31 October 2014

Passing through Montpellier on the way from Narbonne to Paris

My original plan was to stay in Montpellier for a couple of days but the lack of hotels on the required dates scorched that idea so I moved to Plan B which was to spend more time in Narbonne and do a quick tour of Montpellier on my way to Paris and then on to London.

I had booked a fairly late eurostar train out of Paris (20:13) to give me as much sight-seeing time on my final day and so I took the earliest practicable train out of Narbonne having first had breakfast in the fine cafe at the station.

Montpellier provided a grand welcome with a stunning modern station.

I failed to find a tourist information office there but I had come prepared with a maps of the city saved on my iPad the night before, another reason for insisting on hotels with wifi.

The station was just to the south of the old town and that is where I headed.

Just up the road from the station I found Place de la Com├ędie which immediately impressed with its size and grandeur. I learned soon after that it was the largest square in Europe, or something like that. This fact came from the tourist information office at the east end of the square which also provided me with a map.

With a tourist map I soon had a plan for the rest of my day in Montpellier.

My tour started with a stroll north through the park running north of the square and in that park I was delighted to see this playground that looks as though it was inspired by somebody with a child-friendly imagination like Dr Seuss.

There was more fun at the end of the park with a series of colourful and unusual statues. This was after I had walked past opera house and before I walked to the unexpected escarpment at the end with its views north across the newer parts of Montpellier.

But it was not the new Montpellier that I was interested so I turned west through the top of the old town looking for some of the things that my tourist map suggested that I should look at. I was starting to feel like Michael Portillo clutching his Bradshaw's, except that I was doing all of my journey by train.

Going down the hill took me back in time to the old heart of the city. This was something of a shock, a very happy one, after the beautiful baroque on the south side of the old town the north side was basic almost to the extent of being grim. I like basic and grim too.

The old town behaved like old towns should with roads that refused to run straight as they made their way around and over the hill.

Turning south brought me back toward the centre of the old town where things started to get smarter and posher though not necessarily better. At least the older part of the town had almost no traffic.

I had to settle for the traffic though as I could not find a cafe until I reached the brow of the hill. At least the cafe was by a nice square.

Montpellier kept being pretty as I walked south down the hill. The roads were no less straight as they crawled from square to square, each of which was thick with cafes, restaurants and people.

There was lots to see along the way from old buildings to an old moped in a shop window. I paused many times to soak up the atmosphere and savour the urban scenery. I was really enjoying my time in Montpellier and had already decided to try and stop there for longer the next time that I was passing through.

Given the limited time that I had to see the city my first priority was to walk around as much of it as was possible (I had my suitcase with me as I was between trains) and I spent less time than usual on taking photos and on coffees. I would have plenty of time for a coffee and some food on the next train.

Of course I did take a few photographs, around fifty, of the prettier things that I saw, things like this ornate door and balcony.

The prettiest things that I saw where the trams.

These were not allowed in the centre of the old town but seemed content to skirt around it. They were all heavily decorated and very colourful. This one was turning slowly in the square outside of the station. It was just a shame that I had no excuse to go on one. Next time.

The rest of the day was good but uneventful. I bought something to eat at the station, the train to Paris was on time, I met some friends there for a drink, and the eurostar was as simple as always.

Montpellier was forced to play just a bit-part in my holiday but it grabbed that limited opportunity to show me that it is exactly the sort of place that I like to go to on holiday and that I should make more of an effort to do so next time.

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