Internet is a little scarce. I’m typing this up now at about 9:45PM on January 14th and posting it as soon I can connect.
My journey to Montpellier finally started at 11:15am at Goerke’s Corner in Waukesha. From there, I said goodbye to my parents and boarded the Coach USA bus to O’Hare. Onboard were me, a woman going to Glasgow, a man flying domestically who didn’t talk, and the bus driver who is originally from Germany. During the two hour trip, conversation was somewhat sparse, but both the woman and the bus driver shared stories of French snobbery while travelling to Paris. Perhaps part of their problems in dealing with the Parisians could have been ameliorated by attempting to speak French.
After the bus, I checked my luggage (coming in at 21 kg) and continued to gate M7. While standing in line for the security check, I was fully prepared to experience the worst: full body scanners, thorough pat-downs, and long lines. The whole process probably took under 5 minutes. That left me with just over two hours to start Spook by Mary Roach (thanks Dad!) and wait for my flight to board. From Chicago to Paris the flight is about seven and a half hours. In that time I watched Going the Distance and Wall-E in English and an episode of How I Met Your Mother and Friends in French. One nice thing about watching American TV in French is it boosts my comprehension level from about 70% to about 95%. I tried to sleep but couldn’t get comfortable on the plane.
During the flight there were two in-flight meals. For dinner I had the Beef Bourguignon with mashed potatoes, a side salad with smoked salmon, a square of cheese, and a banana chocolate cake. Even French airplane food is better than some American places. Breakfast was a muffin and orange juice.
Once I arrived in Paris, I went through another surprisingly simple security check point then tried to find my gate. However, to my surprise, the gate was not printed on my ticket. My flight also was not appearing on the big screen of departures. In order to find out where I needed to be, I tried to ask someone at a customer service desk for help. “Je cherche la porte pour le vol AirFrance 3780 à Montpellier” I told her. « Gate 36, to the left past the shops, it will be on the right, » came her reply. For a second, I thought my French was a lot better than I thought because I understood her without a problem. A second later I realized it was actually so bad, she felt it was necessary to respond in English. At the gate, I found other people from the U including one of my classmates. We sat and chatted for two hours until the plane to Montpellier boarded.
I meant to sleep on the flight from Paris to Montpellier, but it was so short, I never got the chance. Basically, we reached cruising altitude then began our descent. The plane was so small my luggage had to be stored in the back. Otherwise I would have taken some photos of the beautiful, hilly terrain of Montpellier stretching until it meets mountains off in the distance. Unfortunately, my camera was in the bag they took in back, so there are no photos. Perhaps I will take them when I leave Montpellier. It really is breathtaking.
At the airport, we picked up our luggage (or at least most of us did; one girl’s luggage got routed to Honolulu), got in taxis and arrived at the hotel. The first thing I noticed was how hot it is. I stepped out of the cold airport and into a damp heat. The internet said it was about 59 degrees today. Most of us took showers and some of us took naps. I only did the former. I’m going to try to stay up and integrate myself into the new time zone.
Tomorrow our one week orientation begins and we get to meet our host families. Until then, we get to relax. However, with the excitement of being in a new city, some of the girls on the program and I went out to dinner and explored the city a little.
In France, there are only two sales per year and someone told me these happen during government mandated dates. We happened to arrive at the beginning of their winter sale. All the shops have “SOLDES” signs in the windows. I haven’t bought anything yet, but I will before they sales end in mid-February.
Montpellier has an “old-city charm.” Its narrow streets seemingly randomly thrown onto the map and tall beige-ish buildings with old wooden shutters make me feel as if I travelled back in time. However, a close encounter with a speeding vespa zipping down the street, skillfully weaving between pedestrians was enough to bring me back to this decade.
On an only tangential note, here are the VeloMaggs. They’re like Minneapolis’ Nice Ride. I want to ride one at one point.
One transfer, two in-flight movies, and 30 sleepless hours later I am finally going to bed after my first day in Montpellier, France.