Tag Archives: #montpellier

French, Sunsets, Hernias… and a Cat

The Wonderweg has gone (and still is going) through some massive changes. It has always been just as much of an internal than an external journey. Two months of hiking have brought me from Brugg in Switzerland to Montpellier in France. A city I immediately clicked with on so many levels. Which is why, as most of you know, I decided to stay a while in the beautiful Occitanie region to learn French. Then the second lockdown hit us, and my little temporary home above the rooftops became ever more a sanctuary filled with thoughts and sunsets.

This is for the best in more ways than I thought. Hiking with heavy backpacks is cancelled until further notice. For weeks now, I’ve been in pain every time I lifted my right leg to put on my pants or socks. I thought it was just a twisted muscle. Or me getting old. Or muscle fatigue due to not moving enough with all the Covid restrictions. But it wasn’t getting better. Rather, gradually, it got worse.
It turns out, somewhere along the line of jumping over rocks like a gazella whilst carrying a twelve kilogram backpack, I’ve given myself a hernia, or possibly two, on my right side. I’ll have to be careful with this since I can’t currently afford an operation. I have no social security or health insurance. Hopefully, the hernia(s) will not get acute before I find a job and have a chance to get insured… fingers crossed, this should happen some time within the next 1-3 months.

My industry being dead in the water, plus all the personal upheavals that started long before Covid, got me thinking a lot of where to go from here professionally as well as personally. In which direction am I going to point this new life I am forced to start from scratch? I have quite a few thoughts and ideas of complete changes which I’ll gradually share with you here…

I’d also like to introduce you to my new partner in crime: JoJo. A twelve year old street cat who was found starving in an alley with severe gum infections four weeks ago. After a few weeks at the vet’s and after getting all of his teeth pulled, he slowly got better. I’ve decided to take him in. JoJo has been with me for a week now and is getting attached to me incredibly fast. In this short a time he has gone from hiding under the bed and only slinking out to quickly eat a bite, to lounging on his new cat tree, watching pigeons, and suffocating me at night by snuggling close and pressing his entire body onto my face. What can I say, I love the little rascal to bits already. From here on out we are partners on this journey.

Keep following us, if you’re interested in a more internal, South of France-based journey. Less mountains, but lots of palm trees, sunshine, and change. Lots and lots and lots of change. There will also still be hiking in the future. I’ve tasted how great it is to walk long distance and will surely do more trips. At some point, I definitely want to do the final leg of the journey I had planned: from the Strait of Gibraltar to Odemira in Portugal. But, for the moment, there will be no physical exercise for my legs beyond walking and swimming until I get this hernia taken care of.

Also, first on the agenda for JoJo and me is to find a place to live for ourselves in Montpellier. Because this little haunt is only ours until the middle of January 2021. What a year. The journey through it and beyond it definitely warrants to be called a Wonderweg. A journey full of developments, changes, and wonder… on an exponential scale.

Lockdown Walkabout

Just one hour a day to go out is not enough. I try to make the most of it though and keep exploring the old part of town. There is still so much street art to discover. So many cozy corners, too. One place I visit every day is a square close to the big UNIQLO in Montpellier. On the square are four of these gnarly old giants. In the evening, just about the time I finish with my French Zoom classes, these trees are literally bursting with birds. You already hear them from hundreds of meters away. But when you stand just underneath those trees and close your eyes, the choir of birds fills your entire existence. Definitely one of the better open air concerts I’ve been to.

Other than that, there is really not much new. I am charmed by the Carrefour around the corner from where I live. It’s supposed to close at 6pm every night. Last night, I went there 5 min to six without realizing and was firmly reminded by a security guard inside that they’ll close in 5 min. But, many had come in late just like me, so the employees in the store just kept on working until the flow of customers ebbed somewhat. Today, when I walked past at quarter past 6pm they were again still open with long lines waiting. No one seemed to be really bothered by it and the police didn’t care either. That’s my kind of place ☺️

Speaking of police. They leisurely patrolled the streets on bicycles today, chatted with each other, did random checks of curfew papers, waved, and greeted “bon soir” as I walked past them. Another moment in time which made me smile. In the empty alleys, a guy played fetch with his Golden Retriever. I ended up crawling under the parked cars with both guy and dog to help them fish out the balls they had lost. Then, as I continued on my rounds, the sky darkened, and those beautiful old street lights turned on. They bathed everything in the warm, golden light I love so much here at night.

