Monday, September 08, 2014

Historic Toulouse

Trip to Aude / Midi-Pyrénées: Day 8/9
We landed up at Toulouse around 5 PM. We headed straight for the historic center of Toulouse, the ‘old city’, to track down a quaint old B&B to stay the night. There were plenty of quaint old red-brick B&Bs in that lovely old part of town, but they were way beyond our budget. Finally, we settled for a small and newish business hotel in the new part of town, just across the river (La Garronne) from old Toulouse. Even if we weren’t in the old town, we consoled ourselves that we were just a walking distance from it. And we did walk that distance, once we’d dumped our suitcases. We walked across the lovely red-brick Pont Neuf (that is French for New Bridge. It was new. When it was built, back in the 16th Century) to the old city for a stroll and dinner.

That dinner, by the way was the most awful we had ever had, in France. Toulouse is a city of students. The old city was bursting with cheerful teenagers of all nationalities, doing all the things that teenagers do: roller skating, chilling out, selfie-ing… and eating in cafés. The old city is bursting with open-air bistros of all sorts: French, Chinese, Indian, Vietnamese, Irish … you name it. And those bistros are bursting with students, at all times of the day. Blandine did not fancy eating in that crush, so we walked around the narrow lanes and by lanes looking for one that was not crowded. At last, we found one. An Italian al-fresco joint with cane chairs placed outside, overlooking a secluded square with an ancient fountain. It was virtually empty. It looked pleasant enough, so we sat down. I ordered escalope de veau, medium done and Blandine ordered a vegetarian pizza. My escalopes were tough, chewy and virtually raw and bloody. The vegetables on Blandine’s pizza too were virtually raw, and the cook had forgotten to salt it. I guess we know why that was the only restaurant around that was empty. We made up for it with a large ice cream and walking around old Toulouse in the moonlight.

Next morning, we headed back across Pont Neuf to ‘do’ Toulouse properly.
The old city is bursting with historic edifices, and, although there is a lot more to see in the old city than these historic monuments, the conscientious tourist cannot skip them. So here they are, the obligatory pictures of historic monuments. In the next two posts, I’ll cover some of the more interesting aspects of Toulouse.

Couvent des Jacobins
The monastery and church of the Jacobiens. A 13th century monument. The best part of this church is the super-reflective mirrors they have placed in the middle, around one of the pillars. You get a surprising perspective of the roof of the cathedral, by looking into them. The mirrors are so amazingly reflective that you forget for a moment they really are mirrors. If you stand right up close, you feel you are standing on the edge of a precipice.

Cathédrale Saint-Étienne
Also known as Toulouse Cathedral. Parts of it date back to the 9th century. It is the central touristic attraction in Toulouse. We had spent a long time lounging about this cathedral in the moonlight, the previous night. If it looks impressive by day, in the moonlight it is magic.

Basilique St. Sernin
An 11th century Basilica with the tomb of St. Sernin, the first bishop of Toulouse.

Other than these three monuments, which we spent some time exploring, there were several other monuments that we looked at in passing: the Théatre du Capitole, Musée des Augustine, and a couple of others. For some reason, I did not see fit to photograph them. No idea why. Photo fatigue, probably. Besides the ones that we took a look at, there were dozens of others that we did not even approach.  If we had to explore all of them, we would have needed a month in Toulouse. So we stuck to the ones that looked particularly interesting.

In any case, it is better to leave something for next time. Toulouse is a place I’m determined to return to. Besides these old monuments and the charming old city (subject of the next post), there is an invigorating air and warmth about Toulouse that charges up the red blood corpuscles. Possibly it is the warmth of the red-brick buildings, the energy of young students carousing about the pebbled lanes, or the heavenly smells from innumerable open-air restaurants (not counting the awful place of the night before).

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