Why is Toulouse called “la ville rose” (the rose city)? Well, it’s because of the buildings, which are built with a pink/reddish brick. It makes the city absolutely beautiful, one of the most aesthetically pleasing that I’ve seen so far (although, Strasbourg might be a shade prettier). Toulouse is the first leg of my vacation…and the people here probably think I’m an angry cocaine addict. Let me explain.
I’m sick. I have a terrible, nasty, no-good cold that won’t go away. My body did such a good job of not getting sick during school. It waited until I was in a beautiful city for me to get sick. Great. My nose was running faster than a gazelle escaping a hungry lion and the tissues I have are harder than the bricks of the buildings in Toulouse. The end result? A sniffling girl with a nose redder than Rudolph’s. I probably look like a cocaine addict. On top of that, I wasn’t smiling (once, just once) and some guy was like, “Why aren’t you smiling?” Yep. I probably look like an angry cocaine addict.
The train ride from Nantes to Toulouse took six hours, but that included one connection and several stops along the way. I arrived in the afternoon on Saturday and checked in to my hotel (my parents are convinced that I am going to die while traveling by myself and won’t let me stay in a hostel). The woman checking me in was pleasantly surprised that I spoke French and immediately was more eager to help me because I was speaking her language (apparently this hotel gets a lot of English speakers).
My first stop in Toulouse was the center of town. I needed to orient myself and I needed a map. My best chance for that? The center of town…which conveniently had a tourism office. I got my map and checked out the outside of the Capitole. It was a very pretty building and I wandered around for a bit. The best way to see a city? Follow the people. I followed a crowd of people and they led me to a giant open area where there was a free cheese festival. Seriously. There were tents and different types of cheeses to try…all for free! Free cheese? Yes, please! I have discovered that I like mild cheeses, which are usually white. Anything that’s green? Yeah, I’m probably not going to like it. I still try it, but when it’s green? It’s just too strong of a taste for me.
I found a church, St. Jérôme, and explored that area a bit. However, I wasn’t feeling well so I went to a supermarket for some soup and called it a day. The second day, Sunday, I was even sicker. But the problem? It was Sunday. In France. The pharmacies are closed on Sunday. So, I had to take it in stride, drink some orange juice, and hope for the best. And I’m in Toulouse. I’m not going to let being sick stop me from seeing the city. In fact, when I have ever let being sick stop me from doing anything?
So, I started with the Basilque St. Sernin. There was a huge market around the entire church and I wasn’t even sure I could get in. I’m not sure if it is every Sunday or if this was a special event, but it was crazy and a little annoying. All I wanted to do was get inside the church, but I had to walk around all of the merchants to do so.
I went to the Chapelle des Carmélites, which was a little strange. First, it was totally dark. The only light was the light from the open door. Second, it was empty. No one was there, except for this one old couple. Third, they had an electronic image of Jesus at the cross. In a historical church. It was strange. The ceiling was quite beautiful though and you could tell that someone put a lot of effort into painting the church, but it was dark, so I didn’t get a very good look. On the bright side, this place has a free bathroom. In Europe, you can’t turn down a free bathroom!
I saw Notre Dame du Taur and then headed to Notre Dame de la Dourde. I am considering this my mission: see every Notre Dame in every city in France…ever. I’m already off to a good start. There’s been a Notre Dame in every city I’ve visited so far! And, here in Toulouse, there are two! Lucky me!
I saw the famous Pont Neuf, which to me just looked like a bridge, and then walked over said famous bridge. I saw the water tower, Château d’Eau, before going to the Abattoirs, which is the museum of modern and contemporary art. Before coming to France, I would not say that I was an art lover. I really don’t know a lot about art, but I’m learning. I do like contemporary art (modern art is cool too, but contemporary art is cooler). I was pretty excited to go the Abattoirs and it certainly did not disappoint. My favorite exhibit was these barrels which had nice words written on them. It was by an American artist and it was called “Crude Kindness” or something like that.
