Guests from the United States are starting to arrive for visits, the most recent being a grandson, Pietas, and his wife, Star. So I had the opportunity to switch from my usual role of a sightseeing tourist to a host and guide.
With only four days with my guests, we wanted to make the most of the time. We started our first day the same way we would start every morning during their visit—with fresh pastries from our local boulangerie. Expresso typically did the early morning bakery run and left the treats for us to enjoy.
After breakfast, we went shopping in downtown Montpellier. We walked through the Comédie Plaza, the city’s historic pedestrianized center. We noted the dramatic opera house, which opened in 1888, and walked past the fountain in the center of the plaza, La Fontaine des Trois Grâces.
We worked our way uphill, walking in a maze of narrow medieval streets, each filled with dozens of unique shops. The stone walls on either side of us, sometimes less than 10 feet apart, reflected the luminosity of the bright blue sky overhead. It was easy to imagine how artists like Van Gogh could be inspired by the light.
After purchasing a few essential items (the airline had delayed delivery of one piece of Pietas’s luggage), we stopped for lunch in the plaza.
Star, who is obviously pregnant, ordered a glass of Perrier water. The waiter asked whether she wanted a small or large. She ordered a large. When he brought her a tall glass of amber beer, he noticed our startled reactions.
Instantly, everyone realized that the waiter had heard an order for IPA instead of Pierrier. We had a good laugh and ordered some water.
The second day, Expresso took us on a car trip to La Salvetat-sur-Agout in the interior of France. This rainy, cool area is referred to as the lung of the region. The mountainous area is filled with man-made lakes, and the flow of water is used to generate electricity.
We experienced a wide variety of weather that day—hot and chilly temperatures, dense fog, light rain and bright sunshine. And even though it was late in the summer, we had a nonstop kaleidoscopic view of verdant valleys, forests, and cultivated fields.
I asked Expresso to stop and take a picture of a sculpture in a roundabout that was occupied by three giant ants.
I’ve become a connoisseur of roundabouts because a great deal of creativity goes into designing the center space. Often, the designs consist of artistically arranged plants and flowers. Others reflect the local culture and may have sculptures, small buildings, or replicas of famous buildings. In sheep country, for example, I saw clever metal sculptures of sheep grazing in a roundabout.
We couldn’t get a picture of the ants in the roundabout because cars were flying in all directions, but a lone ant on a nearby hillside let us take its picture. I later learned that the roundabout featured ants because of a nearby famous insect museum, Micropolis.
We came home to a wonderful family meal of stuffed baked tomatoes and peppers prepared by Attenderella before tucking ourselves into bed.
A Day at the Beach
Needing a day of rest after our long drive the previous day and anticipating fabulous weather (85 degrees and sunny), the three of us spent the third day on a beach in Palavas, about 30 minutes from home. My grandson drove the family’s spare car, bravely entering and exiting roundabouts with ease. We rented cabana beds with a view of the sea. Lunch was served to us, so we lounged in ultimate luxury.
Most days the Mediterranean is smoothly glasslike, and since the sea floor deepens very gradually, one can usually walk out a very long way. On our visit, however, the waves became dramatically rough. Even so, I entered the water, but I needed a little help from Pietas to stay upright.
We went out far enough for me to get swamped a few times. And I also needed help to get out without being knocked over by a rogue wave.
Dinner at Marché du Lez
We celebrated our last night together with dinner at the Marché du Lez, a unique, fun-concept eating place adjacent to the river that runs through town. Nearly fifty vendors serve food reflecting a range of nationalities—Mexican, Italian, American, Spanish, Chinese, Korean, Japanese, and so on. We chose a family-style restaurant since we wanted to eat together.
Too soon, it was time to drive Pietas and Star to the train station where they would head north to Switzerland and other points to continue their vacation. A promise to stay in touch, hugs all around, and three French kisses from this rookie tour guide sent them on their way.