Montpellier for one euro?

I had been told by a local in Quillan that Montpellier had been added to the network of destinations at one euro from Quillan, so planned to take a day trip to the city yesterday, partly as an excuse to catch up with a Wellington-based friend living there.

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A day trip that far means getting out of bed in time for the 06h04 train to Carcassonne. Except that it wasn’t a train – it was unexpectedly a bus. So unexpected apparently that the driver was a bit grumpy. On the plus side though, his bus had no till so he was unable to take even the one euro. A free trip!

A good connection at Carcassonne to the train for Narbonne – a single carriage, for a large number of people and bikes. Since we were so crammed in, no conductors were circulating – still no means of paying the fare. At Narbonne, a change to to the final train for the hour’s journey to Montpellier. This was a larger intercity train having come from Toulouse, and heading for Marseille. It’s a scenic trip, along the Mediterranean coast in part, through Beziers, Agde, Sete and other towns, coastal and inland.

Arriving in Montpellier I met up with Heather and we lingered over coffee and pastry at a nearby cafe, before hopping on a tram to the more modern area of the central city – a pleasant looking avenue of squares and apartment buildings with cafes and shops, from the new city hall through to the Comedie. As it was raining at this point, we hopped back on a tram, rather than walk it, but it would have made a lovely stroll.

Back in the main old area of town, the Comedie is a large central square, bordering the historic area ‘Les Escumes’, on the site of a former roundabout, named for the Opera Comedie building still situated at one end.

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At the other, an avenue of trees is a shady spot for market and food stalls – on summer evenings trestle tables are apparently laid out and you can buy and eat food communally. Convivial.

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We ambled around the old town, enjoying the quiet corners and admiring the street art, including a magnificent ‘trompe l’oeuil’ and several bits of bicycle poking out of walls.

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The streets, as in all old towns here, are narrow, curving a cobbled, dotted with little boutiques, making for unexpected finds.

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At the top of the old town an old arch gives way to a Parisian-style park and views over an old viaduct to the broader sprawl that is Montpellier.

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There’s a lot going on here, in a city that is about the size and population of Wellington – the summer festival programme is full and there’s a real emphasis on arts and culture.

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We found a shady cafe to enjoy the tarte du jour and fortuitously picked a spot under the cover of an umbrella as, during lunch, it began to rain again quite heavily, if momentarily.

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Leaving Heather to the rest of her day, I wandered happily among the old streets and indulged in a bit of shopping. There are no shops to speak of in Quillan and we generally haven’t been to big towns, or been in the frame of mind for shopping, so it was quite pleasant to spend a couple of hours browsing. As always, I seem to come away with more things for the baby than for me. Fortunately the sales were on!

Buying s ticket at the station for the trip back to Quillan, I discover that it’s actually a fare of 26 euros 10. The one euro only applies as far as Carcassonne. Oops – and damn, as no-one checked my ticket on the way back and the bus again had no cash box. With no air conditioning, no wi-fi and no eating or drinking allowed on that bus, it was also a long trip home.

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