OK so we’ve been here for just over 3 months, that’s just about enough time for us to start settling in and getting to know our way around the city. We obviously don’t look like new arrivals anymore as amazingly, we find more and more often, people are asking us for directions and questions in regard to tourism etc.! These poor lost and confused souls must see something in the way we saunter confidently around the streets and think we look like an integral part of Montpellier, even more amazing is that we normally know the answer to their questions!! (I’ve done a lot of googling since we’ve been here) Maybe I should get a job at the Tourist information office!
There were so many things that absolutely delighted, shocked, amused and disappointed me when we first arrived, I think the only way I can even begin to write about these is by tackling them one by one!! (the good and the not so good) This could take a while so I will set myself the task of facing each these subjects for my following blogs. I’ll intersperse the posts with (hopefully relevant) photos in the hope that I won’t bore you to death.
So the very first thing we noticed on arrival was the heat! We drove down from the Dordogne and it was pretty much unbearable, we were having to stop every 30 minutes to an hour to let the dog out for some fresh air and to douse him with water!! But we were excited, another chapter in our lives was about to unfurl and we were eager to reach our new destination and so we took the rough journey in our stride.
Our first impression of Montpellier wasn’t the best, we had rented an apartment from a friend, we had no idea where it was, what it was like,, whether it was furnished, was it in a pleasant area etc., we were just pleased to get somewhere solid after having been in a motorhome for nearly a year and then spending a good while in a flimsy chalet on a campsite in the Dordogne! A real building made of bricks was going to be a real treat!
We had instructions to drive to a lady’s house and she would take us to the apartment. We arrived late afternoon in the heat, we had a car crammed to overflowing full of belongings and squeezed in amongst it all was our 15 year old dog, Charlie. The lady was friendly and welcoming, she explained that due to the ‘complicated’ system in Montpellier (more on that later!), we would have to leave our car in her garage. She suggested we take what we would need for the night and we would then walk to the apartment. Easier said than done, we had a mish-mash of belongings in the car and in the roof top box, we literally just grabbed a couple of things, t-shirts, toiletry bag, dog food, dog water and food bowl, camera and I honestly think that was it. We started the walk … to this day, I don’t know how Charlie managed it, bless him, he was absolutely shattered. We were all totally exhausted from the long drive down, the constant stops for watering and cooling down and now we found ourselves following a total stranger (who walked extremely fast) through the narrow streets and alleyways of a foreign city! It appeared to be shabby, smelly and very, very hot.
The last road we walked up was a very steep cobbled street, I thought I would have to carry Charlie!! We approached a heavy door which swung open onto an inner hall which was dark and cool after the heat from outside. We entered the flat, which, too, was dark due to all the shutters being closed. It was difficult to have a first impression when we couldn’t even see it. We stood rooted to the spot, in the dim light for fear of walking into a wall or piece of furniture, while the lady nipped from one room to another throwing the shutters open. Little by little shafts of sunlight flooded into the room, revealing a large living area.
We signed the lease and the lady left her telephone number (should we have a problem) and the keys to the flat and briskly left! We stood in the cool dining-room. The exhaustion, the heat and the unknown had taken it out of us. We were shell shocked, I can only think that we must have looked like some poor, dishevelled and dumbfounded souls. We didn’t even have the energy to talk. We set about sorting out Charlie, he was our priority, he was shattered and we needed to settle him and get him comfortable, by giving him some fresh water and finding a cool place for him to recover.
We wandered around the flat, it was huge, about 100 square metres, three massive bedrooms, a large lounge/dining area, a small kitchen, a bathroom and another loo. Well, we had plenty of space, that was for sure, it was a slight upgrade on the motorhome to say the least. The floor of the flat had large, stone slabs which I think have probably saved Charlie’s life, had it been carpet I think he would’ve cooked!!
I can’t remember what we ate that night, did we cook? did we go out shopping? I have no idea, but I do remember how wonderful it was to have a cold shower – in fact I think I had three that evening! I also remember looking out of the front window on to the square and seeing this impressive church. We slept really well and the next morning we were ready to take on the town!
I mentioned the ‘complicated’ system in Montpellier. OK try and follow me if you can. The flat is in the historic centre of the city, this area is called the ‘Ecusson’. The Ecusson is a maze of tiny, narrow (and I mean really narrow) streets and alleyways. All streets that enter The Ecusson, have motorised bollards so unless you have authorisation you CANNOT enter with a vehicle. These bollards are lowered between 4am and 10am, do bear in mind that most shops open at 10am in France! Anyone wanting to enter The Ecusson has to get a special permit to enter. And we had a car parked in someone’s garage, we weren’t quite sure where we’d left it, and all our belongings were in the car! Also Montpellier is building a new tram line, there are endless road works, one way streets and diversions. You can only imagine how I felt, if we were going to rely on that stupid Sat Nav lady … not my favourite person at the best of times, how she was going to cope with this was a mystery. I’m glad to report she stayed in her box and “i” took over!!
