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Arriving

Arriving at the airport of Montpellier prevents one from being swayed by the historical weight of the city, the time-scuffed grandeur of its buildings; arriving this way is likely the worst way, as the airport terminal is located several kilometers from the city center and requires one to take a bus or to rent a car or to beg mercy as a hitchhiker to even set foot on the streets. On the other hand, the Gare de Saint Roche turns one out into the center, into the pith and marrow on which the city’s muscles find support. But the idea of airtravel bears with it the notion of ease and efficiency, especially when considered against the idea of travel by train, so planning this trip I let myself indulge by buying an expensive plane ticket directly to Montpellier. So, when I arrived, I walked through the exit gate and descended the stairway to await my overstuffed baggage at the carousel, and could then go nowhere. Not that I had had any idea where to go, even if my feet could have managed to get me there.

The first thing I did after plucking my suitcases from the conveyor was do my very best to avoid the eyes of the camoflouged young men weilding assault rifles standing sentinal-like casting glances at the women walking by. It’s very easy to take for granted the lack of assault rifle wielding policemen in America; the 9mm of our cops strike me as ironic, considering our place in the popular consciousness of Europe as gunfanatics.

Since I had not prebooked a place on the internet (because I felt suspiciously as if the rates of the places online, the cheapest of which being 50 euros or so, were neither what I wanted to pay nor the best I could find), I set about looking for a room, which I assumed would be easy enough. Of course, I had assumed this from the leisurely comfort of an armchair in California, debating then whether or not I wanted to take the five minutes to sit down and actually book a place when I could have a real adventure by arriving in Montpellier with no prior arrangements. This, I reasoned, would force me to practice my extemporaneous French, steel the edge of my traveller’s wit, provide an experience to relate. Arriving dead tired dirtty mouthed sweat sticky stubble prickled in France, half speaking the language, I cursed my past lazyness-fueled adventuressness. I had not fully realized how heavy three suitcases might become; I had not realized how nice it would have been to just have a place to go and sleep after sixteen hours of travel.

Not quite panicking mind since still zombie numb, I stopped first at agence voyages and a tourist information kiosk, asking if the clerks at either could book me a room. These conversations I carried on in broken French and smiles, which seemed to work better at the latter. The balding pasty pudgy man in a regulation purple polyester suit and striped tie behind the counter there told me that finding a room would be difficult if I cared about price (one of the first things out of my mouth had been le moins chere), but then gave me a map of the city with a list of hotels. I thanked him heartily, feeling a feeling like tender graciousness bubbling up from my guts from that wellspring of fraternal lovingkindness: recieving aid in a moment of utterly hopeless confusion.

Taking my list first in my hand, then fumbling about with my bags, and finally clasping it slobberingly between my teeth, I hobbled over to the telephone booth to begin calling the one-star and worse hotels. After calling three or four and being told that sorry, we’re all full-up here, and perhaps you should try the Auberge de la Juenesse, I reached a woman at Hotel Cosmos who told me the words I wanted to here: yes, we have a room available; yes, you can have it for 30 euros a night.

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