A Travellerspoint blog

July 2019

Nîmes, the Camargue, and Pic St Loup


View 2019 on mrb430's travel map.

We're sitting in the Paris Orly airport with a few hours to kill so it's time to update you on our sightseeing from Montpellier. Truthfully, I haven't written much this month because it's been a month of not doing much. For us, France was all about relaxing and just living life. There are a number of reasons for this: France is expensive so the usual eating out and carousing were limited, Montpellier not being a tourist town there aren't many touristy things to do, and the simple pleasures can easily fill your day.

A FEW THOUGHTS ON FRANCE

We did get a good feel for France, I think, in our month stay. And there are all the normal things you'd expect, great food, surly service, and a beauty to the towns and landscape not seen in many other places. But there are also things we found strange. For instance, technologically France is far behind Spain. Their cellular service has awful coverage, very few places offer free WiFi, and where there is WiFi it's pretty poor. There is a dearth of useable information for travel such as integrated apps for buses, trams, and bikes. The French really need to learn the meaning of "the last mile". They have maps of bus routes but they don't name the stops just put a dot on the map, the bus route schedules have the stop names but no address to find them on the map, and there's no real-time data about arrivals. The tram system is totally separate so using it is a whole other adventure. I will say the trams have a pretty good app, though. When searching for a regional train, the search brings back limited results and it's only when you enter the purchasing of the ticket that all of the trains become visible. And don't even get me started on the bike rentals. They have a bike program with bikes in many places around the city but finding them and using them is haphazard. I could go on and on but we got spoiled in Spain where all of this was readily and easily accessible.

France is also the first place we've been where a prescription is required for basic medications. When I needed a refill the pharmacy pointed me to a doctor across the street who could write the prescription. For about $30, I met with her for five minutes while she wrote out the scripts. No exam. It reminded me of when we first got here and I had to go to a plastic surgeon instead of a dermatologist because the latter can't do surgery. Professions and roles in the community are very segregated and defined. The idea that one person may serve several functions seems very foreign in France. I suppose it maintains job security but it is very inefficient (says the American).

Of course this latter issue is what makes shopping and cooking a fun activity. Go to the butcher for your meat, the poultry lady for your chicken, the fruits and veggies lady for those, the cheese guy for that, the bakery for your bread, the grocery store for other staples. We spent many mornings after our walk putting together ingredients for the days meals. And I did a ton of home cooking. Having the freshest ingredients really made that a pleasure.

Montpellier also has a very interesting mix of the old and new. The Port Marianne section, is full of modern architecture that's very pleasing and interesting. If we lived here, we'd live in this section.
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It also has one of the most unique cathedrals we've seen.
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And it has a zoo - for better or worse.
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And two things I have to throw in for Scott. In French, I guess, "hotel" translates to more than just a lodging. As in Hotel de Ville, which translates to city hall, or...
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And I'll let this one speak for itself!
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All in all, we really enjoyed southern France but it's not on the candidate list for somewhere to stay longer.

NÎMES

Begun in Roman times, Nîmes is a beautiful city with lots to see. Unlike Montpellier, it has a lot of greenery and a very large park designed in a Romantic style that reminded us of Sintra. It has fountains and squares among its small streets that make it feel very open and well planned.
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The most famous site is the Arena de Nîmes, one of the largest of the Roman amphitheaters and incredibly well preserved. Touring its hallways and the passageways and rooms below it is fascinating. After the fall of the empire, it actually turned into a sort of mini-town with buildings and even a mansion built into it. This has all been removed now.
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And unlike many monuments, this one is still used. They were setting up for a concert while we were there.large_IMG_1663.JPG

The other major attraction from the Roman period is the Maison Carrée, originally a temple. It had an amazing history of uses including private home for awhile.
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The highlight for me though were the Quais and Gardens de la Fontaine. Built around the natural spring that fed water to the city, they are a beautiful place to walk and relax right in the heart of the city.
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At the top of the garden is the Tour Magne, the last remaining tower from the extensive wall that surrounded Nîmes. The views from the top were awesome.
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TOUR DE FRANCE

We returned to Nîmes a few days later after learning the Tour de France was going to do a loop from there. It was really fun and we enjoyed spending another day in the city. It starts out a few hours before the race with the "Caravan" coming through giving out hats and t-shirts, all kinds of other give aways, and periodically spraying the crowd with water to keep us cool as it was very hot!
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Then the cars come through with the support teams, and finally the riders.
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About three hours later, we made our way over to the finish line.
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THE CAMARGUE

From Wikipedia:

With an area of over 930 km2 (360 sq mi), the Camargue is western Europe's largest river delta. It is a vast plain comprising large brine lagoons or étangs, cut off from the sea by sandbars and encircled by reed-covered marshes. These are in turn surrounded by a large cultivated area.