Where on earth were we going to park the car? No parking in The Ecusson, and we couldn’t leave the car in the lady’s garage, she needed it herself. So our first challenge when we arrived here was to sort out the car. We found an underground car park, not too far from the flat, and for the princely sum of 150 Euros a month, it is parked up safely. “What a rip off!” I hear you scream, well yes, but what can you do? Montpellier isn’t car friendly, and I must say now that I’ve been here for a while I say good job too, it would be better if we didn’t have to pay but for me it’s worth it. It’s such a pleasure walking, or cycling around and the tram system here is cheap, clean and incredibly efficient, not to mention air-conditioned! I haven’t even tried the buses yet.
We had arrived slap bang at the beginning of a heat-wave. Despite the excitement of arriving in a new and exciting place, it actually made our life incredibly uncomfortable. I’m a northerner and therefore my body is not built to cope with the southern heat! I certainly had a problem with my thermostat which of course is already on the blink due to my age – you know what I mean ladies!!
There were two distinct occasions when I had a ‘malaise’ due to the heat, one of which was simply walking across the esplanade at Place de La Comedie, which is a huge pedestrianised area where the ground is pale, shiny marble, I hadn’t walked more than 15 minutes and ended up desperately searching for shade, the hubster had to go and find water, my temples were pumping. my fingers were swollen. ,my tongue was stuck to the top of my mouth and I had no more saliva, I could feel my knees were going to give way at any moment. I honestly thought I would pass out. What amazed me was at the speed the dreadful feeling came over me and how long it took to fade.
We had been given bikes to get around the city, and we found that it was almost impossible to cycle in the heat, it was just unbearable. I found quite a good solution, before leaving the house I would soak an old cotton scarf in cold water, wring it out just a bit and wear it around my shoulders as we visited the city, it was my very own Air-conditioning unit! It was particularly effective when zipping downhill! It was either that or leave the house at 6 in the morning to avoid the heat!
I’m not a lover of water but I became a waterholic, I don’t think I’ve ever drunk so much in my life! But what goes in must come out, I would like to say that I perspired delicately but I’m afraid I sweated like a builder, drips off the end of my nose, rivers running down my neck and hair stuck to the nape of my neck and my forehead, this was the look I was going to have for quite a while, not a good look I can assure you. The worst of it all was seeing people down here, who, even though complained about the heat weren’t sweating, honestly, what was I doing wrong? I looked a wreck!
The idea of going and topping up my suntan was out of the question, I couldn’t even contemplate a couple of hours on a beach, I’d have come back looking like a lobster. We resorted to spending a lot of time indoors, with the shutters closed, sitting in the dark, me draped with a wet cloth, I avoided any movement of any kind for fear of melting, walking from one room to another was like an Olympic challenge.
Having an elderly dog at this time was as difficult as it could be. Poor Charlie, it was unbearable for him, he no longer wanted to walk or eat and we were unable to take him anywhere in the car, it was just too hot for him. I have no idea how he felt but I can only imagine after all he is wearing a fur coat. One day we decided late evening to go to the beach as the sun was going down but it was still incredibly warm, the hubster went to get the car and I walked with Charlie to the end of the road, where we could lift him into the back seat. I arrived before the hubster and was stood waiting with the dog in the shade, I couldn’t understand why Charlie was so fidgety, he wouldn’t sit down, he wouldn’t lie down, fortunately it didn’t take me long to realise that the pavement was so hot he couldn’t stand still, I moved to the base of the tree where there was some scrubby mud/sand and Charlie stood there, still not happy but at least he wasn’t burning his paws. By the time we got to the beach, the sun was setting and thanks to high dunes at the rear of the beach, the sand was cool and shady and Charlie loved it.
I’m glad to report we survived the heat wave and it is now getting distinctly cooler, first thing in the morning and of course the evenings and night times are chilly. one thing that is fantastic is we still have wonderful blue skies and the daytime temperature is easily 23 – 25 degrees so still extremely pleasant, a little bit of summer still hanging on!
I think my next blog will probably be entitled ‘Noise’!! There’s quite a lot of it here in The Ecusson!! There is always something happening, there isn’t one day that goes by that I don’t see something that makes me smile. This morning, as I threw open the shutters, my dream!!! A photographer taking photos of this couple dancing … pure magic.
I mean seriously, I don’t think I ever woke up to something like this in the UK!!