Hello from Langdueoc
Eighty percent of the people seen on the streets of Montpellier this time of year are students who come from throughout France and the rest of Europe to study music, medicine, and a host of different disciplines at the city's dozen colleges. Narrow, cobbled pedestrian walkways lined with shops such as the cities 12 luthiers (violin makers) ply their trade. Walk away from one of the bustling town squares in the old part of the city and you're sure to hear distant operatic arias and the refrains of practicing an instrument. Montpellier's vitality and diversity help peel away the exhaustion of jet leg topped by being on the go for 27 straight hours before dinner.
The ancient Romans left their marks on this Mediterranean city and the local language still is affected by Catalan, spoken to the south in Barcelona.
As we board our mini-van for the drive north we're accompanied by glowering clouds indicating the rain to come. At first the distant mountains are not much more than shadows along the horizon, hardly distinguishable from the dark cumulus. But as we drive the countryside becomes more West Virginia in appearance, and narrow roads become switchbacks lined with cliffs over fast-flowing mountain streams. Narrow stone villages are squeezed into wide places in the canyons, their varied stone rooftops showing their antiquities. We're in the area now where in about 1870 Robert Louis Stevenson set out with a donkey and a sleeping bag to walk 120 miles in 12 days. The book he wrote about the experience, "Travels with a Donkey," turned out to be the first travel writing to explore the pleasures of the trail. Both Hemingway and John Steinbeck considered him a mentor. I've got it on order through Barnes & Noble.
Dinner included my first cheese tray since I was last in Europe - a selection of 15 different cow, sheep and goat cheeses that me glad that cholesterol isn't one of my problems.
If the weather holds today we'll be walking some of these same trails, and if it doesn't we'll be meeting some of the artists tucked into these hills to see what they do.