A Detour to 2002 – A Year in Montpellier

“Cette année-là…” sings the vaguely familiar voice of Claude François, played by a DJ on a warm November night.

The cozy Montpellier bar is packed with 20-year-olds from different parts of the globe – and even some from the region. You can feel the sweat spray onto your skin from people dancing on nearby tables. Despite the recent seasonal release of Beaujolais Nouveau, or perhaps because of it, the general atmosphere isn’t very drunk. But absolutely everyone is dancing. They are happy to be there and to be young. The laughter radiating from a group of Dutch students is contagious.

It’s 2002 and this is my Erasmus exchange year. A year filled with salsa-dancing Colombians and Mexicans, homesick Canadians and adventurous Canadians, upbeat Dutch roommates, and British students who don’t seem to wear winter coats – ever. Re-igniting a desire in me that was never really lost – a desire to keep traveling the world, even when I’m older and have inevitably settled into a steady, grown-up life.

Montpellier was magical that year. Its winding, medieval, cobblestoned streets, which seemed to slightly shift each time I walked them, forming new routes that I hadn’t yet explored. The afternoon light which ever-so-slightly changed the colors and details of buildings’ walls, revealing decorations and light yellow tones in what had seemed grey a moment earlier. The fresh, local produce, the tapenade I used on a daily basis for that brief moment of my life, the other new flavors. Montpellier is where I learned to drink coffee and it’s the only place in France where I’ve been able to find a certain Roquefort pie. I hope that bakery still exists for when I go back one day. Wait for me!

I just love that font! Unfortunately, I don’t know the story behind the building

By the spring of 2003, I had become utterly spoiled with warm winter days and trips to the beach at Palavas-les-Flots and La Grande Motte. Sometimes, I’d spot wild flamingos on the way to the beach, and my eye had grown accustomed to the rustic beauty of the area. The part of me that craves aesthetic scenery had been awoken for good. I’d been to France before, but never on this scale, and I knew I was in the right place at the right time.

While movies like L’Auberge Espagnole will always bring back memories of those days, looking back now, the hopeful outlook a student has on her future life seems a bit distant to me. Am I still the same girl?

Somewhere near Palavas, on a quieter beach

Somewhere near Palavas, on a quieter beach

Montpellier’s location in the southern part of France, not too far from the Spanish border, honestly must be among the best there is. A short drive could land you on a beach, in the mountains, in a new town or another country. There’s a certain kind of freedom in being able to just hop into a car or on a train whenever you feel like it and visit a different place each time.

I was fascinated by this building – the medieval Faculty of Medicine

There was the fisherman’s village Sète, which could be reached by a short train ride. I found a nice, secluded beach there that I returned to. There were carefree day trips to Béziers, Cap d’Adge, Nîmes, Lyon, and the Carcassonne citadel. Visits to Barcelona were easy, with the option of returning via Andorra, just to see what it was like. There was Avignon, once home to the Pope, and Arles with the cafe that inspired the famous Van Gogh painting. And other forgotten towns.

I could see how all those 19th century artists got their inspiration. Could anything be more beautiful that the lavender fields that were pictured on all those Provence postcards they sold everywhere?

This past summer, I met up with a German friend from those days. At some point, I mentioned I was still embarrassed at how I almost missed the train to Marseille on the day we had decided to go there. I’d overslept, and knowing that she was waiting for me at the train station, I’d basically jumped into my clothes and started running the moment I woke up. Luckily, my flat wasn’t very far from the station and we made our train. I didn’t even brush my hair until I was safely on the moving train!

The site of my very first café au lait... little did I know I'd become a coffee addict!

The site of my very first café au lait… little did I know I’d become a coffee addict! (This photo’s from Xmas, by the way, as you can see from the tiny star in the left upper corner)

But my friend told me I needn’t feel bad about it. In fact, she’d always thought of it as an example of what you can do if you’ve made a promise that you really want to keep.

That made me think, what about the promises we’ve made to ourselves? The bright-eyed, naive ones from when we were younger. Do those matter at all, or do we really need to stop being silly and just grow up?

This is where I learned the wonders of an "épicerie"

I quickly learned to appreciate the wonders of an “épicerie”, open 24/7

Please excuse the quality of the photos. They are pre-digital-camera era, made with a disposable camera – actually, several! Yes, digital cameras did already exist, but I was on a student’s budget, you see. So no editing, no special effects here!

