Archive for April 11th, 2010

Agde to Aimargues (68.84 miles, 7 hours 13 minutes moving)

Today was a treat.  I started off the day biking along the beaches between Agde and Sete.  There was barely an open parking spot the whole way, and there were so many people out enjoying the warm and sunny Sunday weather.  I crossed paths with another gentleman with a bicycle loaded for touring as he was also enjoying the view of the beach. After the customary “Bonjour”, I asked “Do you speak English?” to which he replied “I speak English quite well, actually” with an English accent.  Collin lived in London and had been traveling by bike for the past three days.  In his week off from work, he was starting in the Languedoc-Roussillon region of France and working down towards Barcelona, where he had a flight lined up back to London.  In a gesture of kindness that seems to be common among bicycle tourers, he offered me his high-scale map of the region surrounding Montpellier, as he had just passed off its boundaries and it wouldn’t do him any good anymore, and I could pass it along to the next cycle tourist I came across. He told me that it had cost him 25 euros to camp the previous night, and we both scoffed at how expensive that was.  It is a hugely popular coast for French (and other nationalities of) tourists, but that seems a bit ridiculous for the tiny little tents cycle-tourists use.  He suggested that if he had known that, he would have brought a nice large tent and lived in luxury and I suggested for 25 euros, you might as well just ship the tent home and stay in hostels (using the weight reduction to increase daily miles and decrease the number of nights spent along the way, even).  After navigating through Sete, I headed towards Montpellier.

The special stop in Montpellier that I alluded to in my last post was the Facultê de Medicine. It’s the oldest “modern” medical school in Europe, according to some sources, with physicians teaching students there since 1137 A.D. (though some sources suggest that a medical school in Salerno, Italy is the oldest, so I need to do some additional reading to find which is correct). My Garmin GPS, which I think may actually hate me in a way that no inanimate object ever should, decided to take me on the scenic route through town, making double, triple, and even quadruple left turns through the narrow streets of the historical area of town, biking up and down steep cobblestoned roads and slowly dodging the pedestrian traffic.  One might wonder why the Garmin would make me take four left turns in a row, especially when it does not even seem to be paying attention to the direction of one-way streets half the time, so I suppose the answer is “Just because it can.”  But I did marvel at some of the beautiful old buildings and packed outdoor cafes and squares I was passing through and I even got to ring my bell a few times.

When I found out about the Montpellier medical school, I figured that it would be appropriate to pay homage, considering I would be graduating from medical school in just over a month, myself. The massive building had an almost castle-like appearance.  Not having been able to find any photos of it on the internet during the quick searching I had done the previous day, I was half-expecting a modern, new building with some kind of plaque commemorating the location of the significance of the site, so it exceeded my expectations immensely. The school is still in operation, teaching about 20 medical students, according to one website I found (which seems low in my mind, and barely even sustainable for a school?).

The Faculte de Medicine
The Faculte de Medicine

While I was taking a few photos, I saw some student-looking young people push open the grandiose and heavy green doors at the entrance and go inside.  I figured that if I had come all this way (it actually wasn’t much more than a few miles out of my planned route between campsites) I should probably try to see the inside too, so I wheeled my bicycle over to some nearby racks and secured it with my locks.  But when I went back to the entrance, the doors were locked.  I pulled aside a girl who was walking by with an SLR camera of her own and asked if she might take a photo of me in front of the building.  When she took her first look through my viewfinder she exclaimed “Wow!!” and after taking the photos, she asked me what kind of camera I had. I told her it was a Nikon D200, but she was probably most amazed by how wide the field of view is on the Sigma 10-20mm lens I had mounted on the camera at the time.  From her response, I have a feeling she may be going home to look up some wide angle lenses tonight.

Pilgrimage proof. (Why yes, I am wearing a different shirt in this photo!)

Pilgrimage proof. (Why yes, I am wearing a different shirt in this photo!)

The city of Montpellier was gorgeous, and were I able to speak French, it was a city in which I could really imagine living. I would love to go back and spend a few days exploring even more, and treating myself to a meal or two in the outdoor cafes, but I still had 20 miles to ride if I wanted to keep with my tentative schedule for reaching Nice by Friday and taking a weekend rest day at a hostel. An extra 10 mile detour later, after taking the wrong road out of town when my Garmin battery died and the sun wasn’t strong enough to power it by solar panel, I finally reached Aimargues and found the McDonald’s.  Unfortunately, I stayed too late and the gas station next door closed before I had a chance to buy more water for tomorrow, so I headed to the campsite to put up my tent in the dark, once again.