Where does the time go?

The Roamers speed along. . .

I barely blinked, and over two weeks have passed since my last post. I’ve heard from many retirees that they don’t seem to have as much time post-retirement as they did while working, and now I know it’s true! Despite not working, we seem to be busy every day. We’ve continued to explore our city, continuously discovering new sights.

Car art? As seen on a Montpellier stroll

I forgot to take a picture from one of the most delightful experiences we’ve had so far: tea with a British couple we randomly met. Jeremy and Clair were at the next table at Paul, a bakery where we had breakfast one day, and as we were leaving they struck up a conversation. They’ve been here almost 30 years and understand what it’s like to be new, so they invited us for tea on Sunday. We took an Uber to their beautiful home in a hilltop village north of Montpellier. The tea was sumptuous, with cakes, cookies, candies, nuts, and muffins. They were so very kind and we loved spending time with them.

 Some things in our city have cracked us up (perhaps me more than Phil), such as the condom vending machines. They’re primarily outside pharmacies, but you’ll also see them on random street corners. They give me a giggle every time I spot one!

Condom dispenser outside our pharmacy

We’ve of course continued to sample various restaurants and cafes here, some with unique decor. Many are crowded with memorabilia, which brings me to wonder how often that stuff is dusted!

Chandelier in a restaurant where we might have eaten some dust along with our meal

I’ve also continued to enjoy food shopping and preparing meals. We think the quality of food–freshness, variety, and sourcing–is better here than in the US. If you read my last blog, you might remember the restaurateur in NImes who shared their secret fish preparation. Well, I made it, and it was wonderful! Next time I’ll use more lemon and less tomato garnish, but it was nonetheless a hit!

My version of the famous Nimes fish dish

We ate at home for Valentine’s Day, but a few days later we treated ourselves to a special tapas dinner. I’d reserved a table for 6:30pm, as we’d been told that buses stopped running quite early. When we arrived promptly at 6:30, the host was surprised. “We haven’t eaten yet, so we’re not opening until 7:00,” she told us! She offered to let us sit and have a glass of wine, but we declined. After strolling a bit, we settled on a wonderful bar, Smash. Offering American blues, great cocktails, and friendly service, it will likely become our bar of choice.

Cosy table at Smash

After enjoying our cocktails, we headed back to l’Endroite, the tapas restaurant. By this time, the staff had eaten and were ready to serve us, their first arrivals. We enjoyed a tasting menu with wine pairings as the restaurant gradually filled up. Lesson learned: dine later!

Phil enjoying l’Endroite

Since our shipment has not yet arrived (it’s stuck in Rotterdam waiting for customs clearance), we have very few clothes, and I have only a light jacket. The highs most days are low 50s to low 60s, so I’ve been ok, but for Valentine’s Day Phil surprised me with a beautiful warm scarf. 

Modeling my Valentine’s scarf from Phil and my newest Mellie Earrings

The earrings in the picture arrived along with my latest MellieEarrings order, a set of beautiful custom-made coasters. When you’re nesting from scratch, every little thing makes a house feel like home!

My new Mellie Earrings coasters and earrnings

The other thing that feels like home is cooking. We decided not to eat in front of the tv as we did in the US, so now we share meals at the table, comme les francais! My latest dinner experiment came at the suggestion of coffee friends Tracy and Bobby. They introduced us to a lovely cheese shop and restaurant that is unfortunately closing next month. There (after enjoying a raclette lunch) we bought a special cheese called Mont d’Or (means “mount of gold”). You cut a hole in the top and pour a little white wine over it (you can also slip in garlic slivers and dust with pepper) and bake until it’s melted, then serve it with steamed potatoes and charcuterie. It was a hit!

Our first Mont d’Or meal chez nous

In another example of the kindness we’ve encountered, our landlady invited me to coffee at her home (in the apartment above us). Originally from Lebanon, she and her husband have lived here since 2005. She treated me to a lovely coffee, complete with fruit and pastries, as we enjoyed a conversation in Franglish. I loved spending time with her and hope we’ll have more opportunities to get together.

