Our appointment with the OFII is tomorrow morning and, not wanting to be late for it, we decided to send the night in Montpellier……so we packed up, filled Felix’s food dish to the brim and headed out.
Trucks, on their weekly migration, were out in full force so our drive wasn’t as pleasant as it was last week….but we made good time and arrived in a little over an hour. We tried to follow the hotel’s directions to the nearest parking lot…..at Place de Comedie. Quite apropos, because finding it was a comedy of errors.
We thought we had carefully followed the signage directing us to the parking structure…. but we found ourselves at the entrance to a pedestrian only area. After circling around a couple of different ways, we finally entered the deep recesseses of the underground parking lot. We have a Peugeot 207…..the only thing smaller (besides a Smart Car) is a Peugeot 107…..but we had to pull the mirrors in before Craig could back the car into the narrow area that’s considered a parking space.
Volila! After a few tries, Craig finally found a safe haven for the car and we were in an elevator heading to the Place de Comedie…..the main plaza in Montpellier.
The glass elevator rose up and stopped right on the plaza. As the door opened, we felt like we had been beamed down from the Starship Enterprise. Exiting the elevator, we walked into a people-friendly plaza bordered by a tree-lined esplanade and the most beautiful buildings this side of Paris. We found our hotel, the Hotel d’Aragon, down a quiet side street. The hotel has twelve rooms….each named after a French writer. An attractive young man checked us in and led us up two flights of stairs to our room, “Sade”……named after the Marquis de Sade…..evidently known in these parts for his literary prowess.
By European standards, it was a large room…..we could walk around the bed! It came equipped with internet access, a netbook, a flat-screen television boasting 400 channels and a “hydrojet” shower. As nice as these amenites were, we were anxious to explore a little bit of this city that had confounded us during each and every visit.
We were soon off exploring, with a city map and a restaurant recommendation in hand. It was 5:30 and the plaza was just coming to life…..office workers and college students were filling the cafés with merry chatter, children were laughing as they rode a cheerful carousel and a nearby fountain played counterpoint to musicians strumming guitars. The vitality, the spirit of the town permeated the air around us.
On a whim, we hopped on the Petit Train….a cute, little tourist trap…..for a ride through the historic center of Montpellier. During the 45 minute trek, we passed historic buildings whose stunning architecture featured larger than life carved figures, a beautiful park shaded by rows of leafy, green plane trees, narrow alleys filled with tempting shops and small plazas with open-air cafés and contented patrons The more we saw, the more we liked this city of 250,000 inhabitants. It reminded us of Venice…..without the water.
It was almost 7:00 when the Petit Train pulled into its final stop. We hopped off and began searching for our recommended restaurant. Our walk took us down small, gloriously car-free, streets. The shops were starting to close and the restaurants hadn’t yet opened but the narrow streets were bustling with people of all ages…..carrying groceries, walking dogs, playing ball, strolling hand-in-hand…..the energy was palpable. We were captivated by this city we that we thought had no charm.
When we found our restaurant, it hadn’t yet opened so we continued our exploration….stopping at one of the many bars along the way for an appertif. We sat next to two young women sipping beers in between wash cycles at the laundromat across the way. Our server was nearby, chatting amiably with two young patrons. As we sat and watched the routine of everyday life, the city continued to enchant us.
We finished our drinks and wandered through more back streets to the restaurant…..now open and with hungry patrons seated on their terrace overlooking a square housing the al fresco dining of three other establishments. People were starting to flow into each of them and we started second-guessing our choice…..but, after reading our menus, we decided we had chosen wisely. We selected the 24 euro menus……and started with a perfect gazpacho….flavorful but not spicy…..and a salmon-mango tartare. Both dishes were excellent. We then moved on to our main courses….steak over mashed potatoes and herbed octopus over a creamy risotto. The steak was delicious but the octopus was fabulous! The light herbs added just enough flavor to the mild meat without overpowering it. Our server suggested, and we enjoyed, a bottle of dry rosé with just a hint of fruitiness. The desserts were wonderful! Two small panna cottas (one raspberry, one orange) and a raspberry clafouti with a jigger of raspberry coulis and a scoop of vanilla ice cream with a fresh raspberry crisp…..the light, fruity desserts didn’t compete with the meals….they were the perfect complement.
As we dined, we were entertained by a local dog making his rounds, eagerly (but politely) asking for hand-outs while a five-piece band played Slavic-sounding songs. It was then we decided that Montpellier would be a wonderful place to live……like Paris but with better weather and no ostentation. These are lucky people, indeed.
We strolled back to the hotel…..through the small streets to the large plaza……Tuesday night and the city is still teeming with the joyful noise of everyday life.
“Oh, think twice, it’s just another day
For you, you and me in paradise.”