My baby sista was not too excited that we would have to retrace my steps to get to their hotel--that is, to take public transportation and do a fair bit of walking, but she and my dad were excited to be in France (and Europe, in fact) for the first time! Once we got off the tram, we had to walk (with Abby's super heavy backpack and suitcase) for about 15 minutes to get to their hotel, L'Hôtel des Arceaux, which is located right by the big aqueduct. In anticipation of Abby's protest, I will say that some of the weight of her luggage was due to some items that I asked her to bring, though I maintain that she overpacked on top of that! We arrived at the hotel around 11:30 AM, so the guy at the front desk asked us to wait for about half an hour while the maids finished preparing the rooms. My dad took the opportunity to take a power nap, and Abby immediately turned on her computer to leave a Skype message for Sam. Typical. Once the room was ready, my dad collapsed on his bed (with his shoes on and his jacket as a blanket), and Abby took a shower and then hit the sack as well. While they recovered from the sleepless plane ride and jet lag, I finished reading for my littérature fantastique class. After a couple of hours, my dad woke up, and he and I decided to walk down to the Place de la Comédie, so I could show him around and so he could get accustomed to the time difference. Abby opted to stay in the hotel and sleep some more. When we got back to the hotel, we attempted to wake Abby up so we could go to dinner. It took a while, but finally she remembered how hungry she was, and we all walked back to the Place de la Comédie to grab a bite at the Café de l'Opéra, where Abby had the "best apple pie she has ever eaten."
The next morning my dad and I went to the Marché des Arceaux, which is conveniently located right outside the hotel they were staying in
. I love this market (the best in Montpellier!) for its fresh produce and homemade crafts. My dad loved it too because of all the "local flavor," as he calls it, and he was really intrigued by a stand of mohair scarves for one of his national park friends. Luckily, the vendor spoke English so she explained the whole process of how the goats are raised, the thread is spun, and the scarves are woven or knit. They're really soft, beautiful, and warm but pretty pricey. I might get one as an end-of-the-semester splurge. We also looked at some leather man bags. Daddy considered getting one, but he decided he probably wouldn't use it much. Man bags are way more acceptable in France than in the States. After we'd seen all the produce and color and people (and dogs, of course), we bought some slices of apple tart and brought them back to the hotel room to help with the waking-Abby-up process. She enjoyed having apple pie for breakfast, but she was still very groggy from jet lag. Daddy and I decided to go find the rental car company while Abby slept some more and then got ready for the day. We had no idea what we were in for. It turns out that this company doesn't actually have a physical location; you're supposed to make the reservation online and get the car from another company. Weird, right? Well, we didn't know that, and for some reason, the rental company does list an address on their website. So Daddy and I spent about four hours looking for a rental car location that doesn't exist. Finally we figured it out and got the car. Home free, right? Wrong. It was even worse once we got in the car! Montpellier is currently constructing a third tramway line, which makes traffic a bitch! (Excuse my French!) We kept getting rerouted because of the construction, so we drove in loops for a while before somehow miraculously getting back to the hotel. We were both pretty frustrated and hungry by this point, and my dad thought about returning the car. But unfortunately, rentals are non-returnable, so we were stuck with it
. So Abby and I did a little window shopping downtown while my dad walked to the rental station to rent a GPS (which was offered to us but "we could just use a map" before we got into the car...). We all felt less cranky after getting some dinner, but Abby and I still had some serious reservations about the car.
On Sunday, we drove to Nîmes because it's definitely one of the must-sees of southern France, and Daddy is really interested in history. Once we got out of Montpellier center, the whole driving thing wasn't so confusing. By the time we reached Nîmes, it was lunchtime, so we went on the lookout for some food. Abby wanted a hamburger, so we tried to find a Quick restaurant that we had passed on the way in. However, although Abby said that it was "right around the corner," her definition of "right around the corner" is different from mine, so we stopped at McDonald's when we found one. French McDonald's are slightly different from American ones, so it was still a cultural experience; they all have nicer decor, and I think more attention is given to the cooking process. Americans settle for less, I guess. Our physical needs having been met, we headed to the first monument, the Maison Carrée, which is the best preserved Roman temple in the world. It's actually remarkably well-preserved, most likely due to the fact that most of the columns are embedded rather than free-standing. (See photos). My dad and I took a lot of pictures throughout the entire visit. After the temple, we went to the Amphithéâtre--again, one of the best preserved. The free audioguides explained the architecture and how the amphitheaters were used during Roman time. Spectacles included bull fights, gladiator fights (bien sûr) and public executions (less popular). Then we got back in the car to drive to the Pont du Gard, the best preserved Roman aqueduct, and possibly the most incredible thing I've ever seen
. This thing has survived three massive floods of the Rhône River in the last century! Floods that destroyed contemporary bridges. The aqueduct served the city of Nîmes by delivering water from a source in Uzès. Even Abby was impressed...even though she probably won't admit it if you ask her. ;)
The next day Abby was a little pooped, since our trip to Nîmes had indeed been a long day, so she opted to stay in the hotel and sleep late, and my dad and I went to Aigues-Mortes, a medieval city whose name means "dead waters" (as in still waters...like not the ocean). Because the king of France didn't at the time own any ports on the Mediterranean (Marseille belonged to the king of Napes and Montpellier was owned by the king of Aragon), Louis IX, or Saint Louis, decided to launch the 7th and 8th crusades from Aigues-Mortes. As a result, he built up the city so that his crusaders could sail through the "dead waters" to the Mediterranean and on to the Holy Land. Aigues-Mortes boasts an impressive rampart that is very well-preserved, and inside this medieval wall is a functioning modern little city. After we finished meandering around Aigues-Mortes, Daddy and I decided to drive around and explore a little more, so we picked Port Camargue as a destination. Port Camargue was built during the 1970s (as evidenced by the architecture...), but the view of the Mediterranean was remarkable, and Daddy was able to touch it for the first time (and taste it: it was salty)
. He pondered about the countless people who had fought and died in the Sea. To round out the day, we drove to a really cute little town called Saint Gilles, though we couldn't spend much time there, as we had to return the rental car. We walked around the canal of the Rhône that runs to Sète and saw some of the white horses indigenous to the area. Saint Gilles ain't no big thing, but it was actually the birth place of Pope Clement IV.