Now, “Les Exercises de Grammaire” are calling for me… I guess, I better answer those calls… 🧐

Lockdown And Surprisingly Delicious Donuts

The latest lockdown here in France began in the night between 29th and 30ieth of October. Like many, I went for one last, long stroll on the 29th. The conditions couldn’t have been more perfect. A clear, warm night with sparkling stars.

It was hilarious as well as disturbing when I came across a demonstration of anti-lockdown and anti-mask protesters. There, they were, all bundled close together, none of them wearing masks, shouting “Liberté!” over and over again and making quite the racket. I wondered if it occured to any of them that trough their irresponsible actions they were actually taking the risk of depriving their fellow protesters of the ‘Liberté’ of health? Thankfully, it was only a group of about 50 Covidiots which gave me hope for the overall sanity of the French populace. Most onlookers were as puzzled as I was, kept sitting at their tables in roadside cafes, kept sipping their wine, and had an amused smile playing on their lips.

I shook my head and ambled on… enjoyed the warm yellow lights in the old town, and the purplish sky due to a full moon. It was close to curfew. So, many stores and businesses were already preparing to shut down for an indefinite amount of weeks. Five minutes before curfew, I came upon ‘My Donut’ and couldn’t believe it. Two months ago, I had found this cute little gem by accident and had savored one of their home-made donuts. Probably, and surprisingly, one of the best desserts I had ever come across. In the weeks after, I had tried to find the tiny cafe again, but there were so many alleys, I just couldn’t remember which alley it had been in. But now… here it was. As it turned out the incredibly short distance of two minutes away from my home!

Something to look forward to for when the lockdown restrictions will be lifted. I shall then visit ‘My Donut’ at least once a week and take the time to sit down for a strong espresso and a round, fattening delicacy!

An Unobstructed View

Today marks 7 weeks in Montpellier. Time flies here. It’s gotten quite cold now, even for these Southern climes. Thus, I’m glad not to have to sleep in my tent at the moment. Yesterday, I had to move though. Because I changed my mind to stay longer, the other little rooftop apartment wasn’t available any more. But I got really lucky. The studio apartment next door is even cozier. The view over the rooftops is pretty much unobstructed giving me full access to those sunsets I can never get enough of. And: I have a washing machine!!!!!! Incredible! For the first time since July my clothes will be thoroughly clean. Handwashing just isn’t the same. I never thought I’d be this glad to see a washing machine 😆.

Other than that, I’m heading to a classical concert in the opera house now. So happy that, even though Covid restrictions have gotten stricter again, entertainment venues are still staying open and performances are commencing as planned. Well, they are doing matinees instead of evening performances now, because of the curfew. But it’s a perfect workaround… and classical music after breakfast has never hurt anyone 😉. What a privilege!

The rest of my day will be spent studying French like a madman. My progress is slow because I forgot far more vocabulary and grammar than I thought I had (well, I pretty much forgot all of it after 30 years, on top of having been a very lazy and unmotivated student back then). So, I am utilizing my classes, plus extra exercise books, Harry Potter, and Duolingo to bring myself up to speed. I am determined and WILL leave here speaking French! Good to have a goal, too. It gives me focus and hope. Everything is so uncertain and I still have no idea where these trails will lead me, but somehow it’ll all work out.

