Salut mes amis!
Well I’ve been back quite a while now and still haven’t really written too much aside from this debriefing on my week-long trip to the Pyrenees area of France. So I thought I should remedy that. I debated breaking this post up into two because of all the pictures, but I’d rather really just tie things up, so hopefully nobody is using a processor from the 90’s or something that will freeze every time it tries to load the page.
As I mentioned in that debriefing post, Toulouse is the academic heart of France, known as the “Rose City” for its plethora of red-brick buildings, and just generally (in my humble opinion) has a much cooler vibe than Paris. It sort of reminded me a little bit of Boston, actually, although I’ve literally been there for one day in my life so I’m probably not an expert. The heart of Toulouse is filled with tiny brick streets and rather old buildings, great character everywhere, and although the city (which is actually quite large) has tons of modern areas as well this is where I spent most of my time given that I was a tourist.
I arrived Friday afternoon to my hostel, Auberge InToulouse, which I found and booked on the internet. (If you don’t feel like doing that you can always call 0033-561166625 or email firstname.lastname@example.org, but just know you’ll be speaking French or slightly broken English. Or Spanish. The guy running things has a little of everything in his vocabulary.) The hostel is relatively cheap, between about 19-25 Euros a night on weekends depending on what room you are in, and frankly totally worth it. It’s actually a small house, so you have a comfy bed in a room with a few other people, then a full kitchen and living room and showers and whatnot as if you actually lived there. I really liked it. Partially because there is a neighboring cat who wanders in and sits on your lap purring for hours and hours…(Note: Only downside to this place is that it is about 20-25 minutes by metro from the central area. Can’t have it all.)
…Anyway. Arrived Friday afternoon and made myself at home, met two of my roommates–one was actually an assistant like myself, but for Spanish. He was from Mexico. The other guy was from Spain who was there apartment hunting. They were both really lovely, and introduced me to another guest who was from Germany though in a different room. That girl and the Mexican assistant had been exploring Les Abbatoirs earlier in the day–a modern art museum built in the shell of…an old slaughterhouse.
…Sigh. Modern art, I tell you.
Anyway, they were going back and invited me to join, so we hopped on the metro and were off. The museum is much smaller than the Centre Pompidou in Paris, but I also liked it a bit more. There was plenty of the usual “what-on-earth-is-this” going around of course, and exhibits included water falling onto a drumset, pianos that just rolled around an empty room, a balloon that was floating around an empty room (with wind to keep it afloat) and a MASSIVE black room with a black movie screen where white figures and ominous sounds played…there were some very comfy chairs in that room for viewing and we probably all almost fell asleep watching.
Afterwards we strolled around the city a bit, stopping down by the local part of the Canal du Midi, a canal that stretches a massive distance across the south of France and is rather picturesque. Our walk wound us around towards downtown for my first glimpses of the historical area, and then we returned home quickly for dinner before going back out (joined by the Spanish guy in my room) to go to a sort of international language-y meet and greet run by couchsurfers at a local bar. We had a pretty good time chatting in various languages with each other, some locals, and other expats as well, and it was a lovely enjoyable evening.
Saturday was just me and my onesies exploring the city. I had a few sights on my to-do list, but honestly I didn’t thoroughly explore every tourist option Toulouse has to offer because I’m just rather tired of museums and tourist-y things. However, would hate to regret skipping EVERYTHING later, so I made my first early morning stop at Les Jacobins!
Les Jacobins used to be a monastery and I think was constructed in the 13th century and is well known for some incredibly spidery-y pillars, which are quite cool, but frankly I was more impressed by the stained glass. It’s very airy and when I went hardly anyone else was there, so it was incredibly peaceful. The windows on the west side of the church seem to have cool colors, while those in the east have warm reds and oranges in the stained glass, so that since I was there in the morning the sun shining through them made for SPECTACULAR colors on the walls, it looked absolutely like a rainbow in there and I really loved it.
If you choose to spend an extra couple of Euros (literally like 2 for students, 4 for adults) you can wander beyond the church into a sort of garden complex. Given that it was winter only trees were growing, but it’s surrounded by a Harry Potter-esque arched walkway and was very peaceful. Well worth the visit!
Next on my list and apparently keeping with an unplanned “religious” theme was the Basilique St. Sernin, a basilica that has made it onto the UNESCO World Heritage Site list for its beautiful altar, ceilings, statues and small shrines, and even quite a few religious relics kept in a few niches in a chamber underneath the main altar (which, naturally, costs another 2-4 Euros to see-churches are free, it appears, but culture is not.)
The decorations are appropriately luxurious for a European Catholic church and merit lots of upwards-looking as the painted ceilings are simply fantastic. When I was through craning my head I shuffled back outside and made a lap around the church where a Saturday flea market had been set up selling everything from old books to furniture to jewelry to knicknacks–the weather was beautiful and it was a nice way to pass the time.
In all honesty although there is so much more to see in Toulouse, I spent the rest of the day more or less wandering freely-I stopped and shopped in several stores (only made one purchase from a REALLY unique store called Kabuki , which you can find at 7 Rue Tempo Nieres, telephone +33561213104, which sold sort of Asian/mostly Chinese clothing and jewelry but much of which was modernized, highly recommend) and just generally got a feel for the town, saw several pretty views along the river, and so on. For once it was just me having a pleasant day meandering, and any surprises I found (like the store that sold Rolo’s!) were just a bonus. I stayed out long enough to be sure I had time to take pictures of bridges and buildings by both evening and night and then finally returned back to the hostel, where I read books, planned my next couple of days, sat with the cat and drank hot chocolate. I shall leave you now with a few random photos from all of my wanderings, and next time I write about this vacation it will be about my trip to Carcassonne!