On Tuesday I had class all day, so my dad and sister were able to chill. They went to the Marché des Arceaux (open on Tuesdays and Sundays), and Abby bought a knife for her boyfriend's brother. Pas grande chose.
I don't have any classes on Wednesday, so we decided to go on another day trip. The day before in my civilization class, a group presented on the city of Carcassone, which made me really want to go there. I thought that my dad would really enjoy it, as it is (as one French person told me) the most beautiful medieval city in Europe. We had returned the rental car, so we took the train from Montpellier to Carcassone. Abby's first train trip! We arrived around lunchtime, so after much deliberation, we picked a restaurant where I had one of the regional dishes: cassoulet, a stew made of white beats, pork sausage (saucisse de Toulouse) and duck confit. After lunch, we split up--Abby went to look for souvenirs for her boyfriend and his family, and my dad and I explored the sites, including the La Basilique Saint-Nazaire, whose architect was clearly infatuated with gargoyles. We also walked around the ramparts, which gives a great panoramic view of the surrounding countryside, and one can pretend to be a medieval knight shooting at the besiegers with arrows, like Abby did. ;) According to legend, Carcassone was originally Sarassine, and Charlemagne besieged it during the 9th century
. The city was starving, for the only food that remained was a little bit of wheat and a piglet. The lady of Carcassone, Dame Carcas, had the idea to fatten the piglet with the wheat, and then launched him over the ramparts so that Charlemagne would think that the city still had plenty of food and would call off the siege. At this moment, Dame Carcas sounded the trumpets,and she and Charlemagne met to work out a peace--from this incident comes the name Carcas sonne
. During the Middle Ages, the Cathare heresy--dualistic and gnostic--spread through the Languedoc region of France. The Catholic Church at first attempted to combat the heresy by promoting reconversion campaigns, but when these proved unsuccessful, the Church launched a crusade against the Cathares, led by Simon de Montfort. When Simon de Montfort besieged Béziers, he demanded that the Catholics of the city hand over the cathare heretics; when they refused, he shouted to his army, "Kill them all. God will recognize his own," and they massacred the city. Carcassone was the last remaining stronghold of catharicism but despite a heavy resistance, the city was finally taken and all the heretics were arrested. Pretty interesting stuff, huh? In Carcassone, we also saw the Canal du Midi, a canal that Louis XIV had constructed that connects the Mediterranean Sea with the Atlantic Ocean.
On Thursday I had class until the mid-afternoon, and when I got done with classes, I met my dad and Abby at La Comédie, and we went to a sports apparel store to find a rugby or soccer jersey for Abby's boyfriend; unfortunately, they cost très cher, so she opted for a cap with the official logo of the French national football team
. That night we went to a fancy three-course dinner with an American woman that we happened to meet at the Place de Peyrou a few days before. Her name is Margaret, and she's got a Ph.D. in English literature! Quelle chance! We have continued to hang out, and I'm having dinner with her tomorrow, which I'm very excited about. She doesn't speak French and doesn't know anyone here, and I've been pretty lonely and isolated, so it's nice that we have found each other, especially since we have such similar interests. She moved here with her Greek astrophysicist husband. We've been swapping stories about how crazy France can be. ;) The dinner was a nice way to end the visit, and the following morning I guided them to the airport (as we had to take public transportation). What's funny is that my dad didn't believe I knew where I was going, even though I had managed to get to the airport BY MYSELF to pick them up, and we took the exact same route back to get them to their hotel. I wasn't really that sad when I said goodbye to them at the bus stop, but it really hit me a few hours later, and I almost cried walking to class! But I'm really glad that they visited and that I had the chance to show them around and prove that I can actually speak French. I think that they were both pretty impressed with my skills, since they always try to get me to speak it at home without success. I'm not a performing carnival monkey! But I had to translate for them continually here, so I got a lot of practice with my French. Hopefully, it won't be their last time in Europe (nor will this be mine!).
After a couple of days of recuperation from the joys and travails of traveling, I was ready to show my dad and sister around town. Their flight from Paris to Montpellier was going to arrive at 9:00 AM, but as my only means of getting around are walking and public transportation, I woke up nice and early at 7:00 AM, so I could catch the 8:00 AM tram, which would take me to the 8:30 AM bus or "navette" to the airport. At least, I thought that the navette left at 8:30 AM, but it turns out, I had read the schedule wrong, so the next bus would leave at 9:00 AM. I waited at the bus stop with a myriad of fellow voyagers for half an hour, afraid that I would arrive late to the airport, and that my dad and sister would be confused and lost. Luckily, the bus ride took only 15 minutes, and so I arrived just as my dad and sister had gotten off the plane and claimed their baggage. They were both tired, but we were all happy to see each other. And I had come prepared with welcome-to-France munchies: assorted pastries (une religieuse, une chou à la creme, and un Paris-Brest) and some Toblerone bars