Weekend Wanderings and Wonderings

The streets were immensely busy last night as all of Montpellier seemed to have decided to enjoy one more lovely and long night out before entering into yet another lockdown. I keep being astounded by the atmosphere in this town. The relaxedness, the joie de vivre, the golden sun, the dramatic clouds…

As I wander, I wonder, could Montpellier possibly be the place I have been looking for all my life? Essentially, home is everywhere on the planet for me, where I have good people who care for me and I for them. What I have always missed and looked for though is an actual home base. A place I enjoy to return to over and over again. And, so far, I have never really discovered anywhere that seemed a good fit. For a while, I thought Zurich might become my base. Yet it somehow felt too clean, too structured, and restricted. Plus the climate sucks. Brrr. Malta crossed my mind for its proximity to the ocean, its perfect climate, and its lovely people. Yet it does not offer the rich and diverse international cultural life I crave. Macau also made it to the top of my list for its fascinating cultural melange, its awesome location in the midst of all Asian destinations I love, and its invigorating and often inspiring expat community.

To be fair, many places can possibly fit the bill, yet none have so far ticked as many boxes for me as Montpellier has. It has almost the same climate as Malta, which means a very short and mostly sunny winter and a long, lovely, hot, and sunny summer. Palm trees are everywhere. The Mediterranean Sea is right at the doorstep. Art and culture are everywhere. Opera, ballet, dance, theatre, painting, sculpture, and photography exhibitions, movie theatres, book stores with English and French books, street art… you name it. Food and drink are excellent, too. And for a nature lover like me, the Occitanie region offers almost too many trails to explore in one lifetime. Looking just a little bit further, the Pyrenees, Provence, and Camargue are only a stone’s throw away as well. Plus, it is easy to quickly get anywhere from here for international job contracts.

Yes, I can really imagine Montpellier to become my home base. The place I return to, to come home and rest a bit before venturing out again to roam the planet for work and travel. Now, to just figure out a way to actually make a home here… I do lack the resources at the moment, but only just the fact that I have discovered a potential geographical harbor to stave my uprootedness is amazing. Something to possibly look forward to and grow into…

What a Trip!

Over the last three days, the “What a Trip!” festival took place in Montpellier. A wonderful nature and travel-related documentary film festival. I went and saw three of the movies. Have you ever heard of the underwater explorer and photographer Laurent Ballesta? His work is incredible. I felt as if I was diving with him and as if I could sense every drop of water caressing my skin. He just published a new book, ‘Planete Mediterranee’. It’s absolutely incredible!

Here is his website: https://laurentballesta.com

Another movie was about the French nature photographer Vincent Munier. I don’t think I have ever seen nature photography like this before. Vincent is so sensual about the whole experience. He somehow becomes one with the animals he photographs. He recognizes their souls and manages to manifest this in his photographs. See for yourself, here is the entire docu about him: https://youtu.be/lUJQRMeYFqM It’s an hour of your life you won’t regret!

The third documentary feature was just as fascinating. It was about a group of scientists and divers calling themselves ‘Under the Pole’, and about one of their expeditions in French Polynesia. On this specific endeavor, they were on a quest to learn more about corals. Amazingly, they found corals at depths as far as 150 m below the surface!!! Something that was long thought to be impossible and might show that corals are changing with their environment and becoming ever more resilient and adaptable. It’s a ray of hope for the oceans, for our entire planet, and for humanity.

Needless to say, traveling all over the world in a cinema at a time when traveling has become incredibly complicated if not nearly impossible was invigorating for a nomad like me.

Even better, to be able to see all this in one of Montpellier’s oldest movie theatres. Merci beaucoup pour ce voyage extraordinaire!

As For The Future…

I’ve been sitting in this garden behind our school a lot during breaks these last few days, enjoying the last few rays of warm summer sun. Just in time, too. The skies are still blue, but temperatures have plummeted from 25 degress to 10 degrees this morning. Brrrr…

The last 2 days were also decision time, since yesterday was supposed to be my last day at the Alliance Francaise, and today was going to be the last day in my little rooftop sanctuary.

Hiking on or staying a bit longer was the tough question. Financially, hiking on would have been the much smarter decision. Plus, it might have gotten me to Portugal in time for Christmas.

I followed my gut, however, and prolonged my stay here… for 3 1/2 months!!!

