We are finally living life here. The days seem to fly by. Can’t believe we have less than 6 weeks till we go home. We have our favorite food stores/markets (the Outdoor Market – their Farmers’ Market – which is only on Tuesdays and Saturdays – rivals Lyon’s) and know which items are the best deal and where they are located in the aisles. It all feels very comfortable. We feel safe and have seen some police presence (and a few times military) mostly in the big mall or the big square. People seem happy and chill.
The only thing that flusters me a bit is that you have to be very careful crossing the streets, walking down the very narrow historic streets, and even walking down the sidewalks. Crossing the streets is chaotic due to the trams continually crisscrossing down the road, all the very small cars zipping in and out, many people on bikes and the fact that there is an abundance of motorcycles. Not big Harley ones, but some moped-like and a bit bigger, AND they go on the sidewalks, down the historic streets where sometimes cars are not allowed, etc. You’ll be walking along and something will just zip by you very closely. The French seem very patient with all of this. We were sitting at an outdoor café one night (we’ve decided that we should eat out once a week for the “experience of the food”), and it was on a very narrow historic street. A small car (they are ALL small), came down the block, but its width could not fit in the space between the walls with the café tables and chairs in the way on the side, so the man sitting in the way would get up from the table and move his chair aside EVERY TIME a car had to get by. He seemed fine with this and having his dinner interrupted!
Another thing that we noticed at this cafe was a wine cooler that hung on the side of the table. (See picture) I liked the concept and had never seen one like it before.
That night we had gone to see our friends’ (the people my son had hooked us up with) son play guitar at a small club (maybe 20 people would fit in it).
We of course were the oldest there by 30 years, but we sat outside, had a glass of wine, and listened to him play the guitar (he sort of was singing to everyone both inside and out). He was wonderful and we thoroughly enjoyed it. Sort of a blues/folk/jazz type of style. We were surprised that he sang only in English (his mother is French and he is bilingual). He said that his audience only wants music sung in English. We talked to him before and after his set. A delightful young man, the same age as our twins. Of course there was the standard greeting/goodbye: 3 kisses on alternating cheeks. We see everyone doing this (even men to men) all the time! In Lyon and Paris, it’s only 2 kisses, in the south, it’s 3. A nice custom.
Speaking of our friends, that is the one thing we are missing. We love it here: it is very livable, affordable, the right size for us, feels safe, vibrant, cultural activities, resources, great weather, etc, etc.; however, we really don’t have a social life. Part of it is due to us not knowing the language, so that definitely inhibits us. This couple that my son hooked us up with (he had shown their daughter around when she was in NYC), has been wonderful. They invited us to their flat in Montpellier for dinner and invited another couple that they were friends with who were from Britain. Our hosts live in a village about an hour from the city, but are spending more and more time in their flat in town. We had a wonderful evening and enjoyed the British couple, too (he works for IBM and they have been here for years).
We started with appetizers out on the small terrace at 7:30. Anchovy paste on French bread, local grape tomatoes, a bowl of nuts. The wine was a sweet wine (Muscat) from their village. I normally don’t like sweet wine, but this was refreshing and not candy/sugary tasting. They also offered anise, a liquor that tastes like licorice. They put a small amount in the bottom of the glass (it is a rich golden color), and add water to it whereupon it turns white. There was also a nice rose offered to drink. After much animated talk, we went to sit down at about 9ish for dinner. They first served a piece of thin veal (one per person) with onions that our hostess had sautéed in a pan. There were mashed potatoes, a small bowl of cut up and sautéed red and yellow peppers, and another of eggplant. Of course there was French bread.
Wine was a local red that the Brit couple had brought from THEIR village. (Everyone seemed very proud to have a bottle made right in practically their own back yard.) After that main part, a plate of different cheeses was served, along with a big bowl of lettuce with a light vinaigrette dressing. Our host showed us about the cheeses, that you take the harder/less strong cheeses first (and he put a dab of chutney with curry on them), and then work your way to the stronger cheese (only slicing from the right towards the center of the cheese slice of this blue cheese– it was the absolute BEST blue cheese I had every had – extremely creamy) and then on to the soft cheese, a brie, just oozing a bit. C’est magnifique!
I thought that would be it, but then came a wonderful bowl of cut up fresh fruit, including nice figs, which they put a little scoop of vanilla (with specks of the vanilla bean) ice cream on top and a dollop of crème freche, which is like a sweet whipped cream before it is whipped. The ice cream and crème freche were in very small original containers.
