Wednesday, April 8, 2009

In Montpellier

We woke in good time and had a pleasant breakfast in the hotel breakfast room--cafe au lait and baguette with butter and jam--before taking a walk around the city of Palavas. A cold day, with the hint of rain in the air, but only a very few, sparse drops of the wet stuff. Right behind our hotel, we found a busy street market with everything from meats to fruits and vegetables, and a few stalls with the kind of hand-made jewelry and leather goods you find almost everywhere in the world. We found a pharmacy, where I managed to put a few words of my very rusty French into practice, and strolled on down the quai-side where fishermen were selling their fresh catch; and stopped, on the way back to the hotel, at the little church of St. Pierre and another saint, whose name has slipped my mind, but whose enbalmed body we found in a glass casket near the back of the aisle. A somewhat gruesome reminder of that idolatry I find so foreign in the Catholic religion.

Matthew and family arrived to pick us up at eleven at the Hotel Le Brasilia. We spotted them from our balcony, and they us: here's the picture...


We joined them in their rented minivan and drove on t the outskirts of Montpellier. Rather than hassle the traffic in the city center, Matthew had wisely decided to take advantage of the excellent park-and-tram system to get into town, and after a short wait our spotless, colorful transportation arrived.. Here we are, boarding...


... and arriving at the city center in light rain...

From the tram stop, we walked up to the Place de la Comedie--its name taken from the elaborate theater at one end of the plaza, where now the opera company performs an ambitious repertory--and down a narrow street to the restaurant Diane had chosen for our lunch: the Brasserie au Theatre, or some such name. A fine restaurant, rather more elegant than we felt. Awaiting our meal, we spent a good while decorating the paper table coverings with the children. I taught Joe and Alice the game of "Boxes," while Georgie, up the other end of the table, composed sweet poems to Ellie and her mother. An excellent lunch, polished off for the most part with relish--and not the Heinz variety.

After lunch, we resumed our walk through narrow streets of old Montpellier, pausing at one small square with a church on one side and, on the other, a large building with a marvelous trompe l'oeil painting covering its entire facade: here are a couple of our "real" kids having fun with the larger, painted ones...


The city center of Montpellier is a maze of tiny. medieval streets...



... with everywhere wonderful small details to catch the eye...








The city also boast a good number of major public squares with grandiose buildings--churches and palaces--like this ancient medical school...


where Nostradamus studied. Montpellier, of course, has been famous as a center of medecine for many centuries, a tradition that continues to this day. Inside the reception hall of this building, we discovered lists of literally thousands in a single medical class, ordered numerically for their success in the qualifying exam. Interesting to note that numbers one and two--along with several of the high numbers, were women--something that would not have been likely fifty years ago, let alone five hundred. We progress. Too slowly, it seems sometimes. But we do progress.

Here's a view of the statue of Louis XIV, the rio soleil, whose Latin inscription Matthew and I spent some idle moments trying to interpret--I from my schoolboy Latin, even rustier that my French--he from his knowledge of language and etymology; and of the Montpellier Arc dde Trimophe. Behind is, in this picture, is the ancient Roman aqueduct, still in a great state of preservation--but unfortunately much obscured by a city restoration project...


A couple of other views of the city, this time more likely nineteenth century, I thought. It's great to be in a city where, from block to block, you can traverse ten centuries in a couple of hours' stroll!



We stopped, in the afternoon, for a cup of coffee and pastries at a sidewalk cafe, served by one of those angry French women who have little patience with tourists and are content to let it show. Snippy.

By this time everyone, notably me, was getting a bit tired, so we headed back slowly toward our tram stop. Here's Georgie with a purple balloon she found along the way...


... and Joe, on a final stop at the end of the day, enjoying a well-deserved carousel ride before we reached the tram.


Returning from our day-long expedition to the city, we enjoyed another buffet supper at Helena and Leslie's before returning to our hotel for a bit of blogging (this bit) and a read in bed.

3 comments:

robin andrea said...

It's beautiful there, peter. You really capture a sense of those city streets. The painting behind the kids is magnificent.

pix-a-daisy said...

Wow, what an unexpected treat! Thanks for sharing your trip. Tell Matt, "Hi" for me!

PeterAtLarge said...

Apologies to readers who caught this in a sketchy state. I posted it last night before its due--I guess I was too tired to find the right button. Hope you'll check out the finished version!