Posted by: David Stewart | June 27, 2013

Montpellier Delights

These are from some notes I took on our Spring 2013 trip

Wednesday, May 8

Montpellier, France

Place Royale, Montpellier

Our first morning in France! After waking in our hotel, the Mercure Centre, we walked over to the Polygone shopping mall and found a little cafe open for breakfast. We struggled through the menu and our lack of French but they were very nice to us, the first of many kind people we met during our time in the provinces of France.

After breakfast, we walked into the old town of Montpellier to get SIM cards working for our travels in France. The SIM from my previous trip to France from provider SFR worked really well, so my intent was to just put more credit on it. Unfortunately the SFR shop in the city center I had used before was closed. We thought we might have arrived before their opening time, so we wandered about the streets, checking out an old church nearby which is now an art gallery. The art was all really depressing stuff, depicting madness, decay, death and all manner of hideous stuff. Charming.

Montpellier, France

Part of the Botanical Gardens, Montpellier

Back to the SFR shop, and now we’re well passed their opening time and no activity. We had seen a couple of mobile phone stores near the Polygone, so we returned there and started asking around. The shop we visited said they couldn’t help us, but why not visit the SFR shop in the mall? What? Oh, evidently that one is open. We learned later that the shop in the city was closed because May 8 was a holiday – essentially the day World War II ended for France. We’re not sure why this affected the shop in the town and not in the mall, but the conclusion was a happy one for us.

On the way to the SFR shop, Deb branched off and visited the Orange shop in the mall to see if her Israeli Orange SIM could work. She apparently got laughter from the staff, which was really nasty to Deb. On the other hand, we got a dramatically different reception in the SFR shop. They sold me an excellent package with a lot of data. Unfortunately they didn’t have any SIM cards they could sell to Deb for her phone because they only had micro-SIMs available. The SFR man we worked with was really sorry, and even offered to walk over to another store and get the right card for her, and offered her the key to the employee bathroom. Nice guys there, and again helped save our impression of the people we were visiting!

Montpellier, France

Emerging grape clusters, Botanical Gardens, Montpellier

With the internet at least on my phone, we hustled back to the hotel to hop on the airport shuttle to pick up our rental car. It turned out that this is a public bus which would depart in about a half hour from the Esplanade de l’Europe, which was about a twenty minute walk from the hotel down to the river. We decided we could make it before the next bus, so we hoofed it to the bus stop. We shouldn’t have rushed – we ended up waiting quite a while before the driver appeared and opened his bus for passengers.

We were trying to move quickly to the airport to get our car, because we had scheduled to pick up the rental at 10:30AM and it was past that time.  We needn’t have worried. I called Hertz and told them we were running late and they said it was fine. We had a previous experience of being late for a rental in Koln and getting a lecture for it, so we were trying to avoid that.

Montpellier, France

Cactus collection, Botanical Gardens, Montpellier

Our rental car in France was a Volkswagon Polo, a so-called “green” car. This little guy was quite new, diesel fueled with manual transmission, and no spare tire! Instead of a spare, it had a can of gas for blowing up a flat tire, to save on the weight.

We drove our little Polo back to the Mercure and stashed it in the underground parking lot for the hotel.  Ready for the next part of our epic journey!

For the rest of the day, we spent time wandering through the Place Royal du Payrou, a lovely little park bounded on one side with an Arc de Triomphe and on the other with a Roman aqueduct, and with a statue of Louis the 14th on horseback in the middle.

Montpellier, France

She just seemed to be posing for a photo

Just north of the park is the Jardin des Plantes, a lovely botanical garden. This is not my usual kind of site, but the gardens date back to the 1500s and have sections devoted to different plant types, statues and so on. It seems like the style of gardens in France seem to be let go a little wilder than I’m used to in other places, but it looked very nice.

Montpellier, France

Once we got near closing time for the garden, we wandered through the old town, goggling at the massive cathedral and soaking in the town’s feel. My plan had been for us to go to a restaurant I had visited the previous trip, Le Ciralou, but unfortunately it was closed I suspect due to the holiday. Instead we walked to a recommended place from our Lonely Planet guidebook, “Les Bains de Montpellier” which was built in the old public baths. Some of the private dining rooms were private bathing rooms. We dined in the courtyard with threat of rain and cold, but had a marvelous time.

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