Also, they had a temporary exhibit which was in another building. I went down one flight of stairs, then another, then another, then another. I kept going and I was seriously wondering where what this exhibit was. It was called “How Solid Light Works” by a British artist. I opened the door to the exhibit and it was totally dark. It surprised me. Then, there was a light coming from the ceiling that made a design on the floor. The smoke in the room allowed you to see the beam of light, giving it the appearance that it is totally solid. It was very strange, but very cool. It was also slightly dangerous too because no one could see anything. There was a second floor, which required us to walk up the stairs in the dark. By the time I got to the end of the exhibit, my eyes were slightly adjusted to the dark, but other people were still confused. I had several people run into me and I heard some people run into walls. I had to wonder if this was the artist’s intent – to laugh at all of us walking around in the dark! My favorite part, though, was this old man who was staring at the light. “Inside,” he said, walking into the middle of the circle of light before walking out and saying, “Outside.”
He paused. And repeated the process. “Inside. Outside.” Like five times. Maybe he saw the “light” of the light.
I continued on my journey of Toulouse by going to the Hôtel d’Assezat, the Capitole, the Convent of the Jacobins and the Hôtel de Bernuy. I heard a super amazing band play (they were trumpets, tubas, percussion and trombones). They were a group of students from Marseille and they were dressed in a really outrageous manner. However, they had a great sense of humor. “We are a really famous band. We are touring internationally. For future dates, you can find us in Toulouse, Toulouse, Toulouse, and for the last date, Toulouse. Thank you,” one of the boys announced.
I finished my day by looking at the architecture of the Musée des Augustins, but I was pretty sick so I called it a day. I slept for like twelve hours. I really wasn’t feeling well, but when I woke up this morning, I was feeling a little better.
Today, I went to the Cité de l’Espace, which is a good bus ride into the middle of nowhere, but it was definitely worth it. Toulouse has a very strong space program, which is something you probably didn’t know. I didn’t know either. Now, I’m fascinated by the universe like anyone else, but I’m not a super science geek. I was slightly skeptical of this museum because I didn’t want it to be like the Air and Space museum in Washington D.C. (don’t get me wrong – it’s a good museum, but I’ve been there so many times. It’s the same thing over and over again and it lacks an interactive element). However, this museum was simply awesome. They had many exhibits, which were designed to attract people of all ages. They had lots of cool touch screens and you could control screens with just the movement of your body. It was super interactive. I even did a “mission” on how to use data from satellites to save the wild caribou in Canada.
There was a ton of information about earth, about space…it was really incredible. I was a little disappointed that there wasn’t an exhibit about France’s involvement with the space program (which seems a little strange that they would leave that out). Instead, the museum mostly had stuff on the American and Russian space programs. In fact, there was a Russian space station that we could walk on and a life size model of a rocket. It was much more than a museum. It was a park that I spent many hours just walking around. I watched a video on the Hubble telescope (which I think is the same one that they show in the Air and Space museum, the one by Leonardo DiCaprio? Well, this one was in French, so that was interesting). I even played this really intense quiz on the earth in this special room. It’s a half-hour game and you are placed into teams. I was with this old couple and we didn’t do too well (in my defense, the questions were very scientific and they were in French). However, this one family must have been a group of rocket scientists because they got every question correct! Needless to say, I had lots of fun.
I then went to the Roman ruins here in Toulouse, but guess what? They were closed. When I read the information online, I assumed I misread it. I thought it said that it was closed, except for Sundays from 2pm-6pm. I thought to myself…why would it only be open for four hours per week? On a Sunday? So, I assumed that I didn’t read it correctly and that it meant that it was open every day except for Sunday from 2pm-6pm. Well, I was right in the first place! It is only open on Sunday (when nothing is open in France) from 2pm-6pm! How strange is that? Beyond that, there was a fence all the way around the perimeter. I walked around and saw that the site itself wasn’t very big…and there weren’t many Roman ruins at all. Just a few rocks.
Oh well. I ended my day at the Jardin des Plantes, which is a beautiful garden. The flowers are all in bloom and there was even a nice waterfall!
Toulouse is certainly a different side of France. It is a beautiful city with a heavy Spanish influence (everything was in French and Spanish, just like in Strasbourg how everything was in French and German). Also, the French accent is very different here in Toulouse. When some people talk to me, it just sounds like gibberish. It doesn’t even sound like they’re speaking French! It’s really strange.
Tomorrow, I’m headed to Nimes, which is city with lots of Roman ruins, from what I’ve read. As you might have guessed by now, I really like Roman ruins. I’m completely fascinated by them so Nimes should be the perfect city for me.