Crazy, I know. But here it is. All-in-all, I’ll be studying French and enjoying Montpellier and its surroundings for 4 1/2 months. During that time, my aim is to get my French to at least nearly fluid. Spain and Portugal won’t run away in the meantime. And the new year can begin with exploring Europe further. Something positive to look forward to during not-so-positive times.

The 15th of January 2021 will be my last day of school here. If, until then, I still haven’t found a job, I’ll hike onwards along the coast of Southern Spain towards the Strait of Gibraltar and Portugal.

The Wonderweg surely is staying true to its name in more ways (or rather trails) than one. My mind is completely open. If I make it as far as the Straight of Gibraltar, I might just hop on a ferry and explore Morocco for a few days/weeks as well. Practice my French over there, too 😁… Or I’ll stay on the European side of the Mediterranean Sea…

Everything is uncertain… everything is open… scary and liberating both at the same time.

Which is fine… because… (in the words of the ever-inspiring Antoine De Saint Excupery)… ”As for the future, your task is not to foresee it, but to enable it.”

Night Skies and Space Invaders

I’m still in Montpellier. Next to studying beaucoup de Francais and working on articles for the online magazine TheatreArtLife, I do a lot of walking through town at night. I love wandering around aimlessly, listening to people speak in French, with me just floating through the conversations, soaking it all in.

Each night, all the street cafes are bustling with customers. Everyone enjoying each other’s company, a few glasses of good wine, and the warm autumn nights. Temperatures are still surprisingly mild.

Ever since a friend alerted me that one of the pieces of street art I photographed is from the famous ‘Space Invader’ I’ve also made it my goal to find as many of his subtle, little pieces as possible. So far, I’ve already found more than a dozen…

I love the lights in this city at night. The many hues of warm yellow and orange. And the colors of the sky, changing from a bright blue at sunset through the most amazing palette of dark blues until they come to rest in an intense purplish black.

Exhausted, Satisfied, Happy, and Clueless

I went on a hike today after school to contemplate what to do… The little villages and surrounding landscapes were a bit distracting though. They were so gorgeous, I had to keep interrupting my thoughts to take a picture. Horrible.

At this moment in time, I really have no idea how to continue my Wonderweg. The only thing that seems clear in these puzzlingly unclear times is that I won’t find employment any time soon.

3 of 4 weeks here in Montpellier are already over. My French didn’t improve nearly as fast as I’d hoped it would during this time. I am wondering if I should sign up for one more month of language school to do it right and invest as much work and time as I possibly can?

On the other hand, the Spanish border is only about a week’s hike away from here. It’s immensely tempting to get back on the trail soon and see where it will lead. Then again, the trail won’t be going anywhere. I don’t need to rush.
Weather is another consideration. The rainy season will be starting here any minute now. However, the further south I’ll hike, the warmer and drier it should stay…
Money is another thing to think about, as it will run out soon… even though I always keep everything as low budget as possible…

My hike today surely did not bring me any answers. But it was a beautiful afternoon. The clouds were hanging low, the air was heavy and sensuously humid. Almost as I remember it from when I lived in my homes in Hong Kong and Macau. The landscape… as you can see… was a feast for the eyes. I am exhausted now, satisfied, happy, and as clueless as I was this morning.

Montpellier

Weekend steps… this time I’m just leisurely exploring around the neighborhood. So many cozy corners. Art and the memory of art can be found everywhere. Buildings, streets, and alleys are stunning. Good food and drink is available on every corner (No Liam. Don’t look. Keep walking). Street artists are doing their makeup, getting ready for a day of enlivening the streets. Everyone is out and about. Every seat in every street cafe and restaurant is taken. People are celebrating life, meeting friends, breathing the still comfortably hot autumn air.

I wonder if they know how lucky they are to be living here? This must be my favorite town to date. And it’s not just the place itself but its immediate surroundings as well. Everything is only a short drive away: the ocean, the Camargue, the Pyrenees, the Provence, the border to Spain… ☀️