roamer renovation

The Roamers renovate their new apartment

After we bought our Montpellier apartment, we moved right in and immediately started renovating. There was nothing really wrong with the apartment, so it was liveable, but anticipating that this will be the last home we ever buy, we wanted to make it our own. Every time we spend too much money, our mantra has been “This will be the last xxx we ever buy,” and so far it’s workiing!

We  had hoped to keep our kitchen and simply augment it to provide more storage, but when that proved impossible, we ordered an entire new kitchen, keeping only the old cooktop.

Wasted kitchen space to be converted into storage

We interviewed three contractors– since none of them speak English and my French is toddler-level, that was interesting–and signed up with Benoit, whom we have deemed the King of Contractors. Along with painter Mehdi and a team of specialists, they got to work.

Living/dining and part of kitchen, before

Mehdi started with the painting, which surprised us. It took a couple of weeks to get the bedrooms and part of the living room done. We decided to use a flat blue-gray for the entire apartment. Since it’s only 80 square meters (just under 900 square feet), we wanted to keep it simple.

Master bedroom before

Master bedroom after

We didn’t do anything aside from painting and new furnishings for the two bedrooms. But the paint opened up the spaces, and since living in France we’ve realized that no one really needs a huge American-style bedroom.

Second bedroom before

Second bedroom after (guest area)

When we first moved to Montpellier, our housing requirement was two large bedrooms and two full bathrooms; this was to accommodate house guests. But when it came to purchasing, we realized we should focus on what we need to live; guests are infrequent and often prefer to stay in hotels or Airbnbs so they can have their own space and privacy. Consequently, our second bedroom has a comfortable canap√©-lis (sofa bed), but it also serves as Phil’s art studio. And it works!

Studio after: small but functional

We haven’t done much with the entry; at some point I hope to find a stunning piece to replace the bookshelves that were there. But I love that open space, and we found a light fixture that I love.

Entry before (the bookshelves went into Phil’s studio)

Entry after (yes, those are two of Phil’s paintings!

A bonus of our apartment is the cellier, or storage room, right off the kitchen. We didn’t do much, but we did install a washer and dryer. Dryers are fairly uncommon here, but there were two things these spoiled Americans had to have: a dryer and a big fridge with ice and water in the door.

Cellier before; there is a tiny old washing machine in the back right corner

Cellier after, with our much-loved washer AND dryer

Once the painting was done, it was time to do the kitchen. Our cuisinist (kitchen designer; it sounds fancy, but that’s what you get when you go to a kitchen store) took measurements, advised us, helped us select everything, and gave us the CAD rendering below. 

CAD image of our future kitchen

Before it could be installed, though, we had to have the existing kitchen removed, get some plumbing and electrical work done, and have most of the painting done. It was messy, but Benoit and team worked fast–and cleaned up each day! Kind friends and neighbors Betsy and Jacques invited us over for dinner on one of the no-cooking nights.

Kitchen? What kitchen??

Kitchen installation: all in a day’s work!

Before we knew it, we had a working kitchen! It took a bit more time to get the backsplash and final painting done, but soon we had the kitchen we’d dreamed of!

Our new kitchen

Phil took a nice shot that shows the full kitchen, with my desk and the barstools. We love this layout, and it works well for us.

Full view of the new kitchen

Finally, it was time for the bathroom. Our apartment had a salle douche, or shower room, with only a sink and shower, and next door was the WC, with only a toilet. Benoit helped us redesign the bathroom to add a second toilet, and after selecting all the fixtures we got to work.

Bathroom before

The funniest thing in the apartment was the WC, which had, as my friend Gwen called it, a platinum throne, and which featured pink toilet paper wallpaper.

See? I wasn’t kidding!

We decided to simply replace the toilet (with one that features a hand-washing sink; the washing water is reused for flushing!) and wall coverings but leave the tilework. We’ll decide later whether to make any further changes.

See the hand-washing station in the back of the toilet?

 

The bathroom fixtures were removed, and while we were grateful for the toilet, we had no shower for a few days. Fortunately, we were caring for plants while neighbors Sue and Dave vacationed, and they let us use their shower. Whew!

No showering here!

I’d ordered the bathroom tile first, then forgot I’d ordered it and bought the same tile for the kitchen backsplash. Happy mistake; I love it!

Bahroom after: double sinks with storage, shower, and a toilet: perfect!

I had a bit of a kerfuffle on the dining table; I’d bought an 1800s farmhouse table with drawers, but we couldn’t find chairs low enough to sit comfortably. So I returned it, and now we have a table (and comfy swivel chairs) that we love.

The orchid on the table was a gift from friend Gwen, given shortly after we moved to Montpellier

Living and dining area. Yep, we’re old; we bought a reclining sofa and we love it!

We didn’t do anything with the terrace (except store all the reno stuff; at one point we had two toilets on the terrace!), but it was nice to finally move our outdoor furniture into place. Just this morning we sat in the wicker chairs and enjoyed our coffee. I don’t love the red wall, but that’s not changeable since it’s on the building’s exterior.

