Carcassonne vs. Montpellier
I’ve been having mini blog withdrawals since I’ve been less than regular in updating this bad boy within the last week or so. Exams have effectively taken over my life and I’m finally starting to regain a bit of it back (although I still have one more exam to go). With three exams under my belt, I’m starting to finally get things together and get really pumped for summer! My travel adventures with S. had seemed but a lifetime away with exams, moving and doctors visits taking up the in-between time. With my vaccinations scheduled, exams nearly done and my rooms slowly being torn down I feel like I’m finally able to look a head a couple of weeks!
S. and I have already booked our places in Malta, Athens, Amalfi and in Florence and (get this!) have stayed under budget at every location! The costs of living in London, as most can attest, is exorbitant. Even living in student halls, my shoebox of a room with a shared bathroom and kitchen costs me around £170 per week. When I broke down the costs on a nightly basis, I rounded up to about £25 per night for my current room. Surely I could find hotels/hostels around Europe for less than that? (Mind you, I’m not paying rent in London for the month of July which makes this entirely realistic for a student on a budget.) Well, I was right! More than right, actually. Since I’m traveling with a buddy, we’ve essentially set an upper limit of around £50 per night (£25 each) for hotels as we travel. Our hotel near Amalfi is the only one so far that actually reached our limit — our place in Malta was about £35 per night total, Athens was the same after discounts and Florence was about £40 total. With the discounts we’ve gotten, we’re now prepared for the more expensive French Riviera (where hotels are more realistically in the range of £60 – £70 on the lower end) and don’t have to feel bad about overspending! I’m kind of flabbergasted by how inexpensive it is to travel through Europe. Hostels can, of course, be found even cheaper but since they charge per bed, the savings isn’t really enough to sacrifice privacy when traveling in twosomes (or larger groups).
So after booking our first four spots, we’ve begun looking at oh-so-glamorous Nice (shown above), nearby Monaco (which sadly doesn’t stamp passports despite being its own country) and the TBD stop between Nice and Barcelona. The train ride between Nice and Barcelona is looooong. Very, very long. If my memory serves, it’s roughly 10 hours depending on the number of changes and the time of departure. Though I’ll be using train time to work on my dissertation, 10 hours is killer. We knew immediately that we needed a city (any city!) to break up the ride. First, we considered Marseille. Alexandre Dumas had dubbed Marseille ‘the meeting place of the entire world’ so it had to be eclectic at the very least. Indeed, after we researched a bit, it had a unique charm and seemed like the perfect stopover. That is until we realized that it’s only 2 hours from Nice and still another 8 hours from Barcelona. For two people looking for a city to ‘break up the ride’… that wasn’t going to cut it. We needed something further, something closer to the Spanish border.
Within a few hours, S. got back to me (ever so diligently) with a new idea: Montpellier! Well, I have of course heard of Montpellier by name (I assume that the US capital of Vermont took a cue from its French counterpart) but I had no idea what there was to do there. Well, Montpellier is a much smaller city than Marseille (p. 225,000 vs. 820,000), but still bustling enough to be interesting. We’re only looking for the city of choice to be a stop-over essentially — a place we can stay for a day (maybe two) en route to Barcelona. After reading more about it, I found it charming… While people think of Paris when they think ‘French’, I would argue that big cities lack a bit of the character of the smaller towns. Not that I didn’t like Paris and not that I don’t love London, but despite their unique characteristics, they don’t necessarily embody the culture quite the same as out-of-the-way towns (think: Stratford, Oxford, the Cotswolds, etc.) With that in mind, I started liking the idea of Montpellier.
Then, while reading my Let’s Go Europe guide (which I absolutely love and 100% recommend), I stumbled upon Carcassonne. You haven’t heard of it, right? Yeah, I hadn’t either, but as I started to read, I started to love. For a stop off point, this seemed perfect! It’s a small town (p. 46,000) but it’s like something straight out of a Disney movie. Actually, according to this site it was the inspiration for Sleeping Beauty. After seeing the pictures, I hardly doubt it. It’s a UNESCO heritage site and is home to a castle, drawbridges and cobblestone streets that transport visitors back to medieval times. With my dad’s love of all things medieval, it was inevitable that some of the intrigue would be passed down… I so wish he could be here to see this place! Mind you, this is slightly out of the way for our Nice/Barcelona since it’s slightly inland, but I think it’s worth it! (Read the Let’s Go review here.)
As for now, we’re still debating between quaint and medieval Carcassonne and its livelier counterpart, Montpellier. We’ll only be in in town for one full day really, but we want to pick a great place.
Has anyone been to Montpellier? Carcassonne? Both?
What are your thoughts?