May 23, Toulouse

We spent only two nights in Pau. I dislike the whole moving process, so I’m grateful that we spend several nights in most places. Today, we’re off to Toulouse. I think it’s the biggest city that we stay in.

Breakfast: see above, really. But I must comment about my first view of Pau in the morning. A city worker, looking like he was dressed for Haz Mat duty, with fluorescent green pants and vest and hat, was sweeping the sidewalks with a broom that looked like it was straight from the 15th Century, exactly the type a witch would ride. I’m so sorry I didn’t get a photo of it.

Bus ride to Toulouse with our favorite driver. The rest stop where we took our potty break had a not-so-little gift shop attached, with lots of appealing tourist souvenirs and treats. Oddly, most of us were seized with the need to buy something, a bit of candy to share, a beret as a present. And yes, it was very good.

We ended up at a hotel in a wonderful downtown location, as all of them are. Our classroom, part of the hotel, was pure 18th Century rococo, but the rooms are quite modern, and recently remodeled. Plumbing and wiring adequate, wi-fi system perfect. The only problem is that it has become very warm here, and the a.c. in the hotel wasn’t working. Rumors were that it would be turned on Monday, after the (Pentecost) holiday, but there was some fussing, to the point that someone wanted us moved to another hotel, but no one else agreed to that. Everyone opened their windows, and I ended up spending the night a few feet from my window. Some cooler air came in, as well as all the night sounds of a city. The temp on my clock says 71, which is fine. French buildings still don’t have screens on the windows, but there doesn’t seem to be any little bugs or mosquitos about, so il marche. I keep thinking of the line from Shakespeare, “Travelers must be content,” and it helps with the perspective-thingy.

two desserts at lunch

We had trouble finding the hotel, the driver’s GPS wasn’t working correctly, but Otile’s maps saved the day. Then we got lost heading to the restaurant for lunch, and someone from the restaurant had to come fetch us. It was a family restaurant, with little kids and their parents, and two obnoxious kids behind me hanging on my chair and administering a few kicks. We were appalled. We were, however, given free wine with our meal, and that helped. Choices of appetizer, I went with the brie on toast, and  a big fish and pasta dish that I shared with Teddy, and the creme caramel for dessert. Big Deal. Just another excellent three-course French meal, with local wines. Look at the photos.

lunch; fish and pasta to share

After lunch was a lecture by Emeline. She had excellent slides, and her history of Toulouse was very well presented. However, we were tired, full, and in a too-warm room, and we dozed. We lost whole chunks of the lecture, and one traveler left. There must be a better way. They had actually changed the schedule, and moved the outdoor parts to Monday morning, when it was cooler, but the lecture format didn’t work either.

Staggering from the room, I revived myself with a bit of time with the excellent wi-fi, then headed off to explore. The rugby game the night before had been a Big Thing, and the team was arriving in the bus at the Capitole, the county administrative center, just as I was trying to get to a church. Hordes of fans milling about, all in the team colors of red and black. I ended up following one large young man going against the stream, but truly feared for my safety at times, just from the sheer numbers.

I made my way to two churches, St. Sernin, the  largest Romanesque basilica in the world, and the Cathedral St. Etienne. Both had services going on, so I couldn’t roam around much. Both most impressive. Then I went down to the Convent of the Jacobins, a 13th Century church with a very unusual floor plan–a pure rectangle–and it totally overwhelmed me. Look at the photos. It was pure magic.  Someone else remarked about the feeling of calm that comes when entering the church. Amazing to think of its connection with the Albagensian Crusade and its peaceful aura, but there it is.

Church of the Jacobins

Dinner was at Le Cave au Cassoulet, a restaurant built in an existing coal or wine cellar, with a low barrel arch for a ceiling. The speciality was cassoulet, the rich bean casserole with duck and sausage. Salad for starters, then huge bowls of the cassoulet brought to share. Oddly, served on plates, with forks, rather than as stew. Bread came in handy for mopping up the delicious broth. I see I need to look at my cassoulet recipe again. Tarte tatin for dessert.

Cassoulet, still boiling

One last note about Toulouse. It has the racks of velo libre, the rental bicycles, but there’s also a feeling, in the center of town, that bicycles are a genuine means of transportation. People are riding ordinary bicycles, with baskets, and children, and wearing work clothes.  These small downtowns with such horrible congestion would be a wonderful place for bikes, and there seems to be an effort to close off quite a few of the streets to autos. Tres bien!

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