One of my WBL (Women Business Leaders) friends, Leslie, married a Frenchman and now lives in Lausanne, Switzerland. We’ve been staying in touch via both email and her wonderful website and blog, Observing Leslie. She writes about everything–life, literature, travel, etc. and it’s one of my favorite things to read. We’d been planning to get together as soon as possible, and last weekend we had our chance: we met up in Avignon. Phil and I decided to make a weekend of it, so we arrived Friday via train to explore a bit. We’d been to Avignon once before, but it was 29 years ago! This time we decided to skip the Palais des Papes and just wander the streets. We came upon an anti-war, pro-Ukraine protest featuring a young woman singing Ukranian folk songs. It was a sad, somber, dignified, and inspiring event.

Anti-war protest in Avignon. The woman at the microphone was singing Ukranian songs.

After checking in to our guest house (complete with two friendly cats!) we enjoyed strolling around and stopping for a glass of wine. Coffee friend Margi had recommended Carre du Palais for dinner, and it did not disappoint! Our placemats were maps showing the origin of the wines we tasted–all of which were wonderful.

Dessert at Carre du Palais

The next morning, along with Leslie and Arnaud, we met up with Julien, our tour guide for a walking food tour. Julien is an Avignon native and shared fascinating history and stories along with the wonderful food tastings. My favorite bite was a twisted puff pastry covered with sugar and toasted almonds called the sacristan. This delectable morsel, according to Julien, was invented in the middle ages by a baker who felt sorry for the sacristan, or sexton, who because of his duties after mass arrived at the bakery after all the good stuff was sold. So the baker created a twisted puff pastry stick (similar to the stick the sacristan carried) just for him.

Violette, the bakery where we sampled sacristans. Note the long loaves from which you buy a length!

Julien led us to the top of the largest hill in Avignon, to the Rocher des Doms park. It was a climb, but the view was exceptional. Note in the picture below the famous Pont d’Avignon.If you’re not familiar with the children’s song, take a listen here.

The view. The bridge. The Rhone.

Our tour ended at les Halles, the covered market, where Julien assembled a final feast for us. He also introduced us to Papa Poulet, the poultry vendor, who had a special performance for us.

Papa Poulet and his fowl talk. . .

After all that walking and nibbling, it was time for some serious cafe sitting! Joined by Leslie’s friend Camille, who recently moved to Marseilles from Paris, we “enjoyed” edible coffee cups. The idea is good, but the flavor needs a little work.

Edible coffee cup. One bite is enough!

We split up for a while to run errands and roam the streets. In France, street signs are not free-standing but are attached to the corners of buildings. In Avignon, the street names are listed both in French and in Provencal, the ancient Roman derivative language still spoken in some households. 

Street sign in French and in Provencal

Julien had explained that statues of the Virgin Mary look over the people of Avignon to protect them. Once he pointed this out, we saw them everywhere!

Mary and her baby Jesus, one of dozens we noticed around town

We met up with Leslie, Arnaud, and Camille for a wonderful dinner at le 46, a cosy and welcoming restaurant near the Popes’ Palace. While we mostly spoke English, part of the conversation was in French, which Phil and I found highly motivating. We made a pact to study every day instead of just relying on our formal lessons. I can’t wait to be able to eavesdrop on neighboring tables in restaurants! Just kidding. . .

Avignon was a memorable trip, partly because the city is filled with wonders, but even more because we got to spend time with friends. We are so very fortunate to have friends in many places, and we’re grateful to Leslie for making this weekend happen. A bientot!


One of the many beautiful doors in Avignon


The Roamers make a day trip

As we wait for our shipment, begin studying French, and continue exploring our new surroundings, we’ve been amazed and gratified by the kindness shown us by everyone we’ve encountered. One early evening this week, I got a call (in French) from Madam Khalil, our landlord’s wife, asking whether she could stop by for one minute. She brought us a beautiful cake. She also invited me for coffee soon; I’ll have to work hard on my French to make that enjoyable!

