Usually we don’t necessary need to know that much about the places we visit, we like to see if they can surprise us, that doesn’t always work the way we would love to, but I guess that is the risk we choose to take when we don’t do much research beforehand.
It was again the case for Montpellier, knowing very little about this southern French city apart from the fact that it was conveniently on our way to Spain, so we decided to stop by for a couple of days because we thought “why not?“.
Our Couchsurfing host wasn’t even in the same town when we arrived, so she asked her flatmate to welcome us until her return. Even though it was already getting dark and a bit cold and rainy we decided to dump our stuff and go out again, we had barely two days to see Montpellier so we thought that we’d better not waste any of our precious time, especially considering our host wasn’t at home for us to meet with.
We walked and walked until all of our energy ran out, discovering that Montpellier isn’t that huge, at least in the very center of the city. At first we weren’t that impressed. Don’t get me wrong it seemed like a nice city, with pretty narrow cobblestoned streets, cute little corners with bars full of locals enjoying their drinks, small arty and trendy shops with unique and well designed shop windows, a good amount of hip music stores which are probably high in quantity due to the high percentage of student population in town. We also spotted a few street art pieces scattered about the alleyways and narrow streets of the old town.
We even popped by the information center in the main square to see if we were missing out on something but according to the little information we found, we were not. Montpellier simply didn’t seem that interested in mass tourism which is completely fine with us, in fact didn’t have souvenir shops at every corner and people offering you samples, trying to get you to visit their store with the intention of selling you something. That was cool and a nice break coming from the quite touristy (and highly beautiful) Marseille. Montpellier wasn’t quiet. Students were going to and from the university, people were off to work; life was going on quite like normal without being chaotic and frantic. For some reason those first few hours didn’t manage to make a great impression of Montpellier on us, we weren’t disappointed because we didn’t have any expectations really before getting there, simply we didn’t fall for Montpellier.
Luckily when our fantastic host Leo finally returned home, she began to make us notice things we hadn’t caught on our first walk around the city. Being herself a young student – a very creative person into arts of all forms – when we asked if there was an art side of Montpellier we needed to see before leaving, she pointed us in the right direction. What would we do without Couchsurfing?
Deserving A Second Chance
The next day we saw Montpellier in a different light completely, we started to notice various street art pieces and got back to see those few we’d spotted the night before. Suddenly this quaint city that the previous day seemed pretty but lacking that extra special touch looked different to our eyes. We weren’t expecting to see so much street art, including some from famous and well known artists like my personal favourite, Space Invader. Leo told us that when the urban artist Invader chose to “invade” Montpellier he decided to put his mosaics in specific places and in a way that when they were located on a map would form a huge Space Invaders alien from a birds eye view. Simply genius!
It’s all we needed to know, harmed with a small map we started to mark down the location of each Invader’s mosaic we would find to see if we could recreate the giant Space Invader alien at the end of our tour. During our mission, we encountered other street art pieces by other artists, and started to realize how much street art there was in Montpellier, something that we clearly weren’t expecting, but we liked a lot.
There were so many “half-bikes” popping out from a facade here and there that we started wondering if the artist BMX had a bigger plan in mind when he positioned them as Space Invader did. I personally liked them a lot because I thought that they fit well with Montpellier architecture and style, they weren’t too intrusive or in any way offensive and seemed more like elements of the city decor, such a perfect example of street art that blends with its surrounding and it looks like it almost belongs to it.
During our street art hunting mission, we also bumped into some painted bollards lined on a street directing to a square in the old city centre, whilst walking there someone was even painting one right in front of us. They were all decorated with different designs and if you look at the photos below you’ll probably guess which one was my personal favourite.
Second Impressions Are Better The First
At night, when we got back to our Couchsurfing host’s place, we cooked a tofu bolognese for everybody and whilst devouring our dinner, we confessed to Leo how finding so many street art (thanks to her tips too) had changed completely our view and first impression of Montpellier altogether. In fact, despite not completing the Space Invader street art map, we managed to see so much we would have otherwise missed or maybe not paid attention to it.
That shows how even places that might not seem like the ones you may enjoy, can have concealed surprises. Sometimes all you need is a little something to completely change your travelling experience and suddenly you appreciate a place more. In Montpellier the amount of street art and the little stories connected to it made us enjoy the city more and grasp its artistic side which clearly interested us more than everything else.
What was the last city that needed a second chance for you to love?