The delta of the Rhone river where it empties into the Med, it's a beautiful and wild area. Grapes and rice are grown here and black bulls and white horses. There are huge salt flats and the Baleine Salt Works.
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It's also home to a large bird sanctuary where there are flocks of Greater Flamingos.
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Aigues-Morte
We stopped in Aigues-Mortes, built in the 1200's and one of the few towns where the walls of the entire city remain intact. Rising from the marshes, it is quite a sight and well worth a visit.
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Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer
A small beach town at the very end of the road, this cute little town has a church that you can climb up onto the top of for views around town and out to the sea. There is a small arena here where they still do the French version of bull fighting in which the bulls are not killed (just tormented).
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Espiguette Beach
Le Grau-du-Roi, another small beach town near Aigues-Morte boasts the best beach in the area and it did not disappoint. It is backed by large dunes and is very unspoilt.
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We spent a lovely afternoon soaking up the sun before heading into town to see the canal side shops and restaurants and then home. It was a great day and fun to have the freedom of a car for the day.
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PIC SAINT-LOUP

Our last tour before we left was of the Pic Saint-Loup winery region. We found a tour through Air BnB's local guides service and couldn't resist it when we saw we'd be chauffeured around this beautiful loop road in an antique Citroën 2CV!
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The road circles around the mountain called Pic Saint-Loup. It was so interesting to see it from so many different angles.
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We drove through the cutest villages, one even having its market day.
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We visited the remote Chapelle D'Aleyrac, a chapel plopped down in the middle of the vineyards.
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It was a beautiful day and we even stopped for a small picnic complete with wine with a view and a fun house mirror.
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Our "chauffeur" Christian made the day so special with his love of the area and of his car. If you ever get a chance, look him up!

Well almost time to board. Stay tuned for Croatia! And follow us on InstGram @arrradventures.

Posted by mrb430 03:09 Archived in France Comments (0)

Finding Moderation in Montpellier


View 2019 on mrb430's travel map.

Its' been awhile since I wrote about our life and not just our adventures. Today the mood has taken me so read on if you're interested or skip to the end for our most recent day trip to Sète.

The saying "everything in moderation" is originally attributed to the Greek poet Hesiod (c.700 bc), "observe due measure; moderation is best in all things", and of the Roman comic dramatist Plautus (c.250–184 bc), "moderation in all things is the best policy."

But I prefer Oscar Wilde: “Everything in moderation, including moderation.”

SETTING A NEW PACE

I can't speak for Scott but upon leaving the constant party that was Mexico, Colombia, Panama, and Honduras, I was looking for a little more moderation. (Scott definitely exhibits more tolerance for the party life!) Alas, as fate would have it, our arrival in Spain (see A Long, Strange Trip to Malaga) and our subsequent month in Malaga (see Living Like a Local in Malaga) continued the party and shifted our waking hours to accommodate it. After basically writing off a month in Portugal, we've arrived here in Montpellier and have found a place not only tolerant of moderation but encouraging of it. Add to this that Scott started off our stay here sick, which kept us in from the party for a few more days and meant we weren't drinking at all, and you have the makings of a new moderated pace of life.

As I've said many times in this blog, we do cafes a lot better than we do tourism. We enjoy whiling away days sitting outside or in our apartment reading, researching, and just being quiet. And I can literally spend hours sitting on our balcony watching the people walk up and down our little street. We've been doing a lot of that here and it's giving us time to reflect on this life we've chosen, why we chose it, why we keep doing it, and why we like it. Of course our reasons are not all the same but for both of us the anonymity of travel is enticing.

I'm currently reading a book called, of all things, The Tourist by Olen Steinhauer. It's an okay spy novel but I was struck but the author's forward in which he writes that he'd been...

