Farmer Luc is a bit betwixt and between at the moment, waiting for a field or two of corn to be harvestable. Today, he and Nadine took some time off and left son Cedric to look after the farm whilst they shepherded another group of the campsite regulars into Toulouse. This time, much against his better judgement, city or no city, Franco went along with the gang. Tromping around a hot city might not be Franco’s favourite pastime but a day with a good bunch of friends sounded enjoyable so along he went. He even offered to drive in order to repay those who drove Francine on her midsummer night visit of Carcassonne a little while ago.
There are things in Toulouse that would be of great interest to Franco. For example, it is the home of Airbus Industrie. It is also the start point of the Canal du Midi and boasts a lengthy canal water front that could provide much distraction for those interested in such things. Lastly, it has an enviable reputation for gastronomy and is home to a fine array of food shops, many of which would have stood close examination. I suspected, however, that none of these would be formally on our agenda and I was right.
It seems that most of what most people are interested in in such places, is architecture and particularly religious architecture. This predilection is evidenced by the contents of most travel guides, nearly all of which bang on endlessly about churches and cathedrals. They certainly are worth a gawp and a quick “ooh, ah” but I can do that to one or two in a few minutes.
We all drove to the outskirts of Toulouse where a park and ride system operates to reduce traffic. Rather than using buses, however, this park and ride uses a very modern driverless, fully automated underground train system. The parking is free (if you use the train) and the train fare seemed to be a mere €1.00 each (Luc graciously paid, hence my uncertainty). Sitting at the front of the train where a driver’s cab would normally have been were there one, offers a novel view of hurtling along an underground train line. The platforms are all enclosed by glass screens with automated doors which helps prevent unwelcome delays caused by selfish suicides or murders.
Whereas we regard towns built of red brick as quite normal, most old French construction tends to be of the local stone. This area apparently had a shortage of suitable stone so Toulouse is built mainly of terracotta couloured bricks, leading to its nickname, “la grande ville rose du Midi” [the large pink city of the south].
After our train ride into the centre, we did play real tourists and took a guided bus tour lasting 80 minutes, being driven slowly around some of the city’s sights to a recorded commentary. With temperatures topping 30°C outside and the bus having a glass roof, presumably to facilitate an unobstructed view of the various edifices, the bus ride was very hot but informative and enjoyable nonetheless, even though I don’t care how long a cathedral took to construct nor how many historical styles it is built in. The making of Toulouse sausages or cassoulet would have been much more interesting. 😉
The most fascinating architectural view of our day was undoubtedly inside L’Eglise des Jacobins. Not only did this have an enormously high ceiling, perhaps to get “nearer my God to thee”, but some inventive folks with a well developed sense of light theatre had placed a huge upward-facing circular mirror around one central pillar, thus offering a very different view of the ceiling without the need to crane ones neck. It made people photography fun, too.
Automation is great when everyone does exactly what they’re supposed to do. Almost inevitably, however, this was not the case with our multinational group of 11 (2 French, 3 Belgian, 2 Dutch, 4 Brits). Luc had purchased a group return ticket. Unfortunately, on the way in, a couple of folks mistimed their ticket/gate routine which, I suspect, led to the ticket being used a few extra times. Consequently, on our return trip, the ticket expired before all our group made it through the control gates to embark. A little gabbled French accompanied by some Gallic shrugs sorted it out, though.
All heads finally accounted for, back at the car park the same group ticket was also supposed to let our convoy of three cars through the car park exit barrier. Repeatedly spitting out the ticket, the barrier refused steadfastly to open and let even one car through. Eventually, a few more Gallic shrugs and gabbling managed to get two cars through leaving only the third stranded. Further gabbling and shrugging finally got us all out and on the road.
A pleasant day but about two hours too long for my taste. The automation was entertaining, though.
[I hope there’s an Edith Piaf fan out there that understood my titular French jeu de mots.]