Getting to Love Montpellier
I got into Montpellier a little over a month ago and was put up in a quite nice hotel by the program for about two weeks. My first experience with the streets of Montpellier was the walk from the train station to said hotel with my two pieces of luggage and a packed full backpack in tow. Luckily it wasn't the first time I had to deal with this setup but it was the first time I'd set foot in Montpellier. After a few detours which ended up being the equivalent of dead ends I finally realized that I was going to have to test out this southern hospitality. After finding quite a few kindly Montpellierans who were more than happy to help me out I finally made my way to the hotel without too many mishaps. I learned a few things from this walk: Montpellier has some great weather but is definitely hotter than Wisconsin, the people in Montpellier are really welcoming, and the hotel we were staying in has the tastiest water I've yet to find in France.
The stay at the hotel was a great way to introduce me to Montpellier. The hotel was in the middle of Antigone which is a relatively new neighborhood just east of downtown Montpellier. The neighborhood is a really cool place to explore; it was a cool combination of some of the bigger hotels in town as well as quite a few low income housing developments. It was great to see some of the less well-off people in town living along with tourists without any major problems that I could see. The neighborhood was contracted by a socialist mayor of Montpellier in 1977 thus the combination of low income housing with a more affluent neighborhood. Even though I moved out of the hotel more than 4 weeks ago I still feel a connection to Antigone that I'm sure will bring me back to visit quite a few times.
From the hotel everyone in the program was introduced to their respective housing arrangements for the rest of the semester or academic year. The majority of the students with the Minnesota program chose to live with host families scattered around Montpellier and the surrounding suburbs. A few students decided to live in the dorms close to the university and the rest chose to live in apartments with other Americans in the program. I was the only person to get into a student housing building called l'Observatoire. After exploring the area around the apartment building I was really excited to move in since it was in a really lively part of downtown. After actually seeing my room however, I realized that this wasn't exactly my ideal living situation. The room was just too small and the building didn't offer any kind of social environment to meet other international or French students. Luckily it wasn't too much of a problem to move into an apartment with a couple of other guys from the program so I did that as soon as I could. The time I spent in the Observatoire did introduce me to my favorite spot to go out that I've found so far in Montpellier: l'Antirouille.
L'Antirouille is a musical bar with live music most nights ranging from Dubstep to Reggae with a lot in between. Interestingly enough those are some of my favorite genres of music at this point and seeing some local talent spin live tracks is well worth the 5 euro cover charge they put on for some of their more popular acts. In my explorations of electronic music it was impossible to miss the influence that French artists have on the international scene but when I think of French electro I always thought of Paris and definitely not Montpellier. None the less the immense youth of the city attracts some great electronic music at very reasonable prices. Since I arrived I've made it a point to make it to as many free concerts as possible at l'Antirouille and I have been far from disappointed.
In one of the first tours of the city that I went on with the program the tour guide talked about the very strong student population in Montpellier along with the increasing presence of retirees. This dichotomy between old and young plays a major role in my fascination with Montpellier. There's definitely a diversity of age in Montpellierans but also in the atmosphere of the city. The latter can be found in various cosmopolitan centers in France such as the modern art exhibits at Versailles. I can't get enough of these apparent contradictions but for some people it's rather disrespectful to put modern culture in the middle of ancient history. In Montpellier, just like many French cities, the architecture is very old. Montpellier has one the oldest schools of medicine in the medieval world but at the same time has some of the coolest graffiti that I've ever seen anywhere. Obviously I haven't spent nearly enough time here to get a complete idea of what this city is all about but from what I've experienced so far Montpellier has got me hooked.