I enjoy renting apartments in real neighborhoods when I travel. Cottages in tiny villages too, though I haven’t done that yet on this trip. Staying in a place with a kitchen enables me to shop and cook rather like the natives do. Walking down neighborhood streets, past apartment buildings from the 1800s, allows me to see the flags of laundry flying overhead. In fact, as I write this I have laundry drying on the balcony. Every apartment I’ve rented on this trip has had a washing machine. That’s something I look for when choosing places to rent.
Quite by accident, I wandered into a supermarket very much like New Bern’s Walmart and about the same size.* Despite the existence of large, less expensive markets, it seems every corner has a bakery, and every block has a tiny market selling fresh fruit and veg from the sidewalk. Open air markets prosper here. One reason is because European homes usually have very small refrigerators and people are accustomed to shopping every day for that day’s main meal. That meal is often lunch. In the south of France many businesses close from noon until 2:00 or 3:00. Schools close for long lunch times too, and families gather for their main daily meal in mid-day. So the cook – usually the wife and mother – makes her way to the market in the morning for the freshest food, purchased from artisan business owners whom she knows well. It’s the way things have been done for centuries and it’s really nice that many families continue that way of life.
The neighborhood I’m in this week is middle class. The apartment faces on a main boulevard (Riquier). This side of the street looks like it is the result of an urban renewal project of the 70s – remember those? Everything on this side appears to be from that era – what nowdays is called “mid-century modern.” From the other side of the street for about seven or eight blocks in the direction of the center city there are beautiful old apartment buildings, all well maintained. (I suspect the law in Nice is like that in Paris, requiring repainting and exterior maintenance on a regular schedule.)
Public transportation is terrific in Europe. Every city I’ve been to except Paris has a tram system and extensive city buses. Here a ride is €1.50 but less if you buy a pass. A lot of people don’t own cars. Montpellier has an extensive 4-line tram system and not many cars at all.
Many people live well in Europe but differently than Americans. They have small apartments, public transportation and excellent train service in lieu of private cars, affordable health care, free universities for those who qualify. Coffee for as little as 60 cents a cup and decent wine for under €4 a bottle. Not a bad life at all.
*I found myself back at the big mall in this neighborhood today so I thought I’d show it to you and tell you a bit more about it. It is literally four blocks long and three blocks wide. There are at least six 6-story apartment buildings above the retail levels, and a parking garage under the whole thing. This mall has more stores than New Bern! I know I sound like a bumpkin — guess I’ve lived in a small town too long? And don’t miss the “American Embassy” at the front door.