Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Montpellier Day two

One of the things I really liked about Montpellier was the tram system. It runs often, quietly and there are four lines. Each line is painted differently so it is really easy to see from a distance if it is the line you want. There is even talk of a fifth one that will go down to the beach. (Although there was talk of that back in 2011 too.) If we move here having the tram to get around means we can put off getting a car.

Like I said, art is everywhere you look here. If one side of the building looks odd, it is probably because it is two dimensional (click to enlarge).

The center of the city is mostly pedestrian (although keep an eye out for vans and motorcycles) and tiny little streets filled with details in stone, iron, and stores.

The city also boosts an Arc de Triomphe 

If you are reading this as someone who wants to visit the city and is looking for something to do. I heartily recommend visiting the Jardin des Plantes or the Botanical garden. It is free, and open most afternoons (except Mondays). We did not get a chance to really visited it this time, more like a peek inside, but it is a truly beautiful European garden.

We next met up with a locally based knitter for coffee. She truly is the sweetest woman and let us ask question after question about living there. When we left her, it was a short walk to this view.
Do you notice how the light is beginning to turn pink for sunset? It does that in Madrid too, and I never get tired of it.

We then headed downtown to look for the last yarn store and for somewhere to eat for dinner. We walked through the narrow winding streets and window shopped, looking at all the art, in stone or otherwise as we passed.

Hopefully I will get to see Montpellier again very soon.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Yarn stores in Montpellier

Here is a post solely about the yarn shops to be found in Montpellier. I have no idea how useful this will be for others, but I myself, appreciate when others do posts about stores they see when they travel.  I find that in my travels going to yarn shops can really take you off the tourist track and give you a sense of what life is really like there. You will also be able to visit neighborhoods better and see more of the city if you search out your local yarn shop. I am going to try in the future to make more posts about yarn stores I visit while traveling. Also I know, I do not have a post about yarn/wool stores in Madrid. If you have questions in that area, please feel free to email me or leave a comment below. 

Knitting in museums

So we know that Montpellier is knitting friendly for three reasons:
1.) No one looked twice while I was knitting away in the park
2.) There are little signs of knitting everywhere (I even saw a yarn bombed bike)
3.) There are five yarn shops in just the center!

Knitting everywhere!
Before we get into the descriptions of the shops one quick note: Apparently a lot of shops in Montpellier are closed on Mondays (and maybe Sundays too, it's the case here in Spain). Also it seems that some of the stores close for a long lunch break (also like in Spain). I have included the hours that I found on their websites, but it is good to plan in advance and be aware of local operating times.

All of the yarn stores had very little overlap of brands/poducts that I could see, so they might all be worth the visit.

First up we have my favorite.
23 Rue des Étuves
Monday from 10h to 19h and Tuesday to Saturday from 9:30 am to 19h (non stop)
 This shop had everything that you would expect in a craft store in the US! There was a good selection of: buttons, beads, fabric, sewing notions, knitting notions, yarn, and even a small section with felting supplies! The yarn selection was impressive with a selection of fibers and of well known brands. There was also more then one brand of French yarn including a good selection from Bergere de France. There is even more yarn than on display in the shelves at the back of the store, so you might want to ask for something if you can not find it. In my case I am addicted to self stripping sock yarn I couldn't find any and was not sure how to ask. I am currently studying French but I am a beginner, so I was relived when a friendly saleswoman who spoke English well asked me if I needed any help.

Let's be honest here (and if you have read this far you are a crafter/knitter too so you might know how I feel) the presence of just this shop makes the potential move more exciting. There is no one shop (that I know of, please tell me if there is) in Madrid that such a selection of all of these materials under one roof.

5 Grand Rue Jean Moulin
10:00-19:00 Mon-Sat

 The store sells mostly clothes, but there is a yarn section (only selling Phildar yarn/magazines, of course) at the back. The yarn that I saw had more acrylic and cotton than I would like. There was not an atmosphere conducive to browsing so I did not look at everything.

 Avant Aprés
29 Rue Foch
10:00-19:00 Tues-Sat

This s a very upscale yarn and fabric shop. All open space and chrome. Here is where you would go to get your high end international yarns (non-US) such as Rowan, Noro, Debbie Bliss etc.

