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.


  1. I'm crossing my fingers for you and Javi ! Beautiful city !!!

    1. Thanks Jen! Maybe if he gets it you will do a European vacation and come for a visit.

  2. i love your view of montpellier - been there so many times and never noticed many of the things you saw ! i wish i could have met you. fingers crossed for you and your dh!

    1. Thanks for the well wishes! I wish that I could have met you too. I feel like if I move there I will start out with two friends already. :)
      My next post is about the yarn shops of Montpellier, please let me know if there are any things that I should add.