Montpellier? On y va!
Birthdays abroad are a buoyant and fortuitous experience that must be celebrated in accordance with the level of excitement that accompanies them. One of me new and dear friends was lucky enough to celebrate her birthday during our time France. While I am only slightly bitter that my birthday is a mere week after I return home at the end of the summer, I'm choosing to put my jealousy aside in celebration of Ivoree.
There are so many little towns peppered throughout the countryside, neighboring Lyon that I would like to visit. But the the prospect of basking at the beach was, yet again too difficult to resist, so we headed to Montpellier this past weekend for some birthday festivities.
Montpellier is a charming little town in the South of France with an easy grace and free-spirited feel to it. Unlike almost every southern town, Montpellier has no Roman heritage, making the city appear elegant and medieval. Montpellier is home to several universities, and over a third of the city's population is comprised of students. In turn, this means no shortage whatsoever of stylish restaurants, boutiques and clubs within the city.
Getting to Montpellier was an offbeat experience. Rather than the TGV, we took a Blah Blah Car to get to and from Montpellier. Blah Blah Car is a European carpooling service that connects passengers to cars. It's comparable to Uber, but drivers are willing to drive you much farther and it's dirt cheap. I spent about €60 getting to and from Montpellier. The tradeoff, however, was four and a half hours in the car with a grumpy old frenchman.
If days worth of sight-seeing is what you are looking to do, I would not recommend Montpellier. Although the town itself is beautiful, museums and historical sights are not plentiful. From what I experienced over our weekend there, it's more of a place you go for either a very quiet, or a very fun weekend. Whether it's peace or parties that you're seeking, you'll find yourself gravitating toward the lively vibe, breezy cafes and shops and white sand beaches. That's what we did.
We spent our first day walking around the little city, popping in to shops and seeing the quaint sights. First up was the Place du Peyrou on the outskirts of the main part of town, the Peyrou features a stately promenade, panoramic views of the miniature Arc de Triomphe and cream-colored city.
Other lovely sights in Montpellier are the Carré Sainte-Anne church in all of it's neo-gothic glory. This 19th century church was deconsecrated in 1980's and now is a lively cultural center with stained glass windows and a working bell tower.
Another resplendent historic site in Montpellier is the Cathédrale St-Pierre. Fortress-like and built in the 14th century, St-Pierre was commissioned in 1364 and converted to a cathedral in 1536. It lies adjacent to the Faculty of Medicine, a former cloister of the monastery of Saint Benoît. The two together make for a grand and impressive historical presence in the city.
And in the evenings, there's no shortage of delicious local food, highlighting fresh fish. The nightlife ranges from quiet wine bars for intellectual conversation to clubs with music loud enough to drown out thoughts and inhibitions. We had an amazing time that first night in Montpellier.
However, considering the fact that I irresponsibly left the club alone, ended up lost and wandering around the city at five in the morning before finally finding the hotel, one could assume that we had a little too much fun.
Travel in packs when inebriated, people. It's safer.
Things that I can't stress enough when traveling: flexibility, adaptability and taking things in stride.
Without a doubt, we created fond memories this past weekend in Montpellier. The laughs and messes we found ourselves in will forever be running jokes. However, some of our drollest memories come from moments when things felt like they were in shambles. You know, like getting lost in leaving club in the middle of the night or a disastrous attempt at going to the beach..
So here's what happened. We were in the south of France and had grown quite fond of the beaches by this point. We decided to spend our second day basking in golden rays on white sand seashore. Sounds nice right? We discussed our plans with the young woman working behind the desk at our budget-but-surprisingly-nice hotel, and she recommended a "nearby" beach and also gave us instructions on how to get there.
Public transportation in Montpellier is really nice, as is expected. But I don't define "nearby" as spending almost two hours, taking two different streetcars and a bus a bust to reach my destination. Once we thought we had made it to the beach, it was nowhere in sight. What was in sight was a small shack with 10 or so rental bikes. Yep, the next step was to rent the bikes to get to the beach. Ok, fine, I guess that's not a big deal. Only here was the next kicker, my friend Saida didn't even know how to ride a bike! She graciously insisted on walking and urged us to peddle ahead. We mounted rented
bright blue bikes (hungover mind you), and rode through smelly, marshy swamps for six miles before arriving at the most unappealing beach any of us had ever laid eyes on.
Exhausted and nauseated, we had lost all inclination for a beach-day at this point. We remounted our bikes, got lost on the way back to the shack and made the long public transportation trek back to our hotel. That day was a disaster, but we laughed so hard about the absurdity of it, we were all in tears. The next day, we wound up spending the worthwhile big bucks for a taxi to shuttle us to and from an immaculately blue and sandy beach.
My point in sharing this story of our less-than-glamorous day, was to drive home the fact that things won't alway be perfect when traveling and they might in fact suck sometimes. But that catastrophe of a day brought laughter and gave us something to reminisce about for years to come.
All I'm really worried about at this point is when my scorching sunburn will evolve in to a "south of France glow."