07.12.2019 - 07.30.2019
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.
It also has one of the most unique cathedrals we've seen.
And it has a zoo - for better or worse.
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...
And I'll let this one speak for itself!
All in all, we really enjoyed southern France but it's not on the candidate list for somewhere to stay longer.
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.
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.
And unlike many monuments, this one is still used. They were setting up for a concert while we were there.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Then the cars come through with the support teams, and finally the riders.
About three hours later, we made our way over to the finish line.
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.
It's also home to a large bird sanctuary where there are flocks of Greater Flamingos.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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!
The road circles around the mountain called Pic Saint-Loup. It was so interesting to see it from so many different angles.
We drove through the cutest villages, one even having its market day.
We visited the remote Chapelle D'Aleyrac, a chapel plopped down in the middle of the vineyards.
It was a beautiful day and we even stopped for a small picnic complete with wine with a view and a fun house mirror.
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.