Anne Ouvrages
28 Rue Paul Brousse
Tues-Fri 9:30-19:00
Sat 9:30-12:30 and 14:00-19:00

I wasn't going to drag my husband to any more yarn stores, but then a local convinced me to try to go one more. She warned me that some people felt that the sales people are less welcoming here. However, she always feels welcome and I did too. When I came in with my camera holding husband (it was so obvious that we were tourists) they greeted me and when they had time they came over to ask if I needed any help ("I'm just looking" is one the phrases I know in French) and they gave me a box to put yarn into. It was a great sales technique as I had yet to pick any yarn. They (there were two saleswoman) also pointed out the other yarn section to me. They do not speak English here, but I was able to understand what they said by context and my limited French.

This store had a good selection that included a lot of yarns from both Amy Blatt and Bouton d'Or which are both French brands. This is also the store that has by far the most mohair/cashmere yarns (just a little warning for those of you unfortunate enough to be allergic to goat hair like I am). This store also included fabric and sewing notions. (Mercerie in both Spanish and French mean fabric/sewing/yarn shop.)

I am told that there is also a fifth yarn store that sells mostly Katia (a Spanish brand). "Coccinelle" which is located at the bottom of Rue Saint Guilhem, but I did not get a chance to visit it.

Please a comment if you have anything to add to my quick summary.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Montpellier Day one

Three years ago (very shortly before we moved from the US and I started the blog) my husband had applied to a position to work for the French government as a researcher. The position would have been to work with a research group in Montpellier University in Southern France. It was/is a beautiful city, but honestly, I could not remember much from that trip (It was a very stressful time in my life that involved doing the move from the US to Madrid in just seven weeks).

So, this year, when my husband decided to apply again for the same position, we decided we would go to Montpellier together. His main reason for this trip was to practice for his upcoming interview. Our main reason was to re-aquatinted with the city, with an eye for living there in the future. It is a very odd feeling to go to a city, not as a tourist, but as a potential future resident. However if he doesn't secure the position, we might not ever be back and we should do all the touristy stuff, right? Maybe? Turns out that we did not have time.

Luckily the AVE (Spain's high speed train) now goes directly from Madrid to Montpellier. (No stopping to transfer trains at the boarder!) It takes about 5.5 hours and trains are really a more comfortable way to travel. The only real downside to the train is that the schedule is a little odd. We came in Late Sunday night and had to leave early Wednesday morning. Two days, three nights.

Javi's department talk was first thing in the morning, so I had the morning to myself to explore the city. Swallowing my fear of being in a country where I barely spoke the language, I set out towards the center of the city. 

Side note - I might seem like a world traveler to some, but I often do not feel that I am. In fact look back at my travel history and there is rarely a time where I have been to a country that I do not speak the language. I am working on conquering this fear, in fact I already have tickets to Bern in a month or so.

Cathédrale de Saint-Pierre from behind

The center of Montpellier is a beautiful medieval city made out of a light colored stone. Since we watched a lot of tourist videos before coming, I can tell you that Montpellier is the 8th largest city in France, and the one with the most growth for the past 25 years. It also seems like a place for artists (which I love). It is possible to walk up the steep cobbled streets and see art adorning the construction barriers, here the music coming out of the dance or music school and then come across this...

...amazing Cathédrale de Saint-Pierre with it's towers straight out of a fairy tale. (I you look closely it has gargoyle water spouts like Notre Dame has, as always click to enlarge.)

Cathédrale de Saint-Pierre from the front
I climbed up the steep street and took some steps to my left  and came upon this charming plaza - Place de la Canourgue.

A cherub fighting two unicorns?
This was the plaza right by the hotel we stayed at the last time we were here, and the memories of the town came flooding back to me.

Here is a look back down the street I came up (the plaza is much higher than street level). There is the Cathedral and in the distance, be still my beating heart, mountains! Yes Montpellier is close to the beach and also to these small mountains. Though, in a couple of hours drive you could be in the French Alps or the Pyrenees! 

It is always very important to remember to look up in medieval streets because you never know what gems you will see. See that sign? A woman weaving!

This next building below used to be a convent, then a woman's prison, and now it is a choreography center. I love towns with history.