66 responses to “A Detour to 2002 – A Year in Montpellier

  1. What a great transfer to then and there, a place I haven’t seen, the closest I’ve come is the Marseille – Lyon road on our way to Paris. If I’m not mistaken we didn’t go there because we’d heard that they steal cars there, and we had a cute Renault 5. 😀 Oh yes, the lavender of Provence! I’ve had a visitor insisting to see those famous Tuscan lavender fields, and I said: “Poppies, we have poppies.” But the funniest statement came from mom’s friend: “Oh, you’re in Tuscany! I’ve been travelling around France a lot in my life, especially around Alicante!”

    Liked by 3 people

    • Hahah, that last line! Though I wouldn’t mind living in a mixture of those three countries! I’m sure the followers of your blog now know what kind of beauty Tuscany holds. (If not, they should watch Under the Tuscan Sun!) 😀 …Where did you hear they steal cars, certainly not Montpellier? Must’ve been Marseille?! It has high crime rates, or so I’ve heard. To be honest, I wasn’t that impressed with Marseille, I much preferred the cute, smaller towns!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks for stopping by my blog – really enjoyed reading this post & look forward to exploring your blog! Southern France is so beautiful – so much variety that you can never get bored… I loved Carcassonne, wandering round the citadel is almost like being transported back in time/to a fairy tale world! Disposable cameras are sadly underrated in the digital era – I love the slightly grainy quality to them, it makes them more atmospheric in my opinion 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Such a great time this sounds like – had no idea how beautiful Montpellier is – well what s Great place – and in a way it seems like 2002 was only a few years ago! Seriously – time has flown – oh and love the prehistoric smile face!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I really enjoyed reading this. I felt transported to the time of your youth in France (how wonderful it sounds) and back to my own and the carefree travelling I did then. I made a promise to myself when I was in my mid twenties and it affected my whole life. It was so important that I didn’t grow up for another thirty years. But then without it I don’t think I’d have grown up at all. That last photo is lovely.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Alison. I’ve tried to keep my promises, too. Unfortunately, it isn’t generally acceptable to want to take a break (or breaks) from work to travel, so fitting my dreams in with a normal job is getting harder and harder. Still, everything is possible if you want it hard enough! It’s a matter of priorities, I guess.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Not having done an Erasmus is one of the (very few) regrets of that happy period of life that was my uni life. It must’ve been brilliant!

    As for “those promises” you made yourself when you were young(er)… well, I did some to myself as well and, some 10 years after graduation, I can say that I kept some of them. The important ones, I guess, apart visiting Easter Island; I haven’t gotten there yet, damn!

    I love your photos, disposable camera or not. They’re great!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks so much for your comment! That Erasmus year really was such a unique experience, but it’s still possible to do similar things. I’ve kept many of my own promises, too – only recently have I started to feel that I might have forgotten some of them…

      Liked by 1 person

  6. We remember Montpellier as the city where I ordered a beef tartar ‘medium done.’ The waiter thought it very funny. Helvi also bought a silver bracelet which she still wears. It is a great town with lovely cafes and bookshops. Thanks for the memory.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I think the old, un-retouched photos add to the nostalgic appeal of your post. Your words remind me of my own study abroad days (in Spain) and bring back such warm, wistful feelings.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Such a beautiful recollection of your Erasmus days. Montpellier sounds amazing – I loved reading about the day trips you could do from there. I’ve never been to that part of the world and in 2002 it must have been quite different from now. Erasmus is really such a special time in student life – before I met my Polish boyfriend I had planned on going to some warm Southern country (as I was studying in Finland back then) for Erasmus, but then I ended up coming to Poland 🙂 I wasn’t very much a part of everyday Erasmus parties and events, but I truly loved those times at the beginning when I was so unfamiliar with everything and even taking a tram to a new neighborhood was such a discovery. Now I am too used to this city. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  9. These are the photos that I find almost more striking than any others ~ from the past and holding meaning. Revisiting the time when every day there is a feeling of celebrating life as only the young can. When everything was at your fingertips, and your words of “A short drive could land you on a beach, in the mountains, in a new town or another country. There’s a certain kind of freedom in being able to just hop into a car or on a train whenever you feel like it and visit a different place each time” is just the feeling it was so easy to have back in those days.