Gorgeous cake to welcome us

We’ve been walking four to seven miles a day, but one afternoon I’d not even been outside, so I decided to take a quick walk around the neighborhood (getting lost but thanks to GPS, getting found). I noticed a sign for wine tasting and decided to follow it. I haven’t yet worked up the nerve to ring the bell, but once my language skills are a bit better, we’ll make a visit! 

Wine tasting near our home

We had learned that museum entry is free on Sundays, so we visited the Fabre Museum near the Place de la Comedie. It was amazing, huge, and a bit overwhelming!

Just one room in the Museo Fabre

We also met other expats for coffee one morning, which was great fun. But the most interesting and fun thing in our third week in Montpellier was Friday’s day trip to Nimes. We chose Nimes because it’s only a 30 minute train trip, and because we’d heard about the Roman ruins there. Interesting fact: denim originated in Nimes (“de Nimes”)! We managed to board the correct train and enjoyed the quick trip. Once there, we headed out of the station to the Charles de Gaulle Esplanade, a beautiful plane tree-lined park flanked by cafes. There are not one but two carousels, and the focal point is a gorgeous sculpture and fountain. From there we headed to the cathedral, which had the most beautiful Madonna altar I’ve ever seen outside of Notre Dame.

The top figure represents Nimes, and the other four depict Nimes’ four water sources


Isn’t this beautiful?

We then walked over to the Nimes Arena, one of the oldest Roman coliseums in the world, which is still used for music events and (ugh) bullfights.

This arena was constructed around 70 CE!

Many pedestrian areas in France have small round metal posts to prevent cars from entering. I noticed that in Nimes they were decorated on the top.

Interesting decoration

Later in the day we started noticing other similar decorations featuring crocodiles, so I had to investigate. Turns out that the Nimes coat of arms features a crocodile tethered to a palm tree. This denotes the victory in the Egyptian campaign of Augustus.

The crocodile fountain near the market

The market was closed during our visit, but we had fun peeking into the nearby shop windows.

These shoes cracked me up!

We saw many more amazing sights in Nimes, all within an easy walk of the Esplanade. We especially loved the Jardin de la Fontaine, a large park beautiful even in January.

Les Jardins des Fountaines

Temple of Diana, which had nothing to do with the goddess Diana

La Maison Carree (“the square house”) was closed, but it was one of the most beautiful ruins we saw in Nimes.

La Maison Carree

After all that walking we were tired and starving, and we hit the jackpot with our visit to Bistrot le Republique, a tiny and very popular restaurant near the modern art museum. There were no tables, so we sat on stools at the bar and enjoyed the best meal since our arrival in France. My halibut was so delicious that as we were leaving, in my horrible French I complimented the meal and that dish especially. Imagine my delight to have the owner thank me for attempting to speak French, and then explain the secret of how the dish was made!

I promise I only ate one creme brulee!

In case you want to join me in trying to recreate this dish, here’s what she told me (It’s kind of like a sous vide method): Season the fillet with salt and pepper and place it in a heat-safe plastic bag along with a bit of lemon and olive oil. Put the bag into hot water (it will shrink to hug the fish) to cook. Serve with the cooking liquid and sprinkle with tiny bits of fresh tomato and chopped chives. My dish was served with perfectly cooked rice and beautifully sauteed haricots verts and carrots. Divine!

The view from our apartment door

Stuffed and happy, we made our way back to the station. We struggled to figure out which track and train were ours, and we weren’t seated together on our first class return (We’d decided to spring for the extra five euros but learned that it’s not worth it for such short trips), and we got on the wrong tram, but eventually we made it home. Even though we’ve been here only three weeks, we already have that “good to be home” feeling! Today, Sunday, we’ll be having tea with an English couple we met. A bientot!

We also met other expats for coffee on Thursday, which was delightful.

two weeks in, and. . .

We love it here!

