to be about preteen age. Our tour guide, Madeleine, was from Poland and we went on the tour with another couple from Belgium. She spoke French to them, and then would turn to us with the English translation…that makes her at least tri-lingual! She started us in the garden with a plant called “Buddha fingers”, which was called so due to the unique shape and number of the “flower fingers”. Later in the fall, they will turn yellow and become very aromatic. The outside of the “fingers” will be scrapped off and used to scent and decorate cakes and other pastries.
When Madeleine took us into the “house”, we were blown away. I have seen a lot of castles, chateaus, etc. in my time, but this one was unique. I don’t even know how to describe it. Remember, it is from the late 1600’s, and the “owners” have always been there since then and their family still lives there today. The floors, walls, ceilings, all stone. The tapestries (which we were told took 100 years to make) hang on the walls. The collection of books number over 2000 in the library, along with 800 years of “records” in old cabinets. The staircases, stone of course, were held up by stone arches (a “symbol” of Montpellier, apparently). Because the family still lives there, among the priceless, exquisite, old furniture and artifacts, there are plugs for electricity and smoke detectors in the ceiling! I was sorry I couldn’t take any pictures as you couldn’t use a flash. It will be something I will not soon forget.
We asked about how things were preserved during WWII. Apparently the Germans lived in the house for 3 or 4 months, not disturbing anything. The reason they left was due to the mosquitoes! The locals were used to them (remember, no screens), but the Germans were not. We were surprised about the infestation, as we had not experienced any, but our guide said that there was a big campaign in 1960, where they were eradicated. (Guess it worked.) The house and all its contents were luckily preserved.After the chateau tour, we had a wine tasting with Madeleine. White, rose and red. Like many wines in France, we’ve found, a blend of the grapes. Very nice. While we were there, the Count walked in and talked to us! The Belgium couple was still looking at the garden, so it was just our guide and us. He was just around the office and looked like a regular guy. We had a very nice chat with him. He seemed very down to earth.
We took the bus back home and I pushed the red button to exit at our stop. A very fun day.
I keep thinking about if I could (or would want to) live here for a year or so. It seems doable and comfortable (definitely some adjustments), except, of course for our social life and everyone back home. Only thing that makes that part tolerable, of course, is SKYPE, email, the Internet. Still miss the kids, our friends, etc. Haven’t established a social life here, due to the language, access, etc. We were supposed to hear those friends’ son play at a club last week, but couldn’t go, of course, due to Ken’s being sick. We are going to hear him play this Sat. night, but no one else will be around like last time. We also joined an International ex-pat group which is having a get together in a wine/piano bar next Thursday, so we’ll start from there and see where it goes. So far, there are about 20 attendees from 7 different countries coming.
That’s it for now, Mes Amis. Hope you are all well, and keep those emails coming, they are my lifeline.
Avec amour, au revoir.