Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Un Petit Tour de Montpellier

Mardi, 20 août.

It's weird to think that I've only been in Montpellier for three days. Although it definitely does NOT yet feel like home, I think I'm settling in pretty quickly! We try to speak French as much as possible, although English is definitely more prevalent amongst the majority of study abroad students. (Ugh.) And I think I'm starting to have at least a slightly better sense of where I am in the city as we're walking around -- as long as I have a map to fall back on!

I guess the thing that is making this all feel the most real is that we began our orientation classes today. I have three hours of grammar in the morning and two hours of "French civilization" in the afternoon. Both classes are taught by French university professors, though they're very different. I'm not sure exactly how it'll go for the next three weeks, but our grammar class definitely seems more difficult. (But I can't complain, because I know that I really wanted to be put in the advanced class!) We have a workbook and handouts as well as homework and exams. The civilization course, on the other hand, is all about getting us informed and excited about Montpellier and France. We only have six meetings, two of which are field trips -- to une oliveraie to learn about olive oil production and to a meeting with a wine specialist to learn about la viticulture in the Languedoc-Roussillon region! 

In the meantime, we're using our spare time to get to know Montpellier. Yesterday, after taking our orientation placement exams (45 minutes of written exam followed by an oral interview) and a delicious Mediterranean buffet, we decided to explore the Centre Ville de Montpellier. It wound up being a wonderful decision because in addition to being a great workout -- around 4 hours of nonstop walking -- it gave us the opportunity to see the Montpellier we had all dreamed about.

We stumbled upon the Arc de Triomphe de Montpellier completely by accident on our way to the Place de la Comedie. It was built at the end of the 17th century in honor of King Louis XIV and to recognize the end of the wars of religion and I think it used to stand at the outskirts of the city. Now it just sort of stands in the middle of the intersection. (Along with the dozens of tourists trying to photograph it!)

Arc de Triomphe de Montpellier
The Arc de Triomphe is located just across from the Place Royale du Peyrou, a pretty tree-lined park that houses a cool statue of Louis XIV. At the other end stands the Chateau d'Eau, an ancient reservoir and probably the prettiest water tank you ever did see! Just behind it is what remains of the Montpellier aqueduct. (Not quite the Pont du Gard, but still cool.)

We're going back to these places sometime soon and I'll bring my real camera to take some better photos! But in the meantime, the iPhone did a pretty great job...

Cheesin in front of the Chateau d'Eau!

After taking our fill of photos on the Place Royale du Peyrou, we headed down La Rue Foch to the Place de la Comedie. Naturally, though, we got a little distracted. The buildings were beautiful and oh so French -- big windows, balconies, and the perfect amount of creeping ivy replaced the graffiti and weird prison architecture of the rest of the city. Even the alleys (well, side streets) were adorable -- and one revealed an entire church in the street behind!

In case you were wondering, the church is called l'Eglise Sainte-Anne and, as I learned today in class, it's not actually a church! Although it still looks like a beautiful gothic church from the outside, it's a museum of art exhibitions on the inside. And it's not even that old -- it was built in the 19th century! There's only one truly ancient church in Montpellier (and we're going to visit it this weekend!) because 16th-century religious wars destroyed the rest. But I digress.


When we finally arrived at the Place de la Comedie, we were not disappointed. It's very touristy and was definitely the most crowded of any place I've visited so far, but it's also very beautiful. The buildings are gorgeous and definitely live up to any Google search of "Montpellier"!

Three Graces Fountain
During our first civilization course this afternoon, we began to talk about the history of Montpellier. And as fate would have it, our professor talked about almost all of the places we had visited the day before! It was awesome to learn more about the history and meaning of sites with which we were already a little bit familiar.

For example, check out this map of the Centre Ville de Montpellier. The big orange section in the middle is the called l'Ecusson, which means "shield" in French -- can you see the geometric shape?

The winding streets, which our professor compared to the shell of a snail, were built to protect the city's inhabitants. Back when the city was founded, during the Moyen Âge (Middle Ages), those streets made up the whole of Montpellier. The Arc de Triomphe, which stands between the orange section and the green rectangle on the middle/left of the map, was the extent of the town limits. Now, the entire Centre Ville is only a small piece of the massive 250,000-person city.

And to think -- in comparison to Nimes and Marseilles, they call Montpellier a "modern" city!

1 comment:

  1. I'm so glad you will be living with a host family! The dorm is great for the orientation though. You are easing into France nicely!