Josh and I took a spur-of-the-moment trip to France at the end of June. I found a decent price on airfare but it still took a fair amount of convincing that this was the standard going rate for a roundtrip ticket to Europe.
As excited as I was to share my passion for French culture and food (mostly food) with Josh, I was a little nervous too. What if his first trip to Europe didn’t live up to the hype? I tend to talk about France here and there (okay, maybe every day). We ended up having a blast but that’s not to say we didn’t have our fair share of tense-at-the-time (funny now) moments along the way.
First Stop: Montpellier
We made a last-minute decision to spend the first night in Montpellier. We figured it was a little out of the way, but it was a three-hour train ride from Paris, so why not! Later, I would come to question that logic but it all worked out in the end.
Two plane rides, one layover in Boston, a long line at the train station and several unfortunate train rides later, we made it to Montpellier in one piece. Let’s just say French trains aren’t quite as reliable, or affordable, as I remember. Of course we were buying our tickets at the last minute, but still, we didn’t have much of a choice. We ended up shelling out upward of 100 euros each for a non-direct train to Montpellier. And that was with la carte Jeune. Oh well, we thought, can you really put a price on it? Our judgement was questionable at this point after so many hours awake.
Our train wasn’t leaving for several hours, so naturally we made a beeline straight for Paul, that ubiquitous bakery in France. Chain or not, their pain au chocolat is still delicious after 12 straight hours of travel. We sipped our “large” coffees but no amount of caffeine could have prepared us for the third leg of our journey.
Missing our connection in Lyon due to a train delay (something about the power supply), we ended up getting off in a smaller town called Valence. The conductor assured us we would be fine getting on a different train to Montpellier, even if our tickets didn’t match. Wary, I ended up exchanging our tickets for new ones just in case. We boarded what we hoped would be our last train and after another hour or so we arrived!
It was so surreal to be back in my old stomping grounds, a city I called home for almost a year. Save for a renovated train station and a few new tramway lines, the buildings and streets looked exactly the same.
There was the corner bakery with the best macarons. There was Rue de la Loge, the big shopping street where I purchased one too many pairs of boots. There was the fancy French "Mac-Do" (McDonald’s). Etc. Etc. It all came flooding back. Dragging our suitcases across the cobblestone and delirious from lack of sleep, Josh and I made the short walk to Michèle’s apartment near la Place de la Comédie.
As we approached her building, I grew increasingly nervous, wondering what we'd talk about, mumbling French phrases to myself. I had no reason to worry. Michèle greeted me with a great big kiss and it was like no time had passed. She welcomed us into her apartment which looked exactly the same. There was my bedroom to the left, with it's high ceiling and doors that opened into the garden. There was the cozy kitchen and the living room with its eclectic mixture of French and Asian-inspired furniture.
I was so surprised at how easily my French returned after four years of not using it. Unsure of how translating between Michèle and Josh would go, especially so short on sleep, it ended up being fine. Minus those instances where I turned to Josh and said something in French, looking at him expectantly until he reminded me that he doesn't speak French. As we sat down to dinner, our conversation soon made its way to food (what else?) and Michèle even broke out a little English for the occasion! She had prepared her signature tarte aux tomates, served with the obligatory salad and bread. We sipped rosé and lingered over our meal, doing what the French do best.
After the meal, Michèle announced she was tired but encouraged us to go out. Both exhausted, we agreed to go out for one drink. We were only in Montpellier for one night after all! I gave Josh a mini tour and we stopped at a café for a glass of wine.
We woke up the next morning to a note from Michèle. She was so happy to see us, even if our visit was brief, and she loved meeting Josh. We wandered around town that day, stopping for lunch and strolling through the park. Side note: the Monoprix (like a French Target) has an awesome bakery and a great new grab-and-go food section.
We literally spent less than 24 hours in Montpellier, but it was well worth the stop. Stay tuned for posts on Lyon and Paris!