Europe 2022 – Montpellier, Part One

June 15 – 17

We finished breakfast at the Meininger, grabbed our bags and made the now less taxing trek to Gare Bordeaux and boarded the train to enjoy our reserved seats at a cost of 24.22-Euros ($26.40).  A couple of cups of coffee from the small food station in one of the cars complemented the sandwiches we’d made during breakfast and then, seemingly before we knew it, we disembarked at the main station in Montpellier and were greeted by Francois. 

As I have recounted a number of times in the past, so faithful readers can fast forward here, I met Francois in August of 1979 on the beach at Pelekas on the island of Corfu in Greece.  I’d been on the road, hitchhiking, with my food friend Rendy since the middle of May having worked our way, after a month in Europe, to Germany and then south to Italy for a month and now finally to Corfu.  Rendy and I had parted company in Naples and I was on my own for the first time in many months. 

Brindisi to Corfu

I arrived in Corfu on the overnight ferry from Brindisi, Italy in the company of a couple of English chaps I’d met on the train from Naples, and we booked a room together, got extremely intoxicated that first day and after sobering up, took off for the small village of Pelekas where we’d heard one could walk down to the beach (clothing optional) where many would wild camp.  I didn’t know the name of the beach at the time, but it appears to be Kontogialos Beach, now developed from its former primitive state and one where it is unlikely you would find anyone wild camping, let alone bathing in the nude, a common practice when I was there. 

The Brits and I took the bus from Corfu Town to Pelekas, the last stop for that line before it turned around to return to Corfu.  When we arrived there was a large crowd at the café near the bus stop as it appeared the authorities had cleared the beach due to the illegal camping and nudity that was occurring there.  We would have to wait a bit before descending on the long winding dirt path to the beach, but the good news was that rumor had it that these raids happened once every couple of weeks, so we’d likely be in the clear for a week or so. 

View from Pelekas to the Beach

While waiting we watched what could have been an episode in a sit-com as a couple of guys from Sweden had parked their orange BMW 2002 right in a spot where the bus needed to turnaround.  The car had been loaded with surfboards and other beach related paraphernalia and right then, they were nowhere to be found.  As we sat watching, a small group of locals convened and with much pointing and discussion, eventually came up with the solution.  Which was to simply gather enough muscle together to move/bounce the car out of the way.  Problem solved Greek style. 

Why might one travel to this beach on this island is a good question.  It goes back to Rendy and I hitchhiking south that trip from Germany into Italy, where after three nights on the road in Freiburg, Zurich, and a small town in the Swiss Alps, we landed at a youth hostel on the shores of Lake Lugano.  As is sometimes the case, more often than one would think, in a conversation with someone there, when they heard we were heading for Greece they said we’d absolutely have to go to Pelekas.  And as I’ve encountered many times during my journeys, “travel suggestions are dancing lessons from god.”

After the long walk down to the beach, I sought out a likely place to camp, eventually settling on a shaded grove of trees up the hill and would soon be joined by a few other guys, one of whom was Francois.  I left my stuff there, checked out the couple of taverns on the beach, landing at the one that would become our home and later spent a restful night’s sleep in that shady secluded spot. 

That seclusion would prove to be our undoing as upon returning to the spot later the next day, found that my sleeping bag and the small number of personal possessions I brought with me from Corfu Town (I’d stored my pack and most of my stuff there) had been stolen.  Fortunately, I’d kept my camera in the daypack I carried, along with my travelers checks and passport, so it was a relatively small loss, all things considered. 

This is when Francois and I, bound by this shared misfortune, began the friendship that endures to this day.  That afternoon we both took the bus into Corfu Town and there bought a wool blanket and a reed mat for sleeping purposes.  I still have the blanket, but the mat has been long consigned to memory. 

We Still Have the Corfu Blanket

Returning to Pelekas, we began to connect through our mutual love of American rock and roll, particularly the Eagles and that was the start of it all.  We’d eventually connect with Janis from San Luis Obispo, Elfriede the German, and John the Dane and that would be our group for the next two weeks. 

I would then journey to the island of Paros with Janis and Elfriede for another two weeks of wild camping before sailing back to Athens, taking Magic Bus to London and flying home on Laker Air to end my two years of vagabonding and begin the life I live today, finding  my soulmate in Joanna, a meaningful career, and a happy family life.  Francois and his girlfriend Heike would visit me here in Los Angeles the next year, 1980, and that would help to cement in stone our friendship of these many years.  I spent a week with them in Paris in their tiny flat in 1981 and Joanna and I would stay with them and their roommates Patrick and Julike in a house on the outskirts of Paris in 1982.

In 1984, we bought a VW Rabbit Convertible and picked it up in Frankfurt (Europe Delivery) which we would ship to the U.S. after two months (spending an additional month while the car made its way to the east coast), staying with the group of four at the same house as in 1982, then meet Francois and Heike in Stuttgart (they were making wedding plans with her parents) and the four of us traveled to Innsbruck, made a couple of stops in what was then Yugoslavia (now Croatia), took the ferry from Zadar to Ancona and from there hit Siena (we got to witness the Palio), Florence, and finished with an overnight in Lake Lugano before dropping them off again in Stuttgart.

We returned to Europe for a month in 1992 with Jessica when she was four, visiting Germany, Austria, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and Francois and family (daughter Lisa and son Axel) before flying home from Frankfort. 

Francois and Claude 1992

To celebrate my obtaining my MBA in 1998, we’d spend two weeks in England and then onto Paris for another stop with them.

Francois, Joanna and Jessica at Monet’s Garden in 1998

In the early 2000’s Francois and Heike would divorce and before Lisa and Axel left high school, he and they would come to Los Angeles in 2003 and we would make a brief journey to Baja California before heading north to the Bay Area, then to Yosemite and Death Valley before landing in Las Vegas, where Lisa unknowingly made a call to her mother in France from the phone in her hotel room running up a bill roughly equal to the national debt of a small country.

Francois and Kids in Yosemite – 2003

In 2007, Joanna and returned to Germany for a few nights in Bacharach on the Rhine River before driving in our rental car (a nice 3-series BMW) to Bruges, then up to Amsterdam before heading for three nights to Francois’s apartment in the suburb of Montigney-Le-Bretonneux, about twenty miles from the center of Paris and not far from Versailles. 

Francois and Jerry at Le Who’s Bar in 2007

Our biggest adventure was in 2014 when we retired, I started this blog, and we spent six months in Europe.  We would visit Francois in Montigney three times, once with Sister Bev and his place would be an anchor for us. 

And then, three years later in 2017, we would spend a month in Greece, travel to Montpellier for five nights, journey on the Camino de Santiago for twenty days (ten hiking and ten on rental bikes), return to Montpellier via Astorga, Leon, Burgos, Bilbao, and Toulouse for five nights before heading to Provence (Arles, and L’Isle-sur-le Sorgue) and back to Montpellier for five nights before taking Flix Bus to Barcelona for our flight home. 

And finally, we joined him in this year, greeted by his smiling face at the train station, and it seemed like hardly any time at all had passed.  And so, we began a familiar pattern of activities, many of them centered around drinking beer as we reconnected with this friend who has meant so much to us during the last forty plus years.  His generosity as a host, his willingness to entertain us, and to sing along to Eagles songs are all part of a package that make his friendship real and enduring.  Another example of how travel can connect and bring different worlds together. 


Palio di Siena:


  1. Dale Swindler · · Reply

    Nice! Very touching tribute to travel and friendships!

  2. Joanna Mann · · Reply

    Nice post , very touching somehow

    Sent from my iPhone


    div dir=”ltr”>


    blockquote type=”cite”>

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: