Of course there have to be some vehicles for deliveries and so on but there are many little lanes too small for 4-wheeled transport. Motorbikes and bicycles get a bit annoying at busy times of day but what a small irritation really. The municipal vehicles and the post delivery are little electric vans that sneak up behind you because they make no noise whatsoever. Brilliant!
Every corner that makes a bit of open space fills with chairs and tables and even in the little alleys, bars and cafes spill out onto the street. At night the streets of the old town are buzzing with activity and conviviality.
The suburbs that surround the old town are a blueprint for urban communities. There are four tram lines that each cross the wider city from one side to the other, and a network of buses joins up the gaps and the surrounding villages and towns. Here's a view from where the old city walls used to be, looking north-east.
I walked along one of the bike paths that runs beside a tiny creek with crystal clear water and the I could identify at least three different frog species enjoying the spring sunshine and croaking their little hearts out. Parallel to the bike path, the remains of an old roman way that once linked Spain and Italy. Just like that!
All along the main river, the Lez, there are bike paths and in parts a wide promenades with more cafes and restaurants.
Montpellier is one of the fastest growing cities in France and this lends the same sort of dynamism that I experienced in Cairns in the 1990s. Because a lot of people who live here have come from somewhere else it is easy to make connections that quickly turn to friendships. Something that just didn't happen in, say, Ballarat. The mediterranean climate is attractive, though it can get impossibly hot for a few weeks in summer. At any one time there are around 70,000 university students here so the rhythm of the town follows the academic year and it goes quiet during the summer vacation when the students leave and everyone else goes to the beach.
There was a big jump in population in the 1960s during the Algerian War when many of the French colonials were forced to leave. These are 'Pied-Noir', white settlers born in Africa. Bernard's mother was from a family that had lived in Algeria for generations and he was born there. Many colonials walked away from their land, leaving their businesses behind, with no option of returning home. Yet they were not really welcomed in France, where they were often seen to have been the cause of the conflict.
Montpellier had a female socialist mayor for some time, maybe that helps to explain the way that suburban sprawl has generally not Just Happened, but has been planned to provide a balance between habitat, environment and economic activity. I find the city to be an incredibly successful example of blended ancient and modern architecture.
This is Place de L'Europe, making a wide semi-circle and joining the Lez and the old city via pedestrian zones.
There is a big North African population and I have noticed a bit of segregation in that there some denser, less-well planned suburbs that are a bit run down. Unemployment is quite high. The medical Shopping at Le Grand Bazaar, a tram-ride away, I feel like I could almost be in Morocco or Senegal.
I think already wrote about La Mediatheque.
So how can I come back to live here?