Sunday, September 24, 2017

Montpellier

After a lovely stay in Toulouse, I hoofed my way out of town to the train station to catch an afternoon train to Montpellier.  The ride was beautiful, across verdant fields and valleys of the Occitanie region. I spied windmills upon windmills, and knew I was in the right direction.

I arrived in the evening to Montpellier to stay with a SERVAS family, Olivier and Agnes.  SERVAS is an organization of which I am a member.  It's mission is as such: Servas is a non-profit membership organization that fosters understanding of cultural diversity through a global, person-to-person network promoting a more just and peaceful world.  In practice, it means that I can access the vast network of SERVAS to do a homestay cultural exchange for two days in most places all around the world.  This would be my second stay with a SERVAS family, after a lovely sojourn in Cologne, Germany.

I was to arrive to the Montpellier station to meet Agnes' brother, who would then take his wife and me to my host's place just outside of town.  We were supposed to meet at the boulangerie Paul at the train station.  I arrived as planned, and waited in front of the Paul.  And waited, looking for someone who might be looking for me.  But no one seemed to fit the bill, and no one I approached was the person I was looking for.  I sent my hosts a note via email, and waited about half an hour before I looked in the distance across the station...and saw another Paul.  Sure enough, Dennis was waiting there for me.  We laughed about it, headed over to grab his wife--a lovely Canadian named Lynne and we all headed over to my host's house.

We had a lovely apero (a drink/appetizer) as we chatted in greetings.  Olivier had actually lived in Morocco as a boy--his father had been an engineer in Port Lyautey (now known as Mohammedia). Given the Moroccan connection, his wife made a delicious tajine of beef and quince.  It was a delicious meal and a great start to the homestay.

I slept well and awoke to the wonderful vista from Olivier and Agnes' house across the valley into Montpellier.  We had a delicious breakfast of rustic bread toasted with butter and confiture, and little bowls of coffee.

After breakfast, we headed down to the Mediterranean to the beach town of Palavas.  Olivier and Agnes were part of a boat-share so we got to take their boat out on the sea.  It was a perfect day to do it, the heat was mild and the sea was calm.  We puttered out on the motor our of the docks and onto the open Mediterranean seas.  We had a delicious lunch of poulet roti with a sharp dijon mustard, followed by some comte cheese and then apples.  All polished off with a nice red wine.

After lunch, the winds started to pick up so we unfurled the sails and headed skimming off along the waves.  The sea was calm and the tranquil breeze made everything perfect.  I even got to steer the ship for a while (Watch the CAP!).


After a lovely day on the high seas, we made our way back to port and put the ship back in its harbor.

We then made our way into the city of Montpellier for a tour of the quaint city.  Montpellier is a mid-sized French city, brimming with lots of life from its universities and medical schools in the city.  We walked through the heart of the city, La Place de La Comedie with its classical architecture.  There were all sorts of people out for an evening stroll amid the performers and buskers.  Olivier and Agnes took me through the narrow lanes of the city, past all sorts of churches and mansions.  We made our way up through the city's Arc de Triomphe and over to the lovely Place Royale du Peyrou--a giant garden area atop the city with a stellar view into the valley below past a giant aqueduct.  Louis XVI had declared that no building could be higher than the place so that there would be a beautiful expansive view across the valley.

We made our way back through the town and past the old Jewish Quarter, and grabbed a beer at a lively bar that was packed in the early evening.  After a pint, we headed back to their home for dinner. "It's nothing gastronomic," they said; I laughed, as gazpacho, rustic artisanal bread and pungent cheese, followed by pears and chocolate struck me as pretty gourmand.  They had some roquefort cheese from the source that almost brought a tear to my eye it was so good.

The short stay with Olivier and Agnes was really special.  They were consummate hosts, and we had a great time talking about the world and present politics.  And it was a boon to my French skills to have to converse the whole time in French.  It was a really wonderful cultural and linguistic class tied up in a lovely homestay.  I am truly grateful for the wonderful experience and opportunity to stay with such lovely folks.

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