Days 4-5: Adventures in Southern France (and getting there)

Paris – 6/6/2018

Friday, Getting to Montpellier

We started our day in Antony (suburb of Paris where we’re staying) with a slow morning; I had some cereal and Kelly had a sugar waffle. Our plan for the weekend was to visit our friends Anaïs and Kaylyn in Montpellier for the weekend; both Anaïs and Kaylyn worked with Kelly at RPI (and are still currently students at RPI). Anaïs grew up in France, and her family is there, so we were going to spend some time in Montpellier, and some time at Anaïs’s parents house, which is in a suburb of Montpellier.

Our travel plan was to leave Antony at 10:40 am and take the RER-B (local train) to go to the TGV (high speed rail) station at Charles de Gaulle to make our 12:20 pm train to Montpellier. Keep in mind, we were originally scheduled to leave Antony early Saturday morning, then come back Sunday – those original plans had to be changed because of the ongoing strike in France – a few days before we flew to France, our tickets were cancelled and we had to book tickets for different times.

We ended up leaving the apartment a little late, and then realized that our train to Montpellier was actually scheduled for 12:02, not 12:20. Looking at my Google maps app, we started to get pretty worried – we were scheduled to arrive just before noon, which would only give us a few minutes to run and make the train!

To make matters worse, we had our reservation number, but not our tickets – I eventually realized that you could get the tickets on an app, but downloading the app was taking forever; we wouldn’t have the tickets in time! And as I looked up more information I got more bad news, they close the doors 5 minutes before departure!

We tried to check if the train was late, but online it said it was on time. As we waited for the train to get in, we had another temporary scare, the train we were on was a local train, which had extra stops, and at one point, Google maps updated our ETA to be 12:24, much later than our train would leave. After a few minutes, it updated again with better news, we’d get in at 11:55 am – this would give us 2 minutes to run and make the train.

We got off the RER and started running. The escalator to leave the platform was broken, so everyone had to walk up the escalator (temporarily stairs) – we walked up as well but couldn’t go any faster because people were in front of us. We got up to the top and started running again – our plan was Kelly would look up which track we were on and I’d try to print out the tickets at the kiosk. As we ran, Kelly saw the ticker and we realized, much to our relief, that the train was 25 minutes late: it didn’t even have a track yet.

We tried to get our ticket from the kiosk, but the ticket we had booked could only be accessed via the phone app (which was still downloading). After a few more minutes, we had the tickets and walked to our train. We found what we thought were our seats (turned out we were on car 7 and not car 17), and after another quick run to car 17, we got to our seats and tried to relax. We made the train.
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The train started moving, going faster and faster, but still very smooth and quiet. I couldn’t really tell how fast we were going, but the TGV trains regularly reach speeds over 200 mph (the speed record for a TGV train is 357 mph). It’s the fastest “conventional” train (train with rails and wheels), faster trains use electromagnets for levitation and propulsion. I tried to get some pictures of the countryside, but the window was a little dirty, and it was cloudy out – also, since we were traveling so quickly, if you saw something you wanted to take a picture of, you had about one second to snap the photo before it was out of view.
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It was pretty amazing when we passed another train going in the opposite direction; in a fraction of a second the train was gone (I have a video of it, but I still need to learn how to do some video editing). I also saw a nuclear reactor from the train (good eyes Kelly)!
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Exploring Montpellier and Meeting up with Kaylyn and Anaïs

After a few stops along the way, we made it to Montpellier – a trip over 450 miles in under 4 hours! We got some food at the train station (I was pretty hungry and we weren’t pressed for time) and then walked to our hotel. Montpellier is a beautiful city, with a history that dates back over 1000 years. It’s built on a few hills, which makes some of the streets pretty steep, and other streets are narrow and intimate. It has a great central square where tons of people gather, named after the Opera that faces the square (Comédie). It’s actually quite a large city, with over 275,000 residents and it’s a very “young” city; with six universities/schools, over one third of the population are students!
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Our hotel was a 15 minute walk through the city, located in a narrow street. We checked in to the hotel, dropped off our bags in the room, and within a few minutes, we met up with Kaylyn, her friend Nicole, and Anaïs. Before going out for food, Anaïs took us to the Cathedral Saint Pierre. It was originally erected in 1536, then destroyed in 1567 and rebuilt in the 1600’s, this is an enormous church with probably the largest organ I’ve ever seen (which was installed in 1778!). As we were in the church, someone started playing the organ, and the sound was beautiful (and very loud). The rest of the church is beautiful too, with huge stained glass windows – the light coming through them looked great on the walls.
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The church closed at 6:30 pm, so we got a drink and some food at a nearby restaurant: one quick story – Nicole, who knows a decent amount of French, asked the waitress for a fork in French (fourchette). The waitress was pretty confused and couldn’t understand Nicole, so we asked Anaïs to translate, and as we were asking, the waitress said, “Oh, a fork” in English – the waitress is actually from Spain and was still getting used to speaking French. So here we were trying to help by speaking French when she might have understood us better if we just spoke English.

After dinner, we walked around the city some more to see the sights – I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned this, but in France, they set up their time zones so that the sun stays out much later in the day – in Montpellier today, the sun set at 9:20 pm (it sets almost a half hour later in Paris!). It really allows people to enjoy the end of the day and stay out later.

