Nice man and Montpelier man

SKIP’S NICE man, as described in last week’s is it just me?, sounds quite good to me – sensitive, supporting, intelligent, funny and non-threatening, with his own financial means and vaguely good-looking. If that’s ‘nice’, I know many women who would join the queue right now! Skip has found some lovely quotes and facts to prove why it’s all a woman’s fault, such as we utter twice as many words a day as men. That’s simply because we have to say everything twice before a man will listen to us! For my quote I nominate classic French film star Jean-Paul Belmondo who said: “Women over 30 are at their best, but men over 30 are too old to recognise it”.

This week I have not been with ‘nice man’ but with Montpelier man – sorry, that’s a dreadful link, isn’t it, but it’s the best I can do! I went with a photographer – a very nice young Portuguese man – to the Languedoc region to research food and wine, and then to Montpelier to contrast the wide open spaces with the city life. I have not been to France for many years, and had never been to this part. Are French men nice? The ones I met were – but then they were wine-makers and my theory is that anyone who makes wine has to be nice because they have to be in touch with nature.

It’s strange how you take many things for granted living in an area dominated by tourism as we are in the Algarve. Service, for instance, accurate, up-to-date information and availability of taxis. The rural riverside area where we stayed was not geared for tourists at all— shops, supermarkets and petrol stations closed for lunch and again at 7pm. Restaurants opened at 7pm and stopped serving at 9pm. That’s country life, and long may it continue.

Montpelier, on the other hand, is a lively city, we were told, with much to do and see. It has an attractive old town and a new zone that links to the riverside. Lovely architecture, nice place for a couple of days – but obviously not geared for tourists. Hire cars have to be booked in advance, for instance, even at the airport. We had dinner in a small restaurant just off one of the main squares. We were the first clients to arrive, and asked for the table in the corner, only to be told it was reserved. About 15 minutes later a French couple arrived, also without a reservation, and were told they could have that corner table. A small thing, and perhaps in the meantime the reservation had been cancelled, but not nice.

We looked for a taxi at 10.30pm and had to walk to the main station to find one. The taxi took us to a jazz club outside the city centre that we had been assured would be open and buzzing – it was shut. Having checked out the next morning, the lady owner of the small hotel would not change a 100 euro note, saying: “It’s not the sort of money I want.”

Even more interesting was checking in at the small airport. I have a British passport, renewed in Lisbon two years ago. My ticket showed I was returning to Faro via Gatwick. The check-in lady was clearly perturbed by this, and I had to go to another desk for questioning. I was told visas were required for visits to Portugal of more than 90 days – did I have anything on me to prove I lived there? Yes, my social security card, my N° de Contribuinte card… Even so, a phone call was made to see if I would be allowed to leave. I was eventually allowed to go, with apologies, more on the basis of “if she’s out of France, it’s not our problem!” than anything else. As the photographer said, it shows how things are changing around Europe now. A British passport is no longer a clear path to anywhere. Here in Portugal, there is a TV advertising campaign with leading personalities urging Portuguese people to double-check what papers are needed for any foreign country they are visiting, and it would be good for the rest of us to update as well!

But the major disappointment of the whole trip – apart from not finding a nice man, of course – was the food on the British Airways flights! As you know, I am a huge fan of BA, especially the Faro team, and I was looking forward to showing off the in-flight service to my Portuguese friend. The last time I flew was back in January, and sometime between then and now, things have changed. No more drinks trolley and nibbles followed by a proper hot meal – now it is one sweep with a trolley and a box that contains water, a few cubes of fruit in syrup, a soggy muffin-type cake and a small chocolate bar. An unappetising hot ham and cheese roll is served separately. On the return journey with a quick change over at Gatwick, we bought sandwiches, juice and coffee at one of the fast-food places and ate our late lunch while waiting to board our flight!

Which brings us back to nice men. The plane was full of them, all coming to enjoy the delights of the Algarve — and maybe play some golf as well, by the looks of all the golf bags that circled the carousel! Love it or hate it, tourism rules and golf is king!