The conversation went well after midnight and was interesting, lively and informative. We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. We walk to the tram stop to get home, and voila, since it was after midnight (on a Tuesday), the trams had just stopped running into town. Luckily everything is fairly close, it was a beautiful night with an almost full moon and we had an enjoyable walk home (we just followed the tram tracks…took us about 25 minutes). We felt very safe and few people were out. A wonderful evening.
The reason I’m going into so much detail about the meal/evening is that a book I’m reading about Americans relocating to France says that many French people do not invite people to their homes, even after many years of working with or being friends with them, that you should consider it an honor and a treat if you get lucky enough to get invited. I was very interested to see what would be served, etc., so hope you find it as interesting as I did, given the scarcity of it.
The next day, we took a tram to the beaches on the Mediterranean (about 15 miles from the city). We were supposed to hook up with a bus to take us the final way, but when we got to the end of the tram line, we found out that our bus was not scheduled for another 2 hours. After asking a few people in our limited French/their limited English, we decided to walk and follow the bike path into the nearest town/beach (Carnon). We sat for a while on a beautiful, pristine, almost empty beach. The sand was fine, white, and soft. It was windy, but pleasant and sunny. Many of the beach houses looked closed for the season (it is mid Sept, after all).
The town we really wanted to go to, Palavas, was almost too far to walk to, so after a couple of hours, we hiked back to the tram stop (about a mile to two miles) and went home, noting the bus schedule for a return trip.
Thursday night we attended a get together of an International Group that we had joined (free membership) for people like us. The local chapter gets together once a month for a social evening, plus weekly on Wednesdays for a language exchange (English and French). There were about 55 people at the wine bar from 15 different countries, all ages. We ended up talking to some interesting people. Small world: one guy, Chris, who is our daughters’ age, just graduated from the same school as one of our daughters (Univ. of MI-Ann Arbor), and was working here teaching English at the Medical School (all classes at the Medical School are taught in English, which surprised us). He had lived in Ann Arbor just two blocks from where our daughter had lived! We will definitely go back on Wed. to try the language exchange. To connect with people, you have to keep showing up.
Palavas: the other town on the beach that we wanted to check out. Made the trip (after allowing for a better bus schedule), but was sorely disappointed. Great beach, sailing, beach volleyball, etc, but other than that, pretty tacky touristy, which many beach towns in the U.S. are like. Not too much else to do, as we hadn’t brought our bathing suits, so we just walked around a bit and then made the trip home.
On Sunday we went to a wonderful concert given by the regional symphony orchestra (music: the universal language). Tchaikovsky, Dvorak and Mozart – it was as good as any concerts we’ve heard in the States (excepting the worldwide top orchestras, of course). We walked there in about 10 minutes, great venue and very reasonable: only about $25/person. We thoroughly enjoyed it. Lots of cultural events here in Montpellier.
Montpellier is such a mix of old and new, like many European cities. The Medical College has been around since the 1200’s, and yet they just built a very modern Hotel de Ville, which is essentially, the City Hall. A very unusual building, which was hard to capture in pix. The main room had very unique floors and ceilings.
After we checked the Hotel de Ville, we went to the suburbs to look at a Carrefour: a huge store chain which, I think, is throughout Europe. We had seen it on the tram on our way to the beaches the other day. Now remember, most of our experience has been in little shops that sell only one thing: meat, bread, fruits and veggies, etc. You only buy what you need for one day, as space, amount and energy to run appliances is in short supply. Here in Montpellier, we have found a few “grocery stores”, but this has been unusual. This Carrefour was amazing: maybe twice, if not three times bigger than any Wal-Mart Super Store you have been in. I have never been in such a big store. We had thought it was just a food store, but they sold electronics, house wares, clothes, etc.
The prices were very reasonable, and their stuff was GOOD (some of the food we had never seen before, and couldn’t figure out from the label, but that has happened to us before). When we checked out, having bought a few items (we had to take a tram back, so we couldn’t carry much), like all the other grocery stores we have been to, the cashier was seated. Interesting that our cashiers stand. This seems like a better system. One thing that was amusing: we found good old WI Johnsonville brats, but there were only 4 to a package and the French label, translated, says “Onion and White Wine”….only in France would you find Brats made with white wine!!
So, can’t believe we start heading home 5 weeks from today! We don’t want to leave! Got a couple of social events coming up this week, which I’ll blog about in my next post. Miss you all, but know we are healthy and happy.