We first went to the Porte du Peyrou (Montpellier’s Arc de Triomphe) which was built in 1693 (before the Arc de Triomphe in Paris).

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Next to the Porte du Peyrou is a promenade with gardens on each side that leads to the Chateau d’eua du Peyrou (House of Water) and Montpellier’s Aqueduct (Saint Clement Aqueduct). The Aqueduct was finished in 1753, is 14 kilometers long (8.7 miles) and it still operating today – it supplies the water for the monuments in the city.

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We then walked through the streets of Montpellier, with Anaïs showing us various places along the way until we got to the square (Comedie). From there, we went to a bar, and drank, talked, and saw some of the football game – Italy did not make the World Cup this year, and partly to redeem themselves, Italy was playing France in a friendly match to show that they were good enough to be in the World Cup (France ended up winning the game 3-1). We then went to another bar that looked like a pirate ship and got some delicious drinks there before Kelly and I went back to our hotel.

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Saturday, On to Octon!

The next day was Anaïs’s birthday – part of the reason we were making the trip to see her. Kelly and I work up and got some food; Kelly got a croissant and I got a delicious Pain au chocolat (bread with chocolate). We then did some errands in the morning (mostly getting a SIM card for Kelly so she has cell phone service). We met up with everyone else a little after 10 am and made our way to Octon, where Anaïs’s family lives. After a tram and a bus, we met Anaïs’s brother Theo who drove us to their house. They have a gorgeous old house which both looks authentic/rustic and modern. In their backyard, they have a garden and a large number of olive trees (and a few other things like a cherry tree). Once we got settled, we had snacks – cherry tomatoes and goat cheese, salami, baguette with tapenade, fresh melon slices, prosciutto, (and wine – a bottle of Rose and a bottle of Moscato) under some of the olive trees as we talked.
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After snacks, we moved on to lunch/dinner – for context, this was about 2 pm so I’m not really sure what meal it was because we basically ate and talked for a few hours (with more wine of course – some of the wine we had was actually produced in Octon!).

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Anaïs’s Dad grilled some duck with mango – très bien. We also had sausages, some vegetables, and some bread (Kelly had a dish of tomatoes and cheese). Anaïs’s Dad scolded me in French for taking the last bit of wine from the bottle – he was saying I shouldn’t drink it because it might have sediments. And since this is France, after that meal, we had a spread of cheeses and bread (with more wine). It was amazing, everything was so delicious.

Kelly’s allergies had been acting up the past few days, and I’m sure being outside all day didn’t help. As the day worn on, her Benadryl wore off, so she took another pill before lunch/dinner, but that wasn’t enough. After lunch/dinner, we went to the lake nearby – before we left Kelly had another Benadryl, which helped with the allergies, but made her very tired. The lake is also beautiful, there are hills and mountains around the lake that were previously volcanoes, and the earth is a deep red color, making these great contrasts between the blue lake, the green trees on the hills and vineyards, and the red earth. Unfortunately, we had to wait for a little bit before we could actually go to the lake – there was a triathlon being held there, and some of the roads to the lake were closed because that’s where part of the course was.

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Once we got to the lake, a few of us went swimming while Kelly took a Benadryl induced nap in the shade on the beach – the water was very warm! The lake was also very high due to the recent unseasonably rainy weather (there is a dam controlling the height of the lake, they try to fill it up early in the season and drain it later) so there was normally a small island a short swim away that was currently completely covered, save a few trees sticking up out of the water. I swam over to it, and once the water got a bit deeper, it got much colder (still not as cold as the Atlantic on Long Island though!).

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We then got some sun, went for a short hike, and drove back Anaïs’s house – for dessert (and more wine!). They had two cakes for Anaïs, one was a strawberry cake with rum, and the other was a chocolate mouse cake with a layer of nougat, both were magnificent.

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Anaïs then showed us around Octon – it’s a very small village (about 500 people) with a lot of farming (mostly olives and wine). We even walked by the winery that made the wine we had earlier that day!

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Kaylyn and Nicole also had to change their train back to Paris because of the strike, but since their plane out of Paris was in the evening, they couldn’t book the same train that Kelly and I booked, so after the walk, they had to make their way back to Montpellier (so that they could make their morning TGV ). Kelly was even more tired after the walk, and basically went straight to bed after Kaylyn and Nicole left, so I stayed up a bit and wrote this entry!*

*Note – I wrote this Sunday, but was pretty busy the last few days, so I’ve only gotten to get it posted today, sorry! And yes, there is news about the apartment…but I’ll keep it for the next post.

3 thoughts on “Days 4-5: Adventures in Southern France (and getting there)

  1. Peter Mayle has nothing on you…..I expect to see this published in the very near future!!! We are loving every minute of this wonderful travelogue . Can’t wait for the next chapter.
    Bonne chance, Nana & Poppy

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  2. The lake looks beautiful, a bit like Vermont but with the red contrasts much more vivid! Sounds like my kind of day, snacking and drinking, with some swimming and hiking mixed in, glad you were able to make the train!!!

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  3. This is wonderful Nick — thanks so much for sharing it all! Don’t you just love Europe — the history, the “human-size” streets and alleyways – the movement by public transport and walking – lots of walking!

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