There were, thankfully, signs all over the place with maps. These old city centers are very easy to get lost in. There were also lots of little unexpected pieces of art up on the walls. Here we have a mosaic space invader.

This charming arch was in the Archeological gardens.

If you pass through the Archeological Gardens and up a lot of steps there is a great view of the North part of the city. Click to enlarge and look at that shadow art on the white building up ahead. Some of them are true shadows and some of them are painted. Have I mentioned I love the art and history this town has?

If I turn 180 degrees this is what I see - L'Esplanade park, with it's grand walkways, fountains and playgrounds.

Along the park are several cafés and I was able to successfully buy a bottle of water. At this point I found a bench in the shade (it was hotter there than Madrid) and knit while thinking of living in this city. I do find vacations can get overwhelming very quickly, and the act of knitting can settle my thoughts and leave me feeling refreshed. 

A charming building across the street
I am glad that I stopped to regroup. It is overwhelming at times that I am 35 and not only have I never owned my own couch, I have no idea what country I will live in next! Yes, at times it is exciting, other times you can ignore it, but then there are times when it catches up to you and it is so, very, stressful.

A memorial
So... my mind refreshed I continued wandering the park and snapping photos. I can not believe how beautiful it is here. Really the main problem with living here, other than Javi not having the job yet, is the language. A third language. I can only hope that this time, it'll be slightly easier. After all I already know a cousin language, right? If I was to live in France I would learn faster. After all, here in Spain Javi is here if I need him to translate. In France, it's learn or perish. I have already (optimistically) started studying French. After all, if he were to get the job we would be moving by the 1st of October. For those of you keeping score that means, yes, I am learning both languages simultaneously now.

Charming row houses facing the park

The sign says "the mansion of the pigeons"
In the park, there is this very small building with this banner. I think that it was an advertisement for the museum about 200 meters away. It turns out, we did not have time to go and see. I'll take it as a good sign that they chose a painting of his that shows a knitter.

L'Esplanade's Southern tip basically touches the main plaza of the city- Le Place du Comédie, which is beautiful.

Too soon it was time to take one of the trams (light rail) to meet up with Javi at the University. Luckily the Tram system means that we would not need a car at first to live here (another plus). Javi was practicing his interview talk at the University (the interview is this week in Paris, in English) and I was going to be his secretary. 

I'll leave you with the sculpture in University II. Which I find both mystifying and amusing.

Tomorrow four of the five yarn stores of Montpellier, and more pictures from our day of exploring.

Friday, March 14, 2014

London 4

This was our last day in London, but we did not have a flight until later in the afternoon. I was on my own for the morning so I decided to spend that morning in the National Gallery.

I got there before the museum opened though, and so I strolled around Trafalgar square for a bit taking in the sites. (I'll admit to it raining a little this morning.)

St Martins-in-the-Field
There are four plinths in Trafalgar Square, the statue that was to go on the fourth plinth was never finished, so now the plinth is used to display different artistic pieces. Hence the blue rooster.

Art on the fourth plinth 
You can't tell from this picture but this is one of four Lion's at the base of Nelson's column, these lions are massive. Sitting at one of the lion's feet was a young woman putting on ballerina shoes while a friend took a picture. It was enchanting and I wish I knew the back story or had the courage to take a photo myself.

One of the lion at the base of Nelson's column
My first trip to London (and really the only time I had spent any time in the city) was when I was 13 years old. I really did not remember much about that trip, including the fact that I had already been to the National Gallery before. The memories came flooding back to me as I entered the galleries that hold the impressionistic paintings. There I remember my mom (who majored in art) showing me the works of Monet, Van Gogh, Pissaro, Degas etc. and showing me how to first look at the painting up close and then cross the room to look again to see the magic of the painting coming together. This is the museum  that sparked my love for impressionism. A beautiful memory.

Fountain and National Gallery
All to soon it was lunch time and I made my Picadilly Circus to meet my husband and a friend of his for lunch.

Unbelievably, we had some excellent Mexican food. It was wonderful to catch up with Javi's friend, and all too soon it was time for him to go back to work. So we made our way back to the hotel room, snapping photos and looking through book stores on the way.

The theater district and China Town touch, or are melded (never did find out which). There was a wonderful mix of pubs, theater signs and beautiful buildings.

I know that I could live here. I loved every minute of my time in London.