It’s hard to believe we’ve already lived in Montpellier for two whole weeks (longer than any vacation I’ve ever taken), and at the same time it feels like we’ve been here longer. Here’s a two-week update on how we’re settling in.

We ate out for lunch the first few days but knew we’d need to stock our kitchen. So we took an Uber to Odysseum, a large outdoor mall next to Ikea. There we discovered Casino–no, not a place to gamble away our retirement funds, but a “Geant” grocery/home goods/general store. Think of a Walmart-type place, but with far better food. Since we had to schlep everything, we bought only what we could carry. Then it was on to Ikea for a few essentials: trash can, a few kitchen things, etc. We took another Uber home to unpack everything. 

Charcuterie aisle at Casino: Cousin Karyl would love this!

We quickly realized that Uber was not an affordable option for everyday errands, and fortunately our lovely friends Gwen and Tom, whom we’d met on our reconnaissance trip in July, came to the rescue with an offer of two 10-trip TAM cards. Tam is Montpellier’s public transportation via trams and buses. Being over 65, we’re eligible for free rides, but after three tries we still haven’t received our passes (Have I mentioned that France is famous for its Byzantine bureaucracy?). Tom met us to guide us to their lovely home on a private street only half a mile away, where we met Bella, their darling dog, and enjoyed a sumptuous coffee spread.

New friends whom we feel we’ve known forever!

My favorite thing to do here so far is simply wander the streets in Ecusson, the oldest part of the city. It’s easy to get lost and then found, and we love discovering beautiful ancient buildings, contemporary street art, and all the sights and sounds that make up this gorgeous place.

Random art? Political statement? What exactly is this?

The architecture of Montpellier is diverse, beautiful, and intriguing. The Montpellier Cathedral is one of my favorite sights; you round a corner and there it is! It has an interesting history you can read about here.

Montpellier Cathedral

Our shipment of things from the U.S. hasn’t yet arrived, so we have very few clothes, no artwork, and aside from the basic equipment in our furnished apartment, not much to make the place feel like home. But we did rearrange the furniture, and we bought a rug, pillows, and a throw to make our living room a bit cosier. 

Early nesting

We’ll wait until our shipment arrives in a few weeks to put anything on the walls, but we’ve bought flowers, a candle, napkins, and placemats to make it feel a bit homier. And we love our apartment! Not many people have a shower with a name, but I named ours Disco Inferno.

Burn, baby, burn!

I love to cook, so of course I’ve been making some classic French fare: blanquette de veau, boef bourginon, croque monsieur, etc. We agreed that we’ll stop our habit of eating meals in front of the tv, and so far we’ve adhered to that plan, enjoying meals “comme les francais, a table.” And most lunches feature a glass of local wine. Wine here is both plentiful and affordable, with many quite good bottles for under $5.

Lunch of croques monsieurs, salade, et vin rose

This city has so much to offer, and we’ve hardly begun to see it. The street art alone is worthy of many blogs!

More street art on a building

Just yesterday we happened upon a small chapel that’s raising renovation funds via an enormous creche that features an entire village, fully automated. 

Just a small part of the amazing village creche!

We also continue to marvel at the elaborate trompe l’oeil artwork on the fronts of otherwise plain buildings.

None of this is real, but it’s real art!

So far we have seen no evidence of the rumor that restaurant portions in France are smaller than those in the U.S. However, we have seen some evidence that women’s body images are not as unrealistic as they are in our native country.

Billboard at bus stops, advertising underwear for real women


We have been walking every day, usually at least 10,000 steps. And it’s always a joy to return to our new home. Did I mention that we have to go through three locked gates to get there?

Gate #1 is automated and gives access to our parking area

Gate #2, access to the intermediate courtyard

Gate #3 into our private courtyard

We’ve developed a routine for these gates: I unlock each one, and Phil goes behind me and re-locks each one. Every time we come or go. . .

Door to our apartment

And finally we get to our apartment, which we love more each day. We are so very fortunate to be living this adventure, and to have a lovely place to come home to. We are so happy to be living our dream!