Useable terrace!

During this entire renovation project, complete with mess, noise, and strangers here every day, there was not a single negative word or dirty look from our neighbors. So as a fun project, I decided to give them homemade cookies with a note of thanks.

un petit cadeau

Imagine my delight a few hours after leaving these at each neighbor’s door, when I found this note on our door!

Note from our neighbor and her cat

We still have a few punch list items to be done, but they’ll have to wait until after les vacances–most people in France go on vacation for the month of August, so not much gets done. But we are still pinching ourselves when we realize we are living this beautiful life, in our dream apartment. We are so very fortunate and grateful.

 

Our home, for which we are so grateful

 

cat sitting

Roaming to Stockholm

Our daughter has a cat. Well, she and her husband have a cat. Not just any old cat (apologies to all the other cats). This cat is special. He’s magnificent. He’s old, very talkative, and he’s been a bit sick lately. His name? Dakeeti.

Dakeeti, napping

When our daughter first moved to Europe over ten years ago, we kept Dakeeti (along with our son’s part-wolf dog Busa; they became great friends after an initial battle, which of course Dakeeti won). We took him to Europe (he and I watched “Life of Pi” on the plane) and have visited him (and his humans) as often as possible over the years. Recently our kids had planned a trip to the U.S. to visit family and friends, but they couldn’t find anyone to take care of Dakeeti–so we volunteered. We spent two weeks living in their Stockholm apartment, enjoying our time with Dakeeti, exploring Stockholm, and luxuriating in the cool summer weather.

Our daughter, who is perfect, had decided to give us “the best Airbnb experience ever,” and she and her husband did not disappoint. We arrived in the evening and entered the apartment (third floor walkup) to find ten pages of instructions and helpful hints.

Detailed map

These notes were in addition to a lengthy email and–wait for it–a how-to video for the laundry room! They had made room for us in the closet and dresser, provided shower supplies, set out puzzles and crosswords, and much more.

More notes and tips!

Our son-in-law, who is also perfect, left a loaf of his homemade sourdough in the freezer for us. He makes all their bread and proudly wears a t-shirt with his name: Bread Man.

Sourdough boule; we ate every bite!

He also left us a beautiful loaf of banana nut bread. Phil said that with icing, it would taste almost like his favorite birthday cake!

Banana bread

We settled in quickly, slept well, and the next morning we headed out to explore this beautiful city. We walked our legs off, stopping for lunch at an outdoor cafe across from a fountain where tourists were taking selfies (or “ussies,” as that annoying guy on Ted Lasso would say).

Lunch view of fountain and sculpture

We had already visited Stockholm three times, but never on our own, so this was our opportunity to learn and become more independent. We figured out the tram and bus system (sort of), learned some of the neighborhoods (sort of), and saw lots of things we’d never seen on previous visits.

Gorgeous bar we didn’t have time to visit. Next trip!

We decided to buy a pass that would admit us to various tourist activities, which was a pretty good decision. However, we bought the five-day pass, which was a BIG mistake! We are too old and tired to gallavant constantly for five straight days. Lesson learned. Anyway, our first outing was an archipelago tour on a boat built in 1906. The tour was about three hours (we didn’t end up on a deserted island, thankfully!), and it was pretty interesting.

1906 boat

Back on land and after a late lunch, we headed to the K A Almgren Silk Weaving and Museum, which was fascinating. It’s still a functioning weaving facility for artisans, and it dates from the 1800s. The museum profiles many of the women who worked there (the work force was all women, some starting out in their early teens and working their entire careers there), and, of course, the MAN who ran the operation. After the first world war they transitioned to making ribbons for the medals that all the royals and their entourages wore. Each worker had only one job, which must have been mind-numbingly tedious, but the average tenure was many years, and they took great pride in their skills.

An exhibit of a dress made from silk ties

Next we stopped for a delicious cocktail at Exit Lounge, which we’d visited on a previous trip. They have wonderful tapas as well as cocktails, but this time we just wanted a quick beverage before heading home.

Cocktails!

Then it was home, dinner, watch Ted Lasso, and sleep fast, because the next day would be equally busy. Have I mentioned that we visited a LOT of museums?

National Museum main hall

We started our day at the National Museum. We didn’t know much about it before our visit, and we were absolutely blown away. What an amazing and beautiful space! And the art is magnificent. Here are a few of my favorite pieces there.

By the time we were ready to leave–after about three hours!–we were famished and ready for a very late lunch. Refreshed, we headed to our next stop, the Nobel Prize Museum. Phil was not enthusiastic about this one, but I really wanted to see it, and we were both glad we did. Our favorite thing was a series of short films highlighting the life and work of Nobel Prize recipients, but we also enjoyed the recreated work spaces for some of the most well-known winners: Marie Curie’s lab, writers’ desks, etc., and also gowns worn to the laureates’ banquets and much more.

By this time we were tired, hungry, and ready to go home. Instead of cooking, which I do most nights, we decided to visit a neighborhood bar and restaurant which became our local hangout. It was a pleasant 15-minute walk from the apartment and offered outdoor seating, excellent cocktails, and delicious food.