    This is such a great, reflective post ~ where there are so many dreams and hopes for what may lay ahead, and then how life can pull us in another direction and make us wonder just how much we’ve changed. Beautiful. Enjoy the week, enjoy autumn and enjoy the adventures ahead 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Such a nice, thoughtful comment! Thank you! In a way, change is good and also our dreams change. Just as long as we don’t forget to pursue our dreams altogether! I find that work can do that to you easily – you forget to live for yourself, just repeating a routine day to day. As you said: here’s to new adventures in the future! Have a great autumn! 🍁


      • It is sometimes almost mind-blowing how dreams change and we change. There is a phrase “if I’d only known” which always scares me a bit as I am very happy “I didn’t know.” Adventures are just that ~ escapes into something new and finding yourself on a new path. Work is important, excel at the pieces of it you love and then as you say pursue life 🙂 Wishing you a great day and autumn! 🍁

        Liked by 1 person

  10. Lovely post. Every time I read about Montpellier I wonder why I never stopped there. I’ve driven between Bezier and Nimes several times, gone down to the Camargue, and never stopped in what everyone knows to be a charming town. Lucky you.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. This is one of my favorite posts of yours! I love the photos and description of your life back then. I’m somewhat familiar with the area, and hope to get back there again some day. Last year we spent time in Toulouse and the Pyrenees foothills and loved it. But I definitely will visit Montpellier and Carcassonne when I get back to France. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  12. I love the pre-digital quality of your pictures! They look fantastic! It’s fun to realize you came to France on an exchange program as I did too in Montana, USA, when I was 18 in 1998! Fond memories there too…
    I’d love us to find a place on Earth to meet up and share those stories and other adventures, live and cozy, around a cup of coffee or on a lovely beach …

    Liked by 1 person

  13. 🙂 lovely!!! What a time…
    I remember Marseille:-)))
    Thank’s for keeping the memories and including me into them.
    Let me know when you go there again

    Liked by 1 person

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  15. Oh, I can feel your love through the text – maybe, because it makes me all butterflies in my stomach? 🙂 It makes me even nostalgic – though I have never been on Erasmus program, only dreaming of that fun when watching “L’Auberge Espagnole” ))
    I loved your pictures from pre-digital era! they are …authentic, or what should I say? It reminded me of all my rolls I brought from my au-pair years in Germany, Austria and Norway (not all of them saw the daylight of becoming pictures, which I find very sad :)). And btw, my adventure started also in 2002, when I left Ukraine for Germany.
    How was Marseille back then? I must admit, this is the only place I don’t want to come back to there. Sadly, Marseille had strange energy and look the day we visited it. And I’ve been dreaming of this town since I was 15, hehe. But all other places are just pure love and beauty, shaping you for the rest of your life.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for commenting and of course reading this! 😄 I agree with you, Marseille had a weird vibe when I was there, too. I didn’t like the city, but still had a fun day with friend. And like you, I’ve liked all the other French towns I’ve visited! Old photos are kind of cool, the older the better – it would be fun to see yours from your au pair years! Did you like being an au pair? I never tried that.

      Liked by 1 person

      • The company makes it all 🙂 Good that you remember Marseille that way 😉
        I didn’t have money to develop all my pics then, so I did only some. I still have like 30 camera rolls, somewhere in my hometown (I haven’t been there for 3 years now because it is in the Eastern Ukraine, in that war zone – but I hope, I will find and develop them). I have been very lucky with all my families (5 in total), and it was a great experience. Meeting country through a family is a special thing. Many good memories from those days. But it was not young-and-party kind of fun, it was traveling together and learning from each other. Sometimes I miss those party things – and do it now :))

        Liked by 1 person

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  18. “Re-igniting a desire in me that was never really lost – a desire to keep traveling the world, even when I’m older and have inevitably settled into a steady, grown-up life”…
    I t says it all.
    It feels like a Peter Mayle post. It tastes of ripe summer fruit, and roquefort, and warm bread, and nostalgia as well.
    The last photo is my favourite.

    Liked by 1 person

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  20. Oh what a lovely post, I can feel the warm french sunshine and the joy of being so carefree! It also takes me back to my time in France, I spent a year abroad in Amiens (the other end of the country!), I had such a great time! Another thing we have in common in seems 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  21. It does look like a pretty little town. Lots of history and any places nearby. That’s what draw my attention to the place. A friend of mine studied there and was quite happy. We`ll see how we manage a short week there… Thanks for the link.
    And, well, time flies, but you seem to remain the same.
    Au revoir

    Liked by 1 person

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