04 Jul 2022

Montpellier

Map by me, made with marceloprates/prettymaps. Data © OpenStreetMap contributors.

We spent three weeks visiting cities we hadn’t seen before in France. (Okay, plus Paris.) Top priorities were to eat food and drink sun. First stop, Montpellier.

Great vibes in Montpellier. I loved the dense streetcar network and plentiful outdoor public spaces (more on that below). It felt uncrowded and relaxed.

Top: Left: Lovely indoor rock climbing. Seattle Bouldering Project (our local gym) had a marvelous big cafe inside that I frequented for both morning caffeination and post-climb beer, but it had been closed from the start of Covid through when we left Seattle in March, 2022. I missed it a lot. Bottom: Right: Portrait of the author.

One thing I liked about statues here is that they were often little scenes rather than isolated figures.

French Parks are Weird

Permalink to “French Parks are Weird”

We came across a few parks like this one:

It’s a bit hard to tell just from this photo alone, but the whole park is just fields of (patchy, dying) grass with trees planted in an exact grid. The rows of trees thing made the parks feel alien. We never saw anyone hanging out in them.

Then again, other parks were great, so 🤷‍♂️

Mobile Epiphany: A Three-Part Series

Permalink to “Mobile Epiphany: A Three-Part Series”

Part 1: Try to take selfie. Part 2: Realize you don't have phone. Part 3: Realize you don't need phone to have a good time. (Reports of part 3 are unverified.)

“Good” = Availability-Conditioned Quality and Price

Permalink to ““Good” = Availability-Conditioned Quality and Price”

I think I came to a realization about food.

When we say, “oh the X is so good in Y,” like

  • Oh, the sushi is so good in Japan
  • Oh, the pizza is so good in NYC
  • Oh, the wine / cheese / baguettes are so good in France

… I had always felt a bit confused, because, if you look for it, you can find amazing sushi, pizza, and wine / cheese / baguettes in a lot of places. E.g., I think you can find all of those things in Seattle at a quality level that would rival all but the best establishments elsewhere.

But I was missing the point.

The point isn’t whether you can find it, it’s

  1. how easy it is to find
  2. how good it is at the average place
  3. and how cheap it is.

E.g., I am freshly completely and utterly blown away by baguettes in France.

  1. baguette-selling bakeries are EVERYWHERE
  2. the average baguette is EXTREMELY GOOD
  3. and a baguette is $1.32 EVERYWHERE

This is madness.

If you try to buy quality bread in Seattle,

  1. You must find one of the specialty boutique bakeries like Bakery Nouveau or Sea Wolf
  2. At the average place (Safeway? QFC?) the baguettes range from okay to miserable
  3. For a quality baguette, Bakery Nouveau will hit you for $4.25, or Sea Wolf for $4.20 (both over 3x the French price)

The situation is worse for something like a sourdough, which can set you back $12.50 (and rising) in Seattle.

Enough about baguettes. But before I let you go, the same thing is true about cheese and wine. After finding out a restaurant we wanted to go to didn’t exist (/ was under renovation / something Google Maps didn’t know about), we went to the average, run-of-the-mill grocery store and put together a cheese / meat board with cheap, basic stuff that was wildly, murderously delicious. Not because we are gifted. Because the cheap average thing is just that good.

Top: Left: Aforementioned murderously tasty cheese / cured meats / fig jam / honey / etc. from the boring cheap grocery store. Bottom: Right: Vietnamese food—in hindsight, an obvious thing to try.

Also here’s an odd one.

At first I was like, WTF is a calzone taco. Then I realized, wait, is what Taco Bell makes (e.g., crunchwrap supreme) kind of calzone tacos?!

Public Spaces

Permalink to “Public Spaces”

French cities join Spanish ones in the ranks of places with enviable big public hangout areas.

I think the closest we have in The States are parks, but it’s a whole thing if you want to bring coffee or food there, and you’re not supposed to drink.

Big French extended plazas offer some hybrid of

  • cafés (w/ food, coffee, beer)
  • pleasant zones (fountains, mini parks)
  • steps (good for sitting & hanging in evenings)
  • generally nice architecture (somehow makes things much nicer than, e.g., a strip mall)

They’re full of people, which also immediately makes them feel safe.

Monthly digest