Parma Kok & Bar, our local hangout. We ate there three times in two weeks.

The next day we headed to a place we’d visited on our first trip to Stockholm: Artipelag. Artipelag is a unique facility: art museum, restaurant, hiking area, and event venue. On our first visit we had a wonderful lunch on the terrace overlooking the water, and we did a bit of hiking, but this time we wanted to see everything. First up was the “Imagine Monet” immersive exhibit. We’d enjoyed the Van Gogh one in San Francisco in 2021, but this one was even better!

“Imagine Monet”

After a delicious buffet lunch (with wine and a fun waiter!) on the terrace, we headed to the regular exhibit, which was much more robust than we’d expected. We also watched a film about the founders of this lovely venue. Here are a couple of my favorite paintings from this visit.

After perusing the gallery, we decided to head out to the hiking paths, which mostly lead to the water. We saw more art along the way and appreciated the picnic tables scattered around for a quick rest.

 

View from a hiking path

Giant golden egg sculpture

I especially loved this sculpture of a young boy.

We took a very nice bus ride back into Stockholm–much better than the public trains/buses we took to get there–and hit our next sight: the Royal Palace. The guard advised us to move quickly, as the palace was closing in 45 minutes, but that was not a problem; it was HOT in there! 

Royal Palace: very ornate, very hot.

Our final stop for the day was Just what we needed: cocktails at the Grand Hotel, Stockholm’s premiere hotel where Madonna, Justin Bieber, and other luminaries have stayed. The cocktails were delicious but super expensive, but it was worth it; that is a gorgeous hotel!

The next day began with disappointment: we had planned to use our pass (the expensive, five-day one we regret) for a round trip boat ride to Birka, the Viking city. A UNESCO World Heritage site, Birka dates from the seventh century and still has many relics from its Viking days. We tried twice, but they were sold out both days. Ugh! There was nothing to do but figure out how to make it a good day. Off we went–to more museums!

We started with a hop-on, hop-off bus tour of the entire city, then stayed on the bus to visit Skansen, billed as the world’s oldest outdoor museum. Honestly? We didn’t love Skansen–but if you had young children to entertain it would probably be great.

Next we walked past the ABBA, Vasa, and Spirits museums (which we’d seen on previous visits) to the Viking Museum. That was fascinating–videos of actors portraying various Viking personas, artifacts, recreations, and lots of information–and horrifying in its focus on how cruel and violent humans can be.

Viking Museum: interesting but disturbing.

After a quick late lunch to forestall the hangries, we visited the Nordic Museum, which was excellent. I was too tired to take many photos, but it featured some amazing exhibits: table settings across the ages, the British influence on fashion over the last two centuries, a recreation of traditions throughout the year, and of course more amazing art. I wish we’d spent more time there.

Nordic Museum exhibit recreating the traditional Midsummer celebration

After all this museum hopping (and walking! We walked 15,000 to 20,000 steps each of these hectic days!) we were ready for. . .meatballs! I’d read about a restaurant called Meatballs for the People that sounded irresistable; you choose what kind of meatballs you want, anything ranging from pork or beef to bear or vegan, and get a standard plate featuring your meatballs of choice. We had a cocktail while waiting, then sat on barstools watching the meatballers at work. It was amazing! Mashed potatoes like clouds, delicious meatballs, and of course lingonberries and pickled cucumbers. I loved it so much I bought a t-shirt!

Meatballs for the People menu

We had a lot planned for the last day of our pass. But the next morning we decided to stay home and rest! It was a good decision and I don’t regret it, except for missing the Drottingham Palace, Prince Eugene’s Waldemarsudde, the Riddarholm Church, and the Royal Canal Tour. Next visit!

After a day of rest, which included our continuing Ted Lasso marathon, followed by a day of laundry (all the machines were in Swedish, so we relied heavily on our daughter’s instructional video!), we were ready to re-emerge. We did a little shopping, strolled the streets of Stockholm, and had a memorable lunch at Lisa Elmqvist, the seafood restaurant at the legendary Ostermalm Food Hall, Stockholm’s 130-year-old foodie institution.

My gorgeous, albeit too rich, sole meunière at Lisa Elmqvist

The next day we spent cleaning the apartment, making soups for the kids to enjoy when they arrived home, and packing. Dakeeti began freaking out and jumped into my suitcase more times than I could count! On the morning of their arrival we did one last batch of laundry and waited anxiously for their arrival.

Happy homecoming!

We ordered out for Thai lunch and toasted their homecoming with a bottle of champagne. Then, far too soon, it was time for us to go. We said happy-sad farewells and headed to the airport, where after checking in we visited the AmEx popup lounge for. . .let’s just admit it. . .our second lunch.

Second lunch: delicious!

We were excited to come home after two weeks away, but the memories from this amazing visit will stay with us. I’ll leave you with a view of the gorgeous flowers that are everywhere in beautiful Stockholm. How lucky we are to be living this amazing Roaming life!