One of the reasons we are where we are, if you see what I mean, is to see Albi. Albi lies 20kms/12mls north of us and, since today the skies cleared a little to leave a patchwork of dark grey, light grey and blue, now seemed to be the time for our visit. There is a cycle track, a voie verte, running most of the way but, with the weather remaining threatening and the cycle track falling short by 3kms/2mls and dumping the unfortunate cyclist onto busy Albi roads, we elected to drive.
Driving into a sizeable French town is always a bit stressful. The main stress is the worry about parking. Finding somewhere both convenient and legal to abandon one’s car can be awkward for strangers unfamiliar with the variable local rules. Fortunately we lucked out and found a space governed by an horodateur [parking meter] almost immediately before what appeared to be the the main square. Even this cause a little head-scratching: we think it was free between 12:00 noon and 2:00 PM but charges applied before and after the lunch two hours. How wonderfully French to not spoil lunch with a parking charge.
Like Figeac, Albi is noted for two things. What is it with two on this trip?
Firstly, Albi is the birthplace of the artist – wait for it – Henri Marie Raymond de Toulouse-Lautrec-Monfa, better known just as Toulouse-Lautrec, unsurprisingly. He was an aristocrat descended from the counts of Toulouse and Lautrec, and the viscounts of Montfa. (The two different spellings, Monfa/Montfa, come from Wikipedia, not me.) Albi possesses a museum housing “the most comprehensive collection” of the artist’s works. [The Rough Guide] Moving swiftly on …
The second thing for which Albi is noted is its Gothic cathedral. I wouldn’t know it was Gothic, you understand, but apparently it is. Albi is a very pink city, most of its buildings being constructed from a pink brick. Surprisingly, the cathedral is no exception; it, too, is constructed from modestly sized pink bricks, not unlike modern house bricks. Think about that for a moment. Have you ever seen a cathedral built of anything other than large lumps of stone?
The cathedral was begun in 1280, is built of brick and is absolutely massive. It is huge. It’s utterly enormous. The Rough Guide uses words like impressive and imposing to describe this staggeringly large edifice. Think gigantic and pink and you begin to get the idea. I’m going to add my own, potentially controversial, adjective to the mix: ugly. There is absolutely nothing that could remotely be described as elegant about this cathedral. Some of the angles where planes meet round towers, and all made of brick, don’t forget, made me think there was no plan, as such. “I’ve got a few bricks left over, boss.” “Oh, alright, slap a 45° ramp up just there [points] between the wall and the tower.” To my mind it looks as though someone has dumped the rusting hulk of a retired super-tanker into the centre of Albi. This really is one humongous, style-free, slab of a building. It’s sheer size does make it very impressive and imposing, though.
As a confirmed Darwinist, I never cease to be amazed at how mankind could invest so much money, time and effort on such an unlikely myth. At the same time, I’m rather glad that mankind did because I think the world would be all the poorer without such spectacles at which to go, “ooh, aah!” and, just occasionally, “yikes, that’s ugly!” Chartres cathedral was much more impressive and appealing, in my book.
The only way to get anything approaching an undistorted picture (distortion courtesy of my very wide-angle lens) would be from a distance but we failed to find the correct vantage point. It exists, though, ‘cos we’ve seen it depicted on postcards. Photoshop may help, later. 🙂
Despite what I consider to be an extremely ugly building, I rather like Albi. It seemed like a very pleasant, not-too-large town with a pleasing rather than suffocating amount of bustle.