We arrived at Charles de Gaule airport at 06:55 hours; we had a booking at midday for the train to Nimes, and as our plane landed on time (Singapore always does that) we had ages to wait for the train. Sharon negotiated our journey to the earlier train.
There were two trains shown as leaving from the same platform at the same time - one to Montpellier (via Nimes) and the other to Marseilles. That doesn't happen too often in Melbourne, so we kept an open mind about its significance.
When the train arrived, we looked for our carriage - 1st Class No 13; 1st class because we were tired and jet-lagged and all. Failing to find the carriage we headed for the only 1st Class carriages we had see - headed? No, we ran because there were all sorts of starting-up noises happening. Asking a railway employee, we were told, "No, you want the other train!" What we thought was one train was two trains - how could this be?
We ran as fast as our (my?) aging legs could go, dragging a suitcase, carrying more camera lenses than I could, plus kilograms of duty-free chocolate. I felt like telling them where to put their schizoid train and just sitting down for a while to catch my breath. But we fell into a compartment and slowly worked our way to the other end of this train and someone told us which were our seats. He also explained that at Lyon, the train would split in two, half going to Marseilles and this half to Montpellier.
I would have been happier if I'd known that earlier, but then, an early morning run is supposed to be good for you.
At the Gare de Nimes we alighted into cold fresh air - just like Melbourne in late autumn: blue sky, vaguely warm sunshine, leaves turning red and gold. It's a slight up hill climb to the centre of town following a modern water feature, and walking on a very roughly textured path. At the top of the climb is a large open space with a Ferris wheel and scenic railway standing in front of the old Roman Arena.
Next to the arena is a narrow street just beyond the Palace of Justice, and Hotel Amphitheater is in this street. There are no bright signs, and even when we asked where it was, no one knew; but eventually we found a small sign and went in. Our room was basic, but adequate.
Bridget phoned us with the time and place where we should meet next day - we hadn't seen her for 3 weeks, and that's the longest time she's been out of our sight, not to mention also being the furthest away from us, ever.
Exploring the streets of the old town all about us, we discovered the Christmas lights and amazingly beautiful shops where Sharon wanted to spend all our money, but we have 5 weeks to survive. We had dinner in a restaurant opposite the Arena (after tip-toeing around the celebrating soldiers with their efficient looking machine guns). Sharon discovered just how many varieties of Rose are made in the district - she's determined to try them all!
Next morning we went down to the station and found Bridget, her fellow travellers and their teachers. There were tears and hugs all round as the Princes Hill group waited for their train and we took Bridget back into town. We left her suitcase at our hotel and showed each other the parts of the town that we had discovered. Bridget showed us the Jardin de la Fontaine which we had missed; it is surrounded by classical revival sculptures that were gathered from an old Mansion, long demolished. We showed her some of the shops she hadn't seen.
All too soon, it was time to collect our luggage from the hotel and go back to the railway station to await our 2nd class train to Montpellier.
Montpellier is bigger than Nimes; we had to catch a taxi from the railway station to the house where we were met by a friend of the owner; she showed us around and explained how to operate it. There's an above ground swimming pool, the house has two storeys and there's an attached granny-flat with a law student in occupation. The house is quite comfortable - although the Europeans do like to keep the heating cranked all the way up; we'll turn it down a bit.
I've belatedly realised that I need more time to do justice to this than I have time available. So I'll rush a bit in the hope of covering the main things and catch up with more recent times. My diary is getting behind too!
We met Bridget's fostering family from Nimes, but we were to tired and jet-lagged to try to be sociable when we were at Nimes, so we met up in Montpellier. The father Christian and mother Danielle were delightful people - they brought one daughter (who Bridget hadn't previously met), with them, plus a friend of that daughter, as well as their very shy youngest daughter. The two older girls spoke English + French, as did Bridget, but the rest of us could only converse in our native tongues.
It was hard work all round, but the effort these people put in to being helpful and friendly was extraordinary.
Another important outing was to suss out the violin scene. There are 11 different ateliers making and repairing violins in Montpellier; so this is currently the violin capitol of France. Bridget has been using the same violin for 5 or 6 years, and the instrument that seemed suitable then is not really suitable for the level at which she is playing now, and it seemed appropriate that we investigate a better instrument.
The first luthier we visited had only two old instruments for sale, or he could make a new instrument that would take time, money etc. He recommended another man who has a larger collection of old instruments for sale. We sent him a text message and visited him the following day.
His atelier is in a grand old mansion; you ring the door bell, someone inside releases the door lock and you enter; it is dark. By trial an error we found a passage that led to a huge grand marble stair case (still in the semi-dark) and we ascended as there were no doors on the ground floor.
At the first floor an understated sign next to a door bell confirmed that we were on the right track, so we entered and were met by a francophone girl who ran off to get the master. He was an unprepossessing slight middle aged man wearing jeans, and he asked us how he could help. We told him that Bridget had been playing for 8 or so years, and needed a new violin.
He asked what our budget was, we really had no idea; he suggested that something worthwhile could be had for 200 to 300 Euros, and started to tune instruments for Bridget to try. Bridget found that she like all bar one (it was based on an Amati design) but the price tags all read 5,000 to 7,000 Euros!
We told the man we would have to think about it. Later we decided that when he said 200, he must have meant 2,000, even though he never showed us anything so "cheap."
On top of the price of a violin, there is the case, and the bow (both expensive), and it doesn't fit the airlines carry-on luggage dimensions, and to air-freight it would require removing the strings, bridge, tail-piece and sound-post - and there would still be a risk of damage. We'll see what's available in Melbourne