After another full day of the Inner Ear Biology Conference (I may blog the talks in the future, but I’m on vacation now!), I wanted to explore more of this beautiful city in the south of France. A bit on the history of Montpellier (summarized from its Wiki entry):
Montpellier is the capital of the Languedoc-Roussillon region (famous for its red wine), and as of 2004 the population was about 245,000 people. This makes it about twice the size of Ann Arbor, although it actually seems much more compact (a tourists’ distortion, I know.) It is about 6miles from the Mediterranean ocean. Montpellier is one of the few French cities without a direct Roman background. The city was first mentioned in a document in 985 CE , and was situated a little inland to help prevent pirate raids which were common in that time. Montpellier came to prominence in the 10th century as a center for commerce and a tradition of religious tolerance for Jews, Muslims, and Christians alike. Around the 16th century, the city became a Protestant stronghold of resistence to the Catholic French crown, although Louis XIII crushed the resistence in 1622 and built a citidel to assure the city’s security. During the 19th century, and continuing today, the city has distinguished itself as an industrial and tourist center.
Montpellier also has its own Arc du Triomphe, similar to the one in Paris but smaller. It is on the west side of the city, along with a beautiful park and aquaduct, and I walked over there today.
The real name of this Arc is Porte du Peyrou, and it was construced in 1692. Later, carvings glorifying Louis XIV were added showing 4 major events in his reign, one of which is him dressed as Hercules. It is currently being restored. Tourists are allowed to climb it and take pictures from the top. A further tribute to the ever-humble King Louis XIV (aka the Sun King) is this monument, which sits in a beautiful park directly behind the Arc.
(More pictures and random chats with French people, under the fold!)
At the edge of this park is a large old water resevoir, which is connected to an aquaduct called Aquaduc St.Clement (resevoir below).
This aquaduct was built in the 17th century, and at one time brought water into the city from the St Clement spring 14 km away, which flowed into the resevoir (aquaduct below).
Across the street from the Arc was the Palais du Justice (courthouse, I’m assuming.) It was a gorgeous piece of architecture. I certainly felt less likely to commit a crime after being in its imposing shadow!
Also, I’m sad to report that despite France’s advancements in all manner of vinology and gastronomy, they are still susceptilbe to woo! I saw this sign on my way back from the park, and had to snap it for Orac.
Of course, no blog entry would be complete without a story regarding a random French person with whom I chatted with. As I was sitting in the park reading SEED, a middle-aged French guy sits down and just starts chattering away. After the usual “Je ne parle pas Francais, etc” , I learned he spoke English and was on holiday from the French countryside where he lived. (No worries, he wasn’t creepy, just chatty!) He was quite interested in me, America, the science “congress” which I was here to attend…..but soon I became quite aware that his interest was just opening the door slightly to unloading all HIS problems on me! Strange, but I heard about how he was in love with a married woman, all about his ex-wife and messy divorce, and his painter-friend who allowed him to take pictures of his girlfriend in the nude! Actually it was really very fascinating, the cultural differences can be no more apparent than when conversing with a complete stranger on the matters of love. His painter-friend often allowed him to be a “voyeur” with him and his girlfriend, and to him that seemed completely normal. Although that wouldn’t quite be so accepted in the US (thankfully!).
He also commented that he was surprised I wasn’t fat. “Aren’t all Americans fat? No?” Oh man, our reputation truly is “large.” :/ I find it amazing that the French can eat as they do and NOT get fat. But, they do walk/bike everywhere, I think that must make a big difference.
Finally I found an excellent little Italian place to eat dinner at, and felt quite guilty for ordering (and loving) the fois gras. Pepper would not be amused.