"...living in that tenuous non-place where many expatriate exist. It's neither the home you've left behind, nor an adopted culture - instead, it's somewhere in between: a country of the mind, in which English is the national language, the...buildings are an outdoor museum made just for you, and because of your disconnection from the culture, you can arrange your daily details pretty much as you'd like.
It's a world without roots, carrying within it all of the pros and cons this suggests...the rootlessness of the expat felt like a powerful thing to possess. I knew that at any moment, if necessary, I could disappear. Therein lies freedom."

That pretty much sums it up. It is the ultimate freedom but it comes from/with a certain disconnectedness from the world around you. We enjoy this anonymity but we also offset it by being together, by making each place we land our "home", however briefly, and by reaching out and making acquaintances when we need the human connection of others.

We like letting the currents of life guide us rather than fighting those currents to reach a destination. In other words, we arrange the daily details of our life as we like. We wake when we wake, we go to bed when we're tired, we eat when we're hungry, and yes, we party when we want to get out. We go to the beach if we need sun, we take a day trip when we're antsy (that's me usually), and we find the Irish Pub when we need company.

But it's been hard to maintain healthy routines. Neither of us gravitate to a healthy lifestyle naturally, when arranging our daily details these usually get left out! Looking back at our younger selves when we met, we are showing our age in our 50's. Part of this is natural and part of it can be addressed as we continue to move forward.

We're constantly talking about the big "what's next" and the truth is we still don't know. For now, we like being expats and making our home in a different place every month or so. We reaffirmed while in Portugal that we don't like to be on the move too often but prefer to spend more time between moves. So will we extend our time in a single place beyond a month? Will we do a six months on, six months off type year? Do we want more connectedness? These are all ideas and questions.

REFLECTING ON SERENDIPITY

And here my reflections on Serendipity come into play. If you've been with us for awhile, you may recall a post almost a year ago today on this topic. (On Serendipity, Transitions, and Cadeau) Saturday it will be a year since we lost our Boo and, in addition to thinking about her, I've been thinking about Serendipity. When you let life take you on it's own course, you end up where you need to be.

WHY MONTPELLIER?

Because moderation comes naturally here and a healthier lifestyle is easy.

CAFE CULTURE IS ABOUT SITTING OUTSIDE WITH FRIENDS
It is not, necessarily, about drinking. It's unusual for the French to drink more than a glass of wine or a spritzer during the day. There are Salons de Thé (tea salons) everywhere, all of the cafes have long lists of hot and cold drinks that are not alcoholic, and just sitting for an hour over a Perrier is totally normal. Notice the iconic green bottles on the tables of the cafe behind Scott.
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Add to this the French trait of not rushing customers off and you can enjoy sitting without feeling pressured to "order another". It doesn't hurt that a Perrier is typically about four Euros and a cocktail as much as twelve! So drinking in moderation seems less like a decision and more just the normal course of events.

EATING OUT IS EXPENSIVE!
At first, I thought with all of the prepared foods and cafes on every corner, we'd never eat at home. But given the combination of amazing ingredients, the relatively cheap cost of fresh groceries compared to eating out, and my love of cooking, we've been eating home more than expected. Smaller portions and meals is a direct result. Add to this that it's hot, which makes us want to eat less anyway, and moderation in our eating is just natural.

THE BUILDINGS ARE AN OUTDOOR MUSEUM MADE JUST FOR US
The Écusson neighborhood, the historic center, where we are staying is one of the largest pedestrianized zones in Europe. Strolling the narrow streets rewards around every corner with another plaza full of cafes and beautiful buildings. large_5bb32ec0-a3d2-11e9-a018-a359fbf00f17.JPG.

Almost every morning we head out in a different direction for a walk before it gets too hot. Another by-product of not eating out much is not having a couple of cocktails and a bottle of wine with dinner so we are getting to bed earlier and, yes, getting up earlier. Naturally. Today we decided to follow the aqueduct to see where it went. On the way we passed Montpellier's Arc de Triomphe and the Saint-Clément Aqueduct then followed the aqueduct up into the hills.
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So getting exercise, rather than a chore to be suffered, is just a natural part of our day.

SÉTE IS JUST A DAY TRIP AWAY
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The beautiful town of Séte is the terminus of the famous Canal du Midi completed in 1681 to link the Atlantic to the Mediterranean and is only a 20 minute train ride south of Montpellier. It is full of canals, boats, and lighthouses.
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It has a huge street market and is bustling with people, both foreign and domestic tourists.
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Séte is also famous for water jousting. From Wikipedia:

Water jousting is a sport practised principally in France and also Switzerland and Germany. It is a form of jousting where the adversaries, carrying a lance and protected only by a shield, stand on a platform on the stern of a boat. The boat is propelled by oarsmen or, in some cases, a motor may be used. The aim of the sport is to send the adversary into the water whilst maintaining one's own balance on the platform.

While in Séte we happened upon youngsters from the water jousting school of Séte getting in some practice. Really fun to watch. I imagine the professionals are really fun.
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IS THERE A DOWN SIDE TO MONTPELLIER?

We miss being at the beach when it's this hot. While Montpellier's beaches are, strictly speaking, accessible by public transportation, in reality it's a pretty long trek. Add to that there are no services except at private beach clubs where you have to reserve your chair in advance and the prices are exorbitant and, really, there are no services. But they are pretty so I'm sure we'll go a few times.

We may end up back at Séte, too, as the beach there is easier to get to and really lovely.
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And as Serendipity would have it, our next stop of Split, Croatia is "all about the beach"! But first stay tuned for two more tranquil weeks in Montpellier. And don't forget to follow us @arrradventures on Instagram.

Posted by mrb430 04:59 Archived in France Comments (1)

Magnificent Montpellier


View 2019 on mrb430's travel map.

We left Porto and flew to Montpellier, France Monday and our moods improved immediately. It's warm, hot even, sunny, and beautiful. It's oddly comfortable even though we don't have air conditioning and we're in the middle of a record heat wave. Well, we all know we like it hot.

We are staying in the Écusson neighborhood, the historic center. It's more narrow, winding streets and huge medieval walls and homes.
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But these are lined with Fromageries, Boulangeries, Patisseries, and fruit and vegetable vendors instead of Tapas bars like Spain.
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We have a huge French doors that open to our small balconies and overlook the tiny Rue de L'Ancien Corrier. Musicians regularly set up beneath our window and play jazz. Jazz is not our thing and yet as I type this we are listing to French Cafe Lounge on Spotify. It's just somehow right here. (BTW try it out if you have Spotify - it's pretty cool.)
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Just around the corner are cafes.
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And at the top of the street is Halles Castellane. Our beautiful market. Not as big as our market in Spain but much more prepared food! I will not be cooking much here I don't think!
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Ok, I admit it. I'm a francophile. There is just something about this country. The food, the wine, and the beautiful language. Portuguese was like sandpaper on our ears and French is like honey. In addition, the people are warm and friendly (yes, I said warm and friendly). Much more than the Spaniards were even though I don't speak the language (I'm trying madly to learn however).

We are looking forward to exploring the Languedoc, the Camargue, eating shellfish, and going to the beach. Have a feeling it's going to be a good month. After the Portugal debacle, we are ready!

UPDATE ON SCOTT
For those following Instagram or who read the last entry, you will know Scott got sick on our cruise on the Douro. After a visit to a clinic in Porto and again here in Montpellier, (fingers crossed) he is finally on the mend. We don't yet know what it was as we are waiting on test results but the doctors here gave him some medicine that seems to be working. For the first day in TWELVE DAYS, he was able to really get out and about for awhile and his energy and appetite are coming back.

Interesting side note on insurance/healthcare costs abroad. We use Cigna Global for our health insurance and they have many direct-bill clinics so in Portugal we paid "nothing". In Montpellier, they don't have an affiliation with any out-patient clinics so we paid out-of-pocket and will be reimbursed. That gave us insight into the costs (US dollars).

Private ER consultation with IV fluids and anti nausea meds: $85.19
Full Blood Workup and fecal tests (for bacteria and parasites): $166.49
Sonogram: $61.24

Also, I went to see a plastic surgeon (dermatologists can't do surgery in France) about a cyst that may need to be removed (it doesn't). I got in the same day and it cost $90.70.

The idea that the US has the best healthcare in the world is an unbelievable fraud. I can't even imagine what two visits to the "ER", diagnostic tests, and treatment would have cost us but I know it would have been more than $320. Oh and his meds were under $10.

Well just a quick update now but stay tuned. July is gonna be fun! Happy 4th to all those back home. Hope you have a great holiday.

Make sure to follow us @arrradventures on Instagram for more updates.

Posted by mrb430 11:30